As much as kids are looking forward to the end of school, parents are frantically looking for ways to keep them engaged until September. Family day trips are one answer, and options in the Shenandoah Valley are abundant. Here are three ideas to enjoy time with your children this summer.
As diverse as Virginia’s wildlife population is, one doesn’t normally think of it as a haven for llamas, bison, ostriches, giraffes, peacocks, zebras and kangaroos. Yet you can see all these species and more roaming the 180-acre Virginia Safari Park.
Located in Natural Bridge*, near Lexington, this adventure park is about a three-hour drive from Washington, DC, open seven days a week from mid-March to late November. Probably the most popular aspect of the park is the slow three-mile drive where more than 1,000 free- roaming animals of almost any sort will poke their nose through your window in search of a snack. The park has a specialty grain that visitors can use to feed the animals. You can drive your own car or jump into a tractor-drawn wagon for even closer contact.
Another choice is 10 acres of walk-thru exhibits, which feature Tiger Territory and Cheetahs, a Giraffe Feeding Station, Petting Area, Kangaroo Walk-About, a Bird Aviary, Reptile House and more.
The park offers guided, special-rate tours for public, private and home-schooled students with teachers and/or chaperones.
The Virginia Kids Trail guides parents to dozens of family- and kid-friendly museums, camps, programs, pick-your-own fruit farms, outdoor adventures, performances, etc. The website is searchable several different ways—find activities by location, for under $10 (or for free) or by type of adventure. The site’s blog regularly informs us about seasonal and holiday trip ideas.
Founder Nancy Craun told us more about the trail.
“The Virginia Kids Trail’s mission is to make it easy for parents and kids to find fun activities they can experience together off their couches and away from digital devices,” said Craun.
A calendar of events may be found here. “The 2018 summer will have a new focus on Virginia’s State Parks and outdoor adventures,” Craun continued. “The trail begins with river rafting in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, then a trip to the Sky Meadows Children’s Discovery Area. There is also the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley’s national exhibit –Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO Bricks.
“Also this summer and into fall, the Kids Trail will partner with the Blue Ridge Root to Table Culinary events to offer local sourced news and activities including kids cooking classes and a monthly regional farmers market at Schenck Foods thru October 2018.
Craun added that, “The new Kids Trail pocket map will showcase free activities with lots of family- friendly hiking trails designated as well as family-friendly lodging and dining with discounts offered thru the Kids Trail. The website also features family friendly festivals. You can pick the map up at visitor centers, libraries, and parks and recreations.”
Craun also emphasized, “The Kids Trail is a proud partner of the American Evolution 1619 – 2019 history campaign. This summer we kick off “Our Youths who make a Difference. – Youth of the Blue Ridge (YBR)”. The YBR program seeks to identify those special kids who have made a difference in peoples’ lives. From betterment of the community to awesome achievements against incredible odds, Youth of the Blue Ridge hopes to inspire others by featuring one amazing youth every month. The program ranges from 8 – 17 year olds and is run by nomination only. In celebration of those who made a difference in the soon to be 400 years of Virginia history, we’ll be spotlighting youth who continue to make a difference today. Know an incredible kid who deserves recognition? Nominate them at [email protected]!
For an interesting perspective on the Kid’s Trail, read a “Mommy Blogger Family Trip” where five families experienced it over a two-day weekend.
If you’re looking for a true “escape trip,” the House of Clues in Harrisonburg provides an exciting new experience.
Players are “locked” in a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles and think their way out within 60 minutes. Children eight and older are free to play along with their families, and two adults are required per game. We asked Director Tara Einstein how families react to this challenge.
“Escape rooms are an adventure that families absolutely love.” Einstein said. “They get to have a device-free hour of excitement and collaboration that involves everyone. There are hidden clues, codes, ciphers and keys that bring players on a journey of untangling the mysteries, solving the riddles and puzzles, and finally achieving the goal of the game– whether it be escaping the ‘mad scientist’s’ laboratory or saving the world’s largest diamond from a gang of thieves. We have had families of four generations all play together — yes, play together, including the eight -year olds and the 88- year olds.
“Everyone contributes to the game,” Einstein continued, “bringing their own life experience and way of thinking, and they laugh together and get the great feeling of accomplishing something challenging together.”
Note: The rooms are not actually locked and players are free to leave at any time if needed. An online reservation is required and you should arrive a few minutes early for a pre-game orientation.
*Note: Virginia Safari Park is NOT associated with Natural Bridge Zoo.
Photo courtesy Virginia Kids Trail