We loved our family vacation in the Shenandoah Valley and hope this family vacation guide for the Shenandoah Valley helps you plan an awesome trip for your family too!
One of the things that my parents taught me while I was growing up was that memories are worth more than things. We didn’t have fancy cars; instead we went on fun trips as a family. We didn’t buy brand name jeans; we went scuba diving. And I honestly think it’s one of the main reasons my family is so close now that we’re all grown and starting families of our own.
My parents have taught me so many things but the idea that time together is more valuable than anything you could buy in a store is one of the most important. And I’ve tried really hard to use that lesson in my family life as well. Since my son K was born in 2013 we’ve been on trips to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Texas, Kansas, and Florida. And most recently, we checked out the Woodstock, Virginia area.
I have a confession to make. I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for over half of my life and I’ve only been to the Woodstock area a handful of times, so when I was planning our trip I had no idea where to start. Go Blue Ridge Travel has an awesome resource called the Kids Trail that has tons of ideas for kid-friendly things to do in the area. You choose what type of activity you want to do from zip lining to movies, pick your date and location, and voilà, tons of awesome ideas to plan your family vacation.
My family and I weren’t looking for just any activities to do together though. We wanted to know what was unique about this area, from activities to artists and food to lodgings. We ended up picking a handful of exciting things to do from the Kids Trail and added in a couple of stops from their Artisan Trail to keep this crafty mom happy!
Our weekend started with a gorgeous drive to Shenandoah Caverns. And when I say gorgeous, I mean gorgeous. I’ve been all over the world and the views and scenery along Route 11 are some of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. I made my husband stop a couple of times just so I could take some pictures to show you how gorgeous it really is.
On one little side trip, we found the Meem’s Bottom Covered Bridge, the only VDOT maintained covered bridge that visitors can still drive through. It reminded me why we took the vacation in the first place, to leave our busy city lives behind for a little bit of slow paced country life.
We arrived at Shenandoah Caverns in the early afternoon and enjoyed one of their guided tours through the caverns. I’ve been to caverns before but never with my toddler, and it was so much fun to see how excited he was to see all of the different rock formations, especially when they turned on the colored light displays on some of their more famous formations like Rainbow Lake and Cascade Hall. It’s perfect for kids of all ages because the younger ones can appreciate the cool formations while older kids can learn about the science and history of it all.
One of the main reasons that we chose Shenandoah Caverns is because your ticket to the caverns actually comes with free entrance to three other attractions – American Celebration on Parade, Main Street of Yesteryear, and The Yellow Barn – that are all part of the Shenandoah Caverns Family of Attractions.
We only made it through the caverns and American Celebration on Parade before K needed a nap, but it was still definitely worth our while. And I’m excited to go back to check out the other two attractions on our next trip to the area.
I honestly had no idea what to expect from American Celebration on Parade. When I heard that it’s basically a building where they house old parade floats and props, I was pretty skeptical at first. But you guys, it was awesome. Hargrove, the owner of the largest builder of decor and floats in the entire U.S, built this one of a kind attraction.
The entire room is full of these humongous floats of all shapes and sizes. There’s the presidential inauguration seal from President Obama’s inauguration for the history buffs and there are cars, dancing bears, and trains you can walk in for the kids. And it just keeps going. We eventually had to drag K out because he wanted to go ride in the presidential inauguration golf cart, which was not in the okay to play on zone. Even if you don’t go in the caverns, I highly recommend American Celebration on Parade as a fun little stop right off Route 11.
After American Celebration on Parade we were all starving, so we stopped off at the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory for a quick, locally produced snack. It’s right around the corner from Shenandoah Caverns and a quick stop to walk in, let the kids watch them making the chips, sample some chips, and buy some to eat on the road. We were in and out in less than 10 minutes with enough Route 11 sweet potato and potato chips to last us for our entire trip.
You can only eat so many chips in one day, so we drove down to New Market, VA just a few minutes from Shenandoah Caverns for dinner. There are a bunch of cute little restaurants in the area, but we’d heard amazing things about the fried chicken at Southern Kitchen and had to try it out. We were not disappointed. It seriously might’ve been the best fried chicken I’ve ever had, and my foodie husband even commented on how it was even great when we ate the cold leftovers later that night. For those looking for a blast from the past, you can still get a side dish of cottage cheese and canned peaches, a favorite for anyone traveling with a baby or toddler. The staff was really patient with us as K dumped out sugar packets all over our table and the one next to us. It’s not that often that you find places that are kid-friendly and delicious, so it was definitely a winner in our book. Even cooler is that before Interstate 81 was built, this was the only food stop on Route 11 between Winchester and Harrisonburg. Hard to believe when you are exploring the area today.
Saturday morning we ate breakfast right in Woodstock at the Woodstock Garden Cafe. The cafe is actually right in the middle of the Fort Valley Nursery, something you definitely don’t find every day. You are literally eating right in the center of all of the gardens. K loved checking out the different plants and pointing out the stone and ceramic animals throughout the nursery. While he loved all of the dogs, I preferred these cute stone hedgehogs. Wouldn’t this make a cute gift for a hedgehog or gardening lover?
My husband and I ordered breakfast bowls full of biscuits, potatoes, eggs, and other yummy toppings. And K had a fluffy waffle with whipped cream and strawberries. He ate a few bites then decided it was time to let his toys eat. The caption of this picture should just say, “breakfast with a toddler.” What you don’t see is that the tablecloth is actually soaking wet underneath and our sweet server didn’t even bat an eye. Another family-friendly restaurant with delicious food!
After breakfast we made our way a few miles north to the Toms Brook area. Toms Brook is the home of a bunch of the stops on the Go Blue Ridge Artisan Trail including our first stop, Posey Thisisit Llama Farm, owned by the hilarious Joyce and her family. We were lucky enough to have the llama farm all to ourselves, and Joyce and her daughter Jamie introduced us to about half of their 30+ llamas. Okay, introduced might be the wrong word because we got a little more comfortable with their llamas than that. By the end of the morning, K was sharing his food with the llamas, and I was kissing them. I have to admit; I didn’t really wake up that morning expecting to get kissed by a llama.
Our morning with Joyce, Jamie, and the llamas was definitely a highlight of our trip, not only because hanging out with the llamas was fun but also because I learned a ton about llamas and what you can do with their fiber. They shear the llamas, Jamie spins the fiber into yarn, and they use that yarn to make all sorts of handmade products like rugs, hats, and shawls. And if you’re interested, you can schedule a time with your friends or family to visit the llama farm, feed the llamas, and even make your own little mini llama kids craft.
They really have thought of pretty much everything to make the llama farm a one-stop shop for fun llama experiences and llama inspired gifts. And even if you don’t think you like llamas, go. You’ll love them afterwards. I’m not sure that K even knew what a llama was before and now he’s obsessed with Charlie, his one-eared llama, and Cookie Dough, his soft fluffy friend.
Just about five minutes from the llama farm, you can check out Laughing Orange Studios where Susie, one of the many artists who live in the Shenandoah Valley and practice their craft, was gracious enough to show us her studio, walk us through how she creates her pottery, and even introduced us to her cute pet bunny (K’s favorite part). In addition to pottery, she also has one of the amazing fairy gardens that inspired me to want to create my own when I get home. If you’re interested in ceramics or fairy gardens, she hosts workshops where you can learn from the expert and try it yourself. The full workshop schedule is on her website along with more information about her work.
After our crafty morning, we decided we needed to get K a little exercise and headed to the W.O. Riley Park in Woodstock. The park was recently renovated and includes tons of unique features like slides built right into the ground, a community pool, splash park, and plenty of activities for learning throughout the play structure. Needless to say, K had a wonderful time exploring.
After the park, we headed to nearby Stephen’s City for dinner and a movie at the only retro drive-in theater left in the area, Family Drive-In. Right before we got there, we saw Scoops & Swirls, a cute little ice cream shop. I being as ice cream obsessed as I am, had to stop. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a cone or brownie sundae and watch cars drive by on Route 81.
We finished up our day with a drive-in movie at Family Drive-In. One of the coolest things about Family Drive-In is that they actually have a huge play area right in front of the movie screen. Families come hours before to get the best parking spots and instead of just having to wait around in their cars, they can get out and play in the grassy area and on the playgrounds. We arrived about an hour before our movie and while I went and checked out all of technical stuff with the owner, Jim, my husband and K ran around in the grass.
Just before the movie started we grabbed some yummy dinner from the concession stand. They sell pretty much all the typical concession stand food including my favorite “amusement park food,” corn dogs. Unfortunately I only got a bite of mine before K decided he needed to eat it, along with his own. Apparently he was hungry from playing all day and sharing his breakfast with the llamas. This was definitely a fun experience to watch the movie out under the stars rather than in a packed movie theater. And paying $8.00 a person for two current movies (Tomorrowland and San Andreas) was incredible, especially since the last time I saw a movie in theaters near my house I paid $15 a person just for regular seats.
Sunday we got up in the morning and went to checked out Bryce Resort. Bryce Resort is full of tons of activities for people looking for a unique adventure. From zip lining to grass tubing to mountain biking, they have pretty much something for everyone. And the resort is one of the only resorts that actually has a lift chair that’s specially designed to take your mountain bikes to the top of the mountain biking hill, pretty sweet right? Not into mountain biking? You might be by the time they leave. They have instructors who can bring you out on a beginner’s course to get you hooked. Bryce Resort is perfect for families with older kids or for husbands like mine who need something to do during naptime. I hung out in our house while he went zip lining and explored the resort.
If you’re looking for something a little more low key, Bryce Resort also offers a fun miniature golf course complete with a Washington monument hole, a rock climbing wall, and a trampoline jumping activity.
If you’d rather be on the water, you can drive a few minutes to Lake Laura where Bryce Resort rents out kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats. It was unfortunately a pretty chilly day when we were there, so we skipped the water sports and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery instead.
There is plenty to keep you busy at Bryce Resort for an entire weekend and if that’s your plan, I highly recommend staying in Chalet High, which is right around the corner from Bryce Resort. In winter, ski bunnies take over these vacation rentals to get the most time on the mountain. And it’s not just the ski bunnies, families love to stay here not only in the summer, but winter too. Bryce Resort’s Kinder School is known throughout the area as a place to bring young and new skiers looking to hit the slopes, making it a truly family-friendly spot year round.
But back to Chalet High- we stayed in one of their recently renovated Pedestal buildings, and it was great. We relaxed in a three-bedroom unit with a nicely redone kitchen, a HUGE whirlpool bathroom and sauna, and gorgeous views. I am always a fan of having your own kitchen to use on vacation because if you’re like us, you’ll want to take home those leftovers and eat them later, not to mention needing a place for the kids to eat breakfast when they are up at the crack of dawn while you’re still trying to wake up.
After our stop at Bryce Resort, we headed back out to Woodstock for a quick lunch at Woodstock Cafe and Shoppes. Woodstock Cafe is a staple right in the middle of Woodstock and right across from the city hall building. It features live music on Sundays, shopping for arts lovers (featuring many of the artists from the Artisan Trail), and even an assortment of games for kids and adults to play while you’re waiting for your food. I’m telling you, people in Woodstock really know how to cater to families. There isn’t a single restaurant in my hometown that has free board games to play.
After lunch we finished off our stay in Woodstock with a short little hike in George Washington National Forest up to the Woodstock Tower, an old fire tower that was once used by park rangers to spot forest fires. If your kids are older, you can do the short two-mile round trip hike up to the tower or if you have a toddler like me, you can actually drive up and walk about 1/4 mile for the same views. Either way, the views of the valley and the seven bends of the river below are absolutely breathtaking.
Last but not least, we made a quick stop at Dinosaur Land on the drive home. We’d heard about it from a couple of our friends and knew our dinosaur-loving boy would adore it. And he did. Dinosaur Land is basically what it sounds like, a bunch of dinosaur replicas to look at and explore. And if you’re daring enough, you can even sit in King Kong’s hand. We had a great time, and it was the perfect ending to our time in the Shenandoah Valley.
And that’s our trip! If you’re staying in Virginia for a while, make sure to check out these fun things to do in National Harbor with kids too!