Ever been on a trip where you felt like you were constantly pulling over to enjoy the incredible sights surrounding you? That’s exactly how I felt during my Virginia road trip along Interstate 81. With iconic destinations like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Roanoke along with lesser-known gems like Wytheville and Luray, you won’t want to miss these remarkable Virginia views you’ll find along the I-81.
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Unmissable Virginia Views On An I-81 Road Trip
As you can imagine, there are so many beautiful Virginia views to enjoy! Enjoy the twists and turns of Interstate 81 and be sure to take the occasional detour to check out these Virginia sights.
Rooftop of the Bristol Hotel
In the southwestern corner on the border with Tennessee lies the town of Bristol, Virginia which is where you’ll find The Bristol Hotel. Rated #4 in 2019 and #10 in 2020 by Travel + Leisure, you can expect impeccable quality and top-notch service during your visit. This office building turned boutique hotel features 65 elegant rooms with amenities such as a workspace, mini-fridge, plush robes and most important, complimentary WiFi. Sink into their mountain of pillows as you sleep soundly after a day of adventuring… but not until you head to the Lumac Rooftop Bar for a handcrafted cocktail. Trust me, they only enhance the incredible views you’ll be treated to!
Whether or not you choose to stay overnight is up to you, but you’ll certainly have a memorable stay at the Bristol Hotel. See what other guests have said about their experience or click here to book your stay now!
Route 16 aka Back of the Dragon
Detour from the I-81 for the epic serpentine Route 16 known as Back of the Dragon. A hotspot for motorcycle riders and sports car enthusiasts, this 51.5 kilometre (32 mile) stretch of road will have you sinking into your seat. Get ready for incredible views as you follow the twists and turns that create one of Virginia’s top road trip routes. In the warmer months, you can even rent a Polaris Slingshot to ensure it’s a ride you’ll never forget!
BONUS STOP: Not too far away is Burke’s Garden, home to Virginia’s highest valley. It’s often referred to as “God’s Thumbprint” due to the surrounding mountain ranges making a circular shape.
Wytheville’s Big Walker Lookout
Climb the ~1037 metre (3,405 foot) beast known as Big Walker Mountain for the best views in Wytheville! The Big Walker Lookout is the state’s oldest privately-owned scenic attraction. It’s not surprising though once you experience the brilliant 360 degree views you’ll be treated to from their ~30 metres tall (100 feet) lookout tower.
Their biggest claim to fame is that you can see five states on a clear day – West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, of course! Farmlands and forests create a beautiful natural patchwork that’s a feast for the eyes with some gorgeous Virginia mountains being the icing on the cake.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: If you visit in late autumn, it can be surprisingly chilly due to the change in elevation. You’ll definitely want to bring a warmer jacket with you and don’t be surprised if you see some remnants of frost or even snow!
Once you’re done taking in these Virginia views, spend some time perusing the BW Country Store. They have all kinds of local goodies like homemade jams and jellies, handmade items from artisans in Southwest Virginia and what is said to be some of the best ice cream in the state!
RELATED: Incredible views aren’t the only thing you’ll find in this unique little town! For all the great things to do, see and eat, check out my guide to Wytheville.
Blue Ridge Parkway From Floyd to Roanoke
As one of the United States’ top road trip routes, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not to be missed when visiting Virginia. It starts in Asheville, North Carolina and ends in Roanoke, Virginia, running ~755 kilometres (469 miles) in length while connecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park. While to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in its entirety would be epic, we’re focusing on Virginia here! I recommend taking a detour from the I-81 and exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway from Floyd to Roanoke.
This hour-long stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is absolutely magnificent with lookout after lookout for you to enjoy. I won’t list them all because half the fun is discovering them on your own but I will share a few of my favourites like The Saddle Overlook near Floyd, Virginia. While this territory of the Tutelo was settled at one point before the American Revolution, the farmland has since been abandoned and nature is reclaiming the area.
Follow the twists and turns of the Blue Ridge Parkway and you’ll see just how many overlooks there are – I’m talking upwards of 20 here! A few more of my favourite overlooks are Pine Spur, Devils Backbone, Cahas Mountain and the Roanoke Valley. If you have others that tickle your fancy, let me know in a comment below!
Natural Bridge State Park
Approximately 40 minutes north of Roanoke you’ll find what Thomas Jefferson called “the most sublime of Nature’s works”. Natural Bridge State Park is named after the spectacular ~66 metre (215 foot) tall limestone arch within the park. Spanning 27 metres (90 feet), it was carved out by Cedar Creek thousands of years ago. Take a moment to stand beneath it and you’ll humbly realize what small part we play in this wild and crazy world we find ourselves in. The park also offers about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of trails. Don’t miss the Cedar Creek Trail as well as Lace Falls!
Natural Bridge is also a sacred site for the Monacan People of the area. Predating colonization, it is told that the Monacans came upon a large canyon as they were fleeing from their rivals the Powhatan People. With no means to cross it, the Monacan People prayed to the Great Spirit for assistance and they were shown the way across the Natural Bridge. Since then, it’s been referred to as the “Great Path” and a spiritual site for the Monacans.
Great Valley Farm Brewery in Lexington, Virginia
A pint and a view? Sounds like the perfect combination to me! Just 10 minutes north of Natural Bridge along the I-81, you’ll find Great Valley Farm Brewery. Owners Nathan and Irma Bailey have been serving pints to go with their brilliant views of the Shenandoah Valley since October of 2016. Their focus is on Belgian-style ales using ingredients grown on their 27 acre farm. I highly recommend indulging in a flight while enjoying the Virginia views from their outdoor patio!
Since my visit, they’ve expanded to include wine in their repertoire as well. Production began in 2019 and they grow a number of their own varietals including Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, Gruner Veltliner and Lemberger. The last two, Austrian varietals, have adapted well to the climate of the Shenandoah Valley. They plan to continually focus on small-batch vintages with four currently available.
Blackburn Inn in Staunton, Virginia
The Blackburn Inn should be on your radar for a number of reasons. Besides its regal architecture (it was designed by Thomas R. Blackburn after all – and yes we’re talking Thomas Jefferson’s protégé), this hotel has an interesting past. Long before it was a hotel, the Blackburn Inn was originally the administration building for the Old Western State Hospital and then a medium-security prison. There are still remnants of these previous lives within the building!
The hotel is absolutely spectacular with modern decor, plush amenities and amazing add-ons and packages. However, there’s a lesser-known feature that you’ll have to inquire about at the front desk. This is how you’ll enjoy some of the best views of Staunton! They’ll give you access to the beautifully hand-crafted spiral staircase that leads to their rooftop dome and veranda. Don’t forget your camera!
Oh, and did I mention it’s women-owned? That makes it extra awesome in my books! See what other guests have said about their experiences at the Blackburn Inn but my guess is that you’ll be wanting to book a night or two which you can do here.
BONUS VIEW: If you’re unable to stay overnight in Staunton or you’re looking for additional views of the city, make the trek to Sears Hill and enjoy the sights from Woodrow Park.
Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive
Shenandoah National Park certainly offers some of the best hikes in Virginia but you don’t need to hike in order to enjoy some brilliant views. If you only have a few hours but still want to enjoy some of the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, hop on the Skyline Drive. At 169 kilometres (105 miles) in length, there are plenty of gorgeous Virginia views to enjoy along the way!
Since the Skyline Drive is the northernmost part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can surmise that there are a number of lookouts to explore throughout the park. There are over 20 between the southern entrance at Rockfish Gap and the Swift Run Gap exit – and that’s barely a quarter of the park! A few of my favourite stops were the Calf Mountain, Sawmill Ridge, Crimora Lake and Rockytop Overlooks but there are honestly so many incredible views to see. Each one is worth a stop to admire the Virginia views!
If you want to take your time exploring this part of the Shenandoah Valley, I recommend staying by the park. While there aren’t any accommodations within the park itself, there are a number of options close to the park that will make exploring much easier. Less travel time means more time hiking in Virginia!
Unlike the Virginia views listed above, you’ll have to go underground for this one! Benton Stebbins struck gold in August 1878 as he discovered what has since become the largest expanse of caverns in the eastern United States.
Make your way below the earth’s surface with a guided tour of the Luray Caverns. You’ll be blown away by the mesmerizing shapes formed by limestone sluggishly flowing to create the intricate natural sculptures in front of you. Of course, your imagination will run wild as you spot a shaggy dog, ghost and other fun characters in the stalagmites and stalactites. The highlight of the entire experience though has to be Dream Lake, hands down. Though the Great Stalacpipe Organ comes as a close second!
RELATED: While the caverns are certainly a highlight, Luray itself has a lot to offer and is worth spending some time exploring. Check out my guide to all the great things to do in Luray VA!
Tips for Exploring These Virginia Views
Ready to check out these brilliant sights for yourself? Here are a few tips and tricks for making the most of your I-81 road trip as you catch these stunning Virginia views.
What are the Best Mountain Views in Virginia?
If you’re looking for those incredible vistas, my top picks for the best views in Virginia along the I-81 would be the Devils Backbone Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive’s Sawmill Ridge Overlook. Back of the Dragon also has some great Virginia views, but not quite to the extent of the other two. Of course, I’m sure there are many to be found if you tackle some of the top Virginia hiking trails found here.
When is the Best Time to Visit Virginia for These Views?
My trip was in early November and while the views were still incredible, autumn was on its way out. Had I been a week or two earlier, the fall colours would have been at their peak making them even more magnificent! If you’re a fan of fall foliage, I definitely recommend mid to late October. However, summer means longer days and therefore more time to explore which is always a good thing!
How Long Should I Spend Exploring the I-81?
My visit to Virginia was an absolute whirlwind as I did the entirety of the I-81 in just over a week. This isn’t overly surprising as it’s just under 5 hours to drive the state from end to end, but there is so much to see and do in between! While I’d do it again in a heartbeat, I recommend at least two weeks if you want to explore Interstate 81 in its entirety.
However, this can easily be broken up into a few different trips like Bristol to Roanoke, Roanoke to Staunton and Staunton to Winchester. Although many cities like Abingdon, Whytheville, Roanoke, Staunton and Harrisonburg to name a few can each easily be done as a weekend trip on their own. All that to say there are so many trips to experience along the I-81!
Looking for More Ideas For Your Virginia Road Trip?
Don’t Miss My Guide to Exploring Interstate 81!
Fuel Up At These Top Virginia Restaurants Along Interstate 81
See Why You Need to Visit the Quirkly Little Town of Wytheville
Caverns, History & More – Check Out All the Great Things to Do in Luray VA
Check Out These 15 Unique Places to Visit in Virginia Near the I-81
This post is brought to you in partnership with Virginia Tourism. While I was compensated for my time, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience!