The Shenandoah Valley is steeped in history from Winchester, where George Washington first began his career as a surveyor, to Harpers Ferry, the location of one the original US armories prior to its destruction in the Civil War. However, a visit to this area need not be a simple history lesson. Families can enjoy rafting down the Shenandoah River observing how the river cuts through the rock to form natural boundaries between Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia; learning about the local farming industry through play at the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Museum; or simply enjoying a walk along the river appreciating the variety of wildflowers at the water’s edge on the Appalachian Trail. Kids won’t even realize that they’re learning about nature and history as they explore the kid-friendly highlights of the Shenandoah Valley using the Kids Trail.
Use the Kids Trail to Plan Your Adventure
The Kids Trail in the Shenandoah Valley provides a list of activities for families that are both educational and fun for kids. Vacations in the Shenandoah Valley are sure to be memorable and meaningful when they include a trip to Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, Great Country Farms, Oatlands Plantation, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, or the Shenandoah Caverns. The helpful Kids Trail website gives families a variety of activities to choose from so that they can find the right fit for their family based on their kids’ ages and interests. The website even highlights the dates of the local seasonal festivals so that local families can be sure to head out to Great Country Farms for their Strawberry Festival which kicks off the u-pick season in Loudoun County.
Sponsor Spotlight – Kids Trail:
Check out a great family trip to Virginia’s Shenandoah and Piedmont Valleys. Just one hour from Washington, DC covering 160+ miles, Virginia’s Kids Trail is a partnership between attractions and visitor centers. Let the kids be in control of planning a family trip thru Go Blue Ridge Travel’s easy to use website. Check out the best family activities at the Kids Trail exploring the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. Kids and parents create their own bucket lists with our FREE itinerary planner.
The Shenandoah Valley has become a favorite destination for my family to explore since we moved to Maryland a year ago. It’s an easy day-trip or weekend getaway from the Washington DC Metro Area; within an hour we can be picking fruit in the hills of Loudoun County or climbing amongst the trees at the aerial adventure park at Harpers Ferry Adventure Center.
History Meets Nature in Harpers Ferry
Whether it’s the golden leaves of autumn, the icicles of winter, or the blossoming trees of spring, I’m always inspired to go for a walk along the river in Harpers Ferry. But, the natural beauty of the area does not stand alone – it is accompanied by a rich history. From the top of Jefferson’s Rock, hikers can look down on the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers just as Thomas Jefferson did and agree wholeheartedly that, “this scene is worth the voyage across the Atlantic” as Jefferson proclaimed centuries ago.
While my young children are not particularly inspired by historic quotes or even spectacular viewpoints, there are historic experiences available in Harpers Ferry that resonate with kids of all ages. As a historic transportation hub due to its history as an industrial center, visitors to Harpers Ferry never have to wait long before hearing or seeing a train loaded with coal headed out of West Virginia across the bridge and through the tunnel into Maryland. My son never tires of watching the trains, but there are also other historic experiences to be had in Harpers Ferry. In the summer months and on the weekends there’s often a hands-on history lesson available in town provided by Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. One fall weekend, my daughter enjoyed crushing apples to make cider and prepare for the winter; she learned about how difficult winters must have been in the area two hundred years ago.
Perhaps the best way to experience the rivers of the tri-state area is with an exhilarating white water raft trip in the spring or a leisurely float down the river in the summer. By riding the rivers, the historically important geography of the area becomes apparent. Kids will never forget the excitement of their first trip down the river with Harpers Ferry Adventure Center. Of course, if the kids just want to have fun and enjoy the natural beauty of the area, Harpers Ferry Adventure Center also has a zip line course and an aerial adventure park. Kids ages 5 and up can test their skills on the obstacle course up in the trees all the while enjoying the beauty of the forest surrounding them.
Loudoun County Country Farms, Gardens, & Trails
Be sure that the kids are dressed in play clothes when your family heads out to the farms of Loudoun County; this is a place where kids can learn about nature on their own terms. Eating blackberries right off the vine, swinging on ropes, and bouncing on the jumping pillow at Great Country Farms kept my kids busy for an entire afternoon. Later that day on our way home, I looked in my car’s rearview mirror to find both my four and five-year-old fast asleep covered in blackberry juice and dirt. I know that we need to plan a day out at the farm again this summer so they can run through the orchards, dig in the dirt, eat berries fresh off the vine, and just be kids while they’re still young.
Even if you’re kids are past the age where a rope swing and a jumping pillow will keep them busy for hours, there’s plenty of nature to appreciate in Loudoun County. Hiking the trails at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship or touring the beautiful grounds at the Oatlands Plantation are both great ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature. The expertly manicured terraced garden at the Oatlands Plantation was first landscaped by the Carter family over two hundred years ago. After surviving the Civil War and the subsequent financial struggles, the house was bought by the Eustace family, who planted many of the trees on the grounds just about one hundred years ago. The Japanese Maples by the greenhouse and Blue Cedar on the south side of the garden are absolutely gorgeous. Parents and children alike will appreciate sitting or laying under these magnificent, old trees watching the shadows that the branches cast over the grass below.
Playtime in Historic Winchester
Your family might not be able to visit Winchester for its famous Apple Blossom Festival in the spring or during prime apple picking season in the late summer months, but kids can learn about the apple industry practically any day of the year at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum. Even with four inches of snow lining the ground outdoors, my kids and a few new friends learned about how apples are sorted and distributed by playing with the pulleys and other sorting equipment on the second floor of the museum. Reopened at a new, central location in early 2014, the museum has three floors of exhibits where kids can learn through play.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take a walk around the charming town of Winchester while you’re in the area. With inches of snow on the ground the day that we visited, we were only able to walk a few blocks around town, but we still managed to stumble upon a statue of a young George Washington who began his surveying, military, and political careers in Winchester. Near the statue is a tiny cabin, open seasonally as a museum, that George Washington used as a military office while he oversaw the building of Fort Loudoun. It’s inspiring to take kids on a walk in the town where George Washington lived and worked when he was not much older than today’s high school freshman.
If your family’s outdoor adventures in Harpers Ferry or Loudoun County get rained out, head underground in one Shenandoah Valley’s many caverns. Shenandoah Caverns is a short drive down the valley in Mt Jackson just off of Highway 81. Even the youngest members of the family can learn about cave formations in this tour; there are no stairs and the gravel pathway through the caverns is so flat that it is wheelchair accessible. It’s the perfect place for a first cave tour! My son loved naming the different cave formations that he saw and laughing at the funny names that other kids had thought up when they were shared with us by the tour guide. Your ticket to Shenandoah Caverns not only offers an opportunity to view the stalagmites and bacon-like cave formations, but grants access to an entire family of attractions. At American Celebration on Parade, kids can explore a warehouse full of well-maintained historic parade floats. Kids can pick their favorites and even climb on a few of the floats for a photo-op. Give the kids a camera and let them have fun photographing each other on these crazy, colorful pieces of Americana.