Northern Virginia to Harrisonburg
If you’ve never made this trip, you’ve missed out on a beautiful drive through Virginia and West Virginia. We made the trip on the last weekend in April from our home in Northern Virginia to River Expeditions Whitewater Rafting Adventure Resort in Oak Hill West Virginia. River Expeditions is conveniently located close to both the New River and the Gauley River, which offer white water rafting opportunities for all age ranges and abilities. We made the trip in one day because we were busy at work and could only go for the weekend, but during the drive I was thinking that it would be a great vacation to make a couple of days out of it and stop at some of the fun and interesting places along the way.
Starting out going west on Route 7, the first stop along the way is Winchester Virginia. For us that’s only about 20 miles, but if you live in DC it could be fun place to stop off, especially if you are driving to the New River Gorge in the fall, when all the farms around Winchester are harvesting their apples. There are lots of fun antique stores in the surrounding countryside and Old Town Winchester has some really nice stores and restaurants, and a really cool old fashioned hotel.
From Winchester you start the 120-ish mile drive down I-81. This is a lovely drive as you follow the line of the Shenandoah Mountains a lot of the way. Again, in the fall, there’s the world famous Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, in all its autumnal glory. If you’ve never driven that when the leaves are turning, you really should try it some time. Fall is when the Gauley River is at its peak, so it would be a great time to combine the peace and tranquility of Skyline Drive with the rush of whitewater rafting on a Class V river!
Other attractions en-route on I-81 include the Virginia Civil War Museum, which being in the heart of Civil War country, is a must for history buffs. If you fancy something even older than that, there are a host of spectacular underground caverns including Luray Caverns. Luray Caverns is the most popular cave in the Eastern United States and has been visited by millions of people. You can take a one-hour tour of the cathedral sized rooms, some 10-storeys high, filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The Caverns are home to the world’s largest instrument, the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which makes concert quality music from the surrounding 3 acres of stalactites.
Next on the list is historic Harrisonburg, home to James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University and therefore chock full of “student town” type things to do. Downtown Harrisonburg is home to lots of interesting shops, restaurants and bars. It is the center of antique shopping in the Shenandoah Valley too, so there are things for us older crowd. For somewhere cool to stay, check out the elegantly restored Joshua Wilton House Inn and Restaurant, a Victorian mansion occupying a corner in the historic old “Down Town”.