Destination: Shenandoah National Park, The Natural Bridge, and Colonial Williamsburg, VA

Coat_of_arms_of_Virginia_(1876)Another group of places that we want to go to with the bus is in Virginia.  While not a tight cluster, the farther we travel from Buffalo, the more distance we can have between destinations all on the same trip, and this one would puts us in the realms of nature, urban space, and history, but not too much of any one (except maybe history, but you can do that anywhere if you look hard enough).


NPSShenandoah National Park

Based on a foundation of rocks that are in some areas over a billion years old, the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Park form a dramatic barrier between the east and west ends of Virginia.  Part of the Appalachian Mountain Range, they  rise to 4000′ in some areas.  The Park covers about 311 sq. mi., including the 105 mile long Skyline Drive (park map here) that follows the eastern side of a number of mountain and ridge-tops along the greater north-east/south-west run of the Blue Ridge formation.

A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Skyline Drive.
A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Skyline Drive.

The Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway which started as a WPA project in 1931.  While it’s speed limit tops out at 35 mph, it IS accessible to skoolies (and RVs), but there is a height limit of 12’8″ at Marys Rock Tunnel, so be careful what you put up on those roof-racks!  But with over seventy scenic vistas and lots of twists and turns, it’s a road I definitely want to drive.

A view from Skyline Drive in the Fall, with fog still in the lower areas.
A view from Skyline Drive in the Fall, with fog still in the lower areas.

Outside of the Skyline Drive, there are over 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian trail, over 70 mountain streams where you can fish, six rock faces with guides for climbing (and others without), and seasonal ranger-guided activities.  You can do back-country camping, and while there isn’t a specific RV campground, Mathews Arm, Big Meadows and Loft Mountain campgrounds have sites that should fit RVs with toads (reservations can be made here). But there’s also the first-come, first-served Lewis Mountain campground for tenting.


The Natural Bridge (Virginia)
The Natural Bridge in Natural Bridge, VA
The Natural Bridge in Natural Bridge, VA

While many states have a Natural Bridge, the Natural Bridge Park in Natural Bridge, Virginia is one of the oldest tourist attractions in the US, and glorifies that history.  It not only allows one to examine the limestone arch which is the only existing remnant of an ancient cavern, and still existing caverns, but also the history of Native Americans and tourism there.

While the park maintains a historic hotel and ‘entertainment complex’, they also acknowledge the prehistoric Monacan culture with a living history village.  And, as this is just about 46 miles southwest of the end of Skyline Drive, it’s an easy trip from the end of a Shenandoah outing.


Colonial Williamsburg (and Colonial/Historic Jamestown)

Col WilliamsburgOf course we want to check out the restored Historic areas of Williamsburg that are set aside as ‘living history’ areas.  I remember going as a youngster and being struck by the peanut soup in the tavern and the amazing furniture in the houses, along with the lack of cars on the streets and how calm the whole area was.

A street scene in Colonial Williamsburg
A street scene in Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum.  Focusing in on the 18th century, the 301 acre large ‘museum’ is actually a recreation/restoration of the governor’s palace, upper and lower class houses, tradesperson’s spaces and businesses, as well as restaurants and lodgings; that is, a whole section of the original town.  And it’s populated by actors/educators in period dress, demonstrating period skills, etiquette, and language.

There are guided tours you can sign up for, or individual tickets to particular buildings/events if you want to make your own way (check here for events/schedules/options).  You can also make Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center, but as I recall, some things fill up quickly.  Reserving ahead for things like a table at some of the restaurants for lunch can be the only way you get to sample the foods!

Preparing food in the Governor's Palace.
Preparing food in the Governor’s Palace.








Archaeological digs at Jamestown.

Just six miles to the south-east is the real first permanent English settlement in the New World, Jamestown, which was founded in 1607.  Recent archaeology has identified the original Fort layout, and cataloged many artifacts and remains which can be traced back to the original settlers.  The archaeological works continue, and there’s an interactive map you can check out to see where things stand, and new finds!  I remember very little of being here when I was a kid, except that they were making glass bottles, but the modern museum/campus layout looks like a day’s worth of fun (and it looks like there’s room for buses to park in the picnic area loop).

So, about 160 miles east of Natural Bridge (on the other side of Richmond), Williamsburg and Jamestown are coastal, so you have to watch which roads you take with the skoolie, as some dead-end at the water.  But, our target park in this area is the Anvil Campgrounds, just a few miles away from Williamsburg and on the shuttle-bus line that would get us right to Colonial Williamsburg without parking hassles.  It doesn’t look like it has too, too many sites, though the site amenities look great.

While, of course, I like the privacy of a wilderness-like campsite, the location of this one makes it the site of choice.  There is a KOA a few miles farther away, though, if that’s more to your taste, and others even farther.  We aren’t looking to tow a car with us, of course, so we’re biased into something closer.Shenandoah National Park

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