Virginia Vacation: Mountains vs Beaches

Comparing Virginia Mountains vs Virginia Beaches

Americans are hard working people. After all, it’s not easy pursuing that American dream. But part of that dream is also looking for opportunities to play hard. When it comes time to head out for that long anticipated vacation, there comes a choice: beach or mountains? A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 77 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the beach and 66 percent view the mountains as favorable.

Roughly half of all Americans have favorable opinions of both. Whites seem to be more enamored of the mountains than non-whites, but there is no similar distinction for the beach. The survey also showed that homes where the family income is at least $100,000 have favorable views of both the beach and mountains, with just over four in ten of those making under $50,000 a year having the same opinion. So, with everyone loving either the beach or the mountains, or both, how do you make the decision for your next vacation? Fortunately, if you live in Virginia, you don’t have to go very far to take advantage of either option. Virginia is bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean to the east.

For most residents, the option for the beach or mountains is just a few hours away. Virginians don’t feel the need to brag about this because they are, after all, Virginians, but the State DMV offers a special “Mountains to the Seashore” license plate.


Mountains of Virginia

Virginia Mountain Cabin

Virginia Mountain Cabin


While visitors to the American Rockies might scoff at the thought of Virginia mountains, the beauty and majesty of the region is indisputable.  Whether it’s it idyllic setting of Walton’s Mountain or the classic Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia offer spectacular scenery.  They get the name “Blue Ridge” because of their appearance from a distance.  The blue color is caused by the release of isoprene released by the trees.

Famous among these mountains is the Skyline Drive, which travels for 105 miles north to south and offers amazing views. The Skyline Drive is packed during the peak of the fall leaf season. Or you can choose to travel the 469 miles of The Blue Ridge Parkway which extends into the mountains of North Carolina.  If hiking is more your style, Virginia has nearly a quarter, 550 miles of the 2,184 mile Appalachian Trail.

Virginia mountains are rich in history as well as culture. Thomas Jefferson thought that the Peaks of Otter, near present-day Bedford, were the highest mountains in Virginia.  He wrote in 1783 that they were the tallest in Virginia but perhaps also the tallest in North America. Standing out from the landscape the view of the mountains could have easily led to Jefferson’s mistake.  The tallest of the three peaks, Flat Top Mountain is 4,002 feet above sea level.  Between two of the three mountains is the Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant, part of a chain of visitor concessions along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  During non-winter months, the “Sharp Top Bus” is available to take you to the top of the tallest of the three Peaks.

The actual highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers, located in Grayson County.  Because it sits in a group of other peaks, it doesn’t appear as tall as Whitetop Mountain but it reaches an elevation of 5,729 feet.  The 200,000 acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area offers camping, boating and hundreds of miles of recreational trails. Nearby Whitetop Mountain rises to 5,525 feet above sea level.  The mountain gets its name from the barren, rocky crown.  The highest navigable road in the Commonwealth will take you to the top of Whitetop Mountain.

In Giles County, the Mountain Lake Resort and Hotel was voted the “Best Resort” in Southwest Virginia by Virginia Living Magazine.  Mountain Lake Resort was the film location for the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.  In the movie the resort was billed as the Kellerman’s Resort in the Catskills.  Special Dirty Dancing weekends are available each year.

Those are just a few of the examples of recreation and relaxation in the mountains of Virginia.  Other benefits of choosing Virginia mountains include:

In the mountains, snow doesn’t mean that your vacation will be cancelled.   In most cases it actually enhances the vacation. Mountains can actually be enjoyed year round, but offer cooler alternatives in the hot months of summer.

Snowboarding, mountain climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and skiing are some of the activities people can enjoy when going to the mountains.

Beaches of Virginia

Virginia Beach Pier

Virginia Beach Pier


If you’re into the warm, sunny beach experience, Virginia Beaches can offer you that from April to October.  But there’s also a beauty and quietness about the beach in the winter. Virginia has 112 miles of coastline; this does not include freshwater coastlines so there’s no end to your opportunities to enjoy a waterfront vacation.

In 1607, the first British settlers landed at Cape Henry in what is now the City of Virginia Beach.  This point, near First Landing State Park is where On April 26, 1607 British colonists landed at the place where the most prosperous nation in the history began.

Virginia Beach is now a thriving resort City where Chesapeake Bay, Resort Area and Sandbridge make up 35 miles of Virginia Beach’s.  Each area has a little different flavor.  Sandbridge is more remote and more private.  Relaxing in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay you can enjoy the salt water without the waves.  And of course, the Resort area offers both the beauty of the beach and the waves, but the convenience of water front lodging and dining.  The Boardwalk stretches three miles from 3rd Street to 40th Street.

For a more remote beach experience, head over to Chincoteague Island on the Eastern Shore.  As Virginia’s only resort island, Chincoteague offers no high rises, no board walks, and no traffic jams.  Here you’ll find yourself close to the Virginia section of Assateague Island, the home of the famous Chincoteague Wild Ponies.    The 1961 movie “Misty of Chincoteague” based on Marguerite Henry’s award winning children’s book of the same name helped make Chincoteague a national tourist destination.

Ocean View Beach on the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk offers over seven and a half miles of beach where the bay gently laps the shore.  This was once the site of the Ocean View Amusement park where visitors reached the beach via electric trolleys that took them to the end of the board walk.  Ocean View Park now has picnic tables and a bath house and is a perfect place for sunning and swimming.  Commercial piers offer fishing and crabbing opportunities.

Beaches offer you the sound of the crashing waves on the shore and the chance to view amazing sunrises over the water.

There are great recreational opportunities at the beach.  You can fish, swim and cycle. Or, if you’re more adventurous, you can go parasailing.

Beach resort towns are a great place to ride a bike.  The terrain is flat and many Virginia beach communities have bike trails.

Nothing quite says summer like a day, or a week, at the beach.


So maybe the mountains aren’t your think.  Here are some reasons they may not be your first choice for vacationing.

Snow can be beautiful, and it’s a requirement if you enjoy snow skiing or snowboarding.  But it also can make for treacherous driving.  So, winter in the mountains is not for the faint of heart.  If you don’t enjoy the snow, you could find yourself with cabin fever.

Mountains, particularly forested mountains can be beautiful, but also wild.  Parents of young children may not be comfortable leaving the children to play on their own.  And with today’s kids, the solitude of the mountains could be boring.

If you’re camping, you need to take precaution for animals.  Bears will steal your camp food and your garbage.

Mountains can also be home to ticks, mosquitoes and snakes.


It’s a personal preference if you like the beach in winter.  But Virginia winters on the coast can be cold and wet.  On the other hand, popular locations like Virginia Beach can get pretty crowded in the summer.

You want it to be warm at the beach.  But some summers in Virginia can be so warm that it’s actually painful just to walk on the sand.

Speaking of the sand, expect to find it in your car, in your shoes, in your luggage and in your clothes.  No matter how careful you are, sand seems to end up everywhere.

Virginia mosquitoes don’t just live in the mountains.  You’ll find them at the beach as well.

And Finally…

Mountains or seashore?  What’s the best choice?  The great part about your options in Virginia is that both are a great choice.  It all comes down to your preference. Or, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you can choose both.  Try the beach for the summer. Then head to the mountains for the fall and winter.  In the spring you can start all over again.  Whether you head to the hills or go down to the sea, there’s no bad season to be in Virginia.

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