Virginia’s history is America’s history. When you visit these sites, take your time to enjoy significant outbuildings, flora and fauna, and points of interest you’ll otherwise miss. Take a moment to imagine what life was like at each of these places. Doing so will give you a new appreciation for your own place in history.
— COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, WILLIAMSBURG —
Colonial Williamsburg was the first capital of Virginia and the place the political careers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and their contemporaries were launched. A visit to the Revolutionary City is itself a historic walk. It’s 1775 at the cusp of a revolution, and there’s no telling what your journey will include.
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— FORT BOYKIN HISTORIC PARK, SMITHFIELD —
Fort Boykin from the shore of the James River below
Dating to 1623, The Castle (called Fort Boykin since the Revolutionary War), sits on a bluff overlooking the James River. The Castle’s purpose was to protect the colonists of Jamestown from the natives and Spaniards. Today’s invaders … ahem, visitors … will find a mostly intact fort from the 1860’s, when it was last used as a defense by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Fort Boykin is home to the nation’s second oldest black walnut tree, named one of the Remarkable Trees of Virginia. Walk its section of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail’s Tidewater Loop to encounter songbirds, butterflies, and bald eagles and osprey above the James River.
— FORT MONROE, HAMPTON —
Fort Monroe (called Freedom’s Fort) is the largest stone fort in the United States, but the history of the land goes well beyond the 1834 fort. The Fort Monroe Authority sums it up, writing, “For at least 400 years, the point of land known as Old Point Comfort that now includes Fort Monroe has served as the key defensive site at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Beginning with Native American’s use years before the settling of Jamestown to its most recent mission as the US Army’s Headquarters for Training and Doctrine Command until 2011, Old Point Comfort and Fort Monroe has influenced all aspects of our nation’s history.” When you visit today, you’ll want to see the lighthouse, the Casemate Museum, and all of the historic buildings. Take a self-guided tour of the grounds.
— FREDERICKSBURG & SPOTSYLVANIA NATIONAL MILITARY PARK —
The Sunken Road
At 8,000 acres, the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park is one of the largest military parks in the world. The four major battles that occurred within these boundaries accounted for approximately 110,000 lives lost. This place is called “America’s Battleground,” and is considered “the bloodiest ground on the North American continent.” Because of the breadth of ground to cover, the National Park Service graciously gives you key things to see and do based on the amount of time you have to spend. Highlights for your historic walk include the Sunken Road in Fredericksburg, the battlefield at Spotsylvania, or the Gordon Flank Attack Trail on Wilderness Battlefield.
—GUNSTON HALL, LORTON —
George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and framer of the United State Constitution, made his home at Gunston Hall. Constructed between 1755 and 1759, the home sits on 550 acres overlooking the Potomac River, and you can enjoy that view, too, from the River Trail.
— LAUREL HILL, ARARAT —
Laurel Hill is the birthplace of Confederate Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart (J.E.B. Stuart, in most references). Stuart came from a line of military men and was a West Point graduate who found a friend in Robert E. Lee. In May 1861 he resigned his US Army post to follow fellow Virginians in the Confederate cause. Visit his 75-acre birthplace and homestead to walk the trail along the Ararat River and encounter a waterfall on a tributary stream.
— MONTICELLO, CHARLOTTESVILLE —
Thomas Jefferson spent 40 years of his life perfecting his Monticello home, starting with the mountaintop leveling in 1768 and ending with the North Pavilion completion and South Pavilion remodel in 1808. Jefferson was passionate about the grounds of Monticello, too. His “pet trees” can be found in the The Grove. Jefferson is quoted as telling Alexander von Humboldt in 8019, “Within a few days I shall bury myself in the groves of Monticello and become a mere spectator to passing events.” Wander the Saunders-Monticello Trail, a leisure, accessible trail with no more than 5% grade.
— GEORGE WASHINGTON’S MOUNT VERNON, MOUNT VERNON —
The Wharf at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens
America’s first president, George Washington, made his home in a 1735 one-and-a-half story farmhouse built by his father. In 1758 the quest to enlarge it to the 21-room, 11,028-square-foot Mount Vernon mansion you see today began. Trails allow you explore the estate, including the wharf, a beautiful sunset location from which 45-minute sightseeing cruises depart daily April through October.
— NATURAL BRIDGE PARK, NATURAL BRIDGE —
The Natural Bridge
To see the immense wonder that is the Natural Bridge, one must take a walk along Cedar Creek Trail. The Monacan people called it “Bridge of God,” George Washington surveyed it and left his initials, and Thomas Jefferson once owned it. As you pass beneath the bridge (holding your breath in awe the whole way), you’ll encounter the Monacan Village interpretive area, saltpeter mine, the Lost River, and Lace Falls. Inquire about the other two trails on the property.
— STRATFORD HALL, STRATFORD —
The 1730’s Great House at Stratford Hall is the birthplace of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the boyhood home of Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both signatories of the Declaration of Independence. The sprawling 1,900-acre plantation can be enjoyed from six trails, all varying in difficulty and experience.
I would love to be there right now.
I agree about Montpelier! This should be at the top of the list. It was more fascinating to me than the others (although they are great). You get to stand in the room where the constitution was written and even ask questions of a modern day Madison that seems like the real thing!
List should include James Madison’s Montpelier. Near Monticello with miles of beautiful trails, garden and old growth forest. A real gem!
great list of walking tours but very poor map skills
What’s out of place, George?
This is a very fascinating article. Is there any way I can get a printed copy? We are coming to Williamsburg in September and we would love to see some of these, maybe all of them, someday
Thank you, Will. Please see if this will work — https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Cf0XRwS2Tdbnpyb0hhazhyckE/view?usp=sharing — it’s a PDF version that you can print.
So Williamsburg was Virginia’s first capital? What about Jamestown from 1607 until 1699?
Lived in Virginia from age 7-46. Saw all of these.
Williamsburg, Jamestown area, was our favorites, as we lived close by.