Western Virginia: A Family Weekend


We just got back from a weekend in Western Virginia to meet up with much of my family, and not only did we have a beautiful time…but this is some beautiful country, too.

My beloved first cousin, Hana, graduated from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA this last Saturday, and considering she’s the first baby bump I ever felt (at the age of 17), this was a pretty emotional weekend. We’re both incredibly proud of her, and thrilled that she has the spirit of an adventurer, pursuing charitable projects both overseas and here in the U.S.

To be there for the weekend, Adam and I took a Thursday redeye on American Airlines from LAX into Dulles International Airport (IAD). On a whim, I’d picked up No-Jet-Lag, a homeopathic drug at Whole Foods that promised miraculous results…and worked pretty well. After picking up our rental car and taking a short nap at my Aunt Kari’s (Hana’s mom) in nearby Reston, we were awake enough to drive a healthy stretch of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive ($15 US for a 7-day park pass), which offers one gauzy, green vista after another.

The rest of the weekend, not so much with the couples’ travel. But, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Aunt Kari had booked two rentals for our family in Massanutten, a ski/water park resort area about 15 minutes west of Harrisonburg. Adam, my brother, Mike, and I stayed in a one-bedroom condo with a pull-out sofa and a view of the surrounding mountains ($290 for two nights); 1/2 mile away, a big group that included my parents stayed in a cozy two-story house on a wooded cul-de-sac. It was fun to have what amounted to a slumber party with Mike, who lives in Maryland, has three young kids, and we don’t see nearly as much as we’d like.

After Saturday’s graduation on the tree-lined quad at JMU, many of us hit the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market and saw baked goods, plants and Mennonites on display. We caught up over the iced tea of the day at Earth & Tea Cafe, poked around local arts and crafts at Oasis Gallery, and then met for a stellar lunch of black bean burgers, parmesan orzo and cucumber mojitos at the wildly painted, brick-walled cafe/concert venue, Clementine.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, the first I’d been with my mom in ages.  On this chilly and windy day, she, my dad, Mike and we headed way underground to one of the area’s biggest attractions, Luray Caverns ($21-23 US per adult).  The public portion of this massive, well-paved cave system (the path, my dad happily quipped, was “designed for fat people”) takes a little over an hour to wander through. Cavern highlights range from a cathedral/wedding room with an echoing organ to broken stalagmites that look like two fried eggs, but our collective favorite was Dream Lake, a shallow pool that offers a surreal mirror reflection of the stalactites above.

After a lunch of what probably isn’t “The Best Burger in Virginia” (but was nonetheless served with a smile) at the adjacent, 19th-century town of Luray’s Artisans Grill (lunch for two, about $20) we parted ways with lots of hugs; Adam and I took the shorter but gorgeous way back to Dulles along Route 340 to Route 66 (about two hours). We passed red-roofed farmhouses and paddocks full of horses, gurgling rivers and yawning swaths of low mountains thickly covered with trees.

I often wish I lived close enough so that family weekends like this one were a far more common occurrence, especially because as I sat on the 5-hour plane ride home I read an article on the moral dilemma of flying; according to the writer, the single worst thing anyone can do for the environment is, well, fly in a plane — even if it’s to be with their family. So for now, I’ll keep recycling, make a lot of calls back East…and look for a great carbon offset program.


See also
TWT Travel Binder: Virginia
A Spring Drive Through the American South – Part One
A Spring Drive Through the American South – Part Two
A Spring Drive Through the American South – Part Three
A Spring Drive Through the American South – Part Four


  1. Sounds like you had a good weekend.

    Now, please, do tell more about this jet lag cure.

  2. What a fun getaway! A nice combo of family time & exploring the area. As always, luv your pix.

  3. Yes, it was a great weekend! The kind that makes me rue the decision to live 3000 miles away from people I love…in order to live with someone I love.

    @Sheila, click on the No-Jet-Lag link above to see where to buy it in your area, but it couldn’t be easier. You chew one pill on take-off, then one every two hours (or every four, if you’re lucky enough to fall asleep on the plane), then another when you land. We bounced back much faster than we usually do on a cross-country flight, and we’ve had no trouble getting back on PST!

  4. Samantha says:

    Interestingly one of my oldest friends graduated from JM and after many years of hacking it in smoggy L.A. moved back to Harrisonburg (or, “tha Burg” as he calls it.) He’s always waxing rhapsodic about the region’s great beauty and your great photos and descriptions seem to nail visually what my pal describes in words. Now, just gotta get out there sometime…

  5. As a native of Northern VA (NoVA) and a JMU grad I am so glad you had a good time and appreciate the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. But please do not think that they are located in NoVA, these are two very different places. JMU and Luray are in western VA and are significantly more southern than NoVA could ever be. NoVA is comprised of the suburbs outside of DC and ends (well before) I-81.

  6. Claire, thank you! I’ve gone back and forth on these locations with various folks over the years, and have encountered a great deal of dissent over where Northern Virginia ends and the southern portion of the state begins…but I have to say, in poring over a map for the 10th time, I feel you’re right. I’ve changed the title of this post, and I’m sticking to your story.

    But wherever, dear readers, y’all may feel Harrisonburg and Luray are to be found, just know they’re lovely spots to visit. Well DONE, Virginia.

  7. It looks like you had a great time! My husband and I love traveling to West Virginia and going on little adventures from canopy tours to white water rafting. I had heard of Luray Caverns and I’ve always wanted to go. I’ll have to add it to the list of things I want to do next time we go!


  1. […] Southern Virginia: A Family Weekend | Travels With Two http://www.travelswithtwo.com/index.php/2010/05/12/images-of-southern-virginia – view page – cached Tooling along the Skyline Drive, poking around Harrisonburg, resting amongst the mountains of Massanutten and heading underground to Luray Caverns. Tweets about this link Topsy.Data.Twitter.User['thetravelwife'] = {"photo":"http://a1.twimg.com/profile_images/718274490/Michele-Headshot-2009-Background-Web_normal.jpg","url":"http://twitter.com/thetravelwife","nick":"thetravelwife"}; thetravelwife: “RT @TravelsWithTwo: Southern Virginia: A Family Weekend (b/c they can't ALL be couples' trips) http://bit.ly/cn9ZiM ” 1 day ago view tweet retweet Filter tweets […]

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