A Family Outing: Luray Caverns

The Luray Caverns (near Luray, Virginia) were discovered in 1878, and they are a Registered Natural Landmark. The Friday before Labor Day, we visited the Luray Caverns in Virginia. We attempted to go in 2015 (the same weekend), but the caverns were packed. That time, we drove by and saw the overflow parking lots were filled. So this year we went early and arrived right when the caverns were open. There was already a tour bus there, so we didn’t make it on the first tour, but we did make it on the second! The tours leave every 20 minutes, and each tour does have a guide.

The caverns aren’t super cheap to visit. Right now, the general admission cost is $27 for adults and $14 for children (6-12). If you’re a military family, you can visit your base’s Leisure Travel Services for discounted tickets. If you don’t have tickets when you get there, you have to go through one line to buy the tickets and then a second line to actually get into the caverns, so I’d recommend buying your tickets ahead of time, so you only have to worry about one line. Tickets can be purchased online.

The walkways within the caverns are paved, which was a good thing! The tour is over a mile long (in a loop), so we brought the stroller. I figured Little J would be tired, bored and crabby after 30 minutes or so, and the tour takes about an hour. Parts of the walkway were still bumpy, and there are a lot of hills, but it really wasn’t too bad for the stroller. There are about 70 steps to get down into and then out of the caverns. We had to close up the stroller for that part and carry it.

Tips: Don’t touch anything!!!!! If you touch any of the stalactites or stalagmites, you will get yelled at. You can take as many as photos as you’d like, so that’s a plus! Also, it’s cold in the caverns, so bring a light jacket! And don’t leave your tour guide. They don’t like that.

Your ticket purchase also includes a self-guided tour of the Car and Carriage Caravan museum, and the Luray Valley Museum. I actually really enjoyed the car museum. It had old Cadillacs, Benzs, Fords, and more. I love history, so it was neat to read the plaques and see the vehicles that other generations grew up with.

Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to Luray, and we would do it again. If you’re ever in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I recommend checking out Luray Caverns.

Have you been to Luray Caverns? If not these caverns, have you been to other caverns? Which ones?

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A Family Outing: Montpelier Mansion

Note: I had issues with my site after publishing this post, so I recalled it, and I’m trying again!

Montpelier Mansion
The dining room

Hubby, Little J and I recently had the chance to visit Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, Maryland, which is about 40 minutes south of Baltimore. If you’re ever up that way, this is an inexpensive, interesting National Historic Landmark to visit. I’m used to visiting historic mansions and houses where you get to see the downstairs and that’s about it. At Montpelier, you actually get to climb the stairs and go to the upper level! It sounds like such a little thing, but it was neat to see the majority of the house. Tickets are $5 for adults, and kids are free or $2 depending on the age. Montpelier Mansion is a Blue Star Museum, so it’s free for active-duty military, National Guard, and reservists and their family members between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Montpelier Mansion
Walking up to the mansion

Montpelier Mansion was built between 1781 and 1785 by Maj. Thomas Snowden and his wife, Anne. Guests at the home included George Washington and Abigail Adams.

The not-so-nice reality of this mansion and its past

Upstairs, there’s a children’s room where almost everything is hands-on. They can try on clothes, write on chalk slates, and play with old-fashioned wooden toys.     Kids collage

Montpelier Mansion
This bed chamber belonged to the lady of the house. Do you think that bed is actually squishy in the middle?

One really cool thing about the property- they’ve found dinosaur skeletons there! Some of those bones are now on display at the Smithsonian, but there’s a cool kid’s dinosaur room on the property where Little J was able to play with some toy dinosaurs and dinosaur bone replicas, and even build a 3D wood dinosaur skeleton! Montpelier Mansion

We had a fun time, and considering that most of the exhibits had A/C, it was a great place to explore in this summer heat! I recommend visiting Montpelier Mansion if you’re in the area.

What historic places have you visited this summer?

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A Family Outing: Camping at Shenandoah National Park

The View
A view from one of the many lookouts in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Can you believe it’s 2016 already? I feel like this year has flown by. I probably say that every year, but I think the weirdly warm weather we’re having on the East Coast this year makes it feel even less like it’s winter. If you read my last post about camping with kids, then you know we started camping this year. We’ve gone three times- once with just our little family (me, Hubby and Little J) and twice with my SIL, her husband and kids. One of those two times was to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We went during Labor Day weekend, and unless you have reservations (which go fast, months earlier), I wouldn’t recommend just showing up. That’s what we did, but it was risky. I took Thursday afternoon off from work, and we arrived at the Big Meadows Campground around dusk. We were able to get one of the last 5 spots. The other 4 were gone within 45 mins or so. People get arriving all day Friday and were turned away, because they didn’t have a reservation and there weren’t any first come, first served spots available. So we were lucky.

Tent Stuff
There’s always fun stuff to do around the camp site or nearby. We keep toys and games in the tent too in case of rain!

There are other campgrounds at Shenandoah, and some of them are exclusively first come, first served. Ours was the mostfamily-friendly campground. I say that because it had hot showers, laundry facilities and a camp store down the road with gear and food. Roughing it? Not exactly, but if you have three small kids with and-thistime- two dogs…having some luxuries available seemed like a good idea. We did end up going back and forth to that store at least once a day. We also made a trip down the mountain toWalmart once. That was about a 45 minute or longer drive one way, so I wouldn’t recommend doing that often if you camp at Big Meadows.

The sites themselves seemed nice. They have the typical paved spots with a bit of grass that work for either tents or campers. They also have tent-only sites, and we ended up in one of those spots. Each of the tent-only sites had a metal bear box to put your food inside and out of the reach of animals. To reach the tent-only sites, you have to park your car in a little lot and walk up a short trail to your site. It’s really not far at all -maybe 50 feet- but that makes it inconvenient to keep your cooler and food in your car, hence the bear box.

Outdoorsy Stuff
We had a chance to hike several trails including the famous Appalachian Trail. Bike riding on the path through Big Meadows was a blast too. And, yes, I might be wearing a fanny pack in one of those photos…

We didn’t see any black bears while we were there, but the park rangers and other campers told us about sightings. A park ranger at the visitor center down the road gave a talk about black bears. He said that if you see a black bear, don’t run! That’s the worst thing you can do. Just stand still, and if they get close, then make lots of noise, and it will scare them away. The kids were hopeful the entire weekend that they’d see bears but no such luck. We did see bear scat when we were walking on the Appalachian Trail, and it was interesting to see the berries inside the scat. Apparently the bear had been foraging on plants, which bears like to eat.

We went hiking on quite a few trails and rode our bikes on the paved paths. There was a playground at the nearby lodge that the kids played on a couple of times. There was a restaurant at the lodge at which we ate. I know…definitely not back woods camping. 🙂

There were deer everywhere. They’d even walk by our tents in the middle of the night! We also saw your smaller animals like squirrels, rabbits and lots of birds.

One thing worth noting…Hubby and I have AT&T as a phone carrier, and most places in the park we did NOT get a signal. We did get a signal at the lodge, and there’s also free wi-fi there.

Conclusion- the views at Shenandoah Park were beautiful; we had a great time; and we will definitely be going back!

Note: This is not a sponsored post, and the opinions expressed are my own.

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