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  • Writer's pictureKris Maria Wanders

Ultimate Virginia Summer Adventure Bucket List

Does Virginia come to mind when you think of outdoor adventure destinations? Well, take it from this 10-year Northern Virginia resident...Virginia is completely underrated when it comes to outdoor recreation! In this post, I'm sharing the best outdoor activities across the state, including where you should get a beer after you've finished exploring. Whether you're visiting for a week, a weekend, or you live in Virginia, use this list of my favorite summer spots to help plan your next adventure!

Don't worry- I included plenty of places to help you beat that Virginia summer heat!

Let's "dive in," shall we!?

Northern Virginia

1. Prince William National Forest Park

This quiet park is probably my favorite nature escape in Northern Virginia. Located in Triangle, VA near Quantico, it isn't too far of a trip from DC. It's actually the largest protected natural area in the DC metro region! The park has camping, cabins, 21 miles of bike trails and 37 miles of hiking trails through its 15,000 wooded acres. I strongly suggest exploring along Quantico Creek and checking out Quantico Falls! In this fairy tale-like forest setting, you'll definitely forget just right off of I-95 near the nation's capital! Don't forget to stop by the visitors center to learn about the area's fascinating history, too. The park rangers will happily give you some trail recommendations!

Location: Triangle, VA

2. Mason Neck State Park

I visited this state park recently for the first time in years and wanted to kick myself for not visiting more often! It is definitely a Northern Virginia gem. It was so peaceful on a weekday when hardly anyone was out, and the water was still. Being on a Peninsula formed by Pohick Bay, Belmont Bay and the Potomac River, Mason Neck is a great spot to launch a kayak or SUP. It's also full of wildlife! There are several easy hiking trails, including a lovely boardwalk trail through the marsh. If you're into bird watching, the park is known for bald eagles, along with great blue herons and osprey. I'm pretty sure we even saw an owl! For families, there's a visitor center, playground, beach area, and plenty of places to picnic!

Location: Lorton, VA

3. Great Falls Park

A series of rapids along the Potomac River, Great Falls is just 15 miles away from Washington, DC! I’ve always found it fascinating that from one side of the River, you can look across into a different state. While the River and falls are legally within Maryland, the opposite riverbank is in Virginia! The main overlook points of the falls are pretty easy to access (and often crowded), but the nearby trails are typically much more quiet. Here are my favorite trails on the Virginia side:

  • River Trail in the Mather Gorge

  • Difficult Run Trail (spoiler alert: it isn’t difficult)

  • Turkey Run to Dead Run (morbid name, but there’s a waterfall)

  • Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (you may see Scott run. You’ll definitely see a waterfall).

  • Potomac Heritage Trail

Tip: This park is managed by the National Park Service, so you can use your America the Beautiful annual parks pass here! It's also great for families with many spots to grill and picnic.

Location: Mclean, VA

Breweries to check out after:

  • Bear Chase (Bluemont)

  • Vanish (Leesburg)

  • Aslin (Herndon, Alexandria)

  • Juicy Brewing (Herndon)

  • Bunny Man Brewing (Fairfax)

  • Ocelot (Dulles)

Front Royal, VA

4. Buzzard Rock Hike

This trail offers my favorite mountain views close to Nation's Capital. Buzzard Rock in George Washington National Forest is ~1.5 hours from Washington, D.C and ~1 hour from Fairfax. I really like it for sunset in the summer. As the name suggests, it's common to see buzzards circling around from the jutting rock formations at the top. To the main viewpoint and back is roughly 4 miles and 1,000 feet elevation gain. You have the option to continue along the ridge on the Buzzard Rock trail until it becomes the Tuscarora Trail.

Hot tip: Below the Buzzard Rock overlook, there's a swimming hole in Passage Creek along Fort Valley Road that even has a rope swing!

Location: Front Royal, VA

5. Shenandoah River State Park

Most people don't realize that right near Shenandoah National Park is a less-crowded and equally beautiful state park. The trails may not be as challenging, but they boast some amazing views! My favorite view in this State Park is from Everett Cullers Overlook, which can be reached via hiking trail or simply by driving to the overlook parking area. Stroll along the Shenandoah River, have a picnic, launch a kayak, and even camp for the weekend- plenty of outdoor adventure options here!

Location: Bentonville, Virginia

6. Kayak the Shenandoah River

Expanding on number 5 above, you can't go wrong spending the day, or even a few hours, on the Shenandoah River. The river is usually clear, and I love taking in the views of the mountains (you can even see Skyline Drive!) as I paddle along. If you don't have a kayak, SUP, or canoe of your own, there are a few places you can rent from. I always enjoy renting from Front Royal Outdoors! They offer several trip options, depending on how much time you have and how many miles you're willing to paddle. They also rent tubes if you prefer a leisurely float. Make sure to stop off for a swim along the way!

Tip: Stop at Spelunker's afterwards for a good old fashioned burger, fries, and a milkshake!

Location: Front Royal, VA

Breweries to check out after:

  • Back Room Brewery

  • Vibrissa

  • Honey & Hops

Shenandoah Valley/Shenandoah National Park

7. White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails

DO go chasing waterfalls on White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails in Shenandoah National Park. There are so many options for exploring these trails, depending on your time and ability level (check out this post for more in-depth info + Shenandoah waterfall hikes). Both of these trails combine to make one big (and strenuous) loop, but each trail features multiple waterfalls and swimming holes to cool off in.

Tip: White Oak Canyon is a bit more "family friendly," so it is typically more crowded. I personally prefer the Cedar Run Trail. It's a bit more rugged and steep, but the falls are prettier and more fun! There's a water slide and a rock jump for the super adventurous folks.

Location: Syria, VA

8. Thompson Hollow Swimming Holes

Hiking in the summer inst nearly as bad when the destination is a swimming hole! This easy-moderate hike is just one mile each way with a big reward. I think this spot is a total hidden gem within Shenandoah National Park. With multiple cascades and blue pools along the stream, there's usually room for everyone. Even though this hike is just a mile, you'll probably want the Alltrails app open. It's easy to get confused with the trail forks and intersections just before the pools. You can also add a few miles (and a lot of elevation) to your hike by heading up to Overall Run Falls! At 93ft, it's the tallest waterfall in the park!

Tip: Be careful with parking at Thompson Hollow. You will get ticketed or towed if you're in a no parking zone!

Location: Bentonville, VA

9. Catch a Sunset on Skyline Drive

Winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains, this scenic 105-mile road runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park. Accessible from 4 different entrance stations, Skyline Drive has over 70 scenic overlook points. Stop at any of them to snap some shots or stay to enjoy a full-on sunset picnic. If you’re short on time, make the most of it by picking out a segment of Skyline and planning your stops in advance! I think the best viewpoints are those between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap entrance stations. I really enjoy Mary's Rock Tunnel, Pinnacles Overlook, Old Rag Overlook, Rockytop, The Point, and Brown Mountain Overlooks. You can’t go wrong with any of them, though!

My favorite trails for sunset in Shenandoah National Park are Stony Man Mountain and Bearfence- both are short, so you can make it back to your car by dark!

Tip: Get my in-depth Shenandoah National Park recs here!

10. Hidden Mountain Pond in George Washington National Forest

This place is THE hidden gem of Virginia's hidden gems. Part of me doesn't want to tell you how to get here because finding it is half of the fun! We stumbled on this forest oasis a few years back, and now we return at LEAST once per summer. This spring fed mountain pond is such a treat for hikers and mountain bikers in the summer. You can access it via the Bird Knob Trail in New Market, VA. Part of the reason it's such a treat is because it's a challenging hike! Out and back, the hike is over 9 miles and 1,600 feet of elevation gain (the majority of which is in the first 2 miles), with some very rocky terrain. Once you reach the ridge line, there are some beautiful views of the valley below, and the trail becomes much easier. You can cool off at the pond, or spend the night in one of a few dispersed camping spots nearby.

Location: New Market, VA

Breweries to check out after:

  • Far Gohn, (Culpeper)

  • Beer Hound (Culpeper)

  • Woodstock Brew House (Woodstock)

  • Box Office Brewery (Strasburg)

  • Hawksbill Brewery (Luray)

Charlottesville, VA

11. Crabtree Falls (VA) Hike

This is easily one of VA's must-do hikes, just beware that it's a popular one. (Supposedly) Crabtree Falls is the tallest "set" of waterfalls East of the Mississippi. I say "supposedly," as other waterfalls in Eastern U.S. have claimed this title too. I also noted (VA) in case there's any confusion with Crabtree Falls in North Carolina. Anyway, Virginia's Crabtree Falls is a series of cascades that total somewhere between 1,000-1,200 feet in length. You probably won't get a single view of the full 1,000 feet, but there are several amazing viewpoints to check out! The tallest cascade in the series drops 400 feet, and that alone is worth seeing.

You'll find this hike in George Washington National Forest within an hour from Charlottesville.

Tip: If you have a high clearance vehicle, park at Crabtree Meadows instead of the regular parking lot. This trail is a lot less traveled, and you can hike to Spy Rock or Priest Summit from here too!

Location: Tyro, VA

12. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

This option is here for hikers and non-hikers alike. The Blue Ridge Parkway is just so scenic as it winds its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The parkway begins in Charlottesville and connects Shenandoah National Park to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. There are several amazing overlooks to stop and enjoy for as long as you like. Snap a few photos, have a picnic, watch the sunset- spend time here however your heart desires. A popular VA overlook for sunset is Thunder Ridge. If you do want a hike, check out Humpback rocks near the beginning of the parkway. It's short and steep, but has views in every direction. I also recommend Sharp Top (one of three Peaks of Otter) further down the parkway toward Roanoke!

Breweries to check out after:

  • Champion (Charlottesville)

  • Starr Hill Brewery (Charlottesville)

  • Random Row Brewing (Charlottesville)

Roanoke, VA

13. Carvins Cove via Hay Rock Hike

This hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke is one of my favorites in the state! The views of Carvins Cove below will make you forget you're even in Virginia. The full hike is 7.7 miles out and back, but you don't need to go all the way to Hay Rock for the best views. There are several great viewpoints around 2.5 miles into the hike (where the photo is from). When you've finished hiking, move on to number 14 below!

Location: Daleville, VA

14. Kayak or Paddle in Carvins Cove

Carvin's Cove is actually a Natural Reserve and boasts a beautiful Recreation Area. It's a total hidden gem with some of the bluest water I've seen in Virginia! While you cannot swim here (it's a watershed), you CAN explore the cove via kayak or SUP. There's a minimal entry fee, and you can also rent watercraft by the hour. That's not all though- this 13,000 acre national preserve also boasts trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding!

Location: Roanoke, VA

15. Apple Orchard Falls Hike

This waterfall hike is a must-do right off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Buchanan, VA. It's North of the three Peaks of Otter (which I also recommend hiking) and East of Natural Bridge State Park (#18 below). The hike itself isn't very long (under 3 miles out and back), but it is a steep one. You'll descend 1,000 feet to reach the 200' tall Apple Orchard Falls, and then return the way you came. This hike starts at the Sunset Field Overlook near Milepost 78.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Bedford.

Location: Buchanan, VA

16. Mcafee Knob Hike

I'm sure many of you have heard of this one- part of the VA Triple Crown (along with Dragon's Tooth and Tinker Cliffs), McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail! It's a hyped up hike that people come from all around to world to experience, and it's on this list because it's worth the hype! The views from the top are incredible, and while the ~8 mile distance may be daunting, the trail itself isn't all that difficult. This is one of those hike's I'd recommend early in the morning, but I want to point out that it's a popular sunrise hike, so you're not very likely to have it to yourself. Be sure to continue on past the knob, there are some additional viewpoints worth your while that you're more likely to have to yourself.

Location: Catawba, VA

17. Dragons Tooth Hike

Another hike in Virginia's Triple Crown, Dragon's Tooth is about half the distance of McAfee Knob, but the trail itself is much more challenging. It gains 1,300 feet in about 2 miles, and there are some technical sections that involve rock scrambling and metal rungs. Personally, I found it a lot more fun than McAfee Knob, and the jutting rock formations at the top really resemble Dragon's Teeth. We loved climbing to the top of them, but that of course is not a requirement!

Tip: Check out the food and beer scene in Roanoke after hiking! Breweries are listed below, but if you aren't a beer fan, try Mill Mountain Coffee!

Also, if you're up for a bit of dirt road driving, head out to Hanging Rock. It's a super short hike to an incredible viewpoint that will make you feel like you're hanging off the edge of the world.

Location: Catawba, VA

18. Natural Bridge State Park

Ever seen a bridge made by Mother Nature? The 215-foot tall Natural Bridge is a Limestone Gorge carved out by a creek. It's now a National Historic Landmark in Virginia that you really have to see. You can experience the bridge by paying a visit to Natural Bridge State Park and walking .25 miles downhill into the Glen on the Cedar Creek Trail. There is also an option to continue on to Monacan Indian Village and Lace Falls (with a 30-foot cascade), making for a 2 mile RT jaunt.

Tip: The descent to the bridge from the visitors center requires taking 137 stairs, so have sturdy shoes and keep the stroller in the car.

Location: Natural Bridge, VA

Breweries to check out after:

  • Three Notch'd (Roanoke)

  • Old Salem (Roanoke)

  • Big Lick Brewing Company (Roanoke)

  • Golden Cactus (Roanoke)

Southwest VA- Damascus/Abingdon

19. Devils Bathtub

Devil's bathtub is a beautiful, naturally formed blue pool that resembles a"bathtub!" Don't be fooled by photos, the bathtub is actually quite small. The really attractive feature is the big blue swimming hole right before the bathtub! It comes complete with a rope swing for those who dare to get wet (and cold).

The most popular hiking route is 4.4 miles out and back. There are ~13 stream crossings, which means you should expect to get wet. I saw a lot of people in water shoes, but I personally can’t hike in those. Option 2 is a longer 7+ mile loop via Devils Fork that avoids stream crossings, but has more elevation gain. There is potential for flash flooding here, so be careful if it’s been raining. In terms of parking, there is a small lot at the trailhead, which is down a rough dirt road. About .5 miles before the trail, there’s a larger gravel lot. We parked there, as we arrived around 11:30am and expected the smaller lot to be full. It’s SUPER important to only park in designated areas.

Location: Duffield, VA

20. Natural Tunnel State Park

We visited Natural Tunnel State Park on a whim, and it exceeded any expectations we may have had! While Natural Tunnel was formed over many millennia, it wasn’t until the 1890’s that the South Atlantic and Ohio railroad took advantage by constructing tracks through it. It was later purchased by another company who made it a passenger line. Today, the line is still open, but only to transport coal.

Hikers can experience incredible views of the tunnel from above or below. Take the short (but steep) Tunnel trail down to a viewing platform right along the train tracks, OR take the Lovers Leap trail for sweeping views from the highest point above the tunnel. Legend has it that a Cherokee maiden and a Shawnee warrior who were forbidden to marry jumped to their deaths from here, hence the name.

Location: Duffield, VA

21. Beach Day at Hungry Mother State Park

This state park is the perfect place to cool off this summer! It's one of the 6 original VA state parks and features a 108 acre lake with a beach area for swimming. Curious about the name?

Well, according to Southwest Virginians, the legend goes like this: A pioneer named Molly and her child were captured and held captive at a Native American camp. They eventually escaped, wandering through the forest in search of food and shelter. After Molly collapsed from exhaustion, her child continued on to find help. When she was finally found, the only words she could speak were “hungry mother.” Molly was later found dead at the base of the mountain, which would be named “Mollys Knob.” We hiked to the top of that very mountain before heading down to the beach!

Location: Marion, VA

22. Hike with Ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park

In addition to stunning landscapes, wild ponies make Grayson Highlands a truly unique VA park. I recommend the 4ish mile hike from Massie Gap to the top of Wilburn Ridge. The 360 views from the top are incredible- you can even see the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee! It's almost a guarantee the ponies will be out along the trail somewhere. I have to say it- PLEASE do not approach, feed, pet, or otherwise bother the ponies. Another great hike option here is from the same parking area, just across the street. A short hike will take you through a fairy tale forest setting (think mossy trees & boulders), to a beautiful view from Twin Pinnacles.

Grayson Highlands also boasts the highest point in Virginia (Mount Rogers). I've heard the hike here is great, but there aren't actually any views from the "summit." Where you can get amazing views is from Whitetop Mountain. Drive up Whitetop road and/or take the trailhead to the second tallest peak in VA.

Location: Mouth of Wilson, VA

Breweries to check out after:

  • Damascus Brewery (Damascus)

  • Wolf Hills Brewing (Abindgon)

Coastal VA

23. Camp with Wild Horses on Chincoteague Island

It has been AGES since I've been to Chincoteague Island, but I felt it was only right to include some of Virginia's amazing coastal areas in here too. Just think beautiful beaches, wild horses, beach biking, quaint shops. There's no shortage of activities to do on the island. It's a very popular spot to beach camp in the summer, just make sure the wild horses don't get into your food! I specifically remember enjoying freshly caught blue crab for dinner during my time here, and overall just relaxing in a beautiful place. There are amazing nature trails at the wildlife refuge and opportunities for kayaking or paddle boarding on the salt marshes. Head out at sunrise or sunset to be really wowed!

Location: Chincoteague, VA- Virginia's Eastern Shore

24. Virginia Beach

You can probably tell by now that I prefer the mountains to the beach, but I can't put together a summer activity list without mentioning Virginia Beach. For me, it's worth a visit for the breweries alone! Of course, I'm attending breweries and wine festivals at Virginia Beach as an adult, but I have very fond memories of our family vacations there as a child. We'd spend the day boogie boarding at the beach and then rent bikes to pedal the boardwalk at night (stopping for ice cream of course!). Now, I'm more interested in hiking or kayaking, and I have yet to visit what are probably the best places for that- First Landing State Park and False Cape State Park. Whatever you're into- Virginia Beach honestly has something for everyone!

Location: Virginia Beach, VA

Breweries to check out after:

  • Smartmouth (VA Beach)

  • Commonwealth (VA Beach)

  • New Realm (VA Beach)

That's all I have for now. I'll be updating this list as I check off more places, but I think you have plenty to start with! How many of these have you done so far?

Happy exploring! As always, thank you supporting me as I show off my favorite places in this beautiful state. Please remember to follow the principles of Leave No Trace when you visit these outdoor spaces. Learn more at


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