Help me escape my college town!
December 19, 2013 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 20-year-old college junior near the Roanoke area of southwest Virginia, and I have a car for the first time this year. I need ideas for interesting attractions within a four hour drive. More details inside.

I know this is very broad, but I'm generally looking for cool places and/or experiences for exploring on weekend trips. I've looked at most of the Virginia tourist websites, which seem to focus either on adults (lots of vineyards, bars, and expensive tours) or families. I've been to the Safari Park and parts of Richmond, the main tourist attractions in DC, Lexington, Roanoke, Charlottesville, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I'm down for anything interesting, beautiful, and/or weird--on my list already are Foamhenge, Natural Bridge, and the Devil's Marbleyard. I'm down for mildly strenuous hikes. I love photography, festivals, good local food, and anything I wouldn't find back home in Los Angeles (like rodeos!). Recommendations for general cities to visit are also okay.

I'd prefer:
-Within a four hour drive (out of state is okay)
-Not over $30 admission (but gas money isn't an issue)
-Not a mall or shopping center
posted by bonifate to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Greenbriar Bunker Tour in White Sulpher Springs, WV.

I would do this so fast it would make your head spin!

Plus any drive in WV is gorgeous!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:55 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

We went down to Martinsville to get bbq at the Checkered Pig (SO GOOD) and stumbled across the Virginia Museum of Natural History. When we first heard about it we thought it would be a rinkydink museum in a basement or something but it's really beautiful and had lots of great exhibits! They're affiliated with the Smithsonian and function partly as a research site. You can peek in the labs and watch people work. Definitely fun if you're into natural history.
posted by brilliantine at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are lots of small music festivals in that area in the spring and summer--that scene gets going around mid April, and many are less than $30, or just a little more. I could give you some specific recommendations, if that sounds like something you'd be interested in.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:08 PM on December 19, 2013

Oh, and Floyd.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2013

Depending on when you turn 21, the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival in Harrisonburg is a blast.

Oh and another fun Harrisonburg event: Macrock. Lots of interesting indie bands come to town for the weekend and play at various bars and restaurants. I believe all shows are all-ages.
posted by JennyJupiter at 1:10 PM on December 19, 2013

Panther Falls is a pretty cool swimming hole that you could probably do as a day trip.

Fayetteville/New River Gorge/ Summersville Lake in WV are cool places for outdoor stuff and there's Bridge Day
posted by ghharr at 1:12 PM on December 19, 2013

Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah.

The Natural Bridge is pretty cool too.
posted by Flood at 1:14 PM on December 19, 2013

Hello neighbor! Have you looked at Everything outdoors that's roadtrippable from here. Also breakaway groups from the wildly successful Roanoke Outdoor & Social Club meetup group are constantly going on hiking/cycling/kayaking/climbing trips within roadtrip/overnight distance.
posted by headnsouth at 1:18 PM on December 19, 2013

Clifton Forge (right up from you) has a really neat railroad museum for the old C&O. Maybe not enough for a long day trip, but it's still pretty cool.
posted by k5.user at 1:21 PM on December 19, 2013

The Appalachian Trail passes through Virginia in the Shenandoah.. area. I'm not sure of the exact geography of that part of ol' VA.

From Roanoke you can get anywhere in the state in 4 hours (not quite round trip), as well as much of West Virginia and the Ohio River valley. Virginia Beach is a huge town (I used to live there) and so you don't need to stay on the beach to visit the beach; the Expressway and Virginia Beach Blvd will take you from just about anywhere in town to the Beach. Va. Beach also has the Virginia Marine Science Museum, which I always enjoyed.

You can almost make it to Del'wur, as long as you're driving through NoVa rather than up the DelMarVa peninsula (which is kind of a lame drive after the bridge-tunnel).

Langley Virginia has a NASA outpost, in addition to a more famous, less public government agency, which you can't go visit.

Monticello, maybe? Mount Vernon? Jamestown Colony (also home to the Yorktown victory)? Colonial Williamsburg? Busch Gardens (also Williamsburg)?
posted by Sunburnt at 1:37 PM on December 19, 2013

Climb the Peaks of Otter (especially Sharp Top and Flat Top) off the Blue Ridge Parkway

Climb House Mountain near Lexington
posted by jayder at 1:38 PM on December 19, 2013

The Shakori Hills music festival!
posted by mareli at 1:51 PM on December 19, 2013

Definitely Lexington, if you have any interest in the Civil War era (or the people who love it), and Floyd. Also Abingdon and the Crooked Road trail (, with stop at the amazing arts and crafts center Heartwood (; and Breaks Interstate Park ( Just a little further and you'll be in the Smokies (best bet is Cosby, - avoid all the Gatlinburg stuff, and head for the Nantahala). And heck, if you've come that far, come on down to Nashville! it's only about 6 hours from Roanoke, and we'll show you a good time.
posted by mmiddle at 2:05 PM on December 19, 2013

Bristol Caverns is worth a trip!
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:16 PM on December 19, 2013

Rooster Walk music festival in Martinsville
Körner's Folly architectural exhibit in Kernersville, NC
McGalliard Falls Park in Valdese, NC

There are two lakes with corresponding nature parks nearby. Smith Mountain Lake is huge, and is a highly-promoted VA state park—you've probably already been there. Philpott Lake is lesser-known, near Martinsville (home of Rooster Walk, Checkered Pig, Martinsville Speedway, the Rives Theater, and VMNH). It's much more conducive to hiking and getting away from it all.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:54 PM on December 19, 2013

Spa World in Centreville.
posted by Wet Spot at 5:09 PM on December 19, 2013

Luray Caverns
posted by PlantGoddess at 4:45 AM on December 20, 2013

I can't believe nobody's mentioned Dinosaur Land! If you've got Foamhenge on the list, that'll be right up your alley and it's a straight shot up I-81. As caverns go, Shenandoah Caverns, which is on your way to Dinosaur Land, has a little more kitschy weirdness than the rest.

Also, Virginia is ridiculously rich in historical sites, so if you have any interest in American history at all, you could easily fill the remaining weekends in your school year with battlefield/historical site visits. I would start with New Market, which is a little more emotionally affecting in my opinion than some of the others (and the visitor's center is lovely). I would second the Williamsburg/etc area (you've got amusement parks, the historic triangle, and VA Beach at your disposal there, which is neat and definitely different from LA). In Staunton, you've also got the Frontier Culture Museum (a sort of living history establishment), as well as the American Shakespeare Center if you're into seeing shows.

And when it warms up, there are all kinds of festivals and fairs all around the place. The VA state tourism website maintains a list of these. I'm a lifelong Virginian and so excited for you! It's a neat place with lots to do in a relatively compact area, and the drives to get there are often GORGEOUS.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:41 AM on December 20, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway (at the top of Afton Mountain on I-64) is free. Skyline Drive will charge you a small fee to drive on it.
posted by kuanes at 6:51 AM on December 20, 2013

The National Radio Observatory in Green Bank,WV is unique facility in the world and tours are free as far as I remember. Nearby to that is the Cass Scenic Railroad and as the name implies the area around here are very pretty.
posted by mmascolino at 6:51 AM on December 24, 2013

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