Taking a ride along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park was one of those experiences I had always heard about, even as a little kid growing up in Richmond. The hype train continued through elementary school, then middle school, then high school. It hit a fever pitch once my friends started getting their driver’s licenses.
“There’s no other drive like it.”
“You can’t live in Virginia without seeing it.”
It wasn’t until a year ago, at the age of 27, that I finally set my sights on this legendary stretch of parkway—for a wedding, no less. Turns out, the hype didn’t even begin to do this place justice.
The towering mountain peaks were covered in a carpet of lush forests and blanketed in a canopy of blue film set against the wispy sky. This was a level of beauty my eyes hadn’t seen in a very long time. I sat there at Big Run Overlook, unable to look away. I was in disbelief, not only that such scenery exists in my home state, but that it took me so long to go out and experience it for myself.
The Epicenter of Adventure
Once you make it to Skyline Drive, you’re really in the driver’s seat to discover Virginia’s epic wonders. Why? Well, here lies the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where a plethora of adventures will exceed every expectation.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a primary attraction that extends 544 miles—more mileage than any other state—with next-level thrills scattered across its expanse McAfee Knob's (Roanoke County) viewpoint is the most popular due to its teetering ledge that juts out nearly 3,200 feet above the surroundings. The 7.8-mile roundtrip hike will test your endurance, but the postcard-perfect views you’ll get at the summit come with an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Another notable spot off the Appalachian Trail is Nelson County’s Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall on this side of the Mississippi River, with only a one-mile detour from the AT required. There are five overlooks to match the five major cascades (along with some smaller ones), totaling a distance of 1,200 feet. Visit after heavy rains and you’re guaranteed to feel the cool spray of the falls as they tumble down the colossal rock ledges.
Sandwiched in between these two landmarks is an otherworldly wonder known as The Natural Bridge (Rockbridge County). The 215-foot-tall archway is the dramatic result of limestone that’s been carved by water over the course of thousands of years. Walking under the bridge is a window into one of Virginia’s most interesting geological regions, which you can explore more by checking out the nearby Natural Bridge Caverns. A tour through this attraction takes you 34 stories deep to discover the Colossal Dome Room, the Well Room, and the Canyon Room.
Imposing pillars of rock shaped by a shallow sea 500 million years ago creates a similarly mesmerizing sight that also speaks to the area’s geological story: Natural Chimneys Regional Park in Augusta County.
The name comes from the appearance of these fascinating formations, which showcase layers of limestone, fossilized sea life, and volcanic rock all capped by chert—a durable stone that preserves the otherwise delicate structures. It’s easy to see the evolution as you stand among the “chimneys” and notice how each color and pattern is a small piece of the puzzle. When you consider their size (as high as 120 feet), it’s a reminder of just how complex the history of our planet is.
Up, Up, & Away
While Great Falls National Park (Fairfax County) is a treasure for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, many don’t realize you can legally climb the walls of the Mather Gorge, which towers above the Great Falls.
Blue Ridge Mountain Guides offer classes for all skill levels, ranging from top roping to anchoring to trad leading. Climbing heights vary from 20 to 65 feet—some of which include routes directly above the water—so be prepared for a real adrenaline rush. The half-day Private Guiding Class ($115 per person) is the ideal pick if you prefer an introductory approach that’ll still challenge your physical endurance.
If Virginia is for Lovers, then Blue Ridge Ballooning (Fluvanna County) is where you’ll find “love at first flight”.
The Palmyra-based company brings romance to many of its voyages, whether it be through a watercolor sunrise over Central Virginia or a champagne toast with your significant other during a private ride. Every trip promises a float above the valleys and past the mountain ridges, but the serenity you’ll experience is next level.
Talk about the perfect way to end your Peak Virginia experience!