Lifestyle

So You're Feeling a Little Stressed After That Election? You Need to Escape to the Most Beautiful Places in Virginia.

Here's the thing, DC: no matter what side you voted on this week, we can all agree that this has been an incredibly stressful election season. We deserve a break. Go ahead and pack up the car this weekend and escape to some fresh air and relaxation: we've mapped out the most beautiful spots in Virginia that will help you unwind. 

Light of Truth Universal Shrine

LOTUS -- Light of Truth Universal Shrine

Buckingham
This interfaith shrine-meets-ashram with altars representing at least 10 religions was built in 1986 as a part of Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidananda’s yogaville. Unfortunately, Satchidananda is best known for the protests against him at Woodstock for serious allegations, but the $2 million, hippy dippy lotus dome he conceived of is a real looker.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Great Dismal Swamp & Lake Drummond

Chesapeake
This place is so eerily beautiful it inspires poetry. No really, it does. Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote one about the Lady of the Lake -- a legend about a Native American ghost who paddles around in her white canoe after dying just short of her wedding day. The wildlife area home to the lake spans Virginia and North Carolina is a whopping 111,200 acres. Be sure to take the Washington Ditch Trail and snap photos of the cypress trees emerging from Lake Drummond’s dark waters (stained amber by tannic acid). Also, look out for black bears.

Abandoned Virginia Renaissance Faire

Fredericksburg
If a barista and a mixologist were to marry, these ruins of an abandoned renaissance faire would be the painfully cool backdrop for their wedding photos amiright? The faire only operated in Fredericksburg from 1996-1999, leaving behind ruins of medieval buildings in an area resembling Sherwood Forest. Broken-down beautiful may be an acquired taste, but if it’s your thing, this site is top notch. You might be better served exploring it via a Google image search instead of actually driving there, given the "no trespassing" signs designed to protect you from hunters and tetanus (but hey, your call!). Fortunately, a drone caught it all on camera.

Courtesy of Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery

Richmond
Before you shake your fist at us for calling something that reminds you of your own mortality beautiful, hear us out. The Gothic-looking cemetery doubles as a 135-acre garden with paths for exploring overlooking the James River. No wonder two presidents (Monroe and Tyler) and six Virginia governors use it as their final resting place. Check out it’s cool circular landscape that evades the typical grid-like layout of a cemetery, and if you’re too lazy to walk about, you can make a reservation with a local Segway company.

Steve Blakely

Tangier Island

Chesapeake Bay
To traffic-worn Washingtonians, an island devoid of cars is a very beautiful thing. Tangier is a trapped-in-time waterman’s paradise only accessible by air or sea, meaning once you get there you’re using golf carts or bikes to explore the soft-shell crab farms, unspoiled beaches, ice cream shops, and otherwise idyllic surroundings. The sunsets are outstanding, the seafood is fresh, the streets are narrow, and the way of life is non-asshole.  

Foamhenge

Natural Bridge
Your mission: see how many of your friends you can fool on Facebook with a post bragging you made a weekend trip to the UK by taking a selfie in front of Foamhenge instead of Stonehenge. The replica, built by Mark Cline in 2004, is full-size and the pieces are in astronomically correct positions (cough, overachiever, cough). It’s actually quite striking once you get past the goofiness.

Virginia Department of Conservation & Preservation

Fairy Stone State Park

Stuart
Pop off the Blue Ridge Parkway to kick it at this 168-acre, boomerang-shaped lake that looks more New England than Southwestern Virginia. This land of no Wi-Fi is good for families and technology addicts alike, and is best known for “fairy stones,” which people come to “hunt.” These sought-after pebbles carry a St. Andrew’s Cross shape and various legends. In addition to sifting through sand, visitors can swim, boat, hike, and camp.  

Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Martha Jefferson Hospital Wildflower Meadows

Charlottesville
A meadow of golden wildflowers that stretches out before you like the Yellow Brick Road is a stunner, so what if it surrounds a hospital. A landscape design firm is to thank for creating the lush setting that encourages healing. However, those in good health can and should enjoy it too. Take the path that encircles the pond and escape for a while.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens Conservatory

Richmond
Approaching this enormous, 11,000sqft glass temple to nature from a distance is impressive enough, but what’s inside is even more special. You can find orchids, succulents (so hot right now), tropical plants, and butterflies as you explore each wing all capped off by a 63ft dome. A winter visit means twinkling lights and a warm place to kill a few hours.

The Channels Natural Area Preserve

Abingdon
Quick rocks-for-jocks explanation on these spectacular rock formations ripe for exploration: they are 400-million-year-old sandstone outcroppings formed under the influence of permafrost and ice wedging during the last ice age. Now that that’s out of the way, The Channels are super cool to hike around thanks to their maze-like hidden passageways, funky moss-stained colors, and potential for Indiana Jones reenactments. Find them on the slope of Clinch Mountain within the Channels State Forest.

The Concrete Fleet at Kiptopeke

Cape Charles
Kiptopeke State Park on Virginia’s Eastern Shore packs quite a surprise: crumbling, algae-covered concrete ships forming a natural breakwater. The WWII-era S.S. Edwin Thatcher, S.S. Leonard Chase Wason, and other vessels were brought into Kiptopeke Beach to protect to the terminal during severe weather, but they’re also fun to look at or kayak around. Why concrete? There was a severe steel shortage during WWI and WWII, so we thought, what the hell, let’s see if concrete can float. Twenty-four “McCloskey Ships” were constructed, and nine can be seen at Kiptopeke.

Huntley Meadows Park

Alexandria
It’s hard to believe a tangle of highways and our nation’s capital is a blip away from these serene wetlands whose cinematography-potential should be noted in case there’s ever another The Notebook movie (please no). As you snake through the hidden-gem grounds on connecting boardwalks, look for beavers, deer, heron, snakes, and turtles. Note: no bikes or dogs on the boardwalk.

Natural Chimneys Park

Mt. Solon
These chimneys would give any Santa Claus a stiffy because even the heaviest St. Nick could theoretically get down these wide stacks. The natural chimneys are evidence that the Shenandoah Valley was at one point the floor of an inland sea, which carefully etched out these structures when it receded. There are seven of them popping out of the pasture, some as tall as 120ft.

Staunton River State Park

Scottsburg
Wait long after the sun has set to visit this state park in the summer, because that’s when the magic happens. Staunton River is one of only 25 parks in the WORLD that has the designation of an International Dark Sky Park. That means the bright lights of civilization don’t muddy the view of the night sky for astronomers (or any dude with a rent-a-telescope available on site). This means you can see stars, planets, and nebulae. Look for the park’s seasonal star parties that invite stargazers into the park after dark during seasons other than summer.

The Jefferson Pools

Hot Springs
The natural hot spring pools on the grounds of The Omni Homestead Resort are so named the Jefferson Pools because TJ enjoyed a good soak in them when he passed through in 1818. As beautiful as the hot steam is escaping against a mountainous backdrop, the inside of these bathhouses are pretty spectacular, too. The octagon-shaped Gentleman’s Pool House (pictured) is the oldest spa in the US, with a birth date of 1761. Take in their beauty Thurs-Sun (family soak with swimsuits 12pm-2pm and adult soak with swimsuits optional 2pm-5pm).

Cove Ridge Center

Natural Tunnel State Park

Duffield
To get to the main attraction -- a long, naturally formed tunnel that’s about 10 stories high -- you have to take a chairlift. Hey, at least it’s not a T-bar. Three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan dubbed this Appalachian beauty the “Eighth Wonder of the World” because of its vastness. The park is enormous and has a lot to offer from canoe trips and cool rock formations to cabins to stay in. The following two beautiful places are within driving distance.

The Devil’s Bathtub

Scott County
Bring your trunks because you’re going to want to take a dip in this natural pool of blue-green water surrounded by sandstone. The naturally smooth watering hole contains a waterslide rock and is a perfect place to spend an hour admiring its beauty while totally immersed in its waters. The bad news is the Devil’s Bathtub is only accessible by the difficult 7.2mi Devil’s Fork Loop Trail. The good news is you only have to go 1.5mi in to reach it.

ceason

High Knob Observation Tower

Norton
The last time you saw five states in one day was when you were listening to No Doubt during college visits with mom. Try again without the nagging at High Knob Observation Tower, newly rebuilt in 2014 after an arson fire destroyed the original on Halloween in 2007. The lookout at the top of Stone Mountain in Appalachia provides views you’ll still be talking about years later, especially if you’re there at sunrise or sunset.

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Laura Hayes is a DC-based food, drink, and travel writer who believes beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder. Follow her adventures @BTMenu.