Still have some winter blues to shake out and can’t wait for summer vacations? Pregame a longer trip with a day-long adventure. Here are a few suggestions (out of hundreds) close to home.
When I saw this list of places to visit in Virginia, my first reaction was “Virginia, I do not know you at all.” I hadn’t heard of most of the attractions (including Kiptopeke Concrete Ships), or half of the locations (There’s a Duffield, Virginia?). One of the things I love about this state is that there are hundreds of places to explore. There are many touristy things in Richmond I still haven’t done. Virginia has unlimited potential for day trips and long weekends.1 Here is a limited list of those unlimited places that you can visit in a day.
I’m a big fan of the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton (which is day trip-able, but more than two hours away), but I wasn’t aware of the Meadow Farm Museum less than 30 minutes away in Henrico until my daughter had a (cancelled) field trip scheduled there. Meadow Farm is a living history museum that recreates southern farm life in 1860, though I’m sure that the playgrounds are up to modern-day code. Meadow Farm also has barn animals, a fishing pond, and good ol’ learning about life back in the 1800’s with a farmhouse, doctor’s office, barn, and blacksmith forge.
I’m Internet-stalking Henrico’s Parks and Recreation site. The historical sites and parks seem like a great way to pack a day. I’m not saying that I love Richmond any less, but I now recognize that Henrico is a fully formed place to live and visit. I retract all previous statements.
The home of Dolley Madison–America’s first First Lady–and that guy she married, James “Little Jimmy” Madison, has gone through renovations in the years since I’ve been there, but I assume that the house tour is still interesting and that the grounds are still perfect for walks, hikes, and picnics, or whatever it is kids do. What sets this apart from your regular presidential home is the old growth forest on the property, which means that nothing has been done to alter it (no fires, cutting, planting, or building of weird fairy gardens). Your junior birdwatchers have plenty to find in the biodiverse woods. Montpelier, located about 90 minutes away in Orange, also has exhibits about the Madisons, the Constitution, and the generations of enslaved people who lived, worked, and died on the plantation.
If you’re into presidential homes and other historical sites but think your kid(s) would be bored, while that might be true, give them a chance–the kids and history. My parents took us to sites like this all the time when we were young, and maybe that’s why I’ve always liked historical places with rock candy and copies of famous documents in gift shops. But if it sounds like someplace you don’t want to go, regardless of how your kids feel, then don’t bother. You’re the one driving.
Richmond has lovely parks for romping, hiking, and biking, but when it gets hot outside it’s also nice to be someplace where swimming is an option, too. I know, we can swim in the James River, but Bear Creek Lake in Cumberland and Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania both have designated swimming areas with places to change and shower and fewer beer cans to step over. Both are about an hour outside of town. Of the two, I’ve only been to Bear Creek Lake. It’s a nice, scenic place for an afternoon of swimming and other outdoor activities like trail hiking and fishing, and also has a playground. Bear Creek has both camping and cabin rentals. Lake Anna offers all the same, but has multi-use trails (for biking and horseback riding).
While looking up more information on state parks, I found a listing for Kiptopeke State Park. And in further research,2 I learned from my sister that Kiptopeke State Park is a great place to stay, and she has kayaked around the previously mentioned concrete ships. My life has come full circle! State parks are the best!
Every fall I get a hankering for the barbecue sandwich at Carter Mountain Orchard, the sauce on which is made with the orchard’s apple cider. Then I want the donuts. And the apple cider slushies. And the apples, I guess. But then I think about how crazy crowded it gets on the mountain with apple and pumpkin picking, and I file that visit away for next year. One of the less-hectic trips I’ve had there was on a rainy weekday, so even though we couldn’t pick apples, we still had a nice lunch at Michie Tavern, spent some time looking at home goods in the market, and still had a selection of already-picked fruit (and donuts).
When the fruit season really gets going at Carter Mountain Orchard, it’s for peach-picking in late June (but check the website to be sure they’re ready). I can’t say if you’re less likely to get elbowed off the mountain from hordes of people in the spring and summer, but I haven’t noticed Instagram photos of preschoolers picking rotting peaches off the ground, only apples later in the year. Plus, is there anything better than a local, fresh peach? Other than all the unnaturally sugary foods you can buy at the orchard? Even if the trees are fruitless, I don’t imagine that one could visit the orchard, take in the view from the top of the mountain and think “This was a waste of time.”
I love Colonial Williamsburg as much as the next person, but if I never go there again that’s completely fine. I know, “The Cheese Shop is there,” but maybe I’m not as into the Cheese Shop as everyone else. Hey, it turns out I don’t love Colonial Williamsburg. Oh well.
There are plenty of other ways to spend quality time in the Williamsburg area, like going to the Jamestown Settlement or the Jamestown_e_ Settlement. Or, let’s put historical entertainment on the back-burner right now and zip-line through lots of trees at the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course in Freedom Park. Reading about it makes me want to barf, but if you’re into climbing and flying around, this is a great place to check out.
Children as young as 10 are able to use the main course, which–according to the website–“allows participants to explore the park from an otherwise unobtainable vantage point while navigating through the treetops using zip lines, obstacles and Tarzan swings.” Don’t worry–training is required before you or your loved ones can be flung into a tree. For your little apes, a less intense zip line course is available. It’s designed for kids as young as three, but the only requirement is that the child is at least 39 inches tall. There are a lot of guidelines to follow, so check out the FAQ before booking. Currently it’s only open on weekends, but will be open daily in June through August. Reservations can be made online, and it sounds like it books up quickly.
Photo by: vastateparksstaff
- I’d love to spend more time traveling around southwest Virginia. My parents live in Waynesboro, and all the day trips I’ve taken from there (Natural Bridge, the Natural Bridge Zoo, where I was chase by a llama, The Cheese Shop in Stuart’s Draft–no relation to the Williamsburg Cheese Shop–and Staunton) have been fun, and I’ve enjoyed previous visits to Roanoke and a drive from Richmond to Tennessee. It’s hard to think of Richmond being part of “the South,” when this region of Virginia is clearly where the South starts. ↩
- I consider texting my sister “research.” ↩