by Jay Williamson
She left us.
For the weekend.
And not just any weekend, but Labor Day weekend – marking the end of summer and the start of school, possibly the longest of the long weekends.
The boys have already done many of the things on Kid Trips’ list of 100 things for Kids to Do in Northern Virginia this summer. I hate traffic, bridges, tolls, tunnels, and any highway ending with a “5.” I need a plan, something epic and worthy of the weekend. A place that will leave them too tired to notice 4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a row.
I sit down at my computer and open my saved pages to Virginia.org’s list of 11 Award-Winning Virginia Craft Breweries. I think to myself that this may be the most important list I’ll read all month. Reading further I discover the Virginia has four craft beer trails. Devils Backbone Brewing Company and Blue Mountain Brewery both seem like great destinations for a father-son road trip.
Unfortunately, while my boys aren’t old enough to drink, they are also too young to drive me home. I need to focus and find something fast, before they wake up. Staring at the map I see my opportunity in the mountains, just off Route 81.
Frontier Culture Museum
1290 Richmond Road
Staunton, VA 24401
Admission: Adults: $10, Kids (6-12): $6
The Frontier Culture Museum is “an outdoor living history Museum” that tells the story of early immigrants to North America between the 1600 and 1700’s. Upon arrival, guests view a short film about the museum narrated by popular historian David McCullough.
Professor McCullough explains that the museum is divided into two sections. The Old World shows rural life and culture in England, Ireland, Germany and West Africa. It is designed to show where the immigrants came from and explain why they came. While it acknowledges the slave trade, it simultaneously permits parents the ability to control the timing and intensity of having that important discussion.
The American exhibits feature an American Indian hamlet and two farms – one from the 1740’s and another from the 1820’s. These exhibits show what life was like for settlers while explaining how various immigrant groups brought unique skills, traditions, and backgrounds that ultimately contributed to the country we have today.
The museum tells its stories through thoughtfully recreated farms and villages staffed by wonderfully knowledgeable staff in period costumes. It wasn’t crowded when we went, and we found the staff eager to answer questions and able to convey information to all audience levels. My boys especially enjoyed being able to walk into and through the farmhouses and seeing various animals roaming the property.
Natural Bridge of Virginia
15 Appledore Lane
Natural Bridge, VA 24578
Having had a great time at the Frontier Culture Museum, I decided to push my luck and drive even further down Route 81 to Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge bills itself as “one of the oldest tourist destinations in the United States” and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. It is a nostalgic trip back in time to the type of attraction I visited with my parents and grandparents when I was young.
You enter Natural Bridge through the Rockbridge Center and proceed down a wooded path following a small brook to the Summerhouse Café. From there you can follow the trail under the Natural Bridge for an awe-inspiring view. The boys were impressed by the scale of the formation and enjoyed looking for fish in the creek. You can follow the trail up to the Monacan Indian Living History exhibit which demonstrates what life was like in a Monacan Indian settlement. Further up the trail is Lace Falls, a 50-foot cascade.
Unfortunately for us, our visit was cut short by a fast-moving thunderstorm. We were not able to see the falls or fully explore the area. However, for an additional charge visitors can view the Drama of Creation a light and music show using the Bridge as a background that looks fantastic. Show times vary seasonally depending upon when the sun sets. You might also consider exploring the Caverns at Natural Bridge – a 45 minute walking tour through one of the deeper cavern systems in the US. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Historic Hotel on-site. If you are thinking of staying for the Drama of Creation show, staying at the hotel is a great option. Keep in mind that the hotel is small and busy; it is not the type of place you can just show up at, Labor Day Weekend, and expect to get a room. Lesson learned.
I kid. I knew in advance there would be no rooms at the hotel and planned to stop at Blue Mountain Brewery for dinner on the way home. With its own hop farm, brewery, and locally-sourced menu, I thought this would be an educational and rewarding way to end the road trip. The rain and a 7 year-old counting to a thousand by ones, counseled otherwise, so we stopped elsewhere on the ride home. The silver lining here is that, next time, I’ll have a second driver.
All photographs are property of Jay Williamson and Kid Trips LLC. They may not be used in any other publication without permission.
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