You don’t create memories looking at a screen.
If you’ve grown tired of spending most of your day tethered to an electronic device, it’s time to pack up the kids and show them a world that doesn’t require clicking anything—the Shenandoah Valley. Here are eight ways to take a family vacation—and not connect with anything except each other.
Camping options range from remote backpacking to staying in well-organized commercial campgrounds. The Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley KOA has both tent and RV/trailer sites as well as a fully stocked camp store, a pool, fishing pond, and free WiFi should you want it.
At The Country Place in Luray, both cabins and camping are available. Campsites have immediate riverfront access to the Shenandoah. Group and family rates are available. Hiking in George Washington National Forest is virtually next door.
Shenandoah National Park offers five campgrounds in season: Matthews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, Loft Mountain and Dundo. To make reservations go to Recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777. Find more information on the campgrounds, and regs on backcountry camping, here.
Float your Boat
Rent a canoe, kayak, raft or tube and float down the Shenandoah River. June is the perfect time to do so. Top outfitters to get you on the river include:
Don’t ignore the South River, either. Waynesboro’s Water Trail Map makes it easy to plan a route.
Prefer to just go swimming? Lake Arrowhead in Luray, Sherando Lake near Lyndhurst, Smith Mountain Lake near Bedford, and Cave Mountain Lake near Natural Bridge State Park are traditional favorite spots.
If you have not ridden a horse in the Shenandoah Valley you are missing a wonderful outdoor experience. A one-hour guided horseback trip at Fort Valley Ranch (just outside Luray) is $35; a one-and a-half hour guided group is $45 at Jordan Hollow Stables, in the foothills of Shenandoah National Park; and Star B Stables near Staunton charges $40 for a one-hour guided trip. And you can ride in Shenandoah National Park as well — Horseback and pony rides are available at Skyland Stables (mp 42.5 on Skyline Drive). A Pony ride is $8 per child; Horseback rides are $50 person.
Want to try a ride with a twist? Try Llama Trekking at Applewood Inn near Lexington.
Hike to a Waterfall
While there are many waterfalls in the Shenandoah Valley, you will find several within Shenandoah National Park. With young children, one good bet is the 70-foot Dark Hollow Falls; it’s a bit steep but only 1.4 miles round trip. Easy access to the trailhead from Skyline Drive at MP 50.7, and less than half a mile from the Byrd Visitor Center. Find more waterfall hikes here.
Full service bike parks like those at Massanutten or Bryce provide chair lifts, beginner to advanced trails and downhills, lessons, repairs, rentals, and races. If that’s too formal for you, George Washington National Forest has endless dirt-and-gravel routes you can ride with little to no car traffic. The staff at independent bike shops and local tourism offices can usually help you find an out-of-the-way route as well. Greenways like those in Luray and Front Royal welcome cyclists, too.
Visit a Farm
Nothing gives you respite from the city like a visit to a farm or orchard. Here are three you and your children will love:
Marker Miller Orchards Farm Market and Bakery — Family owned and operated for five generations, the orchards and market open for the season June 1st. Pick your own produce—starting in July, choose from peaches, raspberries, blackberries and tomatoes. Or take the kids on a scenic wagon ride, ride the Cow Train, or enjoy a picnic. Shop an extensive selection of farm bounty, baked goods, produce of all kinds, jams, jellies, cider, etc.
Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse–Showalter’s grows nearly 30 kinds of apples and makes sweet cider on the premises, plus you can pick your own lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and strawberries in season. A wide variety of greenhouse plants adds to their allure. The owners’ passion for growing is passed on through numerous workshops and gardening classes. Call 540-896-7582.
White Oak Lavender Farm — A combination farm/gift shop and “U Pick” lavender farm in summer, plus a petting area full of farm animals your children will love. Daily tours in season, wine and culinary events, mountain views. Perfect for a day trip with the family, in Harrisonburg.
Scramble up a Summit
Traverse the cliffs and see spectacular views at Hawksbill or Stony Man — or numerous other peaks in Shenandoah National Park. (Review 10 hikes from Skyline Drive here.) Also try one or all of the summit hikes around Peaks of Otter.
Look Up—Astronomy Events in Shenandoah National Park
Several different presentations and programs allow you to experience the glorious night skies from Shenandoah National Park. These include:
Let’s Talk About Space—Presentations led by NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador Greg Redfern, held at Skyland and Big Meadows Lodge on selected dates. Free to all park visitors.
Night Skies—Amateur astronomers discuss controlling light pollution; gather at Big Meadows/Rapidan Camp Gate. Free to all, see dates and times here.
Twilight Hiking–Guided hikes starting at 7:00 p.m. Reservations required; $20 per person. Some dates are already sold out so book now.
Annual Night Sky Festival – August 9 – 11 at different locations within Shenandoah National Park. See constellation tours, solar scope viewing, telescope viewing, Junior Ranger programs, audio-visual presentations, hands-on activities, and more! Details here.
Banner photo courtesy Waynesboro Dept. of Tourism/Courtney Cranor