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LOVING THE OUTDOORS: Diversity distinguishes active Virginia

Virginia boasts a wealth of popular tourism destinations, not least Virginia Beach and Shenandoah National Park – two destinations that define and distinguish the wealth of diversity available to visitors to the state beyond its well-known historical, cultural attractions and theme parks.

Indeed, from the water culture of Virginia’s eastern coast to physical pursuits in the mountains of the west, activities run the gamut from fun in the sun to hiking, cycling, ziplining, golf, and road trips along scenic wine and beer trails. And the moderate climate in the state means many activities can be extended both earlier and later in the season by Canadian standards.

All around the state, visitors will find both familiar and lesser-known hidden gems perfect for new adventure. Consider these:

CHESAPEAKE BAY

• Craving some water-time fun in the sun? The small beach towns of the Chesapeake Bay are calling your name. Check out Colonial Beach, a quaint, riverside resort town complete with sandy beaches and a variety of marinas. It’s known as a boater’s paradise and often called the Playground of the Potomac. Bayside is also ideal for families with small children thanks to calmer waters (than the Atlantic), with activities including kayaking with wild dolphins.

• If you like to soak up both history and sunshine on your beach excursions, consider Fort Monroe. Situated at the mouth of the James River, the Fort has several secluded beachfronts that line the Chesapeake Bay.

• If you’re seeking to really find some peace and quiet, Onancock is right up your alley. Called “the Gem of the Eastern Shore” this small town is chalk full of waterfront excursions, award-winning restaurants, and a diverse arts scene.

• Kiptopeke State Park invites guests to learn about Chesapeake Bay ecology and the natural history of the region while enjoying a variety of outdoor activities including kayaking, fishing, hiking, and swimming. And those interested in learning about the Bay while also getting out on the water, can book a kayak tour with SouthEast Expeditions, which offers several interesting tours for every type of traveller, including kayak trips to Chatham Vineyards in Machipongo, a guided paddle through the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, and an aqua-culture tour where you’ll harvest your own clams for dinner.

EASTERN SHORE

• Another must-see stop on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is the Assateague Island National Seashore, a protected barrier island off the eastern side of the peninsula, complete with miles of pristine white sand beaches, a historic lighthouse, and of course, the beautiful wild ponies made famous in the classic book “Misty of Chincoteague.”

• Visitors can also catch a ferry to nearby Tangier Island, a remote island off the coast accessible only by air or sea, which has been called the “Soft-Shell Crab Capital of the World.”

• Located a short drive south of Virginia Beach, Sandbridge is a secluded beach hideaway of pristine sand dunes and dancing sea oats. It is a relaxing and peaceful community where visitors can truly slow down and unwind. Beachside is the Atlantic, and for those craving even more of the great outdoors, the marshes and open waters of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors can rent a house on the beach, ideal for multi-gen travel.

Kayaking with dolphins; photo/ Virginia Beach CVB

VIRGINIA BEACH

• Although Virginia Beach and its famous boardwalk have long beckoned sunseekers and sandcastle-builders, the resort city is also a wonderland for sports enthusiasts and those desiring more physical adventures. From watersports (swimming, surfing, boogie-boarding, windsurfing, hydro-boarding, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, parasailing, kayaking, sailing, and boating) to hiking, zip-lining, sport fishing, and skydiving, Virginia Beach provides that heart-thumping rush sports enthusiasts crave, as well more gentile pursuits, such as horseback riding, birdwatching, and kayaking with dolphins.

• First Landing State Park, which marks the 1607 arrival of the Jamestown colonists from England, is a 1,200-hectare park fronting Chesapeake Bay that features 2 km of beachfront and more than 30 km of interpretive trails through protected salt marsh habitat, freshwater ponds, beach, dunes, forest, tidal marsh, and cypress swamp. A registered Natural Landmark, First Landing is the most visited state park in Virginia and contains one of the most endangered habitat types in the world, the maritime forest community.

• Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a 3.6-hectare refuge made up of barrier islands, dunes, beach woodland, freshwater marshes, maritime forests, ponds, and ocean beaches. Sharing a border is the 1,700-hectare False Cape State Park, which features 10 km of unspoiled beaches in an ocean-to-freshwater bay habitat, as well as dunes, woodland, farm fields, salt marsh, maritime forest, and wooded swamps. Together, the parks offer numerous hiking and biking trails and an extensive list of resident wildlife includes more than 300 species of nesting and migratory songbirds, shorebirds, snow geese, ducks, plus otters, white-tailed deer, red fox, loggerhead turtles, American bald eagles, feral pigs, wild horses, and a number of interesting reptiles. From April through October, visitors can travel into the heart of the parks on a tram and explore by foot from there.

MOUNTAINS

• Shenandoah National Park has become a legend, with songs, poems, and letters penned by famous authors memorializing the stunning scenery of the landscape, including its hills, waterfalls, and caverns. The park attracts thousands to see the views with their own eyes each year and take part in a host of outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling, or driving the spectacular Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.

• The 3,500-km multi-state Appalachian Trail, believed to be the longest trail in the world, has its longest stretch in Virginia, with close to 900 kms of trails running through a wide range of territory that is suitable for all levels of hikers. Highlights are many, ranging from the Shenandoah National Park to McAfee Knob (said to be the most photographed spot on the Trail), Grayson Highlands, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth.

• 2022 marks the 250th commemoration of Shenandoah County and the 100th-year celebration of Shenandoah Caverns. Festivities throughout the year will include a multi-town Independence Day Weekend in July; Olde Style Ale Brewery collaboration; and a celebratory event in September under the theme of “Honouring our Past – Inspiring our Future.”

• The Blue Ridge Discovery Center opens this summer at its new campus in Troutdale, Smyth County. The family-friendly centre is a gateway to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area – home of numerous wild ponies – with walking trails through the restored wetlands area, and interpretive programs for all ages.

• George Washington and Jefferson National Forests combined in 1995 to form a 690-hectare park through the Appalachian Mountains, running from the Tennessee border in the southwest to the northwest corner along the West Virginia state line. Visitors can hike or bike the more than 3,500 km of trails; fish, kayak, or canoe the 3,550 km of streams; or simply take a drive to admire the wildlife and abundance of native plants untouched by civilization. While in the area, stop by Burke’s Garden in Tazewell, an awe-inspiring mountain-ringed valley known as ‘God’s Thumbprint’ due to its aerial appearance.

• South of Shenandoah, the Alleghany Highlands are known for beautiful views, outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking, and delicious maple syrup that is harvested within the Highlands. Dubbed ‘Little Switzerland,’ it’s a perfect destination for those looking to get off the grid and unwind with a little peace and quiet.

Back of the Dragon; photo/ Virginia Tourism Corp

• In southwestern Virginia, ‘The Back of the Dragon’ is the state’s only designated motorcycle and sports car premier riding road on the East Coast, featuring over 300 curves across 50 km of blacktop through the Appalachians. New this year is a scenic overlook at Hungry Mother State Park and a Welcome Center in Tazewell.

• Roanoke, also in southwest Virginia, is considered the capital of east coast mountain biking.

GOLF

A great golf destination, Virginia tees up approximately 220 public or semi-public courses for visitors, many of them designed by legends of the game like Arnold Palmer, and open year-round as well.

THEME PARKS

• The Pantheon, dubbed ‘the Fastest Multi-launch Coaster in North America,’ debuted in March in Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

• Kings Dominion outside Richmond will debut Virginia’s first 4D Spin this spring. Tumbili features state-of-the-art magnetic technology that induces and controls spinning, giving riders a feeling of weightlessness.

For more information on Virginia activities and where to visit in Virginia, visit Virginia.org

First published at Travel Industry Today

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