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Let the kids explore their inner Van Gogh at Amazement Square-Rightmire Museum in Lynchburg. There’s plenty of space for their tiny hands to create original artwork.
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Come face to face with creatures of the past, including dinosaurs, at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.
Are we there yet?” Ah, the inevitable question posed by squirming kids in the back seat of the car, anxious to reach the exciting destination. The inquiry may be unavoidable, but there’s a remedy for the number of times it’s heard.
It takes less than one tank of gas from Roanoke to reach kid-oriented activities that make for fun-filled afternoons. Museums, parks and natural wonders sit just one to three hours away, waiting to be explored. In some cases, you’ll get there so fast, they won’t have time to wonder how much longer the car ride will be.
So load up the kids, pack a snack and enjoy some time in the life of a daytripper. It’s a trend you’re likely to stick with.
Here are 10 cool places in Virginia to help you plan your next day trip.
It’s just a 45-minute jaunt along I-81 to reach one of the seven natural wonders of the world. After marveling at the magnificent rocky arch, which formed when a cavern collapsed, the kids will want to enjoy the many other activities in the area. Visitors to the Native American Village will learn firsthand about Native American life 300 years ago through assisting with canoe building, fishing and more.
Two local zoos put you up-close-and-personal with exotic animals. Virginia Safari Park is Virginia’s only drive-thru zoo where families can feed the roaming wildlife. Natural Bridge Zoo features a petting area and a chance to view more than 400 animals. Parents will reminisce at The Toy Museum’s display of childhood memorabilia from 1740-2000. Who knows, the kids may even discover you once played with Mr. Potato Head too! 800-533-1410; naturalbridgeva.com.
Luray Caverns, Luray
Youngsters will quickly learn just how cool stalactite and stalagmite formations can be at Luray Caverns – located just two-and-a-half hours from the Star City. They are sure to be in awe as they explore these below-ground natural wonders that fill the caverns with massive stone columns. Lighted pathways guide the way. Emerging on terra firma, you’ll also want to visit the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum to tour milestones in transportation, the Luray Singing Tower that contains a carillon of 47 bells and the Garden Maze with twisting pathways among eight feet of arborvitae. 540-743-6551; luraycaverns.com
Danville Science Center, Danville
Dedicated to making science exciting for all ages, the Danville Science Center – an hour-and-a-half away – offers numerous hands-on exhibits, as well as its popular Butterfly Station and Garden (open April through mid-October). Among the fluttering butterflies, kids will enjoy identifying the many types of the species, hunting for cocoons and mixing nectar. Through May 25, the Amazing Butterflies exhibit lets you experience life as a caterpillar by walking on giant leaves, learning what caterpillars eat and finding the right route to becoming a butterfly.
Year-round exhibits include Fundamentals of Science, where kids will love launching balls to learn about orbits or creating electricity and watching the sparks fly. Sproutsville, ideal for ages 3-7, features a small-scale town with building blocks, a stage and puppet play area, magnetic shapes and color investigations. 434-791-5160; dsc.smv.org.
Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville
Drive just an hour south to the Virginia Museum of Natural History and be greeted by the skeleton of a Pteranodon – a reptile with a 20-foot wing-span – suspended from the 40-foot ceiling. The museum explores natural history through exhibits and educational programs for all ages. Current exhibits are Wonders of the Deep: Marine Mollusks, which includes species both large and microscopic (on display through June 28), and Rediscovering the Forgotten Garden, exploring the natural resources and history of Lee Memorial Park (May 16 through Jan. 10, 2010). Other highlights include archeology displays, dinosaurs and sloths.
Two Saturday events promise fun for the whole family. On May 30, the kids will love the Bug Daze Family Festival, complete with educational displays of unusual insects. July 25’s Reptile Day features live snakes, turtles and lizards, exhibits and children’s crafts. 276-634-4141; vmnh.net.
Amazement Square – Rightmire Children’s Museum, Lynchburg
Traversing through a maze of pathways, tunnels and slides, the kids will easily exert the energy they built up in the one-hour-and-15-minute ride to Amazement Square. This children’s museum features the tallest indoor climbing tower in the nation that leads to an expansive observation deck on the roof. After navigating the tower, youngsters will find interactive exhibits such as Your Amazing Body, where they can walk through a human heart display, or Once Upon a Building, ideal for pretending to be an architect or construction worker. For the little ones – ages four and under – Big Red Barn teaches about life on a farm and how to milk a life-size cow.
Throughout 2009, Amazement Square will host a series of programs and special events centered on the theme Growing Up Global to encourage museum visitors to engage in the global family. These programs will highlight an array of world cultures, celebrations and traditions while emphasizing common values in the 21st century. On May 23, Children’s Day, a Nigerian celebration, will introduce visitors to the music, art, food and culture of Nigeria and other African countries. 434-845-1888; amazementsquare.org.
Galewinds Amusement Park and Raceway, Wytheville
The thrill of racing around the tracks, making a hole-in-one or scoring high on a game will keep the kids excited for hours at Galewinds Amusement Park. Located just an hour and a half from Roanoke, the facility boasts four go-cart tracks – Sprint Cars, Super Speedway, a Road Course and a Kiddie Track. When they are finished beating dad on the raceway, the youngsters will want to test their skills on the 18-hole mini golf course or play the variety of games in the arcade, the largest in the area. Celebrating a special occasion? Galewinds features a party room where you can enjoy ice cream, snacks and sodas, and a picnic shelter for large gatherings. 276-228-3020; galewindsspeedworld.com.
Massanutten WaterPark, McGaheysville
How could you go wrong with 80,000-square-feet of splish-splash recreation? It’s only two hours to this water-based haven of slides, pools, waterfalls and more. Popular attractions among kids and adults include Pipeline, Virginia’s first simulated surfing ride; Blue Ridge Rapids, where a tube ride takes you through fast-moving waters and under falling water; and the outdoor White Caps wave pool.
The indoor park is open year-round while the outdoor portion opens on Memorial Day weekend. To keep children active, the park also features an arcade, complete with bowling, basketball and air hockey. There’s also a snack bar and a buffet, plus opportunities to enjoy birthday parties at the park. 540-437-3340; massresort.com.
Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton
Reenactments and exhibits portraying the life of early settlers will give children a unique – and intriguing – history lesson. The Frontier Culture Museum, an hour-and-a-half drive, contains six reproductions of settlements from the 1600s and 1700s, including those of German, Scots-Irish, English and American pioneers. Two more displays offer a glimpse into 1820s and 1850s America.
As you tour the exhibits, living history demonstrations show you how farmers did their chores and took care of the farm animals. Special reenactments demonstrate how the farmers prepared for the changing seasons and how the settlers celebrated various holidays. 540-332-7850; frontiermuseum.org.
Harrisonburg Children’s Museum, Harrisonburg
Geared towards ages 2-12, the interactive exhibits at Harrisonburg Children’s Museum are sure to engage their curious minds. After a two-hour trip, your kids will enjoy designing and building in the Construction Zone, letting their creativity shine in the Creation Station Art Studio or testing their skills on the mountain-themed climbing wall. Other highlights include a theater exhibit for dressing up and performing; country kitchen and market, where kids can dig for vegetables and cook a meal; and game corner, complete with games of strategy, group games and games for one. The museum also is available for birthday parties. 540-442-8900; hcmuseum.org.
If You’ve Got a Little More Time …
Pamplin Historical Park’s Discovery Program for ages 8-13 is worth the three-hour trip to Petersburg. The children will learn Civil War history through fun activities throughout the park, beginning with an introduction to Delevan Miller, a 13-year-old drummer boy who served with the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment.
Other experiences include trying on Civil War uniforms or period clothing at the Military Encampment, testing drumming skills or playing interactive games at the Battlefield Center. The park also offers two-hour Civil War-themed birthday parties that feature 19th-century games and crafts, a rifle demonstration and free treats. 804-861-2408; pamplinpark.org.
When You Go
Hours: Vary by attraction.
Admission: Prices vary. Call or see website for details.
Virginia Museum of Natural History
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday.
Admission: Adult, $9; college student, senior and active military, $7; child 3-18, $5; under 3, free. Group rates available.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.; open 1-5 p.m. Mondays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Admission: General, $7; senior, $6; children under 12, free. Group rates available.
Danville Science Center
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.; closed Monday.
Admission: Adult, $6; child (4-12), senior (60+) and active military, $5. Group rates available.
Galewinds Amusement Park
Hours: Friday, 4-10 p.m.; Saturday, 1-10 p.m.; Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
Pricing: $5 per ticket for kiddie, road and slick tracks; $8 per ticket for sprint cars. Adult, $5 and child (12 and under), $3 for minigolf.
Frontier Culture Museum
Hours: Mid-March–Dec. 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Dec. 1–mid-March, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: Adult, $10; senior, $9.50; student (ages 13-college), $9; child (6-12), $6; under 6, free. Group rates available.
Hours and admission prices vary. Call or see website for details.
Harrisonburg Children’s Museum
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday;
1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
Admission: $4.50 per person; free for children under 2.
Hours: Tours begin at 9 a.m.; last tour begins at 6 p.m. through June 14, 7 p.m. June 15-Labor Day.
Admission: Adult, $21; children through age 12, $7.
Pamplin Historical Park
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Reservations required for weekend visits.
Admission: Adult, $10; child (6-12), $5; under 6, free.