The 10 Best Things to Do in Luray VA (Gateway to Shenandoah)

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Located in the heart of Virginia’s picturesque Shenandoah Valley, Luray is the county seat of Page County and one of just four access points for entering Shenandoah National Park. 

Established in 1812 on 10 acres of land near Hawksbill Creek, the small town of around 4,800 residents is a warm, welcoming slice of Americana that is completely surrounded by stunning natural beauty. 

With the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, the George Washington National Forest to the west, and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River winding its way north at the edge of town, there are incredible views every which way you turn.

In addition to the national park, the town is best known for Luray Caverns, which is billed as the largest cavern in the eastern US. But it’s also home to an array of other attractions and activities.

Read on for our guide to the 10 Best Things to Do in Luray VA, from museums and natural wonders to historical sites, roadside attractions, restaurants, and more! 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Western NC Small Towns to Visit (& Live In)

Luray Caverns Grand Hall
The Grand Hall at Luray Caverns

Best Things to Do in Luray VA Guide

  1. The Car & Carriage Caravan Museum
  2. Cooter’s in the Valley
  3. Downtown Luray Restaurants & Shops
  4. Luray Caverns
  5. Luray Hawksbill Greenway
  6. Luray Singing Tower
  7. Luray Valley Museum & Shenandoah Heritage Village
  8. Shenandoah National Park
  9. Shenandoah River
  10. Visit Shenandoah VA

 

Car & Carriage Caravan Museum in Luray VA
Inside the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum

The Car & Carriage Caravan Museum

If you love antique cars, or the history of transportation innovation, you’ll love the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum.

Part of the extensive Luray Caverns complex (and free with admission to the Caverns), the museum features around 150 different cars, carriages, coaches, and other vehicles dating all the way back to 1725. 

Assembled in the 1950s under the direction of H. T. N. Graves (then-president of the Luray Caverns Corporation), the collection includes some incredibly rare gems. All of them have been meticulously restored to their original splendor.

These unique vehicles range from an ancient Conestoga Wagon to a 1908 Baker Electric, a 1914 Ford Model T Milk Wagon, Rudolph Valentino’s 1925 Silver Ghost Town Car, and an elegant 1932 Rolls Royce Shooting Brake.

There’s also an 1897 Mercedes-Benz, which is one of the oldest cars in America still in operating condition.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks in NC & VA

Cooter's Dukes of Hazzard Museum
Sheriff’s Car Outside Cooter’s

Cooter’s Luray

Owned and operated by Ben Jones (who played Cooter the mechanic on the classic ’80s TV show), Cooter’s Luray is a fun roadside attraction aimed at fans of The Dukes of Hazzard

The third location in the franchise (which is also in Gatlinburg and Nashville TN) features a gift shop, Daisy’s Dixie Diner, and a museum filled with DOH memorabilia, including props, costumes, and backstage photos.

Outside you’ll find vehicles such as the Boss Hogg’s Cadillac, Cooter’s tow truck, and of course the Dukes’ famous General Lee (a Dodge Charger). 

Cooter’s in the Valley also offers live music every weekend. Jones fronts Cooter’s Garage Band every Saturday from 1 to 3pm, and meets and greets fans after every show. 

There are guest bands every Sunday from 2 to 4pm, and other Dukes of Hazzard cast members are known to drop in from time to time.

READ MORE: The Appalachian Culture & History of the Blue Ridge Mountains 

Downtown Luray VA Shops
Downtown Luray VA

Downtown Luray Restaurants & Shops

Downtown Luray doesn’t seem to have the traditional town square you might expect, but it is easy to explore on foot via the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway (more on that below). 

For maps and recommendations for things to do in Downtown Luray, start at the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, which is located in the restored historic train depot at 18 Campbell St.

While you’re there, take a tour of the Page Valley Rail Historical Society’s Railroad Museum. It will give you some insight on the history of the town of Luray, which was established by act of Virginia’s General Assembly in 1812.

From there, most of the best restaurants in Luray are within walking distance, including Baby Moons Bakery (excellent pastries, quiche, and coffee), Il Vesuvio Restaurant & Pizzeria (try the calzones!), and the swanky Circa ’31 (inside the historic Mimslyn Inn). 

You’ll also find loads of gift shops, art galleries, and even a brewery (Hawksbill) nearby. You’ll also see many of the 75 buildings that earned Luray’s Downtown Historic District recognition as a national historic district.

READ MORE: The Top 20 Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in GA & NC

Luray Caverns Dream Lake Reflection in Luray VA
Reflections in Dream Lake at Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns

Discovered by 5 local men in 1878, the 99-acre Luray Caverns is protected as a National Natural Landmark, and truly a must-see for anyone visiting Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. 

Entering the cave via a curving downhill path (which is wheelchair-accessible), first-time visitors will be awed by the impressive array of cascades, columns, reflective pools, stalactites, and stalagmites.

Noteworthy formations here include the mirrored waters of Dream Lake, the beautiful draperies of Saracen’s Tent, the white flowstone of Titania’s Veil, the Giant Redwood (which measures 40 feet tall and 120 feet around), and the aptly-named Giant’s Hall (the Luray attraction’s largest and deepest cavern). 

But the most famous feature is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, an incredible creation that taps stalactites of varying sizes with rubber mallets in order to produce tones similar to a child’s music box. Invented by Leland W Sprinkle in 1954, it’s the largest musical instrument in the world, with performances approximately every five minutes. 

Note that your Luray Caverns tickets include admission to the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Toy Town Junction, Shenandoah Heritage Village and Luray Valley Museum. Other family-friendly attractions on the property, including a Garden Maze and Rope Adventure Park, are available for additional fees. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Western North Carolina Mountains For Hiking

Luray Hawksbill Greenway Mural
Mural on the Luray Hawksbill Greenway

Luray-Hawksbill Greenway

Meandering along scenic Hawksbill Creek, this well-maintained multi-use path offers two miles of ADA-accessible paved trails that are perfect for hiking and biking around town.

The 10-foot-wide trail winds through the heart of historic Downtown Luray, with historic homes, shops, museums, restaurants, and other attractions rarely more than a few steps away. 

The Luray-Hawksbill Greenway is divided geographically into 5 unique color sections, and includes 24 trailside benches, 8 picnic tables, 6 parking areas, 4 drinking fountains, and 2 restrooms along the trail. 

We saw loads of birds (including ducks, geese, and a heron) and butterflies as we walked beside the creek. And we especially loved the homespun murals painted on many of the buildings along the path.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Luray Singing Tower in Luray VA
Luray Singing Tower in Luray VA

Luray Singing Tower

Located in a park across the street from Luray Caverns, this 117-foot-tall tower is arguably the most iconic landmark in Luray VA, because you can see it from many of the local attractions. 

Officially known as the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial, the tower was erected in memory of the wife of Colonel Theodore C. Northcott (the former president of the Luray Caverns Corporation).

Built in 1937, it’s known as the Luray Singing Tower because of its impressive carillon of 47 bells, which range in size from a mere 12.5 pounds up to a 7,640-pound bell that measures a whopping six feet in diameter. 

It’s one of the largest carillons in America, and regularly hosts free recitals on weekends in late spring and summer. You can find the full 2021 recital schedule here.

READ MORE: The Best Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls in North Carolina

Historic House in Shenandoah Heritage Village in Luray VA
Historic House in Shenandoah Heritage Village

Luray Valley Museum & Shenandoah Heritage Village

One of our favorite parts of the vast Luray Caverns complex, this historical museum and living history attraction offer an immersive introduction to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley of the mid-19th century. 

You’ll start at the Stonyman Museum, which features a killer collection of local artifacts. Most of them date from the 1750s to 1920s, but there’s also a Bible from Switzerland circa 1536 that belonged to early Shenandoah settlers. 

From there you’ll head outdoors into the Shenandoah Heritage Village, which includes a half-dozen local buildings that range from 135 to nearly 200 years old. All of them contain countless antiques from their respective eras. 

The Shenk Farm House (built in 1876) remains on the land where the family farmed for multiple generations. But the Elk Run Dunkard Meeting House (early 1800s), Bell House (circa 1835), Blacksmith Shop (circa 1850), and Burner Barn (circa 1860) were all moved here from a few miles away, some of them piece by piece. 

The newest of the historical buildings– the Hamburg Regular School (circa 1885)– is one of the oldest one-room African-American schoolhouses that remains in the state of Virginia.  

READ MORE: Hickory Ridge Living History Museum & “Horn in the West” in Boone NC

Mary Gabbett at Crescent Rock Overlook in Shenandoah National Park
Crescent Rock Overlook in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Rising up from the Shenandoah Valley at the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park encompasses some 199,173 acres in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

The main road through the park, Skyline Drive, stretches 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge, with the Shenandoah River and valley to the west and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont to the east. 

Downtown Luray is just 15 minutes from one of four Skyline Drive entrances, the Thornton Gap Entrance Station, which is located at Mile 31.5. Accessible via U.S. 211, the entrance is open 24 hours a day, and provides access to some of Shenandoah NP’s most breathtaking sections. 

There are nearly 70 overlooks in the park. Gorgeous overlooks near Thornton Gap include Range View (Mile 17.1), Hogback Mountain (20.8), Mary’s Rock Tunnel (32), Stony Man (41.7) and Crescent Rock (44). We also loved the Pinnacles picnic area, which lies right along the Appalachian Trail. 

Note that the Skyline Drive speed limit is 35 mph, so take your time on the winding curves and watch out for wildlife such as Black Bears, Wild Turkeys, and White-tailed Deer along the way.  

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Shenandoah River Reflection in Luray VA
Shenandoah River Reflection

Shenandoah River

The main tributary of the Potomac River, the Shenandoah River measures around 55.6 miles long. It forms just north of Front Royal VA, at the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork.

The South Fork meanders northeast some 98.5 miles through the verdant Page Valley, past the towns of Shenandoah and Luray VA.

It’s fed by the myriad streams that tumble down the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and George Washington National Forest to the west.

With so much natural beauty surrounding it, the South Fork of Shenandoah is a great place for outdoor recreation, with canoeing, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, tubing, and fishing all popular activities there. 

Local Luray outfitters such as Appalachian Adventures offer canoe, kayak, tube, and fishing gear rentals, as well as 1/2-day, full-day, and 2-day guided canoe trips on the river. 

READ MORE: White Water Rafting New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia

Shenandoah Valley Barn
Barn in the Shenandoah Valley

Visit Shenandoah VA

The Shenandoah Valley was named after John Skenandoa, a man from the Oneida tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy. Also called Shenandoah, he led 250 warriors in support of the colonials during the Revolutionary war, 

Located about 18 miles south of Luray via US-340 South, the tiny town of Shenandoah VA makes for a great day trip, especially if you’re heading to Cooter’s (which is about 1/3 of the way between the town towns). 

The drive along US-340 is remarkably scenic, with the river and National Forests to the west, the mountains of Shenandoah National Park to the east, and picturesque pastures and farmhouses all around.

Although the city of around 2,300 residents measures just 1.4 square miles, it’s a charming slice of small town Americana loaded with history (especially Civil War-era) and staggering natural beauty.

The Shenandoah Historic District, Shenandoah Land and Improvement Company Office, Strickley-Louderback House, and Welfley-Shuler House are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

READ MORE: 40 Fascinating Facts About Cherokee Culture & History

 

Hotels in Luray VA

Mimslyn Inn Hotel in Luray VA
The Historic Mimslyn Inn

The Mimslyn Inn

Located on W. Main St in the heart of downtown Luray, the Mimslyn Inn (the oldest of the Luray hotels) has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2008. 

The Inn’s massive size, classic Georgian Revival architecture, and lofty position high on a hill overlooking the town make it an iconic landmark on the local landscape. 

Originally opened in 1931, the Mimslyn Inn has since been completely renovated. Today they offer 45 guestrooms and suites, a Manor House, historic cottages, and luxury cottage collection.

We stayed in one of their spacious Blue Ridge Suites, which featured a king-sized bed, queen size pull-out sofa bed, jetted tubs, a small living area with tables and chairs, an electric fireplace, and stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. 

The Inn also features a luxury spa, the snazzy Circa 31 Restaurant, the more casual Speakeasy Bar & Restaurant (with its Prohibition-themed drink menu). –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Bret grew up camping and hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia and North Carolina with his parents, and the couple both spent childhood summers on the water with their grandparents. After becoming empty nesters, they yearned for a pristine place where they could escape the hustle and bustle of the city, commune with nature and family, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle that leaves time to appreciate the simpler things in life. Join them and their team as they explore the region, offering expert insights on Blue Ridge travel as they search for the perfect mountain home.