These four destinations offer outdoor to-do’s that kids can handle, plus great places to dine and sleep, and a bonus item not to miss.
Family vacations can be amazing. Really, what’s better than quality time spent with the kiddos enjoying a break from day-to-day routines? But with school back in session and extracurricular activities in full swing, it can be difficult to squeeze in an extended getaway.
Luckily, Virginia’s mountains provide abundant options guaranteed to deliver family fun in the great outdoors. This fall, consider taking off on a day trip or weekend adventure to one of the four nearby destinations featured here. Each offers a mix of recreational opportunities, history, culture, culinary delights and local flavor.
The lure: Rising above Bedford County are the majestic Peaks of Otter: Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill. Located off Virginia 43 (milepost 86 of the Blue Ridge Parkway), Peaks of Otter is one of the region’s most popular hiking destinations and offers six family-friendly trails to suit every age and hiking level. The most strenuous option is the 1.5-mile trek to the top of Sharp Top. The summit, at 3,862 feet, offers an impressive 360-degree view of the region.
Don’t miss: A visit to the Bedford area wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the National D-Day Memorial, a powerful tribute to all Allied forces who participated in the invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II. The centerpiece of the 88-acre site is the towering Overlord Arch, which stands 44 feet, 6 inches tall, a nod to the date of the invasion, June 6, 1944.
Where to sleep: Peaks of Otter Lodge offers 63 rooms that overlook 24-acre Abbott Lake and Sharp Top. A fully shaded campground also is available. If you prefer to stay in the quaint and quiet town of Bedford, consider the Forget-Me-Not Bed & Breakfast, a restored Victorian home, or one of a number of area hotels.
Where to dine: The Peaks of Otter Lodge serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a view. The restaurant is well known for its surf-and-turf buffet on Friday nights and its Sunday brunch buffet. For a more intimate experience, visit the Millstone Tea Room, a restored, circa 1939 farmhouse where chef proprietors Jared and Melanie Srsic serve modern American cuisine prepared with ingredients sourced almost exclusively from local farms. Located just north of Bedford, Millstone offers dinner Wednesday through Saturday and a weekend lunch/brunch.
More info: visitbedford.com, 877-447-3257
The lure: Bath County is known for its soothing mineral springs, cultural arts scene and picturesque vistas. The area includes a number of retreats that cater to nature lovers with extensive opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, golf, falconry, archery, birding, fishing, caving, kayaking, canoeing, target shooting and stargazing.
Don’t miss: For golfers, fall is the perfect time to tee it up at either of the Omni Homestead Resort’s two courses—the Old Course, completed in 1892, or the Cascades Course, consistently ranked among the top 100 public golf courses in the U.S. by Golf Digest magazine (currently 30th). For an entertaining and informative hike, try the Cascades Gorge trip where a naturalist leads a guided five-mile, intermediate-level hike among waterfalls, flora and fauna. There is a fee and it’s recommended you make reservations in advance through the resort.
Where to sleep: If you’re looking for the VIP treatment, choose the Omni Homestead Resort. A more remote option is the Fort Lewis Lodge, a 3,200-acre family-friendly getaway along the banks of the Cowpasture River that offers a lodge, cabins and riverside house. Dinner and breakfast—served family style with fellow guests—are included in every overnight stay. A multitude of B&Bs, cabins, cottages, campgrounds and hotels also dot the Bath County landscape.
Where to dine: For a made-to-order breakfast at a reasonable price, stop by the Country Café on U.S. 220, just south of Hot Springs. Lindsay’s Roost Bar & Grill, a cozy eatery in the heart of town, also offers home-style breakfast favorites and is a popular spot for lunch and dinner. Golf fans will want to visit Sam Snead’s Tavern for gastro pub fare in an atmosphere that celebrates the famed golfer, a Bath County native. The Homestead has several on-site options in a variety of price ranges.
More info: discoverbath.com, 540-839-7202
The lure: Located in Washington County, about 130 miles southwest of Roanoke, Abingdon is filled with history, charm and scenic beauty, particularly when blanketed in colorful fall foliage. Families can stroll brick sidewalks to explore shops, galleries and restaurants along the town’s tree-lined streets. In the center of it all is the venerable Barter Theatre, a cultural hotspot since 1933.
Don’t miss: Outdoor enthusiasts rave about the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile shared-use (hike, bike, equine) trail that runs along a former rail line from Abingdon to Whitetop Station. Along the way, you’ll pass through a number of small communities and cross 47 trestles and bridges. Among the most popular ways to experience the trail is to rent a bike from a rental company, which will shuttle you to the top of Whitetop for a leisurely 15-mile descent to Damascus.
Where to sleep: For an upscale experience, choose the historic and elegant Martha Washington Inn & Spa, which offers 61 guest rooms and suites in downtown Abingdon. Outside of Abingdon, on the banks of the Holston River, is the River Garden Bed and Breakfast with four distinctive rooms. A number of reasonably priced and conveniently located chain hotels also can be found in and around Abingdon.
Where to dine: Options abound on Main Street in downtown Abingdon. Grab a breakfast sandwich, homemade muffin and cup of freshly roasted coffee at Zazzy’Z. For lunch or dinner, Bella’s has pizza for the kids and a selection of craft beer for the grown-ups, which can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio during warmer months. Another popular stop is the Ellis Soda Shop & Grill. Located in an old pharmacy, the nostalgic eatery offers soups, sandwiches, burgers and old-fashioned sodas, milkshakes and other treats.
More info: visitabingdonvirginia.com, 800-435-3440
The lure: Laid back yet vibrant, Floyd County is a great getaway for not only lovers of the outdoors, but also those who enjoy music, art, crafts and local food and wine. About 40 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway run through southern Floyd County, and the quaint and quirky town of Floyd is just six miles down the road at milepost 165. Many travel to the area specifically to visit Mabry Mill (milepost 176), a rustic, water-powered grist mill that dates back to 1910.
Don’t miss: The Rocky Knob and Rock Castle Gorge areas are scenic spots for hiking, picnicking and camping. For a challenging hike that includes mountain views, boulder fields, babbling streams and more, hike the Rock Castle Gorge Trail, a nearly 10.8-mile loop that meanders in and out of Floyd and Patrick counties. Starting in the gorge, at the convergence of Rock Castle Creek and Little Rock Castle Creek, the trail opens with a steep climb but then levels off to more gentle hiking. The Lower Rock Castle Creek Trail offers a 4.5-mile option.
Where to sleep: The campground at Rocky Knob has sites for 81 tents and 28 trailers or RVs (open through October). For a unique, in-the-round experience, Floyd Yurt Lodging rents a spacious, 30-foot yurt with two bedrooms, full kitchen, deck and more. And, for a small fee, you can bring your (well-behaved, house-trained) dog. More traditional hotels and B&Bs also are available.
Where to dine: Stop by DJ’s Drive In, a staple in Floyd for more than 60 years, for fried pickles and a freshly grilled cheeseburger. Wood-fired pizza lovers will want to visit Dogtown Roadhouse, a casual spot with more than a dozen craft brews on tap. Another popular spot in town is Oddfella’s Cantina & Tapas, which bills itself as serving “conscious comfort food with an Appalachian Latino twist.” For fine dining, enjoy lunch or dinner with a spectacular mountain view at Chateau Morrisette Winery and Restaurant.
More info: visitfloydva.com, 540-239-8509
GOT A SUGGESTION?
What’s your family’s favorite destination for an outdoorsy day trip or weekend getaway? Email your ideas to editor Kurt Rheinheimer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-989-6138.