Go West - to Charlottesville

Family Memories - Travel, Travel Everywhere

Bring on the Blue Ridge

by Libby Carty McNamee

If you’re looking for a stimulating yet kid-friendly place to get away, you’ll find a unique destination by heading due west on I-64 from Richmond for only an hour.  Ah, it’s Charlottesville, known for being the home of the Virginia Cavaliers, but also a bustling little city in its own right with lots of adventures to offer a young family.

Shenandoah National ParkWith its backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville is the ideal place to feast your eyes on the fall foliage.  As soon as you get there, follow your temptation to head for the hills! Head north on scenic Skyline Drive and you will soon find yourself in Shenandoah National Park. 

Long and narrow, the park extends 105 miles north to Front Royal with the Shenandoah River and valley to the west and the Piedmont’s rolling hills to the east.  There are plenty of camping, hiking and picnicking options as well as several lodges such as Skyland Resort at the highest point of elevation at 3,680 feet.  Although Skyline Drive is free, admission to the park is $15 per car for seven days.  Remember to book early for fall travel because others may have the same great idea.

By heading south on Skyline Drive, you will find yourself on the stunning Blue Ridge Highway, aptly nicknamed “America’s Favorite Road.”  Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, this scenic byway runs south for 469 miles all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.  Hopefully there won’t be too much traffic as you take in some of the prettiest scenery in the Commonwealth.

Back in “C-ville,” don’t miss the Virginia Discovery Museum, a hands-on children’s museum with an interesting variety of exhibits.  It is handily located on the historic Downtown Mall, one of the longest outdoor pedestrian malls in the country, and right next door to the Visitors’ Bureau.  And here’s a bonus for your wallet:  If you are a member of the Children’s Museum of Richmond, your admission is free, my favorite flavor. 

Afterwards the traffic-free Downtown Mall is a great place to linger with a merry-go-round located right in front of the museum.  At the other end of the mall, you can also take advantage of the indoor Charlottesville Ice Park, open year-round for skating.

Carter Mountain OrchardFall is also the prime time to experience Carter Mountain Orchard, a heartwarming mountaintop farm with a tremendous view of the valley below.  The annual Apple Harvest Festival takes place during the first two weekends in October, but the orchard remains open through Thanksgiving.  You can pick your own apples or buy some ready-picked.  In addition, they have fabulous tractor rides, a country store, wine shop, and bakery with homemade ice cream and donuts.  In addition, you can see Monticello over on the next mountaintop, a safe distance so your little ones don’t start teething on any precious colonial artifacts.

While in “Hoo-ville,” don’t be afraid to check out the gigantic Lawn on the University Grounds.  Your kids can safely burn off some steam running amok while you take a chance to wander along this grand academic concourse personally designed by Thomas Jefferson, University founder.  Public restrooms are available under the Rotunda.

For accommodations I highly recommend the Marriott Courtyard located within walking distance of the University and the popular “Corner” hangout.  Beware, however, that the Corner seems to be a nugget-free zone (gasp!), so prepare accordingly with whatever props, bribes, or rewards you may need.  Don’t miss out on the Marriott’s phenomenal buffet breakfast for $10 per family, the biggest bargain in town.

The nearby Mello Mushroom is a great find, a tasty pizza joint with lots of beers on tap and plenty of noise to drown out any unhappy campers.  A basket of their delicious breadsticks tided our young carbi-vore over for quite a while.

For my next trip I will be off to Besancon, Charlottesville’s Sister City in France.  Alas, that is only in my dreams!


Libby Carty McNameeLibby Carty McNamee is a local freelance writer, traveler, and mother, already looking forward to picking apples on Carter Mountain during her son Sam’s preschool field trip.  She has a parenting blog "Libby With a 'Y'" at www.libbywithay.blogspot.com and a website at www.libbymcnamee.com {jcomments on} 

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