It’s true that summer is the time for excellent family fun, but the learning doesn’t need to stop just because school’s out. Children are naturally inquisitive (even when they’re older and don’t want to admit it). Embrace their curiosity and turn every adventure into one with educational value.
Looking for help to do just that? Start with these 10 places for educational fun in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. We’ve chosen these destinations specifically for the way children are embraced through the opportunities offered. When you leave some of the teaching to the experts, you don’t have to be the expert.
1. Natural Bridge State Park | Natural Bridge
The soaring natural limestone arch is an impressive site. Carved by Cedar Creek, the gorge beyond the bridge is home to an interpretive Monacan Indian Village. See hides hung to dry for tanning, step inside the thatched shelters to see what a typical home would have looked like, and ask all the questions you can think of. Just further along the trail is Salt Peter Cave, which was mined during the Civil War for potassium nitrate, an ingredient of gun powder.
Programming at Natural Bridge includes guided wildlife walks, discussions at Salt Peter Cave, star parties, and a special camping opportunity for Great American Campout on June 23.
2. Salem Museum | Salem
Telling the history of Salem, the Salem Museum offers free admission to see their rotating and permanent exhibits. Special programming offers a deeper dive into specific topics and sheds light on the history you didn’t know you didn’t know. For example, what was the area we now know as Salem before 1802? Or did you know that Roanoke College hosted The Student Army Training Corps to prepare soldiers for World War I?
3. Taubman Museum of Art | Roanoke
Before you question why we’d throw a fine art museum on such a list, hear us out. The Taubman Museum of Art is not only free to visit, but also offers a hands-on area – Art Venture - for kids ages 2 to 12 to discover and hone their creative skills. Fourteen stations get them involved with printmaking, painting, theatre, music, and more. Summertime art camps for nearly all ages are also available.
4. Virginia Museum of Transportation | Roanoke
Kids naturally love planes, trains, and automobiles, so take them to one of Virginia’s finest museums to encounter those and more … but especially trains! Climb aboard and pretend you’re the engineer of one the grand steam locomotives; they’re the stars of the museum. Also seek out the Jupiter Rocket, see the classic car collection, and a great deal more. Summer kids camps are available.
5. Center in the Square | Roanoke
Be in the center of learning when you visit Center in the Square. Several museums in one destination put education at your fingertips, not to mention the fun to be had. The Science Museum of Western Virginia, the Roanoke Pinball Museum, and a brand new children’s museum called Kids Square are just the beginning of what you’ll find when you visit. Be sure to look for the brand new Hidden Garden!
6. Blue Ridge Institute & Farm Museum | Ferrum
What did agricultural life look like in 1800 the Blue Ridge Mountains? Visit the Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum to meet heritage breeds of farm animals and learn the folklore, music, and customs of the people in the mountains around you.
7. O. Winston Link Museum & History Museum of Western Virginia | Roanoke
Back to trains … O. Winston Link was a renowned black and white photographer whose primary subject matter was steam engines. Most of his portraits are contained at his namesake museum, which shares space with the History Museum of Western Virginia.
Inside the History Museum, get a broad overview of how the towns and cities in Virginia’s Blue Ridge grew from villages to become what they are today.
8. Booker T. Washington National Monument | Hardy
Who was Booker T. Washington and why is there a national monument dedicated to him? If neither you nor your child knows the answer, it’s time for a visit. To give you a little inside information, Washington was born a slave but was raised through the time of emancipation and went on to not only become a well-educated man, but to found an institute and advise presidents of the United States of America. Given the era he lived, his accomplishments were perhaps nothing short of miraculous.
Visit the 1850s tobacco farm (with animals!), have a picnic, reserve a guided tour if your party contains at least 10 people, walk the trails, and peruse the heirloom garden. All of these experiences will stick with curious kids.
9. Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest | Forest
Elementary students learn about our founding fathers and are familiar with Thomas Jefferson and his home of Monticello, but his Poplar Forest retreat is often overlooked. A labor of love, Jefferson’s wife inherited the plantation in 1773 and he worked tirelessly to make it his place of solace. Ongoing archaeological explorations allow visitors to see artifacts as they’re uncovered, while restoration efforts continue on as well. Weekend visitors can take a free Enslaved Community Tour with their admission ticket, which shows the slave cabins and tells their stories, as evidenced by historical documents.
10. Mill Mountain Discovery Center | Roanoke
Get to know the nature around you when you make your way up Mill Mountain to the Mill Mountain Discovery Center. Get your hands dirty with classes and summer camps. Meet the resident box turtle snakes, as well as watch an active bee hive. Want to throw a nature-themed birthday party? You can do that here, too.
Extra Credit Bonus: Mill Mountain Zoo | Roanoke
You’re already visiting the Discovery Center, so make the short walk over to the Mill Mountain Zoo, which is also located atop the mountain! The zoo is a great opportunity to learn about a variety of animals, including the adorable red panda, pallas’ cats, and the new bald eagle. The zoo also serves a valuable role in educating visitors about what can be done to help protect animal species to ensure they remain a vibrant part of our global ecosystem.
Map of Locations
What else is on your agenda for summer fun and adventure? We want to see your chance encounters and your kiddos caught in the act of discovery. Tag #BlueRidgeDay in your social media posts and follow us at @VisitVBR on Instagram and Twitter. Who knows? We may share your pic!