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Home Road Trip 5 VA Road Trips: Presidents’ Homes; Americana; Swannanoa; Wild Horses

5 VA Road Trips: Presidents’ Homes; Americana; Swannanoa; Wild Horses

by Staff

VIRGINIA — Virginia, the site of the first English settlement, is known as the “birthplace of a nation” and, with eight U.S. presidents among its native sons, the commonwealth is also as “the mother of presidents.

Naturally, many of Virginia’s attractions center on the historical significance of the state, but it’s not the only reason to take a road trip.

Here are five Virginia road trips to consider when you need to get away:

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Hail to the chief road trip: This road trip starts in Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. Then head south on Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (U.S.-301) to Colonial Beach, Washington’s birthplace, and then over to Fredericksburg on VA-205 W. to Ferry Farm, Washington’s boyhood home.

The James Monroe Museum is in Fredericksburg, too. It’s a good place to stop for lunch before taking the 90-minute drive on I-95 S to Charles City and the chance to tour Berkeley Plantation, William Henry Harrison’s birthplace, and Sherwood Forest Plantation, where John Tyler was born.

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Charles City is a good overnight spot. There are plenty of places to eat and stay.

Day 2 of the trip starts with a 2½-hour drive to Lynchburg via U.S.-460 W. Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat, is located there. From there, take U.S.-29 N for the hour and 15-minute drive north to Charlottesville and Monticello, where Jefferson’s presidential museum, library and research institute are located. Monroe’s home, Highland, is also located in Charlottesville. Finish the trip at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is one of several presidential residences and attractions to see in Virginia. (Shutterstock/Adam Reck)

Check out the Blue Ridge foothills: Afton is a bit touristy as the home of famous writer Rita Mae Brown and musician Mary Chapin Carpenter. Some of the attractions include the Nelson 151 craft beverage trail that features six wineries four breweries, three cideries and a distillery, and festivals and events around the year.

Swannanoa Palace, a 1912 Italianate marble villa built by Major James Dooley, an executive with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Afton is a replica of the Villa de Medici in Rome. Dooley paid $2 million to have the 52-room marble palace built as a token of his love for his wife, Sally May. A 4,000-piece Tiffany stained-glass window and a domed ceiling bearing the likeness of Mrs. Dooley are among the highlights visitors can see. Rumors the palace is haunted have swirled for years, and a paranormal group say they may be justified.

Swannanoa Palace has 52 rooms and was built at a cost of $2 million in 1912. (Shutterstock/Jon Bilous)

Nearby in Charlottesville, Tipsy Wagen Tours offers half-day excursion to Virginia wine country in a vintage Volkswagen bus named Mable. Grand Caverns Regional Park in Grottoes is close by, too. Tours are available by reservation.

Grand Caverns is the oldest show cave in the United States. (Shutterstock/Luis Fabian Blanco)

A Natural Bridge and an interesting take on history: At the center of Natural Bridge State Park is a 200-foot limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Creek. The Bridge has been included in several “wonders of the world lists,” both a National Historic Landmark and Virginia Historic Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The centerpiece of Natural Bridge State Park is the 200-foot limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Creek. (Shutterstock/Connor Vaughan Morss)

The area is known not only for the iconic geological formation but also rock climbing opportunities for all skill levels and hiking trails, including Cedar Creek Trail, which leads from the park’s visitor center under the bridge to Lace Falls, which has a 60-foot cascade.

If you take only one hiking trail at Natural Bridge State Park, make it the Cedar Creek Trail that leads to Lace Falls. (Shutterstock/The Old Major)

The Caverns at Natural Bridge descend more than 34 stories. One of the highlights is the Colossal Dome room, which was created over thousands of years, Mirror Lake, the Well Room, and the stalactites and stalagmites that grow from the Canyon Room.

Also, if you travel through Labor Day, check out “Dinosaur Kingdom II,” a creation of artist Mark Cline, who carved the “Foamhenge” life-size reproduction of Stonehenge from Styrofoam once displayed at Natural Bridge and now on private property.

“It’s amazing! It’s brilliant! It’s hilarious!” the Washington Post wrote of the tourist attraction, which blends dinosaurs and the Civil War in “a uniquely Virginia way.”

See Virginia’s wild side: Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a wild stretch of coastline dotted with charming towns, abundant farmland and wild ponies. Start the 112-mile road trip in Norfolk and hop on the 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an engineering marvel known as one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.

The 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is an engineering masterpiece. (Shutterstock/Paul’s Photo Shop)

With the Naval Station in Norfolk, there’s plenty to see, including Nautilus, a maritime museum that features the massive World War II battleship, the USS Wisconsin, and the Chrysler Museum of Art, which features more than 50 galleries of glass art, European and American paintings and sculpture.

Drive up the coast of U.S.-13. Stops worth your time include Kiptopeke State Park and the historic town of Cape Charles, both of which offer abundant outdoor activities.

Onancock is a great place to stay overnight. It has a sophisticated entertainment district with offerings that include first-run films and monthly international films at the Roseland Theater, plays and other live performances at the North Street Playhouse and eateries that offer live entertainment.

Wrap up the trip at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore, where you’ll get a glimpse of wild horses if you’re lucky.

Both the Assateague Island National Seashore, pictured, and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, have herds of wild horses. (Shutterstock/amygofish)

Experience the simple charm of the country: You’ll find old-fashioned Americana in the Western Highlands, the four-county region of Highland, Bath, Alleghany and Craig located on the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley along the border with West Virginia. This road trip winds through charming small towns and unspoiled vistas that have changed little in centuries.

There are plenty of places to stay if you want to make a weekend out of it, from rustic campgrounds that put you close to paddling, fishing and hiking to bed and breakfasts to fancy resorts.

The only interstate highway in the Highlands, I-64, runs east-west through Covington. Be sure to go out of your way to see the Humpback Bridge, the oldest remaining bridge of its design in the country. Don’t miss Falling Springs Falls, an 80-foot waterfall near Covington that Thomas Jefferson once called “a remarkable cascade.”

Not far away is Clifton Forge, a once-booming railroad hub and now a thriving artistic and adventure city.

Thomas Jefferson called Falling Spring Falls “a remarkable cascade.” (Shutterstock/Glenn Woodell)

There’s so much to see here, with some of the most stunning views from the car. Be sure to get off the state routes to explore the back roads and scenic byways. Some seem to lead to nowhere and exist only to offer breathtaking views, and others take you into the region’s many small towns.

Before Europeans commercialized the warm springs of Bath, they were regarded among Native Americans as a special place with healing springs. Now, the famous Omni Homestead Resort at Hot Springs, America’s first mountain resort, is often the choice of presidents and celebrities. For a unique experience, check out the Inn at Warm Springs, the county’s first courthouse and jail. Guests can still see where prisoners were held in the 19th Century and dine in the former courtroom or judge’s chambers.

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