A small town with a big culture, Harrisonburg is the perfect place to experience all that Virginia has to offer. From its picturesque landscapes to its rich history, it’s a relatively hidden gem in a state that is definitely worth exploring.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the hiking opportunities, while foodies can taste their way through the city’s many restaurants and breweries. Whatever your interests may be, Harrisonburg, Virginia has something special to offer visitors from near and far.
So if you’re looking for a fun-filled getaway, be sure to add Harrisonburg to your list! Here are 17 things to do in Harrisonburg VA that you don’t want to miss.
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EXPLORE DOWNTOWN HARRISONBURG
We begin our journey in Harrisonburg’s dynamic downtown area. The highly-walkable neighborhood is perhaps the city’s best asset, jam-packed with restaurants, shops, and entertainment options. In fact, it was chosen as 2014’s “Great American Main Street Award” winner.
This award is given to a select few Main Street programs across the country that have revitalized their downtowns and created thriving communities. Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) is the organization behind the revitalization efforts, and they have done a fantastic job in recent years.
Over $105 million have been invested in the beautification and redevelopment of downtown Harrisonburg, and it shows. The area has a vibrant and eclectic feel that is perfect for spending a day (or two) exploring. Plenty of events, restaurants, and shops can be found within the few blocks that make up downtown, so there is no shortage of things to do.
SPEND A DAY IN THE SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
If you’d rather escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then a visit to the Shenandoah National Park is in order. Just a short drive from Harrisonburg, the park offers stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cascading waterfalls hug cliff sides as you wind your way down Skyline Drive, and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore.
The best time to visit the park is when the leaves change color in the fall. The Shenandoah Valley is absolutely breathtaking during this time of year, stretching for miles in a sea of red, orange, and yellow. However, the park is beautiful year-round and worth a visit, no matter when you go.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in the Shenandoah National Park, such as hiking, camping, and picnicking. And several ranger-led programs are offered seasonally.
Read more: SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK – EPIC GUIDE
TAKE SKYLINE DRIVE
Speaking of the Shenandoah National Park, one of the best ways to experience its beauty is by driving down Skyline Drive. The 105-mile road runs the park’s length and offers stunning views of the mountains and valleys below. The speed limit is only 35 miles per hour most of the way, so it’s the perfect place to relax and take in the scenery.
There are also 75 overlooks along the drive, so you can stop and admire the view whenever possible. Marys Rock Tunnel is the only tunnel along Skyline Drive and is closed to vehicles over 12 feet tall. So if you’re driving an RV or a large truck, you’ll need to take an alternate route.
The Skyline Drive is also a great day trip from the Washington Dc area if you want to keep driving East.
CANOE OR KAYAK SHENANDOAH RIVER
The Shenandoah River is one of Virginia’s most popular spots for canoeing and kayaking. The river runs right through Harrisonburg, and there are a number of different outfitters that offer rentals.
If you’ve never been canoeing or kayaking before, don’t worry! The Shenandoah River is relatively calm and is perfect for beginners. Other non-motorized boats, such as stand-up paddleboards, rafts, and inner tubes, are allowed on the river. You can take many different routes to tailor your experience to your skill level.
Float trips are popular for those looking to relax on the river. These trips typically last around 3 hours and take you downstream at a leisurely pace.
VISIT THE VALLEY TURNPIKE MUSEUM
One of the highlights of Harrisonburg tourism is the Valley Turnpike Museum. The museum is located in a historic toll house built in 1834 and used to collect tolls for the Virginia Turnpike Company.
The museum tells the story of the turnpike, which was one of the first highways in the United States. The freeway was essential to westward expansion and played a significant role in the Civil War. Today, it is known as U.S. Route 11. Find out more about the history of the turnpike and see artifacts from its heyday at the Valley Turnpike Museum.
SEE LOCAL ART AT ARTWORKS GALLERY
If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, head to Artworks Gallery. The gallery features the work of local artists, and the rotating exhibitions showcase various mediums, including virtual.
The cool thing about Artworks Gallery is that students from James Madison University essentially run the gallery. JMU students are responsible for curating the exhibitions from graduate and undergraduate students. So if you’re looking to support the local art scene, this is the place to do it.
HIKE THRU THE EDITH J. CARRIER ARBORETUM
The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is a beautiful place to take a peaceful walk. The arboretum is home to a variety of different plant species, as well as sculptures. Located on JMU Campus, the arboretum is open to the public year-round. It’s a great place to have picnics or enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
There are a number of different trails you can take, and each one offers something unique. The arboretum also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, so be sure to check their calendar before you go. Finally, you can buy plants from the nursery to take home with you.
TAKE THE KIDS TO EXPLORE MORE DISCOVERY MUSEUM
Those traveling with little ones will want to check out Explore More Discovery Museum. The museum is designed for kids 10 and under, and it’s an ideal place to spend a couple of hours on a rainy day.
The museum features an impressive amount of hands-on exhibits, and kids will have a blast playing and learning. Some of the museum’s most popular exhibits include the farmer’s market, construction zone, medical center, and auto service center. There’s also a gift shop on-site, so you can pick up a souvenir before you go.
TOUR THE HARDESTY-HIGGINS HOUSE VISITOR CENTER
Conveniently located within walking distance of downtown Harrisonburg, the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center is a great place to learn more about the city. The visitor center is located in a historic home that has been beautifully restored.
You’ll find all the brochures and information you need about Harrisonburg at the visitor center. The helpful staff can also provide recommendations on things to do and places to eat. And the Heritage Bakery And Cafe are located in the visitor center, so you can grab a bite to eat before or after you tour the house.
NOSH AT THE HARRISONBURG FARMERS MARKET
There’s something about attending a farmers market that just makes you feel good. Maybe it’s the fresh air, the abundance of fresh produce, or the feeling of supporting local businesses. Whatever the reason, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market is definitely worth checking out.
The market is open year-round, split between Summer and Winter Market. The Summer Market is held on Saturdays from April through November, and the Winter Market is held on Saturdays from December through March. You’ll find various vendors at the market, selling everything from produce to artisanal goods.
SAMPLE YOUR WAY THRU THE SHENANDOAH SPIRITS TRAIL
Do you like wine, beer, or cider? If so, you’ll want to check out the Shenandoah Spirits Trail. The trail includes 50 establishments (wineries, breweries, distilleries, and cideries) in Harrisonburg and the surrounding area.
The great thing about the spirits trail is that there’s a wide range of experiences. Whether you want to visit historical sites, tour a working farm, or just get your buzz on, you’ll find it on the trail. And although the tour runs through the entire valley, Harrisonburg is the best place to start with plenty of options.
For a more beer-focused trail, check out the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail. This trail includes 19 breweries, all located within a short drive of Harrisonburg.
SEE HISTORY ALIVE IN ART AT THE VIRGINIA QUILT MUSEUM
Another way to take a step back in time is to visit the Virginia Quilt Museum. This small museum is dedicated to preserving the art of quilting, which is an integral part of the state’s history. You’ll learn all about textiles, patterns, and the stories behind the quilts.
The museum has a small but impressive collection of quilts on display and offers rotating exhibitions every three months. You might even get to see a live demonstration while you’re there. Tours are available in the 1856-built historic house in which the museum is located.
RELAX AT WHITE OAK LAVENDER FARM & THE PURPLE WOLF VINEYARD
Your olfactory senses will be in for a treat at White Oak Lavender Farm & The Purple Wolf Vineyard. Lavender is grown on the farm, and it’s used to make all sorts of products like soap, lotion, candles, and more. You can even pick wholesale lavender if you’re feeling ambitious.
In parallel with the lavender farm is the vineyard, which offers a variety of red and white wines. They have lavender in their wine as well, blending it with their grapes to create a truly unique flavor.
The Purple Wolf Pack Wine Club is the best way to sample the different wines and get discounts on purchases. Wine tastings are held often, so you can sip your way through the weekend.
DINE AT THE JOSHUA WILTON HOUSE
This Victorian-style house is now a top-rated restaurant. The Joshua Wilton House is known for its fine dining, and it’s definitely a treat if you’re looking for a special night out. The menu changes seasonally, so you can always expect fresh ingredients. From artisanal cheese to filet mignon, even the most discerning palates will be pleased.
If you want to make an evening out of it, The Joshua Wilton House doubles as an Inn. You can stay the night in one of their luxurious rooms and visit their art gallery while you’re there.
PICNIC AT RIVEN ROCK PARK
Next on the list of things to do in Harrisonburg is visit Riven Rock Park. This 27-acre park is perfect for a picnic lunch or an afternoon stroll. You’ll find multiple picnic sites, comfort stations, and plenty of open space to explore.
Hiking trails wind through the woods, and you can cool off in the creek that runs through the park. Although it’s not the most leisurely hike to complete, it’s relatively short. You can even bring your four-legged friend for motivation, as long as they’re on a leash.
TOUR THE GRAND CAVERNS WITH A GUIDE
If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, consider touring the Grand Caverns. These caverns are some of the oldest in the country, being discovered in 1804. During your guided tour, you’ll learn all about the history and geology of the caverns. You’ll also get to see some of the rarest formations worldwide. The caverns are so spectacular that weddings are even held there.
Outside the caverns, there’s a picnic area, mini-golf course, and pool. Lastly, they have cottage rentals if you want to stay the night. Its gift shop has minerals, rocks, and other goodies to take home with you.
SKI OR SNOWBOARD AT MASSANUTTEN SKI RESORT
Last but not least on the list of things to do in Harrisonburg VA is a visit to Massanutten Ski Resort. This resort offers breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley and is an excellent place to ski or snowboard in the winter. Located on 6,000 acres of land, there’s plenty of room to explore.
There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes, so everyone in your group will be able to find a challenging run. If you’re not into skiing or snowboarding, you can go tubing instead.
The resort is also fun In the warmer months. For instance, they have a beautiful golf course, a rock climbing course, and an indoor and outdoor waterpark. You can still explore the mountain on their mountain bikes or by hiking the trails. No matter what time of year you visit, Massanutten Ski Resort is sure to please.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO VIRGINIA
- YOUR VIRGINIA VACATION
- RICHMOND: 17 Things To Do In Richmond VA On Your Next Visit
- VIRGINIA BEACH: 21 Amazing Things To Do In Virginia Beach, VA
- ALEXANDRIA: 17 Fun & Memorable Things To Do In Alexandria VA
- FREDERICKSBURG: 14 Outstanding Things To Do In Fredericksburg VA
WHERE TO STAY IN HARRISONBURG
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