It’s difficult to think of a more perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts than Virginia. With its varied geography, it has plenty to offer in the way of unique picturesque spots for outdoor fun.
If you’re looking for a scenic spot to have some outdoor fun, we’ve got you covered with this guide. Some of the ideas will cost you, but many are free. Free bonus: All of the spots are highly Instagrammable.
Wildlife Watching Off the Coast
Wildlife watching off the coast of the commonwealth should be at the top of your list for scenic outdoor fun. Pictures of dolphins and whales will surely make your Instagram feed popular with your friends.
Based out of Virginia Beach’s Rudee Inlet, Rudee Tours offers five options for those looking to observe wildlife in their native habit, including Dolphin Watching, the Rudee Rocket Dolphin Trip, the 22-Hour Pelagic Wildlife Exploration, a 13-Hour Pelagic Wildlife Exploration, and the Sea Turtle Safari. Its dolphin- and whale-watching boats have multi-level decks, climate-controlled cabins and 360-degree views even when inside.
“A dolphin watching cruise with us is the essential trip for both the aquatic enthusiast and the fun-seeking vacationer,” the company said. “Each 90-minute experience is narrated by our experts who are ready to share their knowledge and answer your questions about dolphins, other marine life, and the Virginia Beach coastline.” Sightings are guaranteed.
The Virginia Aquarium also provides dolphin-watching boat tours, with a portion of each ticket sale going to support the aquarium’s research and conservation initiatives. “If you are ready to find adventure, make memories, and inhale the fresh air, then come let the salty ocean mist kiss your cheeks and the offshore breezes fill your lungs,” the aquarium said.
Based on the type of experience you want, you’ll select between a ride on the Atlantic Explorer, a large vessel with an elevated deck, and the Atlantic Scout, a low-riding vessel that brings you closer to wildlife. The tours last between 70-90 minutes.
For a low-cost alternative, visit the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is also in Virginia Beach. The refuge’s diverse habitats—including beachfront, freshwater marsh, dunes, shrub-scrub and upland forest—are home to hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and fish.
Watch a Stunning Virginia Sunrise/Sunset
There’s nothing more visually stunning than taking in a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Luckily, Virginia has plenty of great perches from which to take them in from. “Packed with mountains, beaches, lakes, and rivers, Virginia has countless picturesque spots to take in a sunrise or a sunset,” the Virginia Tourism Corporation said. “As the sun rises and sets over these varied landscapes, something truly magical happens, creating unforgettable moments that are stunningly beautiful.”
The High Knob Observation Tower in Norton is a great spot for those looking to take in a mountainous sunrise or sunset. Sitting at an elevation of 4,000 feet, the tower offers views of five states including Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia on a clear day.
On the Eastern Shore, Wachapreague is the place to be to watch the sun rise and set over the water. Due to its rural nature, you’ll get to enjoy the views without distraction.
Richmond’s city skyline, with its many tall buildings and James River backdrop, also offers a unique sunrise or sunset experience.
Relax at a Garden
Visiting a beautiful public garden is a great way to relax while outdoors.
The gardens at Maymont, a 100-acre historic estate and park in Richmond, should be at the top of your list. Entering the distinct gates at the front of the naturalistic Japanese Garden is like stepping onto a different continent.
“The space is cool, shaded and intimate. Sounds are muted and even children become more introspective and observant. While not a religious garden, the space is unmistakably reflective,” Maymont said. The Japanese Garden is contrasted by the formality of the Italian Garden. It features stonework, statuary, gazebos, and fountains.
The garden “artfully combines the classical elements of geometric design, varied colors, multiple levels and historic vistas to create a distinctly formal garden experience within the natural setting of the James River fall line terrain.”
The 12 acres of semi-formal gardens, forest, and wetlands at Hermitage Museum & Gardens in Norfolk is a good choice for coastal Virginians looking for a relaxing outdoor experience. “The gardens feature a mixture of flowering plants, shrubs, and trees,” Hermitage said. “The gardens are accented by various unique plant containers, two of which sit on the tiled terrace outside the Gothic Music Room.”
Take a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Load up your whole family and go for a relaxing road trip on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Stretching through a significant portion of the eastern portion of the commonwealth, the parkway starts in Afton and goes all the way down to Fancy Gap and into North Carolina.
“Spanning the southern and central Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers an exceptional glimpse of the regional flora and fauna. It is world renowned for its biodiversity,” the Blue Ridge Parkway Association said. “Visitors encounter unsurpassed diversity of climate, vegetation, wildlife and geological features.”
If you’d prefer to explore the parkway at a slower pace, consider biking it instead. Check out the association’s useful tips before doing so.
Rock Climbing in Virginia’s Blue Ridge
The varied terrain of Virginia’s Blue Ridge offers plenty of opportunities for climbing enthusiasts. “With all the changes in elevation and accessible Blue Ridge Mountains, there are numerous options for finding spots to go on a climbing adventure as part of your Blue Ridge Day,” Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge said.
Traditional rock climbing and bouldering options are available.
The Dragon’s Tooth Trail in Catawba is a top rock-climbing destination due to its rugged nature and various outcrops of rock. “It’s a rewarding climb that requires some skill and challenge to travel,” the organization said. Additional climbing and bouldering destinations can be found on the Roanoke Outside Foundation website.
If you’d prefer a climbing experience further north in the commonwealth, the Shenandoah Valley is also worth considering. The Elizabeth Furnace climbing region in the George Washington National Forest offers two popular climbing destinations.
Fun on the New River
When most people think of spending a day on the river in the commonwealth, they think of the James River. But, the New River—specifically the 37-mile New River Water Trail in Giles County—shouldn’t be discounted.
“If you’re looking for fun, exciting and challenging outdoor adventure, the New River has it all,” the trail organization said. “You can experience unforgettable outdoor activities, fishing for smallies and muskie with one of our experienced guides, multi-day paddle trips on the river, camping out under the stars, or enjoy numerous off river recreation and accommodations.”