As I write this post, I am sitting in the back of the SUV, hatchback popped open, a bowl of cut watermelon at my side, wet pants and a long-sleeve shirt on my body. Rain is drizzling on the metal roof.
The irony is not lost on me.
We braved the clouds sitting on the mountain ridge, drove through the fog, and found ourselves exploring a state park this morning. Kyle is someplace unknown… We diverged in the woods with him chasing the incline of a 10-mile trail run and Marietta and I going downhill for a 4-mile river walk. I am here with you. Cold, wet, and I really wish I had brought coffee.
This seems to be the trend of summer here in Virginia. We go from comfortable, almost un-summer-like (I wore a sweatshirt IN JUNE) to the good old hot and humid we all know and love. On those sweltering days, you can find Kyle and I held up at the creek – with a cooler of ciders and snacks – Marietta splashing about.
It’s been easy to trade the beach for the river. To replace the mosquitos with lightning bugs. To swap the humidity for fog and drizzle. Better yet, it has been ridiculously fun to explore summer in the Shenandoah Valley. If you are looking for activities to help you cool off or heat up, then keep reading to see our favorites.
Hike the Blue Ridge Tunnel
Hiking when it is super hot outside requires a little extra preparation, water, and often, an earlier start time. If you don’t have it in you for an early rise, the Blue Ridge Tunnel is our favorite trail that you can do at just about any time of day. The trail is about four miles round trip but the majority of it takes place in an actual railroad tunnel, keeping things cool and shaded. There are two points of access: Afton or Waynesboro. Waynesboro starts with an easy downhill (but what goes down must come up) for about a mile until you reach the tunnel. Afton (East trail) has a shorter walk to the actual tunnel and you can eliminate the incline if you so wish, cutting the trip down to 2-3 miles max.
There is a small parking lot at both entrances but no great places for a picnic or a view. Instead, you admire the dripping rocks, cool air, and orange lichen growing on the walls. The tunnel portion is a flat, gravel path. Bring a flashlight and a little extra water for the dog.
Afternoons by the Creek
Marietta loves splashing around the creek and we treasure hanging out for the afternoon in the shade. That’s probably why we take so many people to Bold Rock or Brewing Tree in the summer. Dogs are welcome and you can bring your own chairs, snacks, or even a book to make a whole afternoon out of it. Now… if only they delivered drinks to your chair.
While in the area, explore the flat trails of Rockfish Valley Foundation that weave around the creek and pastures. There are a few creek access points and a little museum that is open on the weekend. We also love stopping by Critzer’s and grabbing some local ice cream or summer fruit to enjoy by the water.
Roseland Polo Club
Grab your folding chairs, pack a picnic and go tailgating at King Family Vineyards for Sunday morning polo. Get there early (I recommend 10:30 am at the latest) as the spots fill up quickly! The event is free to join and the staff comes by frequently selling wine. Their Crosé is my favorite rosé. It’s super dry and easy for summer drinking. For more information, check out Roseland Polo.
Fireworks at Barren Ridge Vineyard
If you are in the area for the Fourth of July, you cannot miss the fireworks at Barren Ridge Vineyard. With a hill overlooking the vines and the sunset, you also get the added bonus of a vantage point to see other local shows. In fact, you can spot the Staunton fireworks all without ever having to fight the crowd. It was one of the best shows my family and I saw; the wine was also excellent. There’s a huge selection of wine and the whites and rosé were perfect for a summer evening.
On the Fourth of July, Barren Ridge’s event is a family-friendly ticketed experience, complete with live music and food trucks. If you book early, you can grab a table on the patio, close to the band, bar, and bathrooms. Otherwise, bring some folding chairs, snacks, water, and a cooler as the lawn is used more for tailgating-style parties.
Float the Rivanna River
If you have your own tubes and two cars, you can drop in at a public landing (more info here). If not, then Rivanna River Company is our recommendation. They have great quality tubes, provide a dry sack, and will shuttle you back to your car when you are ready to let out. On the river, there is a rope swing (if you are brave enough) and when the water level is low, lots of little beaches you can lounge around for lunch. The whole trip can take 1.5-4 hours, depending on how many stops you make and how quickly the river is flowing.
Afterward, grab a taco from our favorite food truck spot (Long St. and River) or pop into the Dairy Market, which has something for everyone. Both will accommodate your stinky, sunburnt, swimsuit-clad selves.
Spend the Day Shopping
Start out at the farmers market – Nellysford, Waynesboro, Staunton, and Charlottesville all host one Saturday morning. You cannot go wrong with any of them.
After you grab the latest seasonal produce, a coffee, and something sweet to tide you over, go antiquing. If you are in Nellysford, Waynesboro, or Staunton, block off three hours for the Factory Antique Mall in Verona. The place is so large that they have a restaurant in the middle of it serving tuna salad melts, hamburgers and breakfast all day long. In Waynesboro, Alpha & Omega Antiques and Laynes Antiques offer a variety of items. It feels a little like digging around your hoarder-grandma’s house, but in a treasure-hunting kind of way. Rockfish Gap Country Store and Greenwood Antiques are also great spots for nice decorations, local gifts, and medium-sized furniture.
Explore the Frontier Culture Museum
Either get there early or save this for an overcast day because the Frontier Culture Museum is an outdoor, living-history museum with 11 exhibits that show you what it was like to live all over the world. It is pretty neat to walk around and explore the old-world origins. Many of the homesteads are original buildings that were dismantled and transported to the Museum and reconstructed for our enjoyment. You can even watch people complete tasks the same way they would from the time- We watched them brew beer over an open flame and bake an apple pie in the fireplace.
In addition to demonstrations, they have shuttles that can take you to each exhibit if needed. Bring your own water and grab a bag of popcorn from the kettle corn stand on your way out. The gift shop sells trinkets and snacks too.
No matter where you go, you can likely find good food, great drinks, and live music all summer long (that’s a given).
Share in the comments which of these activities you’ll enjoy on your next visit!