I-95 doesn’t have to be a long, boring drive… You’re a little ahead of schedule and you’ve got a few extra hours, so what’s your hurry? Why not take a side trip? Get off the Interstate and discover the real America… small towns, scenic coastlines, historic communities and some of the east coast’s most enjoyable roadtrips.

In this article, we’ll take a look at Virginia’s scenic Byways – highlighted by the Blue Ridge Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Colonial Parkway and Journey Through Hallowed Ground provide history and views.

Virginia’s four National Scenic Byways provide groups perfect venues for history lessons and accessible inroads into the great outdoors. An additional 2,500 miles of road around the state are designated as Virginia scenic byways.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway | Virginia | Mabry Mill | I-95 Exit Guide
Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway | I-95 Exit Guide

The Blue Ridge Parkway, that winds through Virginia’s picturesque landscapes, offers travelers a journey through natural beauty and historical richness. Stretching across 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, this iconic roadway is a must-visit for road trip enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

History and Significance

The Blue Ridge Parkway was conceived as a New Deal-era project during the Great Depression, aimed at providing jobs and connecting natural areas. Constructed primarily for recreational purposes, it has since become one of America’s most beloved scenic byways, attracting millions of visitors annually.

Scenic Highlights

Driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia treats travelers to breathtaking vistas of the Appalachian Mountains. The road winds through lush forests, rolling meadows, and alongside stunning overlooks that provide panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. Particularly in the fall, the parkway transforms into a canvas of vibrant autumn colors, drawing photographers and leaf-peepers from far and wide.

Points of Interest

Alongside its natural beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia offers access to numerous points of interest. Mabry Mill, an iconic stop along the parkway, showcases a historic gristmill and exhibits traditional Appalachian crafts. Hiking enthusiasts can explore trails leading to waterfalls, such as the popular Apple Orchard Falls Trail, which rewards hikers with a spectacular cascade nestled in a serene forest setting.

Outdoor Activities

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can indulge in a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. The parkway’s well-maintained trails cater to all skill levels, offering opportunities to immerse oneself in the region’s natural wonders.

Cultural Heritage

Beyond its natural splendor, the Blue Ridge Parkway also preserves the cultural heritage of the Appalachian region. Historical sites like the Peaks of Otter, once frequented by Thomas Jefferson, offer insights into the area’s rich history. Local artisans and musicians celebrate Appalachian traditions through festivals and events, providing visitors with a glimpse into the vibrant culture of the region.

Planning Your Visit

When planning a road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, consider the following tips:

  • Timing: Visit during the fall for stunning foliage, or spring for wildflower blooms.
  • Accommodations: Lodging options range from campgrounds to quaint bed-and-breakfasts along the route.
  • Weather: Be prepared for varying weather conditions, especially in higher elevations.
  • Safety: Observe speed limits and be mindful of wildlife crossing the road.

George Washington Memorial Parkway

George Washington Memorial Parkway
A bicyclist enjoys a scenic ride in LBJ Memorial Grove along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Public domain. Courtesy of the National Park Service

The George Washington Memorial Parkway, a scenic highway along the Potomac River in Virginia, offers travelers a blend of natural beauty, historical landmarks, and recreational opportunities. Spanning from Mount Vernon to Great Falls Park, this parkway provides a picturesque route for both locals and visitors to explore.

History and Significance

The George Washington Memorial Parkway was established to commemorate the legacy of George Washington, the first President of the United States. This parkway serves not only as a scenic roadway but also as a tribute to Washington’s contributions to American history.

Scenic Highlights

Driving along the George Washington Memorial Parkway treats travelers to stunning views of the Potomac River and its surrounding landscapes. The parkway’s carefully landscaped roadways, complemented by scenic overlooks and lush greenery, create a serene and enjoyable driving experience.

Points of Interest

The parkway is home to several notable points of interest:

  • Mount Vernon: George Washington’s historic estate, offering guided tours of his mansion, gardens, and museum.
  • Great Falls Park: Known for its dramatic waterfalls and hiking trails along the Potomac River.
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island: A memorial island accessible by footbridge, featuring trails through wooded areas and a statue honoring President Theodore Roosevelt.

Outdoor Activities

Visitors to the George Washington Memorial Parkway can engage in various outdoor activities, including:

  • Hiking: Trails at Great Falls Park and Theodore Roosevelt Island offer opportunities to explore nature and enjoy scenic views.
  • Picnicking: Numerous picnic areas along the parkway provide peaceful spots for families and groups to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
  • Biking: The parkway features paved trails suitable for cyclists looking to explore the area at a leisurely pace.

Cultural Heritage

In addition to its natural beauty, the George Washington Memorial Parkway preserves and celebrates the cultural heritage of the region:

  • Historic Sites: Alongside Mount Vernon, the parkway includes Fort Hunt Park, which played a significant role during World War II as a military installation.
  • Visitor Centers: Informational centers along the parkway offer insights into the history, ecology, and recreational opportunities available to visitors.

Planning Your Visit

When planning a road trip along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, consider the following tips:

  • Visitor Information: Check for current operating hours and any special events at Mount Vernon and other attractions.
  • Seasonal Considerations: Visit during spring for blooming cherry blossoms or autumn for vibrant foliage along the riverbanks.
  • Accessibility: The parkway is accessible by car, with designated parking areas at major attractions.

Colonial Parkway

Williamsburg, Virginia | I-95 Exit Guide
Historic Colonial Williamsburg, on the Colonial Parkway, Virginia

The Colonial Parkway in Virginia offers travelers a scenic route steeped in history, connecting three prominent historical sites: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Spanning 23 miles, this roadway not only provides a picturesque drive but also serves as a journey through America’s colonial past.

History and Significance

Constructed in the 1930s as part of the New Deal initiatives, the Colonial Parkway was designed to link the historic triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. It stands as a tribute to America’s colonial heritage, preserving the essence of 17th and 18th-century Virginia.

Scenic Highlights

Driving along the Colonial Parkway treats travelers to serene views of the Virginia landscape. Lined with towering trees and bordered by the waters of the James and York Rivers, the road offers glimpses of historic estates, lush forests, and peaceful riverbanks.

Points of Interest

  • Jamestown: The birthplace of English America, where visitors can explore archaeological sites, replicas of colonial structures, and learn about the settlers’ early struggles and triumphs.
  • Williamsburg: A meticulously restored colonial capital, where living history museums, reenactments, and preserved buildings immerse visitors in 18th-century life.
  • Yorktown: Known for the decisive battle of the American Revolution, Yorktown offers a glimpse into military history, with museums, battlefield tours, and the chance to walk in the footsteps of Revolutionary War figures.

Outdoor Activities

Alongside its historical significance, the Colonial Parkway provides opportunities for outdoor recreation:

  • Scenic Overlooks: Numerous overlooks along the parkway offer panoramic views of the James and York Rivers, perfect for photography and birdwatching.
  • Walking and Biking Trails: Pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy paved trails that meander through the parkway’s natural landscapes, providing a closer look at the area’s flora and fauna.

Cultural Heritage

The Colonial Parkway not only connects historical sites but also preserves the cultural heritage of early America. Visitors can engage with costumed interpreters, participate in interactive demonstrations, and gain insights into the daily lives of colonial settlers.

Planning Your Visit

When planning a road trip along the Colonial Parkway:

  • Visitor Centers: Stop by visitor centers at Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown for maps, guided tours, and exhibits.
  • Events and Festivals: Check for special events such as reenactments, concerts, and festivals that celebrate colonial history and culture.
  • Timing: Consider visiting in the spring for blooming gardens, fall for colorful foliage, or during historical anniversaries for special programs and activities.

Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive | Virginia | I-95 Exit Guide
Riprap Overlook | Skyline Drive | Virginia | I-95 Exit Guide

History and Significance

Built during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, the Skyline Drive was envisioned not only as a scenic road but also as a means to promote tourism and conservation. It serves as a testament to the enduring beauty of Virginia’s natural landscapes.

Scenic Highlights

Driving along the Skyline Drive treats visitors to panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont to the east, with the Blue Ridge Mountains rolling away to the west. The road winds through dense forests, past cascading waterfalls, and alongside numerous overlooks that offer sweeping vistas of the Virginia countryside.

Points of Interest

  • Marys Rock Tunnel: A highlight along the drive, this tunnel provides access to Marys Rock, offering a stunning viewpoint of the Shenandoah Valley.
  • Skyland: Located at mile 41.7, Skyland is a historic resort offering lodging, dining, and guided tours, nestled amidst breathtaking mountain scenery.
  • Big Meadows: A picturesque area at mile 51, featuring a visitor center, lodge, camping facilities, and access to hiking trails, including the popular Dark Hollow Falls Trail.

Outdoor Activities

The Skyline Drive is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts:

  • Hiking: Numerous trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes, lead to waterfalls, panoramic viewpoints, and serene meadows.
  • Wildlife Viewing: The park is home to diverse wildlife, including deer, black bear, wild turkeys, and numerous bird species, providing ample opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers.
  • Picnicking: Scattered picnic areas along the drive offer tranquil spots to enjoy a meal amidst the natural beauty of the park.

Cultural Heritage

Beyond its scenic beauty, the Skyline Drive showcases the cultural and natural heritage of Shenandoah National Park:

  • Visitor Centers: Informative visitor centers provide exhibits on the park’s ecology, history, and recreational opportunities.
  • Ranger Programs: Seasonal ranger-led programs offer insights into the park’s wildlife, geology, and conservation efforts.

Planning Your Visit

Tips for a memorable road trip along the Skyline Drive:

  • Park Entrance Fees: Purchase a park pass at the entrance stations, valid for seven days, to support park maintenance and conservation efforts.
  • Peak Seasons: Visit during spring for blooming wildflowers, summer for lush greenery, or fall for vibrant foliage, especially during the peak of leaf season.
  • Accommodations: Lodging options include campgrounds, cabins, and lodges at Skyland and Big Meadows, providing opportunities to stay immersed in the park’s beauty.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Jefferson Monticello | I-95 Exit Guide
The Jefferson Monticello on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

History and Significance

The byway follows the footsteps of pivotal moments in American history:

  • Civil War Sites: Visit historic battlefields such as Gettysburg and Antietam, where pivotal battles reshaped the course of the nation.
  • Presidential Legacies: Explore homes and estates of past presidents like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, offering insights into their lives and contributions.

Scenic Highlights

Traveling along the byway treats visitors to diverse landscapes:

  • Rolling Hills: Pass through scenic countryside with rolling hills and expansive farmlands.
  • Blue Ridge Mountains: Enjoy panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, adding to the route’s natural allure.

Points of Interest

Explore notable landmarks and attractions along the byway:

  • Historic Towns: Discover charming towns such as Middleburg and Leesburg, known for their preserved architecture and vibrant culture.
  • Vineyards and Wineries: Sample wines at local vineyards nestled amidst picturesque vineyards and lush landscapes.

Outdoor Activities

Engage in outdoor activities amidst natural surroundings:

  • Hiking and Biking Trails: Explore scenic trails that wind through forests and along riverbanks.
  • Fishing and Boating: Enjoy recreational activities on rivers and lakes along the route.

Cultural and Educational Experiences

Experience the rich cultural heritage of the region:

  • Museums and Interpretive Centers: Visit museums and interpretive centers that delve into the area’s history and culture.
  • Artisanal Crafts: Encounter local artisans and craftsmen preserving traditional skills and techniques.

Planning Your Journey

Plan your visit along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway:

  • Seasonal Considerations: Consider visiting during spring for blooming flowers or autumn for vibrant foliage.
  • Accommodations: Find lodging options ranging from historic inns to modern hotels in towns along the route.
  • Travel Resources: Use visitor guides and maps to navigate the byway and make the most of your journey.

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