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Scenic Byways in Virginia

Colonial Parkway

Free of commercial development, the Colonial Parkway is designed to provide the experience of motoring through nearly 400 years of American colonial history. As you take to this pristine road, you’ll join motorists, bikers and hikers enjoying the dramatic open vistas along the James and York rivers as well as shady passageways through pine and hardwood forests. Modern conveniences are located short distances from the unspoiled byway; but there are no billboards, gas stations or restaurants along the parkway.


If you do manage to pull yourself away from the parkway, stop in Jamestown. Here Englishmen of the Virginia Company landed on Jamestown Island on the banks of the James River on May 14, 1607. Their instructions were to settle Virginia, find gold and a water route to the Orient. They ended up creating the first permanent English settlement in the New World. At Jamestown you’ll discover two intriguing sites.

Jamestown Settlement is an indoor and outdoor museum dedicated to the story of the people who founded Jamestown and to the Virginia Indians they encountered. The story is told through video, gallery exhibits and living history re-enactors. Outdoors, visitors can board replicas of the three ships that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607, explore life-size re-creations of the colonists’ fort and a Powhatan village, and tour a riverfront discovery area to learn about economic activities associated with water.

Just a quarter-mile east on the Colonial Parkway is Historic Jamestowne, the original site of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, where archaeological digs and scientific exploration still take place. Just in time for the 400th anniversary, a new visitors’ center is being built as is an archaearium, where armor, jewelry and other artifacts found during the archaeological work will be on display.

After you have finished exploring America’s roots in Jamestown, consider an optional side trip – a free ride on the Jamestown-Scotland ferry. It will take you from Jamestown Island to the quaint little town of Surry. Here you can dig into a hearty meal at The Surrey House before either enjoying the scenic drive on Route 10 towards Richmond or taking the ferry trip back to Jamestown and continuing on the Colonial Parkway.


Yorktown is one of America’s outstanding small towns. Its historic district is reminiscent of the streets of Colonial Williamsburg; and its waterfront has recently been transformed by the new Riverwalk Landing whose focal point is a boardwalk anchored by shops, art galleries and plenty of history as well as Nick’s Riverwalk Restaurant. 2006 marked the 225th Anniversary of America’s climactic Revolutionary War victory at the Battle of Yorktown.

Yorktown Victory Center offers a walking tour that takes you on a chronological trip back in time to the days of the American Revolution.


For families, Williamsburg is a prime destination. The newly opened Great Wolf Lodge is a four-story, log-sided family resort featuring 301 suites, a 55,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, an outdoor pool and a 7,000-square-foot arcade. For additional entertainment, in season, you can take the kids to Busch Gardens Williamsburg or Water Country USA in exchange for a day soaking up history in Colonial Williamsburg or at the new Presidents Park featuring 18-foot busts of U.S. presidents in a relaxed garden setting. Colonial Williamsburg offers 301 acres of reconstructed taverns, homes and shops. The kids will want to lock themselves up in the stockades next to the courthouse. Mom will want to check out the 20,000-square-foot spa being constructed in the space formerly occupied by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum between the Williamsburg Inn and the Williamsburg Lodge. It’s due to open around Thanksgiving next year. The spa promises to be an attraction in itself with nine treatment rooms, full-service salon and fitness area. Stop for lunch at Chowning’s Tavern, a replica of an 18th -century tavern opened by Josiah Chowning in 1766.

Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway

As the Colonial Parkway connects you directly to early American history, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway bring you intimately in contact with the very best of natural splendor.

The 105-mile Skyline Drive winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains starting at Front Royal and meandering south 105 miles to Waynesboro where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Four entry points along the drive mean you don’t have to tackle it all in one day.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park, a historic national treasure with 70 scenic overlooks, surrounds Skyline Drive. Here you almost certainly will see white-tailed deer, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits and any of 200 species of birds. You may even catch a glimpse of a black bear, fox, raccoons, opossum, beaver, otter, mink, weasel or woodchuck.

The drive includes numerous pull-off points with views from peaks and overlooks that include mountain and valley views as well as woods, farmlands, orchards and glimpses of the Shenandoah River and rolling foothills of the Piedmont to the east. You can choose among camping facilities or an overnight at Skyland Resort or Big Meadows Lodge, which offer restaurants and scheduled activities. Skyline Drive connects to the northernmost section of The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Known as America’s Favorite Drive, the parkway celebrates its 75th birthday this year. It meanders 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The parkway follows the Appalachian Mountains chain and provides some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, ranging from 650 to 6,000 feet in elevation and including scenic overlooks, historic structures, walking trails and waterfalls. The speed limit is 45 mph so take time to enjoy the fall foliage – and return to smell the rhododendrons in springtime. One hundred species of trees, a variety of flowering shrubs and wildflowers, as well 54 different mammals and 59 species of birds live along the parkway. Numerous quaint, historic towns make engaging side trips just off “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Drop in on Charlottesville or Lynchburg to the east or Staunton, Lexington or Roanoke to the west of this ribbon running along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visit Natural Bridge, called “the most sublime of nature’s wonders” by its first owner, Thomas Jefferson.

Virginia’s Explore Park, a 1,100-acre complex off the parkway near Roanoke, showcases a network of trails for hiking and biking, water for canoeing and fishing, and living-history exhibits that include an 1850 village, a 1757 frontier fort and a 1671 Totero Indian village.

George Washington Parkway

The George Washington Parkway, just across the Potomac River from downtown Washington, D.C., is a Northern Virginia oasis in the heart of the nation’s capital. It offers walking and biking trails set amid lush vegetation and a rolling landscape. From the parkway, you can take the pedestrian bridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island, an 88-acre memorial to the nation's 26th president.

The parkway becomes Washington Street as it passes through Old Town Alexandria, then becomes the George Washington Parkway again as it goes south to Mount Vernon, protecting the Potomac River watershed. For more outdoor adventure on the parkway, Belle Haven Marina lies one mile south of Old Town Alexandria. Its Mariner Sailing School includes sailing, windsurfing lessons and boat rentals.

The Colonial Parkway, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway and George Washington Parkway – Virginia’s National Scenic Byways – are peaceful and pastoral driving experiences with exciting attractions within easy driving access from their paths. They are conduits to some of Virginia’s finest historical, natural and recreational attractions.

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg

Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement



Document Information
Source: Virginia Tourism Corporation; magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 20070501
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