About Summer Escapes
Whether you want a day trip or a weekend away, here are fun outdoor adventures that are an easy drive—including scenic hikes, sunset kayaking, treetop ziplines, and a relaxed bike ride around an island.
Nelson County, Virginia
Virginia’s Nelson County, bordering the Blue Ridge Mountains and straddling two national forests, is home to a collection of central-Virginia towns and some cool hikes. Three hours from DC, it’s also in the heart of Virginia’s craft-beverage region, with standout outdoor spots to sip an après-hike drink.
Where to Stay
Indigo House is a pet-friendly bed-and-breakfast in Afton with four national-park-themed rooms, a communal fire pit, and daily breakfast made with local ingredients. Dog beds, bowls, and treats are provided. Accommodations at Wintergreen Resort, in the mountains of Wintergreen, include rooms in the lodge as well as more isolated home rentals. The property also has a spa, pickleball courts, and both indoor and outdoor pools.
Where to Play
There are a variety of hikes in Nelson County, and some go beyond the typical sights. Bring a flashlight or headlamp to trek the Blue Ridge Tunnel, a dark path through a former railroad passage. You can enter the 4.5-mile out-and-back trail at the East Trailhead in Afton.
Chasing waterfalls? One of the tallest cascades east of the Mississippi River, Crabtree Falls can be seen via a moderate 2.7-mile round trip. Park at the dedicated area off State Highway 56 near Montebello. The Upper Shamokin Falls Trail at Wintergreen also stops at a waterfall but requires less than a mile of hiking round-trip.
Peer over the lush valley from Humpback Rocks, an overlook of jutting stone formations. You reach the vantage point on a steep two-mile out-and-back hike starting at the parking area near milepost 6 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For chill kid-friendly walks, the Rockfish Valley Trails in Nellysford meander around creeks, running through Spruce Creek Park, which has bird- and butterfly-watching paths.
Beyond hiking, the area features options for tubing on land and water. Wintergreen’s snow-tubing track, the Plunge, also operates in warmer seasons. Tubers ride a conveyor belt to the top of the 1,000-foot track and slide down the plastic lane. Or you can drive out to James River Reeling & Rafting in Scottsville to take a leisurely float on the river. The tubing outfitter shuttles groups upriver, then they drift four miles down the water back to the parking area, a trip that takes two to four hours. For an aquatic picnic, rent a buoyant cooler from the company.
Celebrate warm weather with a quintessentially summer activity—berry and peach picking—at Critzer Family Farm in Afton. Starting in May, you can pluck from the fields’ bounty, then grab ice cream churned with it. Prefer your fruit in liquid form on a pretty patio? Bold Rock Cider in Nellysford and Veritas Vineyard and Winery in Afton have scenic seating for cider and fries or wine and charcuterie, respectively. Leashed dogs are allowed in grassy areas.
Where to Eat
The charming cafe Basic Necessities in Nellysford serves quiche and sandwiches for lunch Tuesday through Saturday (plus Sunday brunch) and Mediterranean-inspired dishes during Saturday dinner. Pick up provisions such as fresh bread and goat’s-milk cheese for a summit snack. Devils Backbone Brewing Company has an expansive brewpub in Roseland for local lagers, IPAs, and ciders to quaff with burgers and barbecue.
This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Washingtonian.