Travel

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Virginia

Get some fresh air.

Huntley Meadows
Huntley Meadows | Finiky/Flickr
Huntley Meadows | Finiky/Flickr

We can all agree that 2020 has been incredibly stressful -- and we deserve a break. We would all love a good vacation right about now, but we still need to be safe and maintain social distance. Here’s the thing, DC: There are plenty of places to escape the indoors and get some fresh air and relaxation, all while staying away from crowds. Here are some of the most beautiful spots around Virginia that will help you unwind, relax, and refresh, all while maintaining social distance. Just remember to bring your mask along just in case.

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). The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries reminds visitors to maintain social distancing while in its parks and waterways.

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 its cool circular landscape that evades the typical grid-like layout of a cemetery. The best way to get around is a walk. Follow social distance protocols and make note that public restrooms are closed.

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 -- all while staying six feet apart. The sunsets are outstanding, the seafood is fresh, the streets are narrow, and the way of life is non-jerk.

Foamhenge

Natural Bridge
You are probably not going to be able to fool your friends with a post bragging you made a weekend trip to the UK by taking a selfie in front of Foamhenge instead of Stonehenge, given no one’s flying anywhere right now. The replica, built by Mark Cline in 2004, is full-size (but way lighter) and is actually quite striking. Note that the nearby Corner Market is closed for the spring and summer season this year.

Fairy Stone State Park
Fairy Stone State Park | Virginia Department of Conservation and 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. Cabin rentals are available for longer stays. Face coverings are required in all park facilities and picnic shelters and group sites have an occupancy cap of 50 people.

The Channels Natural Area Preserve
The Channels Natural Area Preserve | Frances Grace Coeburn/Flickr

The Channels Natural Area Preserve

Abingdon
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 number of visitors allowed are restricted so best to go mid-week, early morning, or late afternoon. Also, the parking area is limited to 10 vehicles at a time.

The Concrete Fleet
The Concrete Fleet | Kristi/Flickr

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 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
Huntley Meadows Park | Malcolm K./Flickr

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 and face coverings are required unless you are exercising.

Natural Chimneys Park
Natural Chimneys Park | PatrickRohe/Flickr

Natural Chimneys Park

Mt. Solon
These 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 120 feet. Campgrounds are currently closed but daytime use of the park is open while keeping your social distance.

Staunton River State Park
Staunton River State Park | Virginia State Parks/Flickr

Staunton River State Park

Scottsburg
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. Due to high water levels, the restrooms in picnic area #2 are closed and the swimming pool will not open during 2020.

Cove Ridge Center
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. 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. Face coverings are required in all park facilities and picnic shelters and group sites have an occupancy cap of 50 people. The swimming pool is closed during 2020.

Devil's Bathtub
Devil's Bathtub | clintonlewis/Flickr

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 7.2.-mile Devil’s Fork Loop Trail. The good news is you only have to go 1.5 miles in to reach it. Visitors must maintain a safe social distance and wear a face covering unless they are exercising.

High Knob Observation Tower

Norton
High Knob Observation Tower provides lookouts with views that you’ll still be talking about years later, especially if you’re there at sunrise or sunset. On a clear day, it’s possible to view five states from the upper platform of the tower. This site is open for recreation but the public restrooms are closed.

Grayson Highlands
Grayson Highlands | Frank Kehren/Flickr

Grayson Highlands

Mouth of Wilson
If you are into wild ponies and grassy pastures, Grayson Highlands is for you. Set high in the Virginian Appalachians in the Jefferson National Forest, there are trails, horses, meadows and 5000+ foot peaks. All overnight backpackers must have a reservation to park in the overnight backpackers parking lot and self-pay upon arrival without a reservation is  no longer permitted. Reservations can be made in advance here.

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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.
Aparna Krishnamoorthy is a freelance food and travel writer based in Washington DC. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more dining and wanderlust adventures.