Staunton, Virginia is located in the central part of the state on the western side. It is a great basecamp for exploring the Shenandoah Valley as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains. Teddy and I visited downtown Staunton twice last year but actually ended up exploring this area about four times in the last year. There truly is so much to do in the area!
If you’re flying in to explore the area, you have a few options. You can fly into Charlottesville, BWI, Raegan, Richmond, or Dulles which are all within a few hours. If you’re arriving to the Staunton area by car, the drive is about 2.5 hours southwest of Washington D.C., 5 hours south of Pittsburgh, 2 hours west of Roanoke, and 4 hours north of Raleigh.
You can get here by either by taking the normal highways, or the more scenic options. If you’re opting for a scenic option, I would recommend driving through Shenandoah Park from the north or from Blue Ridge Parkway if you’re coming up from the south. Both are going to take longer than the regular highway would, but the views are worth it.
What To Do
There’s so much to do not far from Staunton which is why I think it’s a great option for a basecamp for your adventures. You can explore the town and surrounding area, check out the National Park, visit wineries, visit state parks, caverns, or other towns nearby. All of these options are within about 1-2 hours of Staunton. My favorite places to visit are all included below.
- Exploring Downtown Staunton – Grab coffee at Reunion Bakery and Espresso or ice cream at the Split Banana or grab a beer and pizza at Shenandoah Pizza and Taphouse. Walk around downtown and visit the various little shops.
- Charlottesville – Drive over to Charlottesville and explore the wineries in the area including Pippin Hill, Blenheim Vineyards and Veritas Vineyards. I was able to visit these all on a Bachelorette trip a few years ago and even though at that point I wasn’t a wine fan, they are beautiful! If you’re into history, spend some time at Monticello, Thomas Jeffersons’s home, or visit the beautiful architecture at the University of Virginia campus. I’ve visited Monticello 5+ times and still want to go back and just take in the gardens, architecture, and views. If the trees haven’t become overgrown yet, you can actually see the rotunda at UVA from the backyard of the house where it’s said TJ kept an eye on construction while UVA was being built.
- Factory Antique Mall in Verona – This place is gigantic. Like you truly can lose someone in here. But there’s so much to look at and if you’re at all into antiques, this is a great 1-2 hour stop. They even have a snack stand inside to fuel your antiquing.
- Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton – I haven’t been to this one yet but I love a historic farm or village. This museum has historic farms that are Irish, African, German, and American that were moved to the property that are from the 1700-1800s. It’s an open air museum that has 11 permanent exhibits and gives you a taste of how people lived during that time. (When I was a kid my mom sent me to summer camp at Landis Valley Farm Museum and it was one of my favorite camps of all time. I learned how to weave baskets, cook over an open hearth, and make band boxes and pottery. Nerdy? Sure. But I loved it. And this one in Staunton has summer camps for kids too!)
- Bookfair in Mount Crawford – To quote our man TJ (Thomas Jefferson) “One cannot live without books.” That is true for me. This place is like a pretty warehouse full of books. I’m not sure how to best describe it but they have a zillion kid’s books and then a zillion more adult books. I stocked up here on kid’s Christmas gifts when we visited.
Food & Drink
- Paulie’s Pig Out – Just like it sounds. This is a hole in the wall place in Afton, VA on the side of the highway. You go up and order at the window and then can picnic in the yard / field nearby or take it with you. When we visited, we just ate it sitting on the truck tailgate overlooking a field.
- Devil’s Backbone Brewery – I’m not a huge beer fan but this place was beautiful. They have a lot of outdoor seating and then inside is a restaurant. From what I recall, you can only order food inside but it’s still a great place to chill or grab a drink after a morning hike in the area.
- The Edge – Up on the mountain of the Wintergreen Resort is this restaurant called The Edge which has incredible views of the mountains. We ate there when staying in the area, and loved seeing the view out the windows.
- Waterwheel Restaurant – This is on site at the Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs. We made reservations to eat here the night we stayed at the inn and wow, it was impressive. You literally eat inside the old mill. You can see the old machinery but it’s so tastefully decorated and cozy. We had a delicious meal and drinks and would absolutely go back.
- Luray Caverns – It’s is about an hour north on Route 81. These are the most beautiful caverns I’ve ever seen (and I do not like caves) and genuinely worth a 2 hour or so visit.
- Shenandoah National Park – Drive Skyline Drive or plan out a hike you’d like to do in the area. Here is one of my favorites. It’s a shorter hike but with a beautiful view.
- Blue Ridge Parkway – Some of the most beautiful views on the east coast can be seen from this drive. Grab some items for a picnic, pack up the car, and go for a drive along this 105 mile winding road stopping at the Crimora Lake Overlook and Big Run Overlook. This would be especially beautiful in the fall.
- Visit Natural Bridge State Park which is about 45 minutes south of Staunton. It’s a 215 foot tall bridge that was carved out naturally by a river. You can pay and then take a longer set of stairs down to check out the bridge from below. I’ve been twice and both times was shocked just how high this natural bridge is, and that there’s a road on top of it.
- Humpback Bridge in Covington- This is a short visit but you can see a Virginia’s oldest covered bridge which spans a little creek. It was built in 1857.
- Falling Spring Falls in Covington – There’s a small parking lot off the highway you can access the top of the falls from. It’s a very short but beautiful stop and there’s also picnic area here too.
- Crabtree Falls – This hike about an hour from Staunton and right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s about 3.6 miles roundtrip but you can view a portion of the falls right from the parking lot without having to do too much strenuous activity.
Where to Stay
I’ve stayed at each one of these (some more than once) and love them all.
- The Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs – This is a historic Inn and each room is uniquely decorated along with a historical theme matching the mill. It strikes a great balance between having older items that are accurate to the mill’s history but without making it feel like grandma’s attic. There’s also a restaurant onsite which is incredible and some of the rooms are dog friendly. This is a great 1-2 night stay to just explore the area.
- Blackburn Inn – This is right in downtown Staunton. It is beautifully decorated and truly massive. You realize why it’s so big when you look it up and realize it was initially a hospital and then it was a medium security jail. Don’t let that deter you though (since it almost deterred me), this place is beautiful and the renovations make it feel light and airy and cheerful. Our room was a little small but we didn’t mind since we were only there for a night. I’m sure we could have booked something bigger but we didn’t need it.
- Wintergreen Resort Airbnb – This is a dog friendly Airbnb right in the Wintergreen Resort. It has beautiful views of the mountains and isn’t far from the Devil’s Backbone Brewery, and is a perfect location to either go north to Shenandoah or south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Inside Shenandoah National Park – You have two options here. You can stay more north at Skyland or a bit more south at Big Meadows Lodge. Both of these have incredible views and hiking trails right nearby. There’s no AC in some of the rooms so just take a look at what’s included in the room before you book. When I stayed at Big Meadows Lodge, I was able to hike to Lewis Falls and view the waterfall from the top. There were known to be bears in the area and since I was hiking solo you bet my keys were jingling and I was siting and talking to myself along the way.
Sample Weekend Itinerary
- If coming form the north, drive through Shenandoah on your way to the Staunton area and picnic along the side of the road to watch sunset. If coming from the south, do the same but along the blue ridge parkway.
- Stay overnight in either Shenandoah or in Staunton
- Go for a hike in Shenandoah or along Blue Ridge Parkway bright and early before the crowds get there. Check All Trails for a hike that may suit you.
- Come back into Staunton and grab coffee or brunch downtown. Browse some of the shops.
- In the afternoon, if you’re up for a drink, either head toward Charlottesville for some wineries or Devil’s Backbone for a brewery. If that doesn’t interest you, check our Luray Caverns, the Frontier Culture Museum, or go antiquing.
- Grab a late lunch or dinner back in Staunton or along the way to the hotel
- Find a spot to watch the sunset
- Stay overnight at the Inn at Gristmill Square or in the Wintergreen resort
- Catch the sunrise at a pull off or on another morning walk/hike in one of the parks.
- Begin to head toward home enjoying the scenic views along the way. Stop at one of the parks along your way and try out something you didn’t get to do the day before – antiques, exploring Charlottesville or Luray Caverns, or one of the state or national parks.
This area of Virginia is one of my favorites to explore (hence the 4 trips in the area last year). One of them year was just to Shenandoah for a weekend and we stayed inside the park. Another weekend, we went to explore both Shenandoah and then New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia. Another weekend, we stayed just in Wintergreen at the Airbnb in the resort and did some hiking and relaxing. And on another was tacked onto a longer road trip where we traveled through the area on our way home and again, went to New River Gorge National Park and hiked this trail. We also are already planning yet another trip to the area later this summer. It truly has so much to do and offers a wide variety of options no matter who’s along for the ride.
Now, go make your own adventure!