Nothing cools quicker on a muggy summer day than a dip in a frigid creek-fed swimming hole, and there are some beautiful ones within an hour’s drive of the city.
Blue Hole in White Hall is a local favorite. From the Sugar Hollow Dam off Garth Road, follow the South Fork of the Moorman’s River about 1.5 miles up the hollow to where it plunges over a series of cascades into a rock-rimmed pool. At about 12′ deep, it’s safe for jumping in, as long as you’re careful.
Shenandoah National Park’s Rip Rap Hollow Trail is a strenuous loop with a treasure of a swimming hole along the way. Park at the Rip Rap Trail lot near milepost 90 on the Skyline Drive, and hike a good four miles down to the shaded, rocky spot.
The St. Mary’s Wilderness area offers a family-friendly four-mile round-
For a family-friendly day outing, Sherando Lake offers easy to moderate trails. Adventurous hikers can find more strenuous climbs around the Recreation Area, including the Cliff Trail and White Rock Gap Trail. This hidden jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains is in the George Washington National Forest, just five miles from the Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway.
If you’re willing to drive a little, check out Spy Rock, about 1.5 hours southwest of Charlottesville. The moderately challenging hike includes a rock scramble with 360-degree views at the top.
About 50 miles west of Charlottesville, just south of Staunton, is Middlebrook Ramble, a mountain biking trail that rolls through the Shenandoah Valley. The figure-eight trail features an easy, nine-mile loop for beginners, a more hilly 11-miler, and a fulfilling 20-mile ramble that covers both loops.
Preddy Creek Trail Park
The 571-acre park features 8.6 miles of trails for hiking, running, mountain biking and horseback riding. The rails are easy to moderate, with gently rolling hills, and are conveniently located off 29 North. A few miles beyond Airport Road, turn right on Burnley Station Road. Maps available at albemarle.org.
In addition to its miles of hiking trails, Sherando Lake offers a serene, relaxing atmosphere for paddlers. Canoe and kayak rentals are available close by at Cabin Creekwood.
Canoeists and kayakers of all skill levels can paddle down the Rivanna. For a short, scenic trip with no rapids, novices can launch off the sandy banks at Darden Towe Park off Route 20 and land in Riverview Park. More advanced river runners who enjoy a longer trip can launch at the Route 15 crossing in Palmyra and travel the 16 miles with rapids and a Class II-III drop to the James River off Columbia Road.
The James River Batteau Festival June 16-23 combines the finer aspects of historical interpretation, boat building, floating in the sun, and river rat party culture. Batteau—long, flat-bottomed river craft that transported tobacco hogsheads up and down the James River during the hey-day of the plantation economy—are the focus of a quirky and fascinating culture that has tapped the river’s history for new energy every summer for the past 26 years. The festival is really a procession of handmade boats that leaves Percival Island in Lynchburg and arrives in Richmond a week later. Locals can catch the mood in Scottsville or ride the stretch between Howardsville and Scottsville in canoe or kayak on June 20. For more information, visit the festival’s home page at vacanals.org/batteau.
For a relaxing day in the sun, floating down the river without a care in the world, look no further than Scottsville. Two companies, James River Runners and James River Reeling and Rafting, offer trips down the James in inner tubes, with drop-off and pick-up transportation available and even tubes that hold coolers. Times and rates can be round on the companies’ websites.
For a wetter, wilder James experience, travel to Richmond for River City Rafting’s City Trip, a rafting excursion that takes paddlers down the river through downtown Richmond. With rapids as large as Class IV, the City Trip requires that rafters be at least 12 years old.
Grab your floaties
Beach out of reach? Not quite. We might not be steps from the ocean, but you can still have your feet in sand in under two and a half hours.
Colonial Beach, Virginia
2 hours 24 minutes
This small town at the mouth of the Potomac River boasts an old-school beach, packed for miles with families piled under big umbrellas.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
3 hours 11 minutes
The local standby for beach lovers, Virginia Beach boasts 38 miles of shoreline, 28 miles of public beach, and a three-mile boardwalk.
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
4 hours 16 minutes
Home of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, and a popular tourist destination in the Outer Banks. Rent a place on the beach and have instant access to the Atlantic.
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
4 hours 49 minutes
A bit of a drive, but this island resort on the eastern shore claims a host of restaurants, shops, and quaint seaside rentals. It’s also home to a herd of wild ponies, which swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague every year.
Ever dreamed about learning to fly fish? Well, you’re conveniently situated in the midst of some of the best water in the state, offering a range of possibilities from narrow trout streams on the Upper Moorman’s to smallmouth bass on the wide bends of the James River. The key to learning how to fly fish is watching someone who’s good at it. Guided trips are your best bet, because you’re likely to spend your first few trips wrestling with your gear—and guides are paid to be patient, whereas your friends are likely to leave you stuck to a tree in search of a better hole.
Albemarle Angler runs daily float trips on the Shenandoah and James Rivers during the season and that’s a great place to start. If you’re looking for wild trout, realize that you’ll spend as much time stalking fish—which means climbing upstream on a rocky river bed—as you will fishing. If that sounds fun, it will be. If it doesn’t, it won’t. If you’re looking to fish, but don’t want to pick up a new sport, get yourself a lightweight spinner rod and some waders and go play on the Rivanna River from the Darden Towe boat launch.
Whatever you decide, you’ll need a Virginia fishing license with a trout stamp. It’s an easy, online process at dgif.virginia.gov/licenses.