Stretching from Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Mountains, Virginia’s varied landscape is a treasure trove of secret gardens, beautiful beaches and even a universal Yogi shrine. Add the Mother of States to your next road trip and check out some of these 15 surreal places you never knew existed.
Originally discovered in 1878, Luray Caverns is the largest and most popular cavern in the Eastern United States. With cathedral-sized rooms boasting 10-story ceiling height, this maze of stalactites and stalagmites is as ethereal as it gets. Designated as a Registered Natural Landmark by The National Park Service and Department of Interior, the caverns’ enormous chambers shimmer and shine with towering stone columns, dripping crystals and sizeable bodies of water.
Visitors are welcome to tour the caverns’ impressive, underground wonderland, and they can even stay the night at the Luray Caverns Motel. There’s even an organ made entirely out of stalactites; its unearthly tone is equally chilling and hypnotic. Get a first-hand look at this incredible landmark.
Great Falls National Park
Just a 15-mile drive from the nation’s capital, Great Falls’ glorious 800 acres are as beautiful and historic as they come. The Potomac River flows steadfast over a series of jagged rocks into the Mather Gorge, while the centuries-old Patowmack Canal offers a first-hand look into America’s early colonial history. George Washington’s biggest plan following the Revolutionary War was to make the Potomac River navigable as far as the Ohio River Valley, which resulted in the Patowmack Canal’s construction.
Aside from the park’s rich history dating back to our nation’s beginnings, the outdoor recreation and breathtaking beauty is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. From the Great Falls of the Potomac to the plethora of hiking trails, Great Falls National Park is an amazing adventure waiting to happen.
Shenandoah National Park
If you’re a hiker at heart looking for your next outdoor journey, then Shenandoah National Park is the place for you. With over 500 miles of hiking trails situated in 200,000 acres of protected lands, you’re guaranteed to have a unique adventure with each visit to this enormous park.
With cascading waterfalls, scenic overlooks and plenty of space to set up camp or have a picnic, this national park has something for everyone on your nature retreat. Overall Run Falls should definitely make the top of your hiking bucket list. At 93 feet, it is the park’s tallest waterfall, beyond which hikers can get an impressive view of the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain. It’s a sight that’s sure to take your breath away.
Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway sits Edwin Boston Mabry’s water-powered mill. Unbeknownst to him, the family mill would become one of the most photographed places in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people visit each year to catch a glimpse of this lovely landmark.
The gristmill and sawmill have been restored by park naturalists, creating the perfect space for visitors to view live exhibits and see a real mill in operation to demonstrate the milling process. A nearby trail provides a great escape into the nearby woods that frame this picturesque building, and in the summer, the mill transforms into a community space where musicians and dancers gather for a good time. The opportunity to add this destination to your photo collection cannot be missed: Improve your Instagram game with a trip to this serene spot.
At the center of the Great Dismal Swamp lies Lake Drummond, a natural body of water that leaves visitors feeling anything but dismal (seriously, why is it called that?). Lake Drummond is one of two natural freshwater lakes in all of Virginia, and, surprisingly, it sits as the highest point in Dismal Swamp with nine ditches flowing out of it.
Aside from its obvious beauty, Lake Drummond possesses a degree of mystique with Native American folklore and ghost stories passed down through generations. The most popular of which can be found in Irish poet, Thomas Moore’s, 1803 poem “The Lake at Dismal Swamp,” where he describes the local legend of an Indian maid who died before her wedding day and haunts the lake on her ghostly, white canoe. Whether you believe or not, one thing is certain: Lake Drummond is an amazing and beautiful place.
What’s not to love about Virginia Beach? From the three-mile stretch of boardwalk to the historic site where the first Jamestown settlers docked the Mayflower, it’s no wonder this tourist destination makes this list.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Virginia Beach has the longest pleasure beach in the world and also has the longest bridge-tunnel complex in existence: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. With plenty to see, eat and do, a Virginia Beach vacation is the perfect solution for all of life’s struggles.
Wild Chincoteague ponies populate this beautiful town in the Mother of States. The nearby Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is an undisturbed paradise perfect for bird-watching, horseback riding, swimming, and biking. Plan a trip in the summer to catch the world-famous annual Pony Swim to Chincoteague where all the wild ponies are rounded up from nearby Assateague to swim over to their new home.
The wild horses are just one aspect of Chincoteague that makes this a must-see destination: The vast expanse of beaches and plentiful shellfish are a huge draw as well. Who can refuse a bite of freshly harvested clams and mussels?
Natural Bridge State Park
This 215-foot tall naturally occurring bridge was once owned by Thomas Jefferson himself and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Cedar Creek carved out this limestone gorge, creating an impressive archway made entirely out of rock.
Six miles of hiking trails surround the Natural Bridge, including Cedar Creek Trail, which leads from the bridge to the Monacan Indian Village and Lace Falls. Steeped in rich history, visitors can learn all about how early settlers and Native Americans used the natural resources for survival and inspiration. Get a little inspired yourself by paying a visit to this incredible natural structure.
Smith Mountain Lake
The second-largest freshwater lake in Virginia, Smith Mountain Lake is a breathtaking display of Mother Nature at her finest. In the Roanoke Region of Virginia, this enormous reservoir was created in 1963 and draws the attention from all over.
The scenic paradise is a great spot for water sports, fishing, picnicking and enjoying the 500 miles of shoreline that surrounds this amazing body of water. Be sure you snap a photo before you leave as proof that this breathtaking beauty really exists.
You might think you’ve stumbled back in time to a wealthy colonist’s swanky gathering after visiting this gorgeous park and estate. Gilded Age financier, John Dooley, completed building the Maymont Estate in 1893. The mansion is just one of the features on this 100-acre plot of land: The Robins Nature & Visitor Center, Japanese and Italian gardens, various wildlife exhibits and Maymont Farm combine to create a truly magnificent park experience.
A testament to the American Dream and the wealth that created an entirely new class in America, Maymont is a must-see for anyone interested in Victorian architecture and our nation’s history.
Light of Truth Universal Shrine
The Light of Truth Universal Shrine (aka - LOTUS) is an incredible structure dedicated to the practice of yoga and meditation. Dedicated to inter-faith understanding and the light within all faiths, LOTUS’ flower-shaped design comes from the vision of Sri Swami Satchidananda, a prominent yogi responsible for bringing yoga to the west.
The shrine officially opened in 1986, and throughout its architecture are spiritual symbols with even its measurements centered around the number 108, a sacred figure in numerology. When arriving at LOTUS, visitors must drive on the left side of the road, symbolizing the need to leave behind habitual patterns. A visit to LOTUS is unlike anything you’ll ever experience.
Abandoned Virginia Renaissance Faire
After closing down in 1999, the ever-popular Fredericksburg renaissance faire was abandoned as-is by the laid-off staff at the close of the final season. Due to the swampiness, humidity and insufferable mosquito bites that characterize a Virginia summer, ren faire goers steadily dropped off the grid, never to return to the insect-filled park.
Nearly 20 years later, the park’s abandoned buildings still stand (sort of) for lingering knights and ladies seeking medieval refuge. A popular spot for some spooky fun and great pics, the abandoned ren faire is something you’ll have to make time for on your next trip to V.A.
Fairy Stone State Park
Minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway is Fairy Stone State Park, renowned for its namesake: the legendary fairy stones. These peculiar little stones are actually staurolite crystals and can only be found in a few places around the world. The best areas to find these rare stones are at the base of a tree around its roots. Visitors are not allowed to bring digging tools to search for their bounty, but your hands will do the trick just fine.
The adjoining Philpott Reservoir further creates a whimsical landscape for this aptly named park. The enchanting forests and beautiful waters will make you feel like an elven princess, if only for a few hours.
Assateague Island National Seashore
Better get to the island fast: The Assateague you see today won’t be the same tomorrow. That’s because the island is recreated each day by ocean wind and waves. The ever-changing, ever-moving island hosts a plethora of sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, and coastal bays. Wild ponies populate the island, whose annual migration to Chincoteague (aforementioned) is a world-renowned spectacle.
From its beautiful shorelines to its quiet woodlands, Assateague is a great place to reconnect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. Water sports, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, camping -- whatever your hobby, the island has you covered.
The Devil’s Bathtub
With 13 creek crossings and four miles of hiking preceding this marvelous natural wonder, the Devil’s Bathtub is one of Virginia’s best-kept secrets. The naturally smooth swimming hole is a much-needed reward for hikers tackling this difficult trek. Water from nearby Devil’s Fork gushes into the sandstone, creating a blue-green paradise for weary travelers.
Just past the Devil’s Bathtub is another lovely landmark: a 50-foot waterfall at the mouth of Corder Hollow. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience Mother Nature’s secret pool; the Devil’s Bathtub is calling your name!
Virginia is for lovers for a reason: The Mother of States has some of the most unique and surreal spots in the U.S. Make sure you refresh your scenic bucket list with some of the hidden gems outlined above. Have a favorite spot that didn’t make the cut? Let us know in the comments below. The adventure never stops in this beautiful southern state.