Take a Turn Off Interstate 81 and Explore all the Exciting Things to See in Virginia
All Interstates in the Commonwealth lead to exciting destinations and things to see in Virginia. Many of the Old Dominion’s greatest historical, cultural, and natural treasures can be discovered just a few miles from her Interstate corridors. Exit the Interstate, and explore fun and excitement around every corner.
Making a couple of stops at some ‘very presidential’, former President’s homes, among the many other cool places to visit in Virginia, Interstate 64 winds travelers across the State, from the seashore to the mountains. Of course, the interesting places to see in Virginia aren’t limited to historical sites only. Cruise Interstate 95, which carries you from Northern Virginia to the North Carolina border, straight through the heart of Central Virginia, and check out some fabulous shopping along with an awesome amusement park.
And for a different take on north and south, you’ll want to take a drive along Interstate 81. Like Interstate 95, it does the north/south passage, but it follows the range of the mountains of Virginia, offering beautiful mountain vistas at every turn. When I drive on Interstate 81, in search of those hidden gems and other unique things to see in Virginia, I like to believe I was one of those original trailblazers forging those first mountain roads.
Interstate 81 is the longest Interstate in the Old Dominion. And if you’re looking for some more roadway trivia, to impress all your road tripping buddies, then check out these stats, courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“I-81 is one of the top eight truck routes in the U.S. On some sections, the number of trucks nearly equals that of passenger cars.”
“I-81 carries tourists, travelers, a growing number of intra-valley commuters, and more than a third of all college students in Virginia."
One note to Virginia visitors – when traveling south on I-81, from Staunton to Lexington, Interstate 81 and Interstate 64 run concurrently.
Colleges, Colleges, and more Colleges!
As the above quote states, I-81 is a literal expressway to many of Virginia’s best colleges and universities. If you’re a family with a child or children nearing college age, a drive along Interstate 81 can prove to be fruitful as you gain a cursory look at these prestigious institutions of higher learning. However, for those who don’t have ‘near-to-college-age’ children, many of these colleges and universities, like Virginia Military Institute, are steeped in history and worth the visit. Check them out. Below, heading north to south, is a listing of the many colleges you’ll find off I-81.
Shenandoah University – Winchester
Bridgewater College – Bridgewater
Eastern Mennonite University – Harrisonburg
James Madison University – Harrisonburg
Mary Baldwin College – Staunton
Virginia Military Institute – Lexington
Washington and Lee University – Lexington
Hollins University – Roanoke
Roanoke College – Salem
Virginia Tech – Blacksburg
Radford University – Radford
Emory and Henry College – Emory
Virginia Intermont College – Bristol
Frederick County and Winchester
Along with glorious mountain scenery, Frederick County, containing the City of Winchester has much to offer the I-81 traveler. Many Virginians, myself included, make an annual pilgrimage into the mountains to witness the extraordinary fall foliage. However, the autumn season isn’t the only time this area shines. If you find yourself around this region during the springtime, then be sure to check out this annual spring event, Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. And if you’re a Civil War history buff, many battles were waged in this area.
Shenandoah County and the Battle of New Market
New Market Battlefield State Historical Park
8895 George Collins Parkway
New Market, VA 22844
Even if you’re not a Civil War history buff, but just a history lover, then a trip to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, in Shenandoah County, is worth your time. On May 15, 1864, 257 Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, fought against Union forces at the Battle of New Market. Now, this Park is a National Historical Landmark, open to the public, and a place to pay homage to those young fighters.
For the Nature and Science Lover - Luray Caverns
101 Cave Hill Road
Luray, VA. 22835
Luray Caverns is a huge, magnificent underground cave. Wikipedia best describes Luray:
“The underground cavern system is generously adorned with speleothems (columns, mud flows, stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, mirrored pools, etc.). The caverns are perhaps best known for the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a lithophone made from solenoid fired strikers that tap stalactites of various sizes to produce tones similar to those of xylophones, tuning forks, or bells.”
I haven’t visited the Caverns in several years, but they are an unbelievable sight to see, and one that is well worth your time.
For the Outdoor Lover - Massanutten Resort
1822 Resort Drive
McGaheysville, VA 22840
Massanutten Resort is a retreat for all seasons for singles, couples, and families alike. Wintertime offers activities such as skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and ice-skating. And in the spring, summer, and fall, golf, canoeing, kayaking, and horseback riding are available. And year round there’s a spa, an indoor and outdoor water park, arts and crafts, cooking classes, and more ways to have fun than you can imagine. Next time you’re looking for a place to get away to, check out Massanutten Resort.
Another Gem For the Nature and Science Lover - Natural Bridge
15 Appledore Lane
Natural Bridge, VA 24578
When you visit Natural Bridge, in Rockbridge County, you’ll be visiting a natural wonder once visited by famous folk like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Formed from the running water of Cedar Creek, Natural Bridge is literally a natural rock bridge. Natural Bridge is both a Virginia Historical Landmark as well as a National Historic Landmark. Visit Natural Bridge and be awed. And if Natural Bridge leaves your heart racing, then consider this idyllic spot for your wedding.
Relax in Luxury at The Homestead Resort
The Homestead Resort
7696 Sam Snead Highway
Hot Springs, VA 24445
If you’re looking for total pampering and relaxation then you need a getaway at The Homestead Resort. Like Massanutten Resort, The Homestead promises fun and adventure all year long. The Homestead Resort, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is seeped in history. Make time to pamper yourself at The Homestead Resort soon; you won’t be sorry.
Pay Your Respects at The National D-Day Memorial
The National D-Day Memorial
3 Overlord Circle
Bedford, VA 24523
Show your patriotism, and teach your children patriotism and history, by visiting The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. Some may ponder why such a small community is home to such a significant Memorial. The answer is very logical.
“Bedford's population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation's severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial here.”
Please, come pay your respects, not only to our dwindling living population of heroes from World War II, but to all those brave women and men who put their lives on the line everyday for our freedom and the freedom of others.
Roanoke and Mill Mountain Star
Mill Mountain Star (a.k.a. Roanoke Star)
2198 Mill Mountain Spur
Roanoke, VA 24014
Roanoke is the largest urban area in Southwest, VA. While Roanoke isn’t as big as Richmond, the Old Dominion’s capital, it does offers a quaint downtown full of restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. However, one of my favorite facets of Roanoke isn’t the many dining and entertainment venues, but the Mill Mountain Star.
The Mill Mountain star “is the world's largest freestanding illuminated man-made star, constructed in 1949 at the top of Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia.
This star was erected at the request of the Roanoke Merchants Association as a marketing tool for Christmas. With Mill Mountain rising 1740 feet, the Star can be seen, lit sometimes in all white, and other times in red, white, and blue, all around the City of Roanoke. During the day, you can drive up to the Star to enjoy wonderful views of downtown Roanoke from the overlook.
Start Your Engines at Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway
151 Speedway Blvd
Bristol, TN 37620
There’s a Bristol, Virginia, and right across the state line, there’s a Bristol, Tennessee. So, if you’re in the mood for a little pulse pounding race action, then head across the border to Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bristol Motor Speedway, like Richmond International Raceway, RIR, in Richmond, VA, is home to professional NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing and Nationwide Series Racing. Every race season, which runs from February to November, includes two races at Bristol. Get your tickets, start your engines, and race to Bristol – just don’t get a speeding ticket on your way!
What’s your thing? Interstate 81 has it.
The tourist attractions in Virginia, which I’ve highlighted above, are only a fraction of all the wonders the Virginia Appalachian Mountains have to offer tourists and visitors. Whatever your thing is, you’ll find it off I-81.
If history, and in particular Civil War history, is your thing, watch for road signs reading, “Shenandoah at War” for areas and sites of significance to Civil War buffs.
If you love mountain high views, then look for entrances to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park, which includes the renowned Skyline Drive, for some majestic drives and views.
If you love nature and hiking then you’ll want to spend some time in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
Year round, Virginia has some excellent wineries, and in the fall, nothing is more fun than apple picking. Be free, and follow your heart, as you navigate along I-81. Go where your spirit moves you as you discover all the cool things to see in Virginia along Interstate 81.