The Best National Parks in Virginia to Visit
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With a wide variety of history and natural beauty, the state of Virginia is home to more than 30 national park areas and historical sites. These national park sites encompass such natural landmarks as the Atlantic coastline, Blue Ridge Mountains, Allegheny Mountains, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
The best national parks in Virginia give you the opportunity to hike, bike, take scenic drives and learn from sites that have great historical significance.
Major National Parks For Nature Lovers
Shenandoah National Park has majestic valleys and mountains, where you can picnic, camp, go backcountry camping with a permit, fish in 30 of the park’s streams, and walk on more than 500 miles of hiking trails. Front Royal, Virginia, is the gateway to the park, where cars and bikes enter the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive scenic road that is connected to the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway. While visiting the park you can also trek on the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia.
Parks And Trails Are The Best Things To See
Theodore Roosevelt Island Park allows you to escape into nature for a couple of hours or an entire day in the heart of metropolitan Washington, D.C. The 88.5-acre island has 2.5 miles of unpaved trails, where you can hike, have a picnic, watch birds or simply relax. Located on the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, the island is open daily and is accessible to foot traffic only via a pedestrian bridge.
Great Falls Park is an 800-acre national park, where the Potomac River flows through the steep and jagged rocks of the Mather Gorge. Located 15 miles from Washington, D.C., this beautiful place offers you a variety of popular activities including easy hike trails for daytime hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. With cliffs that allow you to overlook Great Falls, below the falls you can whitewater kayak or go whitewater rafting on Class II and III rapids.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts allows you to rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit with educational programs and concerts catering to all ages from May to September. This is the only national park dedicated to the arts, where you may have picnics in picnic areas and recreate on the 130-acre property in Vienna, West Virginia, during the day.
National Seashores of North America
Assateague Island is a national seashore in Virginia and Maryland, where you can explore beaches, coastal bays, salt marshes, maritime forests, and the island’s 142-foot-tall lighthouse. Off-road vehicles are allowed in some areas of the park with a permit. Camping sites, parking lots, and picnic shelters are available with a permit. While exploring the island, you may see some of the island’s wild horses.
National Parks Around Blue Ridge Parkway Are Great For A Scenic Drive
As suggested by its name, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a park unto itself. This 469-mile-long linear park runs through the Blue Ridge chain of the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. The National Park Service oversees the entire parkway, which is connected to two major national parks at each end.
Road trippers looking for a scenic, easygoing trek through the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains would do well to make this journey, where the speed limit never rises above 45 mph and is more commonly posted at 35 mph.
Shenandoah Is The Best Park And A Great Place To See
The only national park in Virginia connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway is Shenandoah National Park at its northern terminus. Shenandoah Valley is a large, elongated park noted for its pristine forestland blanketing the high, undulating mountains.
Once you reach the park after driving along the parkway, it’s time to get out of the car and explore some of the hundreds of miles of trails, including the famed Appalachian Trail that runs between Georgia and Maine. Some of the more breathtaking scenery along the Appalachian Trail is found on the mountain balds, ridgelines, and overlooks inside Shenandoah, where taking short day hikes is a common activity for those traveling by car.
The Great Smoky Mountains Is One Of The Best Places To Visit
At the southern end of the parkway, you’ll find the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This most-visited U.S. national park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina; the Blue Ridge Parkway connects to the park on the North Carolina side. Head to Clingman’s Dome to take in the view from the observation tower — the highest point in the park.
Cades Cove provides visitors the chance to explore a wide, serene mountain valley and perhaps spot wildlife such as white-tailed deer and black bears (from a distance) while touring some historic sites from the days of the early settlers to the region.
Where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive begins. Essentially, it’s the same road as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s called Skyline Drive inside the park. It runs the length of the park for 105 miles, and the highest speed limit is 35 mph.
Like the parkway, it has plenty of overlooks where you can pull off to view the scenery and wildlife. Tack on this extra journey to your parkway driving itinerary if only for the bountiful display of colorful wildflowers by the side of the road in the spring and summer.
Good to Know
The mileposts of the Blue Ridge Parkway start at zero at Shenandoah National Park. So if you’re at, say, mile marker 200, it means you’re 200 miles from Shenandoah to the north and 269 miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south. Mileposts are on the western side of the parkway. The largest cities close to the parkway are Roanoke in Virginia and Boone and Asheville in North Carolina.
During the winter road closures are common because of snow and ice at higher elevations and in the tunnels. Check with the park service and visitor center about closures before embarking on your drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great way to experience the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Along with Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, you can drive along the winding roads, marvel at nature’s finest views, and capture picturesque landscapes — all while enjoying a slower pace of life. No matter how much of the parkway you decide to take on, it’s sure to be a truly memorable journey!
Finally, remember that along with taking in all the amazing scenery, it’s important to bring your camera and binoculars for some unforgettable wildlife watching. Happy trails!