All American Road Trip: 3 Days Exploring The Natural Beauty of The Virginias

Virginia is synonymous with natural beauty, featuring awe-inspiring hiking trails, fantastic underground caverns, breathtaking waterfalls and State Parks with scenic and recreational opportunities. Outdoor activities allow visitors to peer into the cultural and natural history of the area. West Virginia is just as scenic, offering equally picturesque nature scenes and stunning landscapes.

This three-day itinerary begins at the West Virginia International Yeager Airport–the nearest major airport to New River Gorge National Park. You’ll want to rent a car for this three-day journey to enjoy the surrounding beauty as you trek between National Parks and forests.

New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Photo Courtesy of Dennis Church

The trip from the airport to New River Gorge is about 52 miles and leads you along Kanawha River and through charming small towns, offering incredible views as you make the short trip to New River Gorge National Park. It’s worth continuing past the park for about 18 minutes to drive across the stunning New River Gorge Bridge. This 3,030-foot-long bridge sits high in the Appalachian Mountains and is the third-highest bridge in the U.S.

After traveling over the bridge, you’ll need to do a quick turn to travel back to New River Gorge National Park—your destination for the day.

New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia. Photo Courtesy of John W. Iwanski

DAY 1 – NEW RIVER GORGE NATIONAL PARK

Despite its name indicating otherwise, New River Gorge is one of the oldest bodies of water in North America. During a trip to this National Park, you’ll be surprised by how many activities are available to pursue throughout the park’s 73,000 acres.

Whitewater rafting at New River Gorge National Park. Photo Courtesy of Jim Mullhaupt

Whitewater Rafting

If you have a thrill-seeking personality, the first activity is whitewater rafting. New River Gorge National Park is a top destination for whitewater adventure in the U.S., featuring 53 miles of rapids that fluctuate in difficulty from easy to hard. This activity does not require previous experience if you sign up for a short rafting tour of the upper gorge, which offers a more peaceful experience. Traveling to the lower part of the gorge does require expertise and is only recommended for experienced rafters. Book a half or full-day guided tour with Adventures on the Gorge or one of the other licensed whitewater outfitters in the area.

View from Canyon Rim Trail in New River Gorge National Park. Photo Courtesy of John Manard

Hiking

One of the benefits of hiking at New River Gorge is the variety of difficulties of hiking trails. Those who are not comfortable with whitewater rafting can skip to the next activity, hiking the magnificent trails in the park. These trails ranged from 0.25 miles to 7 miles and from developed, well-maintained routes to untouched trails that wind through the park.

Nearby the visitor’s center, the Burnwood Trail offers an easy 1.2-mile loop that takes hikers through a dense forested area. Aim to stop at the Canyon Rim Boardwalk, only a 0.1-mile trek. Visitors have stunning panoramic views of the gorge and the gorge bridge from this boardwalk. It’s one of the best scenic spots for photographs. Then, spend a few hours hiking on the trail of your choice. Other activities include biking, fishing, climbing and hunting.

Thurmond Historic District along the New River Gorge Scenic Drive. Photo Courtesy of bobistraveling

Scenic Drive

Finish the day by enjoying the New River Gorge Scenic Drive. This drive will last about three hours, though it provides an excellent opportunity for viewing the best of the area, including the stunning gorge, river and mountains.

The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Photo Courtesy of Doug Northup

Where to Stay Near New River Gorge National Park

After a jam-packed day of outdoor adventure, drive about an hour to your luxurious and historic accommodations for the night. Spanning 11,000 acres, The Greenbrier features a variety of guest rooms and suites for parties of all sizes. Enjoy plenty of on-site amenities, including a golf course, spa, casino and various dining options.

View of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Photo Courtesy of Brian Gratwicke

DAY 2: SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK

Start day two with an early wake-up call as the next stop, Shenandoah National Park, is just shy of a three-hour drive. This National Park is in Virginia, bordering the Blue Ridge Mountains and offering an idyllic patch of land that features rushing waterfalls, bubbling streams, impressive summits and majestic woods to explore. With over 500 miles of trails that stretch across 80,000 acres, it’s safe to say this is one of the best National Parks to visit—for you and your pets. Shenandoah National Park is one of the top dog-friendly parks, with 480 miles of those trails welcoming pets!

View of Shenandoah National Park from Skyline Drive. Photo Courtesy of Scott Edmunds

Skyline Drive

Start the day by driving a section of Skyline Drive. This historic route was created in the early 1900s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government conservation program for young men that connected them to environmental projects. This incredible drive takes visitors and locals on a passageway of 105 miles offering stops at overlooks, campgrounds, picnic sites and trailheads.

Sunrise at Thornton Hollow Overlook in the North District of Shenandoah National Park. Photo Courtesy of Shenandoah National Park

North District

Due to the size of Shenandoah National Park, it’s broken into three districts, each offering a different appeal. Start with the North District for a more tranquil area to explore sans crowds. While this section is closer to busier areas, travelers often overlook it for the Central District. It’s a stunning undeveloped area with winding trails that lead through farms, cascades and sections of the Appalachian Trail.

View from Hawksbill Summit in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park. Photo Courtesy of shoshanaz

Central District

The Central District is the park’s most popular area for hikers and nature enthusiasts. This is likely due to its history as a summer getaway paradise in the 1800s. Hence the historic buildings in the Central District, like the Massanutten Lodge. The highest peak—Hawksbill Summit, is also reachable via trails that branch from Skyline Drive.

Anyone interested in finding more information on the long history of Shenandoah National Park can spend a few minutes at the Byrd Visitor Center near mile 51 on Skyline Drive. This district is also an excellent location for viewing wildlife and camping.

Jones Run Falls in the South District of Shenandoah National Park. Photo Courtesy of Jim Liestman

South District

The South District, like the North, offers a more peaceful experience away from the crowds. With multiple trails to trek ranging from one mile to 9.8 miles, this district is the best for viewing the nearby valley and mountains, especially at the Rockfish Gap entrance. Hike the 3.2-mile Jones Run Falls trail which crosses a stream and leads you to a beautiful waterfall. This is also a pet-friendly trail for those traveling with furry friends.

View from Big Meadows Lodge at Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Photo Courtesy of Pom’

Where to Stay Near Shenandoah National Park

After hiking all day and seeing the sites, book a stay at the Lewis Mountain Cabins. These cabins are found at milestone 57.5, and you can choose from one-bedroom, two-bedroom, or pet-friendly accommodations. The Lewis Mountain Gift Store is easily accessible and the ideal place to pick up groceries, snacks and other camping necessities.

Additional lodging options during your road trip include Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland. The former is conveniently located just a mile from a big grassy meadow at mile 51, a prime spot for catching a glimpse of the Milky Way at night.

Grab a bite to eat on the pet-friendly outdoor terrace at Big Meadows Lodge. Enjoy breathtaking views of the valley as you enjoy a casual meal in the park.

James River and James River Face Wilderness from Three Sisters located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. Photo Courtesy of Laura Neale-USDA Forest Service

DAY 3: GEORGE WASHINGTON-JEFFERSON NATIONAL FOREST

On the final day of travel, start your morning with a horseback riding adventure in Shenandoah National Park. Take a one-hour guided ride through gorgeous forests and admire the area’s natural beauty while gaining a new appreciation for this mode of transportation.

Afterwards, head to George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, less than an hour away from Shenandoah. These forests incorporate eight significant river basins like the Potomac, Roanoke and Cumberland Rivers which create idyllic scenery that hikers and photographers will find breathtaking.

The High Knob Lookout Tower is an ideal stop, sitting right at the border of Virginia and West Virginia. Because of its location, this tower provides incredible views of both states. There is about a 1.1-mile hike to reach the tower and is suitable for those traveling with children.
Hunting, biking, fishing and horseback riding are also permitted in the forests for those who have a few hours to spare.

Concluding this trip at the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests allow for an easy and quick trip to the Shenandoah Valley Airport.


The Great American Road Trip. Photo from our Original Series Venturing Out: Park 2 Park

Read Next: Discover more than 50 Summer Road Trips throughout the United States.

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