Daytrip Ideas

Whether you're a family of thrill-seekers looking for outdoor excitement or simply want a fun hands-on museum experience to entertain your little ones when the weather turns cool, we've got fun for every season that's sure to please every member of the family along with useful tips on snacks, strollers and planning a full day of adventure. We've spent nearly 20 years discovering the best in events and attractions and share with you here our top staff picks for fun attractions. Check back often to see what is new! For other fun ideas, be sure to check out our other publication, The Charlottesville Welcome Book. Please call ahead to confirm as hours and activities vary seasonally.


(White Post) 0-1 hour drive; varies by ride
Get up, up and away in a beautiful balloon! Enjoy a tranquil ride on the wind in a colorful hot air balloon for a wonderful sensation. Imagine the bird's eye view you'll get of our gorgeous Virginia countryside with the Blue Ridge Mountains as you try to identify the landmarks below. Hot air balloon rides in Charlottesville and Central Virginia can be scheduled with Bear Balloon Corporation, Bonaire Charters and Monticello Country Ballooning. Bear Balloon Corporation: (434) 960-2814; Bonaire-Charters: (434) 981-5260; Monticello Country Ballooning: (434) 996-9008

Henricus Historical Park

(Chester) 1-2 hour drive
Visitors can travel back in time to 1611, when the second successful English settlement in the New World was led by Sir Thomas Dale. Henricus Historical Park re-creates the historical journey of the settlers traveling 80 miles up the James River in unknown wilderness. The Park serves as an outdoor living history museum with its 12 recreated colonial structuresa place where families get the chance to experience life over 200 years ago. Visitors are led by period-dressed interpreters, could be asked to assist with cooking, blacksmithing, planting or even harvesting, and just may be able to watch the crafting of a canoe. (804) 748-1611

Frontier Culture Museum

(Staunton) 0-1 hour drive
Visiting the Frontier Culture Museum is a bit like a whirlwind tour of Old Europe in the 1600s and 1700s. This popular living history museum hosts 11 outdoor exhibits made up of original buildings from England, Ireland, West Africa, Germany and Virginia, which have been carefully documented, dismantled, transported to the Staunton site and restored. Visitors to the museum will learn about the Old World origins of this countrys first immigrants, including how they lived in their homeland and how their diverse culture molded our country. Hands-on exhibits and experiences, costumed interpreters and real working farms make this a great time for the whole family. Special events throughout the year make it worth planning seasonal visits. Be sure to check their website for dates and themes for the Toddler & Pre-schooler Frontier Time program. (540) 332-7850

Monticello Visitors Center

(Charlottesville) 0-1 hour drive
If you haven't been to Monticello lately, you're in for a treat when you visit the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center. The new facilities serve as the gateway to Thomas Jefferson's home, and with a Welcome Pavilion, cafe, a lovely new museum shop and copious classroom space, they are bound to whet your appetite for historical knowledge! The center has much to offer with innovative exhibitions, an introductory film and a hands-on discovery space. And of course, copious information on Mr. Jefferson's historic estate is available at the Welcome Pavilion, where visitors can also pick up their reserved tickets or purchase same-day tickets. If you are bringing your kids, be sure to ask about the Family Friendly Tour and Day Pass, which is geared towards kids 5-11 and provides opportunities for hands-on learning. Kids can also visit the Griffin Discovery Room that offers interactive activities to enjoy such as writing on a polygraph machine, trying on 18th-century clothes and creating secret codes on a wheel cipher. Staff members will be glad to provide directions, tell you about all the tour options and offer itineraries. The three classrooms in the Carl and Hunter Smith Education Center will serve as venues for Monticello's curriculum-based school group tours plus workshops and programs for all age groups. (434) 984-9800

Virginia Discovery Museum

(Charlottesville) 0-1 hour drive
Conveniently located on Charlottesville's Historic Downtown Mall, the Virginia Discovery Museum is a testament to imagination. Thousands of children have made collages, watched bees come and go from their mysterious pollen sources, pretended to surf, learned a lot from larger-than-life anatomy displays, built zoetropes, "lived" in an historic log cabin (still their most popular exhibit hands-down), and listened to the sounds of the rainforest. This charming museum is especially popular with the five and under set, but even if your children are edging towards the double digits, they will still enjoy playing with the old-fashioned wooden bowling game, trying to write like Thomas Jefferson and making art in the well-equipped studio. Watch their calendar for fun special events, drop-in workshops and summer camps. (434) 977-1025

Natural Bridge Zoo

(Natural Bridge) 1-2 hour drive
After visiting the awe-inspiring Natural Bridge, dont forget to stop by the Natural Bridge Zoo to see all the fun exhibits and adventures this zoo has to offer. Here, you can get up close and personal with a tiger in a Close Encounters Tour, and even ride a real life elephant. Thats a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! For smaller children, try the petting and feeding tour, which introduces animals to kids in a fun and curious environment. Other animals the zoo cares for includes zebras, giraffes and the dromedary camel. For reptile lovers, check out their alligators, pythons and tortoises. With so many amazing animals, visiting the Natural Bridge Zoo will be an experience you wont soon forget. (540) 291-2420

Virginia Safari Park

(Natural Bridge) 1-2 hour drive
Get ready to roll down the windows and take a wild ride of discovery through 180 amazing acres of critters. Remember the in-park speed limit is 5 miles per hour, but the main traffic jams are four-legged, not four-wheeled. You can feed and pet more than 400 different animals that roam freely over three miles of road; just dont feed the zebras (they dont share particularly well) or Watusi cattle (the horns are self-explanatory). For an additional fee, you can even ride in the hay wagon to feed the bison. Visitors of all ages will enjoy marveling at the gentle giraffes, deer, piglets and camels. A souvenir stand and petting zoo are at the entrance. Kangaroos and giraffes are enclosed separately in the 10-acre walk-through zoo, along with cheetahs, tigers, flamingos and more. To see baby animals, plan your trip for either spring or early summer. Be sure to grab lunch at the nearby Pink Cadillac Diner. (540) 291-3205

Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park

(Various park entrances) 0-1 hour drive
Immerse yourself in the wonders of Virginia and explore the beautiful mountains, valleys and wildlife. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway offers so many exquisite vistas that it's hard to decide where to pull off to take in the beauty that is "America's Favorite Drive." This rural parkway, the country's first and longest, is home to numerous recreation areas, with visitor centers, campgrounds and picnic areas. Hiking trails closest to Charlottesville are Crabtree Falls, Mountain Farm Trail/Humpback Rocks and the St. Mary's Wilderness Area. For those who don't like to "rough it" there are a number of lodges, picnic areas, restaurants and other modern facilities. The parkway was designed to be driven at a leisurely pace to enjoy the breathtaking views and wildlife. The Shenandoah National Park is another must-visit with over 500 miles of trails leading to waterfalls, mountainous peaks, and dense forests. The most popular feature is the Skyline Drive, consisting of 105 miles of road that runs through the entire park. Prepare in advance and look up the trails and their level of difficulty to plan accordingly for you and your family. Blue Ridge Parkway: (828) 298-0398; Shenandoah National Park: (540) 999-3500;

Amazement Square

(Lynchburg) 1-2 hour drive
Kids can slide, dangle, crawl, leap, swing and zip through the tallest indoor climbing structure in the nation. Toddlers can roam safely in the Big Red Barn complete with a cow to milk, eggs to collect, and crops to harvest. Kids of all ages love the James River Waterways, where they can take a miniature bateau through locks and canals. The museum also offers multiple weekly programs including Toddler Tales, Baby Meet and Greet, Little Learners, and Great Artists. Skateboarders can practice their ollies and nollies at the adjacent 14,000 square foot Rotary Centennial Riverfront Skatepark as well, where you can rent helmets, pads and skateboards if you don't bring your own. Enjoy $3 admission the 2nd Saturday of every month for Family Fun Night. (434) 845-1888

Explore More Discovery Museum

(Harrisonburg) 1-2 hour drive
This intimate Shenandoah Valley museum understands that children learn by exploring their surroundings. Their appreciation for childrens broad spectrum of learning, inspires their visual, auditory and tactile exhibits with which little ones can engage their minds and bodies. The adventure begins with construction and building toys in the hands-on museum. Next, guests are invited to check out the TV studio, garage service center, farm and farmers markets exhibits, as well as the art center, the science area where kids can use the microscope, and the theatercomplete with curtains, costumes and lighting that pint-sized stagehands can manage. This museum packs a lot of learning and fun into its cozy confines, and admission is free on the first Friday of each month between 4-7 p.m. (540) 442-8900

Orchards & Farms

(various locations) 0-1 hour drive
There is nothing better than biting into a crisp, hand-picked apple on a fall day. The many orchards in the area provide visitors the opportunity to participate in the autumn tradition of apple picking as well as participating in cider tastings, festivals, and hayrides. Some orchards even have berries to pick and enjoy in earlier months, such as strawberries, blueberries, and cherries that can be enjoyed around June. Berry Picking: CharlottesvilleFamily Berry Picking; Orchards and Farms: CharlottesvilleFamily Orchards;

Gone Fishin'

(various locations) 0-1 hour drive
Enjoy some reel fun! There is nothing that gets your pulse racing like feeling the tug of a fish on the line. Charlottesville and surrounding areas are homes to numerous fishing holes, many of which also include other family-friendly activities such as canoeing and hiking! Some sites require fishing licenses or access permits, so make sure to call ahead. Gone Fishin' Go to Guide

Traveling Further Afield?

Plan your visit to nearby cities and states with the following publications who each feature extensive guides and calendars that will make your stay both easy and fun!

District of Columbia
Washington Parent

Chesapeake Family
Child Guide
Maryland Family Magazine
North Carolina
Carolina Parent
Charlotte Parent
Piedmont Parent
Wilmington Parent

Fredericksburg Parent and Family
Richmond Parents Monthly
Tidewater Parent

Our Mission: "To Make Parenting Easier & Growing Up Fun!"

Site Programming by

No portion of this publication may be reproduced in part or in whole without the express written consent of the publisher.

Copyright © 2019 Ivy Publications, L.L.C. All rights reserved.