As a bucket-list-crossing, hiking-stick-adventuring, native-Texan learning to adapt to various places of residence, I was pleasantly surprised by our Quantico adventure.
Upon arrival with our moving truck, I was welcomed by a seemingly-uninteresting town full of weird grocery stores that weren’t called Kroger, and a slew of strip malls with an unreal number of barber shops. Where were the mountains and gorgeous scenery that curate the romance that dubbed Virginia as a place for lovers?
I’m here to tell you: It’s there. It’s just not quite within walking distance of Quantico (Although the base does have an awesome five-mile running trail that shows off Virginia’s beauty). So here are five sure-fire ways to unlock the beauty of Quantico, Virginia.
Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Valley
The valley has a million and one places to visit, things to see, and ways to see them (by boat, on foot, atop a horse, or the best way—in my humble, bucket-list-crossing opinion —by hot air balloon).
For those more inclined to leisurely see Virginia’s rolling hills and a rainbow of colors, grab your camera, hop in the car, and navigate Skyline Drive. (Pro tip: Go in the fall.)
It’s a popular drive, and with a total of 75 scenic stops along the 105-mile road (at 35 mph), you’ll want to try to get there earlier in the day, before everyone else has the same idea.
Hike Old Rag Mountain
As for me and my husband, we always jump at the chance to enjoy the outdoors on foot, see some beautiful sights, and get a nice little workout all at the same time. The most popular hike in the Shenandoah Valley, and rightfully so, is Old Rag Mountain. The nine-mile circuit hike induces sweat and sore muscles, but it’s wondrously enticing with its 3,291-foot summit elevation and adrenaline-pumping rock scrambles that finish in a view that will steal any breath that you have left.
While the young and old can do it, each hiker should be prepared with at least two quarts of water and ankle-supporting, sturdy shoes. Children are definitely welcome, but will likely need assistance throughout the rock scramble, as some of the points may be hard to reach. However, in other places, you’re going to be envious of their small bodies, fitting effortlessly through the tight spots.
The hike is largely uphill the first mile or two, but eventually evens out and slumps downward just when you think your legs are about to give up. At various points throughout the hike, there are outlooks that provide great views of the valley, but if you have a limited amount of storage on your camera, save those gigabytes for the summit!
Once you’ve spent your time ogling over your new-found bird’s eye view of the valley, you can start making your trek back downhill. (Pro tip: Stop at the river on your way down the fire road. Your feet will likely be a tad achy, and just sticking your feet in the coolness will refresh you for the last leg of the hike back to your car.)
Float Above the Valley
One minute, you can be looking down at the dew-covered grass painting your shoes, and the next, you’re in a basket being pulled up into the sun-kissed sky by a few flames and a massive balloon. Thanks to Groupon, we traded a great price for my number-one bucket list item, hot air ballooning over the Shenandoah Valley. We chose the sunrise session, and after speaking to some of our fellow ballooners, this was the best choice because going later in the day gives a higher risk of strong winds or other factors that keep balloons grounded.
We drove into the valley the night before our balloon adventure and stayed at an adorable and quaint bed and breakfast 15 minutes away from the launch site. Once we arrived, the crew took roughly a half hour to get the balloon inflated and ready to go. Once up, the hour-long ride gave us changing views of the landscape as we went higher and then lower. We grazed treetops when low and marveled at the roads that seemed to transport MatchBox cars at our highest elevation. The locals will even toddle out of their homes in bathrobes, waving their ant-like arms at you as you pass by.
Hike McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth
Under the influence of a friend’s advice and Google’s tried-and-true “16 Best Hikes In Virginia” list, we decided to tackle two in one day, McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth.
Both provided stunning views of southern Virginia, complete with cliffs, steep drops and rocks enticingly jutting out over nothingness, perfect for dangling one’s tired legs.
McAfee Knob was the longer of the two hikes, winding up and around the mountain for a seven-mile round trip. For a less-strenuous trek, the hike offers a fire road route with smoother climbs and a wider path both up and down the mountain. Even though we began the hike early (as was recommended by every trail reviewer), the summit was pretty busy with other hikers. The beauty of the knob is the width of the outlook. While there is one “knob” that majestically juts out over the valley, demanding everyone’s how-close-can-I-get photo, there is plenty of cliff-space along the mountain’s edge to find a quiet spot and enjoy the view.
Since we still had another hike to cross off our list, the boy had to lovingly talk me and my trigger-happy, photo-taking finger away from the edge and back down the mountain. We opted for the fire road on the trek back to our car, which was much easier on the knees.
Dragon’s Tooth is a convenient five-minute drive from McAfee Knob. While shorter — just five miles round trip, the hike was certainly a stronger battle for the legs and lungs.
The majority of the hike is a steep climb snaking through the trees, but the last 0.7 miles became a hiker’s jungle gym. Showing off all kinds of moves, we crawled up boulders on all fours, crab-legged down steep rock faces, and shimmied across balance-beam-wide rocky ledges. (Moms, it sounds a lot more dangerous than it actually is.)
The reward is a monolith towering over the valley, projecting its “dragon’s teeth” toward the overcast sky. Much like American Ninja Warriors, we shimmied up the monolith and balanced on the jagged edge of dragon’s tooth, blessed with a nearly 360-degree view of what looks like all of Virginia.
Virginia is a camper’s dream with dozens of places to pitch your tent or park your RV. But Holliday Lake State Park is recommended by yours truly. The sites are well-spaced and include plenty of trees or other natural boundaries so you don’t feel like you’re on top of your neighbor. The state park is great for your summer adventures. There are boat rentals, fishing spots, and a beach area perfect for your kids or for a relaxing cool-down after taking on any of the trails surrounding the lake.
Bonus Quantico Adventure: Washington, D.C.
If the great outdoors isn’t your thing — looking at you, city folk, go explore the activities in the heart of Washington, D.C., which is only an hour drive or train ride from Quantico!
Photo Credits: Renee Dolan