From the NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, there’s plenty to do in Virginia that’s free.
Virginia may be for lovers, but it is also for people who like to travel without spending a lot of money.
The Old Dominion State has plenty of free and fun things to do this fall—from learning about space to traversing the nation’s first scenic trail.
Virginia really is for lovers, because seriously, what is not to love?
NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center
Route 175, Wallops Island (five miles outside Chincoteague Island)
You don’t need to go to Cape Canaveral in Florida to see a rocket launch or to learn about NASA’s space program. Wallops Island is one of the most underrated attractions in Virginia. Here, you can learn about the great beyond all while visiting one of the most beautiful areas on the Eastern Shore.
Wallops Island has been providing the US government and commercial companies launch-range services for more than 70 years, according to NASA. Established in 1945, Wallops Island has played a central, albeit more quiet, role in the nation’s space program. Over the years, Wallops Island has sent more than 10,000 rockets carrying supplies to the International Space Station.
Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center offers interactive exhibits and space to view launches. Best of all: It is free. The visitor’s center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. When you see the field of satellites across the street from the visitor center, you know you have arrived.
The Virginia State Capitol
1000 Bank St., Richmond
If you love American history, warts and all, or if you’ve ever found yourself singing songs from Hamilton, the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond needs to be on your must-visit list. Our state gave the nation George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and six other presidents, but it was Thomas Jefferson who gave us the Virginia Capitol. He designed the building with the help of French architect Charles-Louis Clerisseau in 1785, according to the Capitol Square Preservation Council. Many of America’s big moments happened right here in the State Capitol on Bank Street. It’s where the Virginia General Assembly met in 1791 to ratify the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, where the confederacy met during the Civil War, and it is where the United States’ first Black governor was sworn into office in 1990.
Learn all about our state’s and nation’s history during a free one-hour guided tour of the iconic building. Tours begin after 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and after 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Come for the history lesson and stay for the ornate architecture and the life-like statue of George Washington in The Rotunda.
Shenandoah National Park
There are four entrance stations to Shenandoah National Park, but only one has a physical address.
If you’ve called Virginia home for any amount of time, you know the mountains here are absolutely beautiful in the fall. If you are looking for some crisp air, brightly colored leaves, and spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is a must-visit destination. The park is about a two-hour drive from Washington, DC, and the Northern Virginia suburbs. The park is especially great for those who love to hike. It boasts 500 miles of trail, including several trails that will take you past waterfalls such as Dark Hollow Falls.
If you are not into hiking, Skyline Drive offers amazing views of the mountains and the changing leaves, which peak between October and early November, all from the comfort of your car.
The park is not typically free but offers several fee-free days throughout the year:
- Jan. 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day,
- Feb. 20: President’s Day,
- June 19: Juneteenth,
- Aug. 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- Sept. 24: National Public Lands Day
- Oct. 9: The First Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week
- Nov. 11: Veterans Day
Virginia Creeper Trail
Virginia Creeper Trail Welcome Center is located at Abingdon Trailhead: 300 Green Spring Road, Abingdon
Don’t let the name fool you; this is one of the best hiking/biking trails in Virginia—maybe in the entire country. It has to be, right, if it’s not only award-winning but is also included in the National Rail Trail Hall of Fame.
The 34-mile trail starts in Abington, near the Virginia-North Carolina border and ends in Alvarado. Whether biking or hiking, expect to pass through picturesque farmland to eventually reach a high-mountain trail. The most popular section is a 17-mile stretch between Whitetop Station and Damascus, which is considered easy for beginners. Bring your bike, your hiking boots, and some water, but leave your cash at home, as there is no fee.
The Appalachian Trail
Some things in life are priceless, including proving to yourself that you can conquer anything. The Appalachian Trail, the nation’s first scenic trail, passes through 14 states, but none of them can claim as many miles of the trail as we can. About 550 of the trail’s 2,190 miles are located right in Virginia. The trail passes through the George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park.
According to the US Forest Service, the best times to hike the trail are in the spring, September, and early November. Hiking the best-known trail in America is totally free. The only thing it will cost you is your resolve.
Virginia Beach Boardwalk
2101 Parks Ave., Virginia Beach
You can never go wrong with a trip to Virginia Beach. It’s where the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet. You can relax on the beach with a good book or surf if that is your thing. Throughout the year, Virginia Beach offers festivals, music, and all sorts of free entertainment, but perhaps the best amenity is the boardwalk.
Whether you are a walker, biker or a rollerblader, the 3-mile boardwalk with its ocean views and flat surface does not disappoint. Make sure to stop by and snap a photo with the 34-foot tall bronze statue of King Neptune, Roman God of the sea. King Neptune sculpted by Richmond artist Paul DiPasquale, has stood sentry over the boardwalk near the 31st Street Park, or Neptune’s Park, since 2005. (Fun fact: If you are ever in Richmond, Paul DisPasquale is also responsible for the statue of tennis legend Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue.)
If you stop by the 31 Street Park along Virginia Beach’s boardwalk, which boasts a band shell, you just might catch a free concert, so bring a blanket or some lawn chairs just in case.