Virginia Field Trips
Hands-on and on-site learning is one of the many blessings of homeschooling.
Virginia Is for Field Trips!
Have you considered all that our great state has to offer? With the ocean and the mountains, its place in Colonial and Civil War history, and its proximity to the nation’s capital, intriguing and worthwhile locations abound!
Looking for field trip ideas for homeschoolers? We’ve got it covered!
Find all kinds of homeschool field trip ideas near you. Field trip listings, categorized by TOPIC, include science centers, museums, aquariums, planetariums, zoos, historic sites, and state and national parks–and more!
What about virtual field trips?
COVID took its toll on homeschool field trips this year, but the outlook is good! If you aren’t ready to venture out, you’ll find numerous homeschool virtual field trips or homeschool online field trips throughout the Commonwealth.
Because of uncertainty in scheduling, be sure to call before you leave.
by Joy Hayden
In the early years, field trips were a staple of our homeschool diet, but as time wore on and I wore out, the number of field trips we went on diminished. Recently the need to take school on the road and expand our horizons has been re-awakened in me.
Remember, a good field trip begins with an interest in the topic or activity. If the interest does not already exist, perhaps you could stir it up with a good unit study beforehand!
Some of the following field trips are long-standing favorites, and others are a little more off the beaten track. Hopefully, you will find some treasures among the list.
NATURE-LOVER FIELD TRIPS
This is a bike path on an old, narrow-gauge railway. Much of it is shaded, and there is a gentle downhill grade, so you can coast most of the way. It is very picturesque as you ride across trestles, over streams, and through the Jefferson National Forest. It is 33.4 miles long, but you can choose to do just a section of it. You may rent bikes and arrange for a shuttle to pick you up at your ending point.
It’s hard to believe that this land was once devastated by mining pits. It has now been reclaimed, and there are 456 acres devoted to environmental and wildlife studies. The park has a nature facility, biking and hiking trails, and a horse trail too (bring your own horse!). You can go fishing, picnicking, and visit the Wildlife Center or gardens. The Nature Center offers many programs, and homeschoolers are welcome, but you need to make reservations. They are located at 1255 Big Bethel Road in Hampton, 757-825-4657.
Be sure to bring your camera to this field trip! It is a beautiful place any time of year, with extended hours from April through mid-October. Imagine a three-acre rose garden or 250,000 azaleas! Kids will especially enjoy the butterfly garden and the fish-feeding activities. In addition to walking tours, you can take a tram, shuttle, or boat tour (an additional $3). Bring a picnic lunch, or eat at the restaurant on location. The admission fee is $6 per adult and $4 for kids ages 6-16. Group rates are available. 6700 Azalea Garden Road, Norfolk; 757-441-5830. HEAV has sponsored a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
Enjoy the rolling hills, Shenandoah River, and valley near Front Royal from horseback. There are several packages to choose from: half-hour rides, one-hour rides, and two-hour rides. Special interpretive rides are also available on certain days when the guide will give a nature lesson and a history lesson. For extra-adventurous folks, Indian Hollow Stables also offers a “Saddles and Paddles” ride. This combines horseback riding with rafting or tubing. Children have to be at least ten years old. Be aware that rides are conducted rain or shine (no refunds). This is a pricey homeschool field trip, but sure to be a memory-maker.
Most parks have interpretive programs, hands-on activities, and kids programs. Check at the visitor center or talk to a ranger. Many parks will arrange programs to accommodate you if you let them know what you are interested in. Bring insect repellent and sunscreen!
One of the seven natural wonders in the world is right in our backyard. Be prepared to walk a mile and carry some bottled water if the day is hot. Bring your camera because this will make a nice family picture for those Christmas cards! Along the way, you will stop at the Monacan Village to watch and learn about the daily life of these Indians 300 years ago. Plan to set aside about one-and-a-half hours total for this trip. HEAV has sponsored a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
After visiting the Natural Bridge, you may want to take in more beautiful scenery during your homeschool field trip by driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
SCIENCE FIELD TRIPS
This is located in Amelia County is about 45 minutes west of Richmond. It is the only operating gem mine in Virginia. You will have a fun, dirty time digging in the dumps and rinsing the gems in the nearby sluice. This mine offers a nice variety of crystals, including garnet, topaz, columbite, and mica. The most common stone, though, is amazonite—a soft to deep blue-green colored stone. Anyone who likes gems or rocks needs to know about this place!
This museum in Virginia Beach wins homeschooler Nancy Loughin’s “Best-Field-Trip-in-the-State” award. Nancy, a veteran field tripper, says it is well worth the drive. Your kids will love the touch tanks where they can touch stingrays, crabs, and starfish. In addition to whales, sharks, and sea turtles in the aquarium, there is an estuary outside with native birds and bald eagles. The museum sponsors whale-watching trips in the winter and dolphin-sighting trips in the spring and summer.
Wear comfortable shoes…you don’t want to have to leave early because of tired feet! There is a cafeteria on the premises, so don’t worry about lunch. If you plan to visit, check the Web site to see what programs are scheduled and make reservations for them. You will want to spend four or five hours here. It will cost $10.95 for adults and $6.95 for children, and for an extra fee, you can take in an IMAX film. HEAV sponsors an annual homeschool Day for this field trip!
Fisheries are located in many counties, including Campbell, King and Queen, Smyth, Warren, Nelson, Bath, Wythe, and Craig. Five of the hatcheries are cold-water and raise trout. Four hatcheries are warm-water, so you will see pike, bass, catfish, or other warm-water fish. The best time of year to visit the warmwater hatcheries is April through June or in the fall. Even if you aren’t an avid fisherman, it is fascinating to learn about the lifecycle of these fish. I toured a fishery in first grade, and I still remember how interesting it was—stinky but fun!
Chantilly. This is the companion site to the National Air and Space Museum. Newly opened, it is located on the property of Dulles International Airport. Homeschooler Beth LaRose likes the fact that the museum is easy to get to and gives you the Air-and-Space experience without going into D.C. It is nicely laid out with an education room for classes or special school programs. Here you can see the space shuttle Enterprise, and over 80 aircraft, including the Enola Gay and a stealth fighter, among other things.
Eventually, it will house over 200 aircraft, 135 spacecraft, and other space artifacts. Inside the hangar, you will see three levels of aircraft—one on the floor and two levels suspended from the ceiling! It has a definite “WOW” factor.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day. Admission is free, but be prepared—parking is $12.00! For a fee, you may watch an IMAX film or take a flight-simulator ride. Plan to spend several hours here. You’ll be glad there are eating accommodations. As a bonus, you can enjoy watching the takeoffs and landings at Dulles Airport. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located at 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, 202-357-2700. HEAV has sponsored a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
Visit a coal mine where coal used to be hand-loaded into carts. Located in southwest Virginia, this mine opened in 1882 and operated for 73 years. You can visit daily from April through October (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.). Tours of Mine and Educational Room cost $6.00 for adults; $3.50 for children 6-12; Children under 6 are free. The Museum is free. You can also walk through the historic town of Pocahontas and see the old Silver Dollar Saloon, the Company Store, and the old log-cabin schoolhouse. For a small fee, you can hire a guide to give you a walking tour of the town, 276-945-2134.
Founded by the families of the tragic Challenger mission, they now have centers across the nation. They offer virtual, classroom, and Center missions. Contact the center nearest you for information on activities.
This is my children’s all-time favorite field trip. Before attending the session, your group will receive an information packet. There will be some prep work on your part. Given a list of job descriptions, students will have to choose (or be assigned) jobs according to their interests.
My daughter was a medical technician, my son was responsible for retrieving a probe, and another son was a communications officer. At the Center, they will simulate a real mission. See a list of their current school programs on their Web site. Address: 422 1st Street SE Washington D.C., DC 20003. 703-837-5640.
Located on the fourth and fifth floors of the Center of the Square building, the Science Museum offers exhibits, a planetarium, and MegaDome shows. There are even special homeschool programs. Admission prices vary depending on whether you want to go to the planetarium or Mega Dome. To do it all will cost you $13 for adults and $11 for children (plus tax). 540-342-5726. Parking is free on Saturday or Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Programs are available for groups only. A minimum of nine people is needed for a group. In any season, there is something to be learned at Belvedere. In the spring, they offer strawberry picking; in the fall, pumpkins. Their corn maze opens on Labor Day weekend. Call 1-800-641-1212 (VA Toll-Free), or 540-371-8494, for a taped message.
Route 650 in Surry. Have you ever wanted to know how a nuclear power plant works? Visit the Surry Nuclear Information Center and learn the truths vs. myths of nuclear power, generate your own electricity, and learn about the initial mining of uranium to the final stages of producing electricity. If you would like to bring a group on a field trip, call in advance and they will custom-make a field trip tailored to your interests. Best of all…it’s free! Call 757-357-5410. Occasionally, due to homeland security issues, the plant may be closed for tours, so be sure to call ahead.
Chesapeake. Got Milk? Or better yet, how do we get our milk? Bergey’s Dairy Farm is a real working farm with more than 200 cows, as well as chickens, goats, bunnies, and Old Tom Turkey. Watch the feeding and milking of the cows, and see the farmhands clean out the stalls. At the farm store you can buy some of that fresh milk in old-fashioned bottles or better yet, eat some homemade ice cream. Wear shoes and clothes that can get muddy and dirty.
Although the farm is open year-round, except on Sundays, plan a visit over Memorial Day weekend for their “Day on the Farm” open house. Enjoy free tours, special events, and music. The farm and dairy store hours vary during the year. For more information, call the office during weekday business hours: 757-482-4711. Located at 2221 Mount Pleasant Road, Chesapeake.
Norfolk. What is it like to live and work on the ultimate warship? Highly recommended by Sally Murray of Dumfries, the USS Wisconsin is a larger-than-life field trip. There is no charge to tour the ship. You will feel extra-patriotic if you time your visit with the return of a naval ship from deployment! See a map of the ship’s tour route and find out about hours at the Web site. If you visit the USS Wisconsin, you will also want to visit the adjacent
Nauticus National Maritime Center. Adults are $9.95 and children are $7.50.
Tazwell. How do you turn the fleece from a sheep into a woolen blanket? At Thistle Cove Farm they raise Shetland, Romney, and Merino sheep, as well as a rare breed of American Curly horses. Sheep-shearing is always done on the third Saturday of April and is open to the public. Families or groups can arrange for a half-hour tour. You’ll see and participate in wool-carding and spinning. Dress in grubby clothes and bring a sweater, since the wind often makes it chilly. You are welcome to bring a picnic lunch. Afterwards, you may want to buy woolen blankets or rugs at their farm store. Cost is $5 per family member; children six and younger are free. Ten percent of all tour proceeds are donated to Heifer International to buy a sheep, goat, or hive of bees for an Appalachian family. Contact Sandra Bennett at 276-988-4121 to arrange a tour.
Doughnuts are made twice a day—from 6 to 11 in the morning, and at night. The process and equipment are fascinating and there are hot, fresh doughnuts waiting for you at the end of the tour. Call 703-768-0300 to set up a field trip. Take an online field trip of a Krispy Kreme factory at their Web site. Unfortunately, the online tour does not smell or taste as good as the real thing! 6328 Richmond Highway, Alexandria.
Middletown, near Winchester. Have you ever wondered how this favorite snack is really made? Route 11 Potato Chips uses only natural ingredients to make their chips. Visitors can watch the “spudmasters” at work, and then sample the chips as soon as they’re done. Yummy, hot, and delicious! Open to the public on Fridays (10 a.m.–6 p.m.) and Saturdays (10 a.m.–5 p.m.) Located on Route 11 south of Winchester in Middletown; 540-869-0104.
Use this site to help schedule certain store field trips in your area, such as Petco, Sports Authority, and others. The tour of the Stafford Petco received very high marks from one family. These trips can be scheduled close to home and won’t cost a lot of money.
HISTORY FIELD TRIPS
Home of George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Tour the mansion and the beautiful gardens. Contact Gunston Hall prior to visiting, and they will send you tons of information. A highly recommended field trip. You will find more information, programs, and a discount coupon for $1 off admission at their Web site. Adults: $8; Students: $4. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Located in Staunton, near I-64 and I-81. Learn about the cultures of four different 1800’s farms—German, Scotch-Irish, American, and English—and their traditions, their food, and their farming methods. Give yourself two and a half hours to see the exhibits. There are vending machines for snacks and drinks but bring your own bag lunch. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but you want to visit in nice weather. Adults cost $10, children ages 6-12 cost $6, and students ages 13-18 cost $9. There are special educational tours and rates for groups. Call 540-332-7850 for reservations.
Museum of the Confederacy is located at 12th and Clay Streets in Richmond. Several folks with whom I talked consider this the best Civil War museum in the state. Over 15,000 items are on display, including Mosby’s sword. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children. www.moc.org
For a couple of dollars more, you can also get a tour of the White House of the Confederacy. According to the Washington Post, this mansion “is a meticulously restored neoclassical masterpiece that, in terms of quality, historical associations, and authenticity, probably is second only to Mount Vernon among restorations of historic American dwellings.”
Open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, and special 45-minute programs are available if you call in advance. You will want to plan to stay for an hour or two to see the exhibits and video and visit the bookstore. You can also hike the area trails. Booker T. Washington was born a slave on this tobacco farm. Your visit will explain what life was like in the slave era. 12130 Booker T. Washington Highway, Hardy; 540-721-2094.
Open year-round. This 18th-century city is the world’s largest living history museum, boasting over forty sites and trades, four historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. Check the calendar–special events are scheduled year-round, and they host an annual homeschool day in the fall.
Presidents’ Homes. Virginia is the birth state of eight presidents. Seven of them have homes in Virginia. (Zachary Taylor was born in Orange County, but there is no house to visit.) Have you visited the homes of the Virginian presidents? The homes include George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon; George Washington’s birthplace, Popes Creek, in Westmoreland County; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville; Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest near Lynchburg; James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County; James Monroe’s Highland in Charlottesville; William Henry Harrison’s Berkeley Plantation in Charles City; John Tyler’s Sherwood Forest in Charles City; and Woodrow Wilson’s Manse in Staunton.
First, stop at the Visitors Center and get a map. You will want to see the Eternal Flame at Presidents Kennedy’s grave and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here you can watch the changing of the guard ceremony every hour from October through March and every half-hour from April through September. Before you visit, read the information about ceremonies on their Web site so you’ll know the difference between a ruffle and a flourish, and the origin of the 21-gun salute. It’s also interesting to read about the training of the guards who stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For hours and parking, see their Web site, or call 703-607-8000.
Located in Richmond, this is an actual 15th century Tudor estate on the James River. When it fell into disrepair in England, it was sold at auction, dismantled, crated, shipped across the Atlantic, and then painstakingly reassembled. The museum and gardens are open year-round, Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday 12:30-5 p.m. They are closed Mondays and national holidays. There is an admission charge, which covers an introductory film and a guided tour of the museum. Garden tours are self-guided. There is reduced admission for seniors, children, and students. Group tours and education tours may be scheduled by appointment. Agecroft Hall and Gardens are located in Windsor Farms, not far from downtown Richmond and interstate highways. HEAV sponsors a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
Learn about shipwrecks, rescues, and the Coast Guard and coastal Virginia history. The museum is housed in a 1903 Life-Saving Station located on the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Small groups welcome! Can adapt the tour to any age group. Also, offer Story Time and Family Fun Days. For more information or to book a tour, please contact the Education Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (757) 422-1587.
Located in Chantilly. Completed in 1799, Sully was the home of Northern Virginia’s first Representative to Congress, Richard Bland Lee.The house was inhabited until the 1930s, surviving the Civil War and major changes in Fairfax County. Now, it is on the National Register for Historic Places, is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, and has been converted into a museum depicting life in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Guided tours of the 1794 house are offered Wednesday to Sunday. Seasonal, family-friendly activities are regularly scheduled.
FINE-ARTS FIELD TRIPS
The Gari Melchers Estate and Memorial Gallery, Stafford County. “The best trip I’ve had in a while,” says homeschool mom Katie Jay. “I brought a small group, and they were treated to a wonderful tour, including Melchers’ studio, which was fascinating.” Located near Fredericksburg, the estate is the former residence of the American figure painter Gari Melchers (1860-1932). The museum consists of the artist’s home, studio, and gardens. The stone studio and galleries are home to the largest collection of Melchers’ works anywhere. All group tours must be arranged in advance by e-mailing Ms. Crow-Dolby at the education coordinator at email@example.com.
WPA Murals. There are 27 post offices in Virginia that house WPA murals. WPA (Work Projects Administration) was a program established by Franklin Roosevelt during the depression. It was an attempt to employ out-of-work artists and show that art could enrich the everyday lives of ordinary people, not just the upper class. Murals exist in Hopewell, Petersburg (2), AltaVista, Emporia, Chatham, and Arlington. Can you find the rest?
If you appreciate architecture, you will want to drive or walk down Millionaire’s Row, where you can enjoy eight blocks of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Included are five churches, giving Danville the nickname “The City of Churches.” Contact the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce for more information about the Old West End Historic District and Millionaires Row.
Located in Staunton, this experience takes the fear out of Shakespeare’s plays. Actor-led show tours combine lecture and performance in an educational but entertaining look at Shakespearean theatre. Enjoy a lesson about England’s first indoor theatre, do a little performing, and understand how staging conditions of 17th-century London influenced the works of Shakespeare. Tours last approximately one hour and are offered Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.. (Wednesday only has a 2 p.m. tour.) Other programs and matinee information is available on their Web site. They are located at 10 South Market Street, Staunton. 877-MUCH-ADO. HEAV sponsors a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
The largest and most successful visual arts center in the country, the Torpedo Factory has 84 working studios and six galleries. The building really was a torpedo factory at one time but has been renovated and is visited by over 800,000 people each year. During your visit, you can meet some of the artists and watch them work. You can view different media being used: pottery, stained glass, photography, printmaking, to name a few. To see the floor plan identifying the different media, go to the Web site. For information about self-guided and docent-led tours, call the Artists’ Association office at 703-838-4565, ext. 6.
Winston Link was a renowned photographer who documented the last mainline steam railroad in America, the Norfolk and Western, from 1955 to 1960. It is appropriate that the museum is housed in a restored Norfolk- and Western passenger station. The Museum houses 190 of Link’s signed prints and 85 estate prints. Notice that there are some joint-ticket offers with the History Museum and the Virginia Museum of Transportation. HEAV sponsors a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
EVENTS FOR HOMESCHOOLERS AND OTHERS
These homeschool field trip events are available on a recurring schedule. You won’t want to miss these!
What better way to get the “big picture” of our great state? There are many school tours available; see for programs. HEAV has partnered with the State Fair so that one day each year is set aside for homeschoolers. Check heav.org for updates and special rates. HEAV sponsors a Homeschool Day for this field trip!
Activities include agricultural and animal exhibits, the heritage area, a technology center, and arts and crafts. Of course, there’s my favorite—the Rodeo! Check the Internet for updates on ticket prices and events.
This fair is held the first week of October every year. This year it will be October 1-3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. During this three-day festival, you can learn traditional crafts, tour historic homes, and watch military reenactments while enjoying music, dance, and good food. Tickets are $13 per person (per day) in advance and $15 at the door. Children under 12 are free. Call the Waterford Foundation office (540-882-3018) to purchase your tickets.
Held on the third weekend of May, July, and October. Claude Moore Farm is a colonial farm that can be visited Wednesday through Sunday from April to December. Three times each year, the farm holds its Market Days. There are activities for the kids and craftsmen, spinners and dyers, tradesmen, a “colonial” doctor, and even the militia to see! Foods and wares can be purchased. There is a free pass on the Web site, good for admission of up to six people.
This annual event is held on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. Read Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry before going!
Grab your friends and have a sleepover at the Science Museum. You’ll be treated to interesting workshops, an IMAX show, a planetarium show, science theater, and opportunities to explore the museum’s exhibits. The Museum provides evening and breakfast snacks and souvenirs. For a sample “Camp In” schedule, visit the Web site. “Camp In” is recommended for grades 1–6. Pre-registration is required. The cost is $36 per child; $18 per adult chaperon. Additional adults are $36. For every six children, one adult chaperon is required. Call 804-864-1436 to register your group, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions. http://www.smv.org/education/campin/index.html
This article originally appeared in the summer 2004 issue of the Virginia Home Educator Magazine. A big thanks goes to friends and “strangers” who contributed ideas for this article. Special thanks to Helen Johnson and Darlene Levy for their abundant lists. Also, some ideas were obtained from Virginia—Off the Beaten Path by Judy Colbert.
What is so great about field trips?
Field trips are a great way to add some spice to your curriculum, create a reset when you’ve had a bad homeschool week, or learn local history and geology.
Check out these ideas for homeschool field trips and discover the power of learning through homeschool adventures on your field trips. Virginia abounds with free homeschool field trips and many field trips at a low cost.
And you aren’t limited to Virginia, either. Trips to our neighboring states like North Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee, West Virginia, and even Washington, DC may not be more than a few hours’ drive! North Carolina field trips are listed throughout for our friends to the south.