It’s been said that the most important considerations when it comes to real estate are “location, location, location.”
If that’s truly the case, then the town of Waynesboro VA might as well be sitting on a gold mine.
With a population of 22,000+, this delightful mid-sized mountain town is located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, with the South River (a tributary of the Shenandoah River) running right through the heart of it.
The southern entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park lies just a few miles to the east, as does the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The area was historically a major crossing point in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Today, I-64, I-81, and the Appalachian Trail are all located in or near downtown Waynesboro, as are numerous Civil War landmarks.
Suffice it to say that there’s a diverse array of things to do in Waynesboro VA, including a thriving cultural scene, great downtown restaurants, green spaces, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation all around.
Read on for our in-depth guide to all the best activities and attractions in Waynesboro, Virginia and Augusta County!
Resorts & Hotels in Waynesboro VA
Wintergreen Resort– Expansive 4-season resort with condos, golf courses, restaurants, snow skiing, and spa about 15 miles from downtown.
Residence Inn– Convenient location right off I-64, with indoor pool/hot tub, full kitchens, and free breakfast included.
Best Western Plus– Budget-friendly and 5 miles from Blue Ridge Parkway & Skyline Drive, with heated indoor pool, fitness center, and full breakfast.
Best Things to Do in Waynesboro VA Guide
- Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Get Cultured on the Waynesboro Street Art Trail
- Go Deep at Grand Caverns
- Hike the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel
- Learn the History Behind Swannanoa Palace
- Sample Downtown Waynesboro Restaurants
- See a Show at the Wayne Theatre
- Spend a Day in Shenandoah National Park
- Take a Walk on the South River Greenway Trail
- Visit the Russell Museum
1. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
Located less than 5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s North Entrance, Waynesboro VA makes a perfect base for exploring all the best overlooks, hiking trails, and waterfalls the world-famous scenic route has to offer.
Some of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks on this section include the Afton Overlook (Milepost 0.2), View Shenandoah Valley (MP 2.9), Ravens Roost Overlook (MP 10.7, a great place to catch the sunset), and Twenty Minute Cliff (MP 19.0), whose panorama views are simply spectacular.
Popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes nearby include the 3.8-mile Humpback Rocks Loop via the Appalachian Trail (MP 5.8); the short, but strenuous Plunge Trail at Wintergreen Resort (MP 13.6); and the 13.3-mile Three Ridges Loop Trail (MP 13.1), which is beloved by backpackers.
There aren’t many Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls in this area. But we had a lovely time exploring the 0.9-mile Upper Shamokin Falls Trail at Wintergreen Resort and the small, but picturesque White Rock Falls (MP 19.9). It has a sweet little swimming hole perfect for cooling off mid-hike, and large rocks that make a great place for a picnic.
2. Get Cultured on the Waynesboro Street Arts Trail
The lines dividing graffiti from street art have grown increasingly blurry in recent years. But the downtown Waynesboro Street Arts Trail proves that you’ll know the difference when you see it.
You can download the free Traipse App for a scavenger hunt-like guide to the marvelous murals in downtown Waynesboro, many of which use the town’s industrial architecture and pristine mountain backdrops to great effect.
Seeking out the imaginative murals will also steer you towards some of the coolest Waynesboro Attractions, from the historic Wayne Theatre to the gorgeous green space of Constitution Park!
3. Go Deep at Grand Caverns
Originally known as Weyer’s Cave, this National Natural Landmark was discovered in 1804 by Bernard Weyer as he tried to retrieve his hunting trap. Operated as a tourist attraction since 1806, it is now billed as “the Oldest Show Cave in the U.S.”
Located 15 miles north of Waynesboro in Grottoes VA, Grand Caverns ranks alongside Luray Caverns among the most impressive caverns in Virginia we’ve visited.
They’re filled with the usual array of stalactites (which descend from the ceiling), stalagmites (which grow from the ground up), flowstone, and other geological features.
But Grand Caverns is also home to an impressive assortment of massive circular shield formations, which you rarely see at other Shenandoah Valley caverns.
It’s also full of history. During the Civil War (particularly Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign), the cave was visited by Confederate and Union soldiers, more than 200 of whom left their signatures on the cave walls.
But even if Civil War history isn’t your thing, the entertaining Grand Caverns tour is really a must-do if you visit Waynesboro.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Luray VA
4. Hike the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel
Speaking of historic sites that are equally compelling for those who couldn’t care less about history, the Blue Ridge Tunnel was built in the 1850s, during the construction of the Blue Ridge Railroad.
At 4,237 feet, it was the longest of four tunnels engineered by Claudius Crozet to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap. It was used by the Virginia Central Railroad until 1868, then for decades by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.
The Crozet Tunnel was ultimately abandoned and replaced by a new tunnel in 1944. But it was named a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1976.
Over the past decade, the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation has worked to stabilize and restore the tunnel, which was opened to the public as a linear park with trailheads on both sides in late 2020.
At around 2.25 miles one way, with very little elevation gain, it’s one of the coolest hiking trails we’ve ever taken. There are waterfalls, bats, and cool geological features inside, but no lights whatsoever.
So be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight and any other hiking essentials you may need for the 4.7-mile round-trip trek.
5. Learn the History of Swannanoa Palace
Located above Rockfish Gap, this gorgeous Italian Renaissance Revival mansion was built in 1912 for millionaire philanthropist Major James H. Dooley (an executive for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway) and his wife, Sarah “Sallie” O. May.
It took 300+ workers 8 years to build the 23,000 square foot Swannanoa, with marble mined in North Georgia, terraced gardens, and a 4,000- piece Tiffany stained glass window bearing the likeness of Mrs. Dooley. Unfortunately, the Dooleys passed away in 1922 and 1925, and Sallie May’s sisters sold it to the Valley Corporation of Richmond in 1926.
The 763-acre estate briefly became the Swannanoa Country Club & Golf Course. But it went bankrupt during the Great Depression, and remained empty for 12 years before the property was purchased by A.T. Dulaney’s Skyline Swannanoa Inc. They leased it to artist/author Walter Russell and his wife, Lao, for the next 50 years.
Over the last 20+ years, Dulaney’s heirs have been doing extensive renovations on the fabulous property, which is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register.
Swannanoa is currently rented out for weddings, private parties, photo shoots, and private tours, which are filled with 100+ years of fascinating historical info. Contact Sandi Dulaney at 540-885-5653 for more information.
6. Sample Downtown Waynesboro Restaurants
Although we were only there for 4 days, we found quite a few foodie-friendly Waynesboro restaurants that were worthy of recommending.
We had lunch at The River Burger Bar, and loved gastropub fare such as their Bacon Pimento Burger and Salmon BLT. Alex’s Taco Truck on East Main St is a great place to pick up traditional tacos and beef tongue burritos for an afternoon picnic. And Stella, Bella & Lucy’s is a fantastic lunch/brunch place, with excellent sandwiches, salads, teas, and treats!
If you love traditional southern-style BBQ, The Fishin’ Pig in Waynesboro has all the tender smoked meats your heart desires. We also loved the jazzy vibe of our dinner at the New Orleans-inspired Green Leaf Grill, and especially the swanky cocktails and mezza (a.k.a. tapas) tasting we had at the hip Heritage On Main.
And if you’re looking for gourmet coffee, pastries, or sandwiches, don’t miss The French Press!
7. See a Show at the Wayne Theatre
Another iconic landmark in Waynesboro, the Wayne Theatre opened in 1926 as a vaudeville/movie house. It was advertised as the “finest theatre in the Shenandoah Valley,” and even had a small orchestra to entertain audiences before the show.
The theatre was updated and expanded in 1949, but it was completely gutted by a fire in 1980. After that, the owners tried converting it into a twin cinema before closing up shop permanently in 1999.
The building was set to be demolished before locals formed the Wayne Theatre Alliance in hopes of renovating the theatre. The newly restored Wayne Theatre reopened to the public in 2016, offering theatrical performances, live music, and movies.
Today the theatre is the cultural heart of the community, with more than 300 performances and special events each year. They also offer workshops, lecture and speaker series, art exhibits, art education programs for students, masterclasses, and more.
We caught their wonderfully staged production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in an open-air theatre on the side of a mountain at Wintergreen Resort, and were truly impressed with the level of talent involved!
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Roanoke VA
8. Spend a Day in Shenandoah National Park
Just a few miles east of Waynesboro, the BRP becomes Skyline Drive, which stretches 105.5 miles through Shenandoah National Park. So a visit to the southern section of the park is really a must-do day trip.
Skyline Drive takes you through the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, with 76 scenic overlooks providing stunning sights of the dynamic landscape all along the way.
Some of our favorite views can be found at Hazeltop Ridge Overlook (Milepost 54.5), The Point (which requires a very short hike at MP 55.5, and offers spectacular sunsets), Brown Mountain Overlook (which also has a great trail at MP 77), and the Rockytop Overlook (MP 78).
If you’re up for slightly more challenging hiking trails, check out the Bearfence Mountain Summit (MP 56.4), Frazier Discovery Trail (MP 79.5), and/or Blackrock Summit (MP 84.4).
READ MORE: The 10 Best Christmas Tree Farms in Virginia
9. Take a Walk on the South River Greenway Trail
Stretching 1.2 miles, from the Loth Springs Parking area on Arch Avenue (behind the YMCA) to the Port Republic neighborhood, this paved walking path takes you right alongside the South River.
The river itself is very popular with local fly-fishing enthusiasts, and offers catch-and-release fishing for trout. During our visits, we also saw ducks, geese, and various other shorebirds along the river as we walked.
There’s a 24 X 36-foot Dominion Shelter along the trail with several tables, which makes a picturesque picnic spot. It can be reserved for a half day or full day for a fee, and has electricity, but no grill and no restrooms.
The green space around the river will be part of the new South River Preserve, a 26-acre park breaking ground in early 2022.
10. Visit the Russell Museum
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Waynesboro VA, the Russell Museum certainly fits the bill, and makes for an informative stop after visiting the Swannanoa mansion.
This Virginia museum is home to the University of Science and Philosophy (USP), which was founded by Walter and Lao Russell in 1948 and was based at Swannanoa until their lease ended in 1998.
The museum features countless works of art by the Russells (including sculptures, paintings, drawings and more), as well as various letters of correspondence with their myriad famous friends.
According to their site, the University was formed “to give to the world The Message of the Divine Iliad, by Walter Russell, a scientific explanation of God’s ways and processes in the construction of His universe, and the message of a Living Philosophy, by Lao Russell, for illuminating man’s Cosmic way of Life in his long journey of life from the dark to God’s Light.”
We honestly weren’t sure what to make of the USP stuff. But it was fascinating to see Walter Russell’s artwork, which included remarkable sculptures commissioned by famous friends such as Franklin D Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Thomas Edison.
His busts, paintings, wood carvings, and illustrations were truly exceptional, and you can only imagine how spectacular the Swannanoa palace must have looked when his art filled its halls. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett