Updated on November 7, 2023 by Julie McCool
We love winter road trips because they let us explore new areas of Virginia from the warmth and comfort of the Funness-mobile. Recently, we headed to the Northern Neck, a peninsula east of Fredericksburg, bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.
Virginia's Northern Neck is large, with over 1100 miles of shoreline, state and national parklands, and many small towns, marinas, and farms.
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Northern Neck Road Trip to Washington Birthplace
In honor of the upcoming President's Day weekend, we decided to make the George Washington Birthplace our primary destination, with a few other stops along the way there.
Heading southeast on route 218, we made brief stops at Fairview Beach and Caledon State Park. The Smoot House Visitor Center at Caledon is closed in the winter, but there are several hiking trails through the woods and out to the Potomac.
We had planned to have lunch at the highly-rated Lighthouse Restaurant in Colonial Beach, but it is now closed permanently. Instead, we enjoyed delicious steamed shrimp, properly coated in Old Bay, at the casual Kelsea's Kitchen (now closed).
George Washington Birthplace
A bit further south, George Washington Birthplace National Monument recreates the setting of George Washington's first three years and establishes his upbringing and future as a Virginia gentleman farmer. The site is impressive, with a large Visitor Center, recreations of the homestead, natural trails and farmland. Beautiful views capture the tidewater lands similar to what George would have experienced.
As you enter the park, you'll drive toward a one-tenth size replica of DC's Washington Monument.
We arrived at the Visitor Center just in time for the 15-minute film highlighting the rhythms of life on a tidewater farm, and the Washington family's role in Virginia aristocracy. The center includes interesting displays of life on the farm plus the history and myths surrounding our first President. The small store is worth a look too.
Behind the center, a deck offers beautiful views of Pope's Creek and the Potomac River in the distance. We were lucky to enjoy a close-up view of a bald eagle perched in a tree right next to the deck.
From the deck, follow the path 300 yards to the Memorial House and surrounding buildings. The original farmhouse burned in 1779 and was reconstructed in 1930 on a site mistakenly thought to be the original farmhouse site. The true foundation was later discovered, and its outline is now marked with oyster shells.
A Park Ranger took us into the house to view rooms stocked with period and reproduction pieces, including three items that belonged to the Washington family. In the Withdrawing Room, you'll see a round tea table that was in Washington's house when it burned. Outbuildings include a kitchen, workshop, and weaving room.
If you have time and it isn't too cold, walk past the house, down the hill and across the bridge over Pope's Creek. From here you can hike the 3/4 mile Dancing Marsh Loop Trail, or extend it with the 1 mile Nature Loop Trail. You'll find lovely views of the creek and marsh, plus a log house and picnic area. We plan to return for these hikes when the weather warms up.
As we walked back to the Visitor Center, we passed through a small flock of the farm's heritage sheep, and we saw newborn twin lambs (one of two sets born that day). The sheep and cows, along with the birds in the trees and the creek, create a lovely pastoral setting.
Before you leave the park, turn at the obelisk to visit the family burial ground. Washington's half-brother, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are all buried here.
Nothing goes with history like a glass of Virginia wine, and Ingleside Vineyards is just a few miles away. Ingleside was the first winery on the Northern Neck, opening in 1980, and they host many festivals and events year-round. We particularly enjoyed their Viognier, made with Virginia's state grape.
There is so much of the Northern Neck left for us to visit, including a return trip to hike at George Washington Birthplace and more stops on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. What is your favorite Northern Neck highlight?