From the Blue Ridge Mountains to Eastern Shore beaches, my home state of Virginia is full of natural beauty and outdoor recreation. A road trip through Virginia will also reveal charming small towns, hidden gem wineries, a strong farm-to-table foodie scene, and rich history and culture. Read on for an introduction to the top sights of each region and some tips on where to stay for solo female travel in Virginia.
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Solo Female Travel in Virginia by Region
Old Town Alexandria is chock full of charm, especially when it’s lit up for the holidays. Any time of year, however, Alexandria makes an excellent solo day trip from Washington DC. It’s just a 15 minute train ride from Union Station on Amtrak.
Other popular excursions from DC include Mount Vernon, the presidential home of George Washington, and Great Falls Park, a hidden gem for easy hiking trails. You can easily book a guided day tour to Mount Vernon while staying in DC.
There are quite a few wineries in Northern Virginia, especially in Loudoun County. Breaux Vineyards and Sunset Hills Vineyard (pictured above) are particular favorites of mine. Together with lunch at Wine Kitchen in Leesburg, these make a great day trip, or you can base yourself at a nearby resort or hotel (see below).
Burnside Farms in Nokesville, Virginia is home to one of my ultimate Instagram bucket list items: a Sunflower Maze! The flowers only bloom for two weeks a year, and the exact dates vary, but mid-July is the most common timing. This is a little more off the beaten path and you’ll need to drive about one hour from either Washington DC or Leesburg.
Many towns in Northern Virginia have a nice tearoom and a relaxing afternoon tea is one of my favorite low key activities for solo female travel in Virginia. Historic Rosemont Manor in Berryville hosts a few special afternoon teas each month with custom tea blends and a three-course meal. The manor is about 30 minutes west of Leesburg.
Where to Stay in Northern Virginia
You can explore Northern Virginia on a tight budget by staying in a hostel in Washington DC and taking day trips out of the city. I’ve stayed in Duo Housing DC, which charges $40 per night for a 12-bed mixed dorm. It’s a decent basic option for short stays. U Street Capsule Hostel is similarly priced and highly rated, but has the added bonus of offering female-only rooms.
You can find various mid-range chain hotels for $75 to $100 per night in towns like Alexandria and Leesburg.
For a major splurge, the Salamander Resort and Spa is probably the most luxurious place to stay in the entire state. Located in Loudoun County, it’s especially good for equestriennes and wine lovers. (Bonus: You’ll be supporting a Black-owned business!)
Shenandoah National Park is one of the biggest tourism draws to Virginia, and for good reason. The Blue Ridge Mountains are full of scenic views and great hiking opportunities, including a good swath of the Appalachian Trail. Trails are often busy, especially in the fall, so you won’t feel isolated as a solo female traveler. You can visit for free on any of the National Park Service’s fee-free days in 2021: January 18, April 17, August 4, August 25, September 25 and November 11. Even if you’re not the outdoorsy type, you can enjoy the park’s views cruising down Skyline Drive.
Your best city base for exploring the park and the Shenandoah Valley is Harrisonburg. Aside from hiking in Shenandoah National Park, there are some beautiful scenic trails at the Edith Carter Arboretum. There are also a few lavender farms in the area — White Oak Lavender Farm is the most prominent and you can pick your own lavender in the summer.
Luray Caverns is a great side trip from Shenandoah National Park, located about 30 minutes from the park’s northern Front Royal entrance. Discovered in 1878, these are the largest caverns in the eastern United States. The hour-long tours aren’t cheap but there is better lighting of the cave features than other caverns in Virginia. If you aren’t heading this far north, Grand Caverns is a good alternative, located less than 30 minutes from Harrisonburg.
Massanutten Resort and Wintergreen Resort are both in easy reach of Shenandoah National Park. They both have a very similar slate of outdoor activities for day visitors, and offer overnight accommodations. So which should you visit? As a solo female traveler on a budget, I say you should select Massanutten. It’s less expensive, dining options are more casual and, because Wintergreen is decidedly more kid friendly, you may feel more at home as a solo traveler at Massanutten. The exception is if you’re an advanced skier. Wintergreen has 26 trails, most of which are fairly advanced, compared to Massanutten’s 14 trails. If location makes a difference, Massanutten is closer to Harrisonburg, while Wintergreen is closer to Charlottesville in the central Piedmont region of Virginia.
Where to Stay in the Shenandoah Valley
There are a number of camping options in Shenandoah National Park, all of which are comfortable for solo female travel in Virginia. Big Meadows is the most central and has loads of visibility. (Expect to spot lots of deer and wildlife here!)
Mid-range chain hotels and charming B&Bs abound in Harrisonburg. Expect to spend $75-100 per night.
Massanutten Resort and Wintergreen Resort both offer accommodations.
Roanoke is the best city base for exploring Southwest Virginia. You can find some eclectic attractions, like the Pinball Museum, and it’s a very entertaining place to shop, full of antique stores and places like Big Dog Salvage, purveying reclaimed and upcycled goods. Don’t expect to spend too much time in town, though. Southwest Virginia is outdoor recreation central and a prime destination for solo road trips.
The Blue Ridge Parkway cuts through most of the region boasting classic rolling mountain views and massive Instagram bait like Mabry Mill.
There are naturally hiking trails galore, including Virginia’s highest peak Mount Rogers, topping 5700 feet (1700 meters). Cyclists will love the Virginia Creeper Trail. Smith Mountain Lake and Claytor Lake are both popular lakeside destinations for swimming and boating. There are a few ziplines in the region, but the longest and fastest is at Hungry Mother Adventures in Marion.
Music lovers will want to make a beeline for Bristol, which straddles the border into Tennessee. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a great start to a road trip up the Crooked Line Trail, full of historic mountain music destinations. (Definitely schedule a stop in Floyd to sit in on a country store jam.)
Finally, I bet you didn’t expect to find natural hot springs in Virginia. But that’s just what you’ll get when you visit the aptly named town of Hot Springs near the West Virginia border. This is a great, luxe feeling hidden gem for solo female travel in Virginia.
Where to Stay in Southwest Virginia
There is ample camping, as well as cabins and yurts, throughout the region. A charming Airbnb will cost between $100-200 per night. You may find some inns and bed-and-breakfasts for less, but many of these lack a strong online presence for easy booking.
Chain hotels in Roanoke are around $100 per night. In Abingdon, expect to spend more like $75 per night.
Peaks of Otter Lodge is a great place to stay in Southwest Virginia, offering not just accommodations but ample hiking, wine tasting and apple picking for a relaxing Appalachian getaway.
Charlottesville is my lifelong hometown, so I may be biased, but I definitely consider it a prime destination in Virginia, located smack in the middle of the state. You’ll be surprised at how a small town like this can offer such a well-rounded travel experience. There are tons of local restaurants with a strong farm-to-table food ecosystem, a burgeoning cluster of high quality vineyards, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Monticello and the University of Virginia, gorgeous scenery and hiking just a stone’s throw from Shenandoah National Park, and a surprisingly rich arts and culture scene. My day job is for the first immersive art museum in the state — the Looking Glass which is a 3000 square foot enchanted forest where you can touch and interact with the art. It’s a stellar weekend getaway from Washington DC.
Surrounding Charlottesville are even tinier towns, like Crozet and Staunton. Crozet is just 30 minutes west of downtown Charlottesville and an excellent day base for exploring some of the Monticello Wine Trail. Staunton is a little farther west with a super charming downtown featuring a glassblowing studio and a working recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theater.
About an hour north of Charlottesville lie the Virginia Foothills, where you can enjoy a more luxurious weekend getaway. The small-town trio of Orange, Gordonsville and Barboursville is home to some fabulous bed-and-breakfasts, fine dining and one of the oldest vineyards in the state. It’s also your best base for experiencing James Madison’s Montpelier and their excellent exhibit The Mere Distinction of Color, highlighting the experience of the plantation’s enslaved people.
The other side of the central Piedmont region is the state capital of Richmond. The city has a great art scene running the gamut from the Virginia Museum for Fine Art to loads of murals and street art. Carytown is an especially fun neighborhood to visit, full of trendy boutiques and eateries, but much of the city has a unique vibe to it. How many major cities can you visit and kayak or raft right through the center of town? I highly recommend checking out BLK RVA to support local Black-owned businesses and celebrate Black culture during your trip.
Where to Stay in Central Virginia
Hotels near downtown Charlottesville run around $100-150 a night. You can find similarly priced country accommodations on Airbnb.
For a more budget friendly option, book a site at Misty Mountain Campground near Crozet. Tent sites are $30 per night and cabins start at $60 per night.
The bed-and-breakfasts around Orange County in the Virginia Foothills are pricier. The Inn at Willow Grove is close to $250 per night.
Hotels in Richmond cost around $100 per night, but if you’re up for a splurge the luxurious Jefferson Hotel downtown is over $200 per night.
Eastern Shore Virginia
Virginia Beach is the prime coastline destination in the state. I’ll admit, I personally prefer traveling out of state for beach vacations (particularly to Corolla, North Carolina in the Outer Banks), but if an ocean sighting is a must on your solo Virginia trip, then Virginia Beach has the most activity to offer with a three-mile boardwalk and a popular aquarium. Nearby Sandbridge Beach is a good quieter option, and Cape Charles is on the Chesapeake Bay side if you prefer sunsets to sunrises and want lots of kayaking and paddleboarding.
Not far from the beach is a trifecta of colonial settlements: Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Yorktown is best for military history nerds as the site of Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Jamestown was the first English settlement in the New World and today includes exhibits on 17th century fort life and the Powhatan tribe that originally lived in Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg is my favorite of the three featuring an open-air museum of historical shops, homes and gardens. Williamsburg is taking some baby steps to more inclusive history — one current archaeological excavation is studying one of the USA’s first Black churches.
You can find more prominent Black history sites in the Newport News area. Fort Monroe marks both the beginning and the end of slavery, being the site where the first recorded enslaved Africans arrived in the US in 1619 and a fortress where runaway slaves were protected during the Civil War.
Last but not least, Chincoteague offers a fun unique experience for solo female travel in Virginia: wild ponies! Every July, “Saltwater Cowboys” herd a special wild breed of horse from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island in the annual pony swim. While the summer swim is certainly the most exciting time to visit, you can visit Assateague Island and see the ponies in the wild any time of year.
Where to Stay on Virginia’s Eastern Shore
There are lots of hotel options in Virginia Beach, but a great budget friendly choice for solo female travelers is to camp in First Landing State Park. There’s lots of space between camp sites and plenty of distance from the RV hookups, making it a very comfortable camping location. You’ll be sleeping just on the other side of the sand dunes, so you can roll out of bed and watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean.
On Chincoteague Island, you can find inns and chain hotels both in the $75-100 range.
The Newport News area is a little less expensive with most chain hotels running $50-70 per night. This can be a good base for day trips to colonial history attractions, which are about a 30 minute drive from Newport News, but you can find some surprisingly good deals on more charming accommodations around the $50 range if you would like to stay closer to Williamsburg.
Being grounded due to the pandemic definitely made me appreciate how much I have close to home! Virginia is a gorgeous state for safe road trips as a solo female traveler. Share your own solo Virginia highlights in the comments!