As the southern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, the “small towns, big backyard” of Rockbridge County offer 64,000 acres of public forests, parks, and rivers where outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels can hike, bike, paddle, and camp. In the college towns of Lexington and Buena Vista, visitors enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, food and spirits scene, and historic sites.
Cover photo: Along the 64 miles of the Upper James River and 10 miles of the Maury River, a 59-mile stretch of the James River was recently designated a Virginia Scenic River. Photo by Sam Dean
Start your morning off at Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden, a 15-acre arboretum filled with walking trails and wildlife within five habitats—an enchanted Fairy Forest awaits the young at heart. Go for a walk on the Chessie Nature Trail, a seven-mile rail trail connecting Lexington and Buena Vista along the Maury River.
Enjoy lunch in Lexington at Salerno Wood Fired Pizza & Tap House. They have more than 30 beer choices on tap with their “self-pouring wall.” Grab a scoop or two of homemade ice cream at Sweet Things Ice Cream before heading out on the water. Paddle or tube the Upper James River Water Trail for views of the wildlife and a new perspective on the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Wilderness Canoe Company can hook you up with boats and suggestions for on the river.
Choose from several local eateries for dinner, serving up everything from barbecue and burgers to seasonal dishes at farm-to-table restaurants. Continue the fun at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort with cabins perfect for the whole family or seasonal campsites. Enjoy roasting marshmallows around the campfire and themed weekends, such as Wake the Bears and Chocolate Paradise.
Fun Fact: Animal lovers will enjoy two animal parks and tours with Lexington Carriage Company.
The kids will enjoy feeding the animals directly from your car at the Virginia Safari Park. Walk through the Safari Village with interactive animal exhibits such as the Kangaroo Walkabout, Budgie Adventure Aviary, and a giraffe feeding station. Or, encounter life-sized dinosaurs with a prehistoric twist at Dinosaur Kingdom II.
Stop at the Pink Cadillac, a 50s diner, for lunch. You can’t miss the pink exterior from the road. Then visit Natural Bridge State Park, a 215-foot natural wonder once owned by Thomas Jefferson. While there, take a selfie at the LOVEworks sign and visit the Children’s Discovery Area to learn more about the area’s flora and fauna. Take a stroll through the apple orchard labyrinth at Halcyon Days Cider Co. for sweeping mountain views.
Kick back and relax with dinner at Devils Backbone Outpost Brewery & Tap Room, a family-friendly stop on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail. Enjoy a double feature under the stars at Hull’s Drive-In, the nation’s only non-profit and community-owned drive-in theater.’