July 30, 2017 8:27 AM   Subscribe

VirginiaCampingTripFilter: Interesting activities in & within an hour drive of Sherando Lake (NE section of George Washington & Jefferson Nat'l Park) for some adults and ~40 kids, Aug. 9-13?

We're about to head on a five-day camping trip to the Sherando Lake, VA, with about 40 campers (ages 6-18). Does anyone have any can't-miss attractions or activities within the park itself, or anything else of note/interest within a short drive? Any suggestions, from cool swimming/hiking areas to roadside attractions to interesting VA Americana would be great! Fwiw, basically all of the kids are from urban areas (DC, Detroit and New Orleans), so we would love to introduce them to some new people/places/sights/etc.

For frame of reference, in years past (this will be our 8th annual trip), we've taken them to local petting zoos and farms, caves, children's museums, college campuses, canoeing, giant sand dunes, and water parks. And, invariably, there's a county fair going on somewhere close by, so we usually manage to squeeze that in as well. They usually do best with the hands-on / active activities.

posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total)
Good news/bad news of which you may already be aware: that's the peak weekend of the Perseid meteor shower (good), but the moon will be over 50% full and in the sky all night every night (bad). With the moon the visibility won't be as great as it can be out there, but it'll still be better than in an urban area.

How short of a short drive do you need? Is Charlottesville too far? It's got a lot of history to offer.

N.B. I haven't spent any time in that park but we try to get to Shenandoah National Park every year. Last year there was an unusual amount of bear activity in that area due to fires farther south. I don't know if the bears will have dispersed by now, but you should make sure you stick to protocol with food and trash. As a ranger told us, they are "bears of opportunity" and they are neither slow nor shy when you leave food where they can get it.
posted by fedward at 9:41 AM on July 30

Here are some places between 15 minutes to an hours drive away from Sherando: Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia, Virginia Safari Park, Monticello, and Natural Bridge. And if the adults are able to break away from the kids somehow, there are a lot of wineries out that way. Have a blast!
posted by poppunkcat at 11:03 AM on July 30

MeMailed you about this...
posted by kuanes at 5:48 AM on July 31

fedward, it is only now hitting me that, every year we take this trip (usually during the same approximate time in August), we invariably hear about an meteor shower happening. I never realized it was annual! We'll definitely earmark that Saturday night for some sky-watching; since we're right by the lake, that should be a great spot. W/r/t bears, we've had this trip in the Blue Ridge Mts / Shenandoah Valley before, so we're definitely aware of the bear situation. Not even a close call yet, fingers crossed that we can keep food out of the tents again this year!

I think Charlottesville is within easy travel range, and UVA was initially on our list. The only problem is that, a few years ago, we took the group to University of Michigan and found a way to let them onto the football field of The Big House and run around, and frankly I'm not sure we'll be able to provide a more engaging college visit :/ That said, Charlottesville is a cool enough town that we might find another reason to drop over ... although it sounds like there's an Alt-Right rally happening there Aug. 12, which would not be fun experience for our campers.

poppunkcat, great suggestions, especially Virginia Safari Park-- that's new to me! We'll definitely look into that. Natural Bridge and Monticello would be really cool, too, but they don't do tour-type stuff well (and they're too active for more sedated walkarounds).

kuanes, memailed back ... huge thank you!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 8:40 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the bear situation last year was unusual, and fascinating. There had been fires in the Great Smoky Mountains that displaced a large bear population. Rangers in Shenandoah National Park said the park had the resources to support around 200 bears, and that the population was usually pretty stable. Because of the fires they said there were about twice as many bears and that contention for resources was pushing the bears towards camp sites and developed areas of the park in ways they usually didn't see.

What I don't know (since we haven't had a trip out there this year) is if bear activity has returned to previous levels or if it's still elevated. I think the best thing you can do is check with the people working at your camp. I mean, you should be teaching and practicing bear safety anyway, but be prepared for it to be worse than you're used to. Presumably it won't be this bad.
posted by fedward at 9:54 AM on August 3

Thanks again for all of the wonderful off-site suggestions! We were prepared for bears; but, all the advanced prep couldn't help one of our campers from accidentally stepping on a bee nest on the side of a nearby hiking trail :/ Four campers got absolutely torched (none were allergic, thankfully) but took it in much better stride than we would've expected. Of course, none of them wanted to go on a harder follow-up hike the next day :)

It was a bit surreal to be so close to Charlottesville on Saturday; every few hours, there would be enough cell reception for NYT updates to get pushed through to people's phones; needless to say, thanks again for folks mentioning that, and thanks to those who made it out to counter-protest.

For future googlers: The Sherando Lake campsite was phenomenal, and the rangers/volunteers on-site were gracious and helpful. The swimming lake was beautiful, clean, and shallow throughout; there is even a little island at the center that you can m/l walk over to. The fishing-only lake is picturesque and ended up being a big destination-- kids got some bites! You can pick up worms/etc. at most of the general stores nearby. We ended up prioritizing on-site activities (including a Field Day, soccer, kickball, frisbee, yoga, and a scavenger hunt), and the campsite was the perfect place. We could even see some of the meteor shower right at our campsite!

As far as off-site activities, we took the kids horseback riding at Star B Stables, and another group to Lurey Caverns; we'd recommend both! The Star B folks were super-accommodating; I think the ride took maybe 30 minutes. We'd been to Lurey Caverns before but there were enough new campers to go again; some of the kids insisted that the caverns were man-made to look like that ... they couldn't wrap their heads around how something that looks that cool could just *be there*. We tried to sneak in a trip to the Virginia Safari Park but didn't manage ... next time!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 11:57 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]

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