20 Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. All hosted affiliate links follow our editorial & privacy policies.

The Virginia mountains encompass much of the western half of the state. Most of the mountain lakes, stunning summits, and incredible scenic vistas are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains range.

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!

READ MORE: The 10 Most Festive Christmas Towns in Virginia to Visit

Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia Guide

  1. Boogie at the Blue Ridge Music Center 
  2. Catch the View at Crabtree Falls
  3. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
  4. Explore Shenandoah National Park
  5. Groove on Down the Crooked Road
  6. Hike the Appalachian Trail
  7. Hop Borders at Breaks Interstate Park
  8. Learn about American History in Lexington VA 
  9. Lower into Luray Caverns
  10. Make It to the Top of McAfee Knob
  11. Nip into Natural Bridge State Park
  12. Peak Around at Peaks of Otter
  13. Reflect at National D-Day Memorial in Bedford VA 
  14. Relax like Royalty in Hot Springs VA
  15. Root Around Roanoke VA Museums 
  16. Sample Roanoke VA Breweries 
  17. Saunter through Smith Mountain Lake State Park 
  18. Snow Skiing in Virginia
  19. Taste at Shenandoah Valley Wineries
  20. Walk through Washington/Jefferson National Forest 

READ MORE: Top 20 Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia

VA Things to Do - Blue Ridge Music Center Sign on Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Music Center Sign on the Blue Ridge Parkway, photo by Bret Love

1. Boogie at the Blue Ridge Music Center

Found at Blue Ridge Parkway Mile Marker 213, the Blue Ridge Music Center is a museum and performance venue celebrating the musical traditions of the Blue Ridge region.

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.

READ MORE: 40 Facts About the History of the Banjo (From Africa to Appalachia)

Crabtree Falls in Virginia Mountains, George Washington National Forest
Crabtree Falls in Virginia, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

2. Catch the View at Crabtree Falls VA

Both North Carolina and Virginia have a spectacular Crabtree Falls to visit.

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.

READ MORE: Non-Venomous vs Venomous Snakes in Virginia (ID Guide)

Mabry Mill in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
Mabry Mill in Spring, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

3. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

Split fairly evenly between North Carolina and Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of scenic driving, overlooks, waterfalls and hiking trails.

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hotels & Cabin Rentals in NC & VA

Mountain Laurel at Shenandoah National Park Overlook
Mountain Laurel in Shenandoah National Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

This national park is full of interesting history and staggering vistas of the famous Shenandoah Valley, which is home to charming mountain towns and lots of great wineries

Shenandoah NP encompasses over 300 square miles of Blue Ridge Mountains VA. Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles right along the crest of them before turning into 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.

READ MORE: Apple Picking in Virginia: The 15 Best VA Apple Orchards to Visit

Blue Ridge Music Center - Roots of American Music
Roots of American Music, photo by Emma Gallagher

5. Groove on the Crooked Road (Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail)

The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It weaves mightily through the mountains of Virginia, where Appalachian culture is deeply embedded in the local communities.

Its central path cuts across Southwest Virginia, where it weaves through the Appalachian Arts Center, Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Many music enthusiasts time their journey to coincide with major events, such as the Galax Old Time Fiddlers Convention (Aug 7-12, 2023) and the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival.

Travelers can also visit musical landmarks like the Carter Family Fold, Floyd Country Store, Rex Theater, and Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace.

READ MORE: What is Bluegrass? The History & Evolution of Appalachian Music

Grayson Highlands State Park - Big Pinnacle
Big Pinnacle in Grayson Highlands State Park, photo by Emma Gallagher

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.

There are lots of noteworthy day hikes on the AT in Virginia. Wilburn Ridge via Grayson Highlands State Park (4 miles) is fairly close to my house, and there are wild ponies to spot along the way.

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. 

READ MORE:The Best Hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains in VA - Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks Interstate Park, photo by Emma Gallagher 

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.

The park is a full-service family getaway with cabins for rent, hotel accommodations, and campgrounds.

It has lakes with boat rentals, a waterpark, and zipline tours. There is even a restaurant on site.

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in SWVA (Southwest Virginia)

Downtown Lexington VA - vacations in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Downtown Lexington, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

8. Learn about American History in Lexington VA

The town of Lexington VA is located in the Shenandoah Valley between Roanoke and Waynesboro, and it has a history that dates back to before the American Revolution.

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lexington VA & Natural Bridge VA

Luray Caverns Stalacpipe Organ in Luray VA
Luray Caverns Stalacpipe Organ, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

9. Lower into Luray Caverns

The Blue Ridge Mountains of VA are dotted with deep caverns that visitors can explore on guided tours for a taste of spelunking (but without all the mud).

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).

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

Roanoke VA Mountains, McAfee Knob - The Famous Photo at McAfee Knob
The Famous Photo at McAfee Knob, photo by Emma Gallagher

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

Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains -The Front of Natural Bridge by Mary Gabbett
The Front of Natural Bridge, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

READ MORE: The Best Restaurants in Lexington VA & Natural Bridge VA for Foodies

Peaks of Otter Lake viewed fom the Peaks of Otter Lodge
Abbott Lake viewed from Peaks of Otter Lodge, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

12. Peek Around at Peaks of Otter

Located at milepost 86, Peaks of Otter is one of the more famous stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It includes several tall mountains surrounding one of the area’s most beautiful mountain lakes.

The popular BRP landmark has a visitor center with a gift shop and exhibits on the animals, birds, and wildflowers found in the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge is a nice place to stay, with enchanting views of Abbott Lake and easy access to the best historical sites, hiking trails, and wineries in the region.

The 24-acre Abbott Lake is ringed by a one-mile loop trail. It’s also stocked with smallmouth bass, catfish, sunfish, and bluegill.

READ MORE: The 20 Most Beautiful Wildflowers in Virginia (& Where to See Them)

National D Day Memorial in Bedford VA
National D Day Memorial in Bedford VA, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

READ MORE: 10 Great Places to Celebrate Christmas in Virginia

Christmas vacation, Christmas resort, ice rink
Omni Homestead Resort, photo Courtesy Omni Hotels

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.

The standout is the 2300-acre Omni Homestead Resort (owned by the same folks behind NC’s Omni Grove Park Inn), which includes a spa, restaurant, golf course, outdoor pool, hiking, trails and more.

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Places To See Christmas Lights in Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia -Center in the Square - Downtown Roanoke
Electrified at the Science Museum, photo by Emma Gallagher

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.

Elsewhere downtown, you’ll find several history and art museums. The Virginia Museum of Transportation is a personal favorite that would be great fun for the whole family.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Roanoke VA

Best Roanoke Breweries - A Few Old Goats
Tasting flight at A Few Old Goats Brewery, photo by Emma Gallagher

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

VA Things to Do - Sunrise on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia
Sunrise on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

17. Saunter through Smith Mountain Lake State Park

Located about 20 miles from the town of Bedford VA, Smith Mountain Lake State Park encompasses over 1200 acres of wilderness on the northern banks of Smith Mountain Lake.

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. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in the Virginia Mountains to Visit

Skiing in Virginia -Wintergreen Resort
Photo via Wintergreen Resort

18. Snow Skiing in Virginia

While North Carolina and West Virginia might have more impressive ski resorts to choose from, Virginia does have its own winter resorts for snow recreation.

Bryce Resort and Massanutten Resort are both located near Harrisburg VA, while the Omni Homestead Resort is in Hot Springs and Wintergreen Resort is close to Charlottesville and Waynesboro.

In addition to snow skiing, all of these resorts have snow tubing and snowboarding options. Bryce Resort and The Omni Homestead have ice skating rinks, too.

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.

READ MORE: The Best Ski Resorts in the Virginia Mountains to Visit

CrossKey Vineyards - Virginia Wineries
CrossKey Vineyards, photo via Facebook

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.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Virginia Wineries to Visit for Wine Tastings & Tours

Hiking in the Washington & Jefferson National Forests of Virginia
Hiking Washington & Jefferson National Forests, photo by Bret Love 

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

 

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting the Western North Carolina for the first time, Jonathon Engels and his wife Emma spent two years looking for a few acres of property there to establish a permaculture homestead. During that search, he explored the Blue Ridge Parkway, surrounding towns, and parks. He has taught at both Blue Ridge Community College and Surry Community College, is a member of a long-established land conservation community near the town of Dobson, volunteers at the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, and continues to explore the Blue Ridge, a place he now lovingly calls home.