photograph by Sean Pavone/Getty Images

Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and on the banks of the James River, Lynchburg’s stunning natural landscape makes the city a mecca for outdoor adventurers, while the historic architecture, local restaurants, boutiques, and entertainment venues make the city a big draw for arts and culture, too.

Known as the City of Seven Hills because of the seven peaks surrounding it, Lynchburg is at its peak in the fall, when hiking trails and scenic drives beckon leaf peepers, festivals invite merriment, and one-of-a-kind attractions become seasonal standouts. Here are the top 11 ways to explore this season. 



Take a walk on the wild side
More than 40 miles of urban trails wind throughout the city and the heart of historic downtown, inviting runners, hikers, and bikers to get outdoors and explore. The Blackwater Creek Trail follows an abandoned railway bed through a lush urban forest, and the three-mile hike is among the most popular in the urban trail system.

Tip: For a more challenging route — and spectacular views of the James River and local wildlife — lace up your sneakers and navigate the hilly terrain on the one-mile Alpine Trail. The trailhead is at Riverside Park.

Lynchburg Parks & Recreation
(434) 455-5858
lynchburgparksandrec.com

 

Prioritize playtime
Amazement Square has a singular focus: make learning fun. The award-winning museum downtown encourages visitors to paint on the walls; rock out on stage; and climb, slide, and zip-line through the museum on a massive indoor play structure. Eight permanent interactive exhibits include the Big Red Barn, where children can “harvest crops” and “milk” a life-size cow; and Raceways and Voltageville, which teaches budding scientists about gravity, inertia, and velocity.

Tip: Check the events calendar for special programming, including a weekly “mini makers” program, where preschool children learn to build and create different objects.

Amazement Square
(434) 845-1888
amazementsquare.org

 

Hit the slopes
You don’t have to wait for winter to declare a snow day. Thanks to the creative minds at Liberty University, the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre offers year-round skiing, snowboarding, and tubing — not to mention incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the top. Ski the slopes; learn new tricks on the jumps, quarter pipe, and trick rails in the snowboard park; or race down the slopes at up to 30 miles per hour on one of three tubing runs.

Tip: You can rent equipment on-site, but if you want to take a lesson, make sure to reserve in advance.

Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre
(434) 582-3539  
liberty.edu/snowflex

Enjoy skiing or snowboarding all year long at the Snowflex Centre. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

 

Admire beautiful art
Randolph College is home to the Maier Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of American art. Paintings and photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries depict the work of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Arthur B. Davies, and John Sloan. Admission is free.

Tip: This fall, for the first time in the museum’s 108-year history, a temporary exhibit, “Children’s Book Illustrations: Visual Storytelling,” will showcase the whimsical work of illustrators.

Maier Museum at Randolph College
(434) 947-8136
maiermuseum.org

Spend hours browsing the Maier Museum’s exhibitions. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

 

Walk in the footsteps of a president
Thomas Jefferson designed Poplar Forest as a personal retreat: The self-taught architect began designing the home in 1806, and, thanks to an award-winning (and ongoing) restoration, the National Historic Landmark retains several original architectural details today. In fact, it has been called one of the most important preservation projects in the nation. Since opening to the public in 1984, the 50-acre retreat has lived up to Jefferson’s goal that it be “the best dwelling house in the state.”

Tip: Poplar Forest hosts several special events. Check the website for a list of upcoming festivals, performances, and special tours, including behind-the-scenes archaeology tours.

Poplar Forest
(434) 525-1806
poplarforest.org

Take in the architectural beauty of Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat, Poplar Grove. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

 

Soak up the fall scenery
You can hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway just 30 minutes from downtown Lynchburg, at milepost 63.7. The 470-mile route, which connects Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, is at its most stunning in the fall, when the leaves burst into vibrant colors. Near Lynchburg, the scenic drive offers views of the James River and multiple pullouts to stop and take in the views.

Tip: For an expansive view of the mountains in all their glory, pull off at Bluff Mountain Overlook at milepost 52.8. 

Blue Ridge Parkway/North Entrance
(828) 348-3400
nps.gov

 

Make a splash

The James River stretches 340 miles, making it the longest river contained in a single state. To explore Lynchburg from the water (and experience the riot of fall colors), rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard from James River Adventures. Rentals are available at River Edge Park.

Tip: Guided trips are offered upon request. Reserve in advance and explore the river with a naturalist guide.

James River Adventures
(434) 847-1090
jamesriveradventures.org

Explore the James River by kayak and discover the beauty of Lynchburg on the water. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

 

Stay a while
Located in the heart of downtown Lynchburg, boutique hotels like The Virginian and Craddock Terry Hotel are within walking distance of shops and restaurants — and offer a glimpse into the storied past of the historic district. The Virginian, built in 1913, underwent an extensive renovation to mix period details with modern amenities; the Craddock Terry Hotel, located in a former shoe factory of the same name, overlooks the river.

Tip: The Skyline Grill at The Virginian is home to the only rooftop restaurant in Lynchburg; reserve a table, grab a bite, and take in the skyline views.

The Virginian
(434) 329-3200
thevirginianhotel.com

Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center
(434) 455-1500
craddockterryhotel.com

 

Experience the culture
In 1905, the Historic Academy of Music Theatre opened its doors to nationally acclaimed performing artists and fast became the hottest spot in the area to see live performances. The theater sat empty for almost 60 years before it was painstakingly renovated. In 2018, it was reopened as the Academy Center of the Arts. Thanks to a robust calendar of events that includes opera, theater performances, and artist talks, the historic theater is once again a popular spot to experience local arts and culture.

Tip: Free tours of the historic theater are offered the first Friday of each month. Special “Haunted Historic” tours are offered in October.

Academy Center of the Arts
(434) 846-8499
academycenter.org

You’ll find everything from opera to artist talks at the Historic Academy of Music Theatre. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

 

Stroll for your supper
Lower Bluffwalk is more than just a pedestrian walkway that offers stunning views of the James River and the Blue Ridge Mountains: It is also the path to some of the best restaurants in town. Bootleggers is known for its burgers, bourbon, and beer; order the Southern Bell, a burger topped with pimento cheese, fried jalapeño peppers, garlic aioli, smoked bacon, and pickles. For tacos and tequila (85 different kinds!), grab a table at El Jéfe Taqueria. And the shoe-themed Shoemakers is a nod to Lynchburg’s role in shoe manufacturing.

Tip: Restaurants on the Lower Bluffwalk are popular, especially on weekends, so be sure to make reservations to secure your spot.

Bootleggers
(434) 333-4273
bootleggersburger.com

El Jéfe Taqueria
(434) 333-4317
eljefetaqueriagaraje.com

Shoemakers
(434) 455-1510
shoemakersdining.com

Sit outside on El Jéfe’s patio and take in the Lynchburg views. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

 

Fall into seasonal festivals
Lynchburg hosts several popular annual festivals. In the fall, the Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival at Poplar Forest celebrates regional wineries; the Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival, held at Rebec Winery, is the largest agricultural festival in the state; and the Bluegrass, Barbeque, and Brew Festival showcases craft beer and live fiddling while raising awareness about Patrick Henry, the first elected governor of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival at Poplar Forest
(434) 525-1806
poplarforest.org

Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival
Rebec Winery
(434) 946-5168
rebecwinery.com

Bluegrass, Barbeque, and Brew Festival
Patrick Henry’s Red Hill
(434) 376-2044
bluegrassbarbecuebrew.com

Gather your friends and attend an event, like the wine festival pictured above, at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Grove. photograph by City of Lynchburg, Va

This story was published on

North Carolina-based journalist Jodi Helmer writes about food, farming, and the environment.

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