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Off the Beaten Path: Things to See in South Central Virginia

Updated on March 6, 2013
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Jeanne Grunert is a full-time freelance writer, novelist, and garden communicator. She lives and works on a 17-acre farm in Virginia.

Things to Do in South Central Virginia

South central Virginia may not be high on your list of potential vacation spots like say, Hawaii or Florida. But it is a beautiful place to visit and full of historic, cultural, and natural beauty. South central Virginia encompasses the area east of the Blue Ridge Mountains to approximately Richmond, and includes the lower portion of the state. It's a large geographic area consisting of rolling hills in the piedmont area, seemingly endless forests of loblolly pines, beautiful lakes and streams, and fields of grazing cattle, golden hay, and many other crops. It is home to several historic sites, including Civil War battlefields like Sailor's Creek, the Civil War surrender site at Appomattox, and Colonial-era attractions like Colonial Williamsburg. You can tour Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello, visit the historic campus at the University of Virginia, and sip wines at the wineries near Charlottesville. Ready to explore south central Virginia?

(Photo of peach trees blooming in south central Virginia by Jeanne Grunert. (C) 2012 by Jeanne Grunert).

Amazon Spotlight Personal Review

Ready for some really oddball places to see and things to do? Then check out Weird Virginia. It's a guide to REALLY off the beaten path attractions and unusual things to see and do.

Things to See in Charlottesville, Virginia

University of Virginia. Photo by John Grunert.
University of Virginia. Photo by John Grunert.

Charlottesville, Virginia, offers many fun and interesting things to do. Most people think of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville atop the scenic mountain, and it's definitely worth the time to tour both the home and gardens. But Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia is also worth seeing, and the campus is open to the public and free to tour. See the rotunda, the colonnade, and the library - and note the gorgeous old books still encased behind glass in the famous library. Be courteous during the academic calendar because both students and professors still live in the homes and apartments along the historic portion of the campus.

The downtown area of Charlottesville features a funky cobblestoned main street area that is closed to automobile traffic. Park your car in one of the municipal parking areas and be prepared to walk to the attractions. There are numerous craft vendors along the street, plus specialty shops for yarn and sewing, beading and jewelry, clothing and more. The restaurants also reflect Charlottesville's artistic college-town feel; you can find everything from a vintage 1950s style diner to Thai cuisine along the main street. If you can, avoid the area on Friday and Saturday nights. There are several popular theaters and concert halls along the main street and the traffic can be very heavy on evenings when popular bands play at the concert center.

Thomas Jefferson, a True Renaissance Man

Thomas Jefferson is one of my personal heroes and one of my favorite presidents of the United States. He was a true "Renaissance man", well-versed in politics, natural history, gardening and horticulture, architecture and more. I admire people who are self-made and who taught themselves entire subjects the way Jefferson did. His curiosity and willingness to take risks, such as sending Lewis and Clark on their expedition, are also admirable. Learn more about Jefferson with one of these biographies.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

Good biography.

Twilight At Monticello the Final Years O
Twilight At Monticello the Final Years O

One of my favorite books - well written and interesting.


The Surrender Site at Appomattox

Civil War cannons. Photo by John Grunert and used with permission.
Civil War cannons. Photo by John Grunert and used with permission.

The American Civil War ended in a little town called Appomattox Court House. My farm sits along an old road that used to be the stage coach route to Appomattox, and General Grant's troops passed by and stayed at the old inn along the route. I like to imagine them marching by, and I wonder if the original family who farmed this land and lived in the old yellow house that now lies in ruins on the other side of the creek booed or cheered the sight of the troops marching by.

The surrender site at Appomattox Court House is a large, open area and buildings set aside and lovingly restored to their original condition. You can stand in the room where Grant and Lee signed the surrender documents; it's an awesome feeling to be standing just a few feet away from the spot where such a historic event occurred.

Don't miss the new Museum of the Confederacy, located very near the surrender site. It's a brand-new museum filled with Civil War-era artifacts. It is a smaller offshoot of the main Museum of the Confederacy located in Richmond, and many of the exhibits rotate among the two locations. On the weekends, a Civil War re-enactor is often in the lobby demonstrating the gear soldiers used, how to fire a musket, and even showing off how to make a palatable meal from hard tack! Our re-enactor was so realistic that at times I'd forget it was a May day in 2012 and not that long ago April day in 1895.

High Bridge

High Bridge. Photo by Jeanne Grunert
High Bridge. Photo by Jeanne Grunert

High Bridge is a spectacular bridge spanning the Appomattox River, just outside of Farmville, Virginia. Originally constructed in 1852, the bridge is 2,400 feet long and 160 feet high. It used an estimated 4 million bricks to make its 20 piers. The original wooden railway bridge enabled the Southside Railroad to connect the tracks between Petersburg and Lynchburg. A second level underneath the railway bridge was called the wagon bridge, and enabled pedestrians and wagons to cross the bridge safely on a different level.

The bridge was the site of an important battle in the Civil War. The Battle of High Bridge took place between April 6 - 7, 1895. As the Union Troops chased the Confederates and the Confederates crossed High Bridge, they attempted to set fire to it. It burned, but not enough to prevent the Union Army from crossing and continuing what became known as Lee's Retreat.

The bridge has been rebuilt several times but was decommissioned as a railway bridge, and the entire railway line decommissioned the entire line in the 1990s, favoring the low-grade line near Pamplin for modern trail traffic. In 2006, the state park system developed the High Bridge Trail, turning the old 30-mile railway line into a hiking, biking and horseback riding trail. The bridge was once again transformed, this time into a pedestrian overpass. It opened to the public in April 2012 and is an amazing walk. You feel like you are walking among the clouds when you cross the bridge. The entire trail is open to the public. Parking is $3 or free with certain Virginia State Park passes.

Civil War Books

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

The historical perspective on the American Civil War.

The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865
The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865

See the Civil War through the eyes of a common soldier.

Atlas of the Civil War: A Complete Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle
Atlas of the Civil War: A Complete Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle

Learn more about battles and locations of the American Civil War.


Hiking South Central Virginia

Cold Mountain, Virginia. Photo by Jeanne Grunert
Cold Mountain, Virginia. Photo by Jeanne Grunert

South central Virginia, and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, offer spectacular hikes. You can backpack for several days along a portion of the Appalachian Trail, hike or bike the Virginia Creeper trail near the North Carolina-Virginia border, or hike mountains such as Cold Mountain. The Cold Mountain Hike is an 8-mile round trip to the top of a mountain near the Mount Pleasant Loop. The top of the mountain offers a flat, meadow-like plateau reputed to look a lot like Switzerland or Austria. It's well worth the day hike, especially in the spring and fall when the trees are at their most beautiful. There are no bathrooms or other amenities, so pack plenty of water, trail snacks and lunch. It is also colder on the mountain than in the surrounding areas, so dress in layers so you can be comfortable throughout your hike.

South Central Virginia's Scenic Beauty

Clearwater Creek, Virginia. Photo by Jeanne Grunert.
Clearwater Creek, Virginia. Photo by Jeanne Grunert.

There are many more things to see and do in south central Virginia. Natural Bridge offers a scenic wonder and a drive through safari park to see the animals. The Outdoor Adventure Park at Sandy Creek offers zip lines and rope courses for the whole family. Historic villages, including Colonial Williamsburg, offer history and charm for the family. Bush Gardens amusement park is also located near Williamsburg. Antique stores and scenic drives complete your trip. Virginia is an affordable vacation spot, and traveling south central Virginia offers you a relaxing vacation for the entire family.

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    • jeannergrunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Prospect, Virginia

      @goldenrulecomics: Hi there! You should - it's a quaint little town. Best place to eat is the Babcock House :) Thanks for dropping by!

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      I'd love to get to Appomattox sometime!

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Chicago area

      We love the Blue Ridge mountains! My family has hiked there many times, though mostly in N.C. I used to go to swim camp in Charlottesville as a kid, and when I was in grad school in Va. I wwent camping with some friends in the fall - so pretty, almost didn't seem real.

    • iamraincrystal profile image

      Rosyel Sawali 5 years ago from Manila Philippines

      Lovely! I feel like I've been there after reading your lens. ^_^

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 5 years ago

      I live in central west Virginia. I love Charlottesville and this is a nice reminder to go there again and also see Monticello. Thanks for the lens.

    • SteadyPath LM profile image

      SteadyPath LM 5 years ago

      Beautiful! Makes me want to pack up and head there!

    • Mr Criminology profile image

      Bigwas 5 years ago from Philippines

      I like the pictures, very clear and beautiful.

    • jeannergrunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 5 years ago from Prospect, Virginia

      @anonymous: Thank you! I appreciate your comments!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautiful! Love Virginia. A beautiful travel lens.