The great outdoors: Four fall family-friendly adventures in and around Charlottesville

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Shenandoah National Park provides plenty of hiking, biking and even canoeing opportunities. Photo: Jack Looney Shenandoah National Park provides plenty of hiking, biking and even canoeing opportunities. Photo: Jack Looney

As temperatures drop and water attractions become less appealing, don’t let that keep you from venturing outdoors. Whether it’s soaring through a Shenandoah Valley forest, soaking up Blue Ridge Mountain views or exploring area biking trails, these four family-friendly activities will get you and the fam out of the house and exploring.

HIKE

Shenandoah National Park

Since its formation in 1935, the 200,000-acre Shenandoah National Park has become one of America’s most beloved natural treasures. And for good reason. There’s Skyline Drive, which winds its way through 105 miles of 4,000-foot Blue Ridge peaks and there are more than 500 miles of hiking trails—including 101 miles of the iconic Appalachian Trail—and 80,000 acres of designated, backcountry wilderness. Streams, creeks and rivers slice through the park, creating 15 showcase waterfalls. Here are two of the park’s trademark hikes.

Stony Man Mountain

Located at milepost 47 on Skyline Drive, the hike to Stony Man’s 4,011-foot summit offers some of the best vistas in the Shenandoah National Park. At 1.6 miles total, and featuring a hair under 900 feet of elevation change, the walk is relatively short and undemanding (read: perfect for small kids!). For a bonus, hike down to the peaks of Little Stony Man and check out the rock walls. They’re popular with climbers and, for those who are interested, offer ample opportunity for sport.

White Oak Canyon Falls

While the canyon sports six cascading falls total, the upper falls is the biggest, and drops 86 feet. To get there, head to milepost 42.6 of the Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive and park at the lot for the White Oak Skyline Drive Trailhead. The hike to the upper falls is a 4.6-mile round-trip, with plenty of scenery to go around. To upgrade your adventure, continue past the upper falls for another 1.35 miles and check out the 35-foot lower falls.

For more info, visit nps.gov/shen.

BIKE

Charlottesville Area Mountain Biking Club

In terms of mountain-biking culture, Charlottesville can hang with the best of the Blue Ridge towns. With numerous bike shops, plenty of mountains in Albemarle, Nelson County and beyond, proximity to the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson national forests, and a thriving, highly active chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association—the Charlottesville
Area Mountain Biking Club—the city is an all-terrain cyclist’s ideal basecamp.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran, attend one of the CAMBC’s weekly events and nab a guided tour of one of 13 area parks and private riding sites featuring well over 100 miles of trails.

Need a rental? Call Crozet Bike Shop at 996-7224. Prices start at $45 for a 24-hour rental.

ZIP-LINE

Virginia Canopy Tours

Enjoy hours of adventure zip-lining through the hardwood forests of Bentonville’s 1,600-acre Shenandoah River State Park. With views of the Shenandoah National Park, Massanutten Mountain and the Shenandoah River, there’s eyecandy galore. Lines run 90 feet above the forest floor, reach speeds of more than 40mph, and culminate in a 1,035-foot zip from a high ridge to a final rappel down a rock face. In addition to the lines, a sky bridge and eco tours offer visitors bonus fun and educational opportunities, while 24 miles of multi-use trail provide hike and bike time in the woods.

Prices start at $89, with kids zooming for half-price on weekdays. Children must weigh at least 70 pounds, and be 10 years of age or older. For more info, visit zipthepark.com.

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