6 Virginia National Parks to Explore this Spring

6 Virginia National Parks to Explore this Spring

Posted on Apr 04, 2024

Virginia is home to 22 national parks, attracting an estimated 22,500,000 visitors and generating over $1.8 million in revenue each year according to the National Park Service. Each park offers a unique window into the diverse ecosystems native to its respective region and the historic roots tied to the land. From scenic camping trips to major battlefields, there are endless outdoor recreational activities to keep you on your toes, especially on fee-free days!

Use our list of must-see Virginia national parks to plan your next spring trip!

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1. Shenandoah National Park

There’s a good reason why Shenandoah National Park is a staple for most Virginia National Park compilations. Located in North-Central Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is best known for Skyline Drive, a picturesque road spanning 105 miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The breathtaking views of Virginia’s flora and the sunrise above the mountains at the northern end of the skyline are enough to make an unforgettable trip.

Hikers can also enjoy several hiking trails overseeing waterfalls, including the Dark Hollow Falls and the ever-popular Jones Run-Doyles River Loop. At night, camp under the stars or in a lodge to make the most of your stay. Our top activities include:

Big Meadows – This large meadow is perched on a mountaintop, with nearby campgrounds and lodging. The Big Meadows Lodge offers a range of activities, including horseback riding, rock climbing, and a whisky-wine shuttle. Of course, you can’t miss the twilight hike, which takes advantage of Big Meadows’ perfect view of the night sky.

Luray Caverns – Explore the largest series of caverns in Eastern America on a self-guided tour through spacious stone formations. Discovered in 1878, these historic caverns now include well-lit paths to increase accessibility. Not a fan of caverns? The area also features a garden maze, a rope adventure course, and the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum!

Hawksbill Summit Trail – Hawksbill Summit is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park, with a panoramic landscape view. This moderate hike is about 1.7 miles roundtrip, taking over an hour to complete, though the view is certainly worth it. Check weather reports to ensure a clear view.

2. Great Falls Park

Located northeast of Washington, DC, Great Falls Park encompasses parts of Virginia and Maryland, overlooking the Potomac River and the remains of the Patowmack Canal. The most popular activity is to walk along the scenic overlooks, some of which are wheelchair accessible, and host picnics. The Potomac River and the Great Falls are particularly impressive after periods of heavy rain.

For outdoor enthusiasts, both the Virginia and the Maryland sides have more intensive recreational activities:

Billy Goat Trail – The Billy Goat Trail is a three-section trail with above-moderate difficulty. Section A is the toughest of the three, with one-way travel sections, rock-scrambling stretches, and fantastic views. Sections B and C are easier, though you’ll still need hiking shoes to grip the rocks and hills.

Rock Climbing – Rock climbers can enjoy challenging climbing areas along the Mather Gorge cliffs, with routes between 25–75 feet long. Please note that the climbing difficulty ranges between 5–5.9, and many routes overlook the water. All climbing is top rope, meaning you’ll need to rappel in. For more information, consult the Visitor Center first.

Whitewater Kayaking & Canoeing – Experienced boaters can be found whitewater kayaking or canoeing along the Potomac Gorge. While the river offers a range of difficulty levels, there are several challenging areas for seasoned individuals. Remember to wear a personal flotation device and heed safety precautions!

3. Prince William Forest Park

If you love wildlife watching, Prince William Forest Park is the place to be! The park sits on a transition zone just South of Washington, DC, straddling northern and southern climates home to several animal populations. Keen wildlife watchers can find at least 38 species of mammals, 100 species of birds, 23 species of fish, and more.

Here are our top activities for animal watching:

Hiking – With 37 miles of pet-friendly hiking trails, it’s easy to spot birds and small mammals while strolling. The paths are well-maintained and generally less crowded, depending on the season. Top-rated trails include the Pyrite Mine Loop Trail (7.1 miles), High Meadows Trail (4.4 miles), and the Quantico Falls Trail (1.9 miles).

Fishing – Prince William Forest Park includes the South Fork of the Quantico Creek and four human-made lakes, all ideal fishing spots. Be sure to follow Virginia’s fishing regulations and obtain a fishing license before enjoying a fun day relaxing by the water!

Biking – While you can’t ride bikes on hiking trails, there are several paved, gravel, and fire roads for biking opportunities. The most prominent biking path is the 11-mile loop on Scenic Drive, starting from the Visitor Center. Hop on your bike and view the wildlife in fast motion!

4. Manassas National Battlefield Park

US history buffs are sure to enjoy Manassas National Battlefield Park. The now peaceful site was once the setting for two pivotal battles: the First and Second Battles of Manassas (Bull Run). Visitors can explore well-preserved battlefield sites and walk through Civil War exhibits recounting the harsh realities of war.

Notable highlights include:

Henry Hill Visitor Center – This visitor center also functions as a museum featuring artifacts related to the Civil War. Visitors can also sign up for regular walking tours covering the First and Second Battles.

Hike the Battlefield – Prefer a self-guided approach? Walk through the park’s over 40 miles of hiking trails, and you’re sure to find several interpretive markers detailing the history of the First and Second Battles of Manassas. Relive history by tracing the footsteps of those before.

Downtown Manassas – Round out your trip by visiting Downtown Manassas! There are several eateries, breweries, and shops to explore. Manassas also has a growing arts scene. Check out the Art Factory for performances, gallery showings, and studio classes.

5. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

The culmination of the Civil War involved four major battlefields: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Combined, the battlefields saw over 100,000 casualties (including deaths and captured prisoners) as soldiers struggled in some of the most gruesome sustained combat in American history.

The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park preserves the history of the land. Visitors can tour each battlefield, including multiple walking trails and notable historic landmarks. You can’t miss these memorial sites:

Sunken Road – This walking trail traces the Union attack on Confederate forces on December 13, 1862. The Confederate soldiers stood their ground behind a stone wall, leading to a costly defeat for the Union Army. The trail goes through Marye’s Heights before ending at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Bloody Angle – Along the Bloody Angle Trail, several interpretive markers detail the intense struggle at Mule Shoe. Ulysses S. Grant led the Union attack on Confederate defenses in May 1864, ultimately capturing several soldiers and critically striking Confederate forces, though not without mounting casualties totaling nearly 17,000 on both sides.

Stonewall Jackson’s Death Site – This former plantation now serves as a historic site where Stonewall Jackson died following a fatal friendly fire incident. Go on a walking tour of the land to understand its deep history predating the Civil War.

6. Colonial National Historical Park

Near Virginia’s coast, you’ll find the Colonial National Historical Park, a site that bore witness to the birth of America. The historic park spans Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement, and Yorktown, the site of the decisive Battle of Yorktown that ended the British colonial rule over the American settlements.

History buffs can enjoy reconstructed colonial structures, walking tours, and colonial recreational activities as they learn about early American history.

Colonial Parkway – Drive along this 23-mile roadway connecting Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg to take in the land’s natural beauty. The parkway connects major historic attractions in the area while reducing the impact of tourism on wildlife.

Historic Jamestowne – Explore the archaeological remains of the first permanent English settlement in America, including artifacts, genealogy resources, and historic records of life during the Colonial period.

Yorktown Battlefield – For three weeks between September 28–October 19, 1781, American settlers laid siege to British troops in the Battle of Yorktown. The American victory led to the eventual British surrender and the founding of the United States of America. Walk the battlefield trails and visit the Victory Monument to relive the moment.

The Best Time to Visit Virginia National Parks

Whether you’re an outdoors enthusiast or a history fanatic, you’re sure to find a park for you! Spring and early summer are the best times to visit Virginia’s national parks, especially if you take advantage of fee-free days. These parks showcase the state’s incredible natural resources and beauty while preserving the deep historical context around each region.

Virginia’s National Parks are one of several reasons to love living in Virginia, including exceptional healthcare career opportunities and the affordable cost of living. Check out On Board Virginia’s resources to start your next chapter!