The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia offer an endless assortment of natural attractions, including activities ranging from camping and hiking to snow skiing and driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I live less than 30 minutes from the Virginia/North Carolina border, and am often wowed by the drive up. In my eyes, the southernmost section of I-77 is something people should go out of their way to see.
In the state of Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains run through Shenandoah National Park, George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, and about 15 award-winning Virginia state parks.
At the far western side of the state, the mountain ranges in Virginia become more dramatic in the Valleys and Ridges section of the Appalachian Mountains.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, including everything from the best hiking trails and waterfalls to the most interesting museums, live music venues, and more!
Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia Guide
- Boogie at the Blue Ridge Music Center
- Catch the View at Crabtree Falls
- Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Explore Shenandoah National Park
- Groove on Down the Crooked Road
- Hike the Appalachian Trail
- Hop Borders at Breaks Interstate Park
- Learn about American History in Lexington VA
- Lower into Luray Caverns
- Make It to the Top of McAfee Knob
- Nip into Natural Bridge State Park
- Peak Around at Peaks of Otter
- Reflect at National D-Day Memorial in Bedford VA
- Relax like Royalty in Hot Springs VA
- Root Around Roanoke VA Museums
- Sample Roanoke VA Breweries
- Saunter through Smith Mountain Lake State Park
- Snow Skiing in Virginia
- Taste at Shenandoah Valley Wineries
- Walk through Washington/Jefferson National Forest
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Staunton VA
1. Boogie at the Blue Ridge Music Center
Special attention is paid to the Round Peak style (which originated a few miles south in North Carolina) and the Galax and Grayson Country styles, which were born the mountains of Virginia.
The museum has a permanent Roots of American Music exhibit, live performances daily in the Breezeway, and a couple of hiking trails that allow visitors to enjoy the surrounding scenery.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, they offer ticketed Saturday evening concerts at the amphitheater, with picnicking and flat-footing encouraged.
2. Catch the View at Crabtree Falls VA
But the one in Nelson County VA has the highest vertical drop of any cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi.
This wondrous waterfall has 5 big drops, with several smaller ones between, all of which add up to 1200 feet of cascading beauty.
The Crabtree Falls VA Trail is about 2.5 miles and provides 5 different overlooks, as well as stunning views of the Tye River Valley.
This moderately difficult hiking trail can be accessed by exiting the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 27 and heading east on VA-56. Follow the signs for around six miles or so.
3. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway is considered the first half of the journey, starting at Rock Fish Gap at Shenandoah National Park and crossing into North Carolina just south of Galax VA.
The best Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks in this section include the Ravens Roost Overlook (Milepost 10.7), Otter Lake Overlook (63.1), Great Valley Overlook (99.6), and Mabry Mill (176.1).
Some of the top Virginia hiking trails on the BRP include the Humpback Rocks Loop (4.3 miles) and White Rock Falls (4.4 miles), with Fallingwater Cascades (1.2 miles) being a nice easy hike and Flat Top (5.7 miles) and Sharp Top (3.3 miles) a bit more challenging due to incline.
4. Explore Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is only 75 miles from Washington DC, connected to Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Awesome hikes here include the 5-mile Dickey Ridge Loop, the 7.2-mile Marys Rock via the Pinnacle (which includes the park’s most beautiful section of the Appalachian Trail), and the 5.2-mile Whiteoak Canyon Falls trail (which passes six large waterfalls).
A Virginia Mountains vacation spot for the well-to-do in the 1920s, Shenandoah is also home to historical lodges like Skyland, Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins.
5. Groove on the Crooked Road (Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail)
Travelers can also visit musical landmarks like the Carter Family Fold, Floyd Country Store, Rex Theater, and Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace.
6. Hike the Appalachian Trail in VA
More miles of the Appalachian Trail are in Virginia than any other state… 544 miles to be exact. That’s nearly a quarter of the 2,194-mile trail!
In Virginia, the AT goes through George Washington & Jefferson National Forest, parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while, and cuts through Shenandoah National Park.
We also like the 5-mile loop on the Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus, for some communing with nature and a bit of small town living.
Angels Rest (5 miles), Kelly Knob (4 miles), and Black Rock Summit (1.1 miles) are three other Virginia hiking trails with stunning views.
7. Hop Borders at Breaks Interstate Park
Straddling the Virginia-Kentucky border, “The Breaks” is one of only two interstate parks in the United States. It isn’t run by either state’s park service, but is instead an entity all its own.
This area has incredible geology. The Russell Fork River Gorge is called “the Grand Canyon of the East,” the Geological Trail cuts through massive rock formations, and the Overlook Trail provides dramatic scenic vistas.
An insider’s tip that’s not for the faint of heart: Center Creek Trail (just outside the park) is absolutely stunning, with awesome swimming holes. But it is a difficult hike, with slippery rocks and stream crossings.
8. Learn about American History in Lexington VA
It was named after the 1775 Battle of Lexington and Concord, which launched the war for independence. The Civil War is also part of the town’s history, and both Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson are buried there.
Lexington is home to America’s first military college, Virginia Military Institute (est. 1839), and one of the oldest academic colleges, Washington & Lee University (est. 1749 as Augusta Academy).
There are also great historical tours, on foot or via horse-drawn carriages, to learn about all these special places.
9. Lower into Luray Caverns
Luray Caverns is a 99-acre cave system that was discovered by five men in 1878, and it is now a protected National Natural Landmark.
Within the caverns, there are clear pools, cascades, columns, stalactites, and stalagmites, including celebration formations like Titania’s Veil, the Giant Redwood, and Giant’s Hall.
Visitors can also listen to music played on the amazing Great Stalacpipe Organ, which uses stalactites and a rubber hammer to make haunting tunes (similar to a gigantic music box).
10. Make It to the Top of McAfee Knob
The hike up to McAfee Knob may be the most popular day hike on the Appalachian Trail, and the photo op of hikers standing on the rocky outcrop is the most iconic representation of America’s famous footpath.
Located right outside of Roanoke VA, McAfee Knob should be a top feature on your to-do list when visiting the Blue Ridge Mountain Town. Even if it is a proper 8-mile hike, with lots of elevation gain.
The views from the summit are totally worth the trouble, with the Catawba Valley, Roanoke Valley, and the City of Roanoke all visible on clear days. And the sunrise views are beyond spectacular.
Inside tip: Get there very early if you want to hike, as the small parking lot at the trailhead fills very quickly. I showed up at 8AM and was lucky someone was just leaving from the sunrise hike.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Roanoke VA
11. Nip into Natural Bridge State Park
A late addition to Virginia’s fine collection of State Parks, Natural Bridge and the area around it has been a place of distinction since before the United States even existed as a country.
Natural Bridge State Park is a monolithic limestone formation 215 feet above Cedar Creek that spans 90 feet from cliffside to cliffside. It’s a remarkable sight– one I personally find difficult to top.
The Cedar Creek Trail used to get to the stone bridge also features a phenomenal Monacan Indian Exhibit, Lace Falls, and the Lost River. The Skyline Trail is attached to a Virginia State Park Children’s Discovery Area.
Visits to the park should also include a stop at the Visitors Center, a peak at the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel & Conference Center, and the nearby Caverns at Natural Bridge.
12. Peek Around at Peaks of Otter
Located at milepost 86, Peaks of Otter is one of the more famous attractions along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It includes several tall mountains surrounding one of the area’s most beautiful mountain lakes.
The 24-acre Abbott Lake is ringed by a one-mile loop trail. It’s also stocked with smallmouth bass, catfish, sunfish, and bluegill.
13. Reflect at National D-Day Memorial in Bedford VA
Many of the soldiers who stormed the French coastline on D-Day were from Bedford VA, including Company A of the 29th Infantry Division.
When you consider the incredible losses the small mountain town suffered in World War II, having the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford makes a lot of sense.
This Memorial was dedicated to those who died in the famously bloody battle by President George W. Bush in June of 2001, and it now attracts some 60,000 visitors a year.
The monument itself is a 44-foot tall arch with the word “Overlord” (the code name of the D-Day operation) inscribed on it. It’s highlighted by a reflecting pool, and surrounded by statues honoring the fallen soldiers.
Other parts of the grounds explain the journey through WWII, including the politics, major battles, and troops.
14. Relax like Royalty in Hot Springs VA
Hot Springs VA is just a few miles down the road from Warm Springs in Bath County. As the name suggests, this area is full of naturally heated springs that have been attracting people to visit since (at least) the mid-1700s.
So it’s no surprise that the “census-designated place” of Hot Springs is home to several long-standing resorts and other fine places to hang your hat.
But there are plenty of other spots in Hot Springs on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Mustoe House, The Yard, Barton Lodge, and more. It’s a fabulous and famous place for relaxing like royalty.
15. Root Around Roanoke VA Museums
The Blue Ridge mountain town of Roanoke VA has a lot of interesting sights and museums to visit downtown, including the Historic Roanoke City Market and Center in the Square.
Center in the Square is a special collection of museums and non-profits, all under one roof.
For the kids, there are the Atrium Aquariums, The Roanoke Pinball Museum (where unlimited play is included in the entrance fee), Kids Square, The Roanoke STARCADE, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.
Other features of Center in the Square include the Mill Mountain Theatre, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the rooftop and observation decks.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Roanoke VA
16. Sample Roanoke VA Breweries
What Asheville is for craft beers in North Carolina, Roanoke does for the local beer scene in Virginia.
There are loads of great Roanoke breweries, many of which can be visited on a walking tour of Downtown Roanoke (conveniently, since we are drinking here).
Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery (my #1 choice), Deschutes Roanoke Tasting Room, Big Lick Brewing Company, Golden Cactus Brewing Company, and A Few Old Goats Brewing are all within about a mile of each other.
Starr Hill Pilot Brewery makes a good stop when visiting Mill Mountain Park and the Roanoke Star.
The Parkway Brewing Company is ideal after hiking to McAfee Knob in the Roanoke VA mountains, and Olde Salem Brewery is the stop to make when touring the nearby town of Salem VA.
READ MORE: The 8 Best Breweries in Roanoke VA
17. Saunter through Smith Mountain Lake State Park
This lake is the second largest in the state, with over 500 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of over 200 feet.
Lake activities steal the show at this state park. Fishing is extremely popular, and there’s a beach with a lifeguard during the summer.
Smith Mountain Lake State Park also has 13 hiking trails, a visitor center with educational exhibits, a historic tobacco barn, a Discovery Center, and lots of scenic spots for a picnic.
18. Snow Skiing in Virginia
These resorts also have snow-making machines to keep the skiing going through the winter, with a season that runs from early December through March.
19. Tastings at Shenandoah Valley Wineries
In the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Wineries have quietly been in operation for a while now, and they produce some nice wine choices.
One thing we love about the Shenandoah Valley Wineries is that they include not only nice sipping wines, but also beautifully picturesque scenery.
Crosskey Vineyards (125 acres in Mt Crawford VA), Brix & Columns Vineyard (160 acres in McGaheysville VA), and Muse Vineyards (40 acres in Woodstock VA) are local hotspots, some of which offer award winning wines.
Near Charlottesville, oenophiles can sample vintages from Jefferson Vineyards, Eastwood Farm & Winery, and Afton Mountain Vineyards. More vineyards can be found near Roanoke VA and Luray VA.
20. Walk through George Washington & Jefferson National Forests
Clocking in with nearly 2 million acres of wilderness, the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests occupy a lion’s share of the Blue Ridge Mountain range in Virginia.
Major highlights of these massive national forests include 325 miles of the Appalachian Trail, gorgeous waterfalls in the Cascades Day Use Area, Hungry Mother State Park, the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (home to the highest peak in VA), and the Sherando Lake Recreation Area.
Top hiking trails to check out include the Dragon’s Tooth Trail (4.5 miles) near Roanoke, the Roaring Run Hoop Hole Trail (1.7 miles), the Cascades Fall Trail (3.8 miles), and the Virginia Creeper Trail (17.2 miles).
The forests are also riddled with campgrounds, for those who want to stay in the wild and explore more of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. –by Jonathon Engels; featured image of Mabry Mill VA by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett