Looking out of the car window my mind went quiet in complete awe. Flashing before my eyes are the rolling hills of fresh, crisp greenery, weaving across Page Valley. An occasional viewpoint offers an opportunity to stop and gasp at the distance. Skyline Drive is designated as a national scenic drive, naturally making it a popular spot with locals and tourists alike. This feeling of awe is a common one when driving through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Stretching approximately 140 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains the region is sparsely populated, dotted with charming small towns, big open farms, and unencumbered wilderness.
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The trip was sponsored by Virginia Tourism Corporation, which did not review or approve the story.
Ways to visit: Depending on the focus of your trip to the Valley you can move from county to county or set a home base in one location and take day trips in mixed directions. This region is best suited for slow travel, allowing you to take in all the natural beauty and true southern hospitality.
Travel tip: Avoid mobile charges by pre-paying for an Airalo eSIM*. The SIM gets downloaded directly to your phone and can be toggled on and off with ease in settings. This service provides internet access, no phone service.
See & Do
Embracing the outdoors
Shenandoah Valley consists of roughly seventy percent protected land. Home to lush forestry, curvy mountains, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls the Valley is an ultimate playground for adventure seekers, both casual and extreme. From short trails accessible from urban centers to 544 miles of the Appalachian Trail and year-round fishing in Waynesboro the opportunities are endless.
Harrisonburg (located quite centrally) can easily be your home base for a weekend of outdoor adventures. This vibrant university town is conveniently situated with quick access to hiking and mountain biking trails, rock climbing, and a mix of water sports. For a casual explorer, there is a newly opened (2020) Seven Bends State Park. Nestled in Woodstock the park wraps around the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Luray and Page County, on the other hand, are home to nearly a dozen waterfalls while Lexington shares the land with a 500 million-year-old Natural Bridge. Some of the waterfall trails could be pretty challenging but Natural Bridge State Park is a fairly easy walk with plenty of seating and even an occasional light show. An extended family stay is best suited for Massanutten Mountain Resort where you can not only live, dine, and hike but enjoy a selection of hosted activities like tubing, zip lining, skiing, snowboarding, and golfing.
Into the ancient underbelly
Many millennia ago Shenandoah Valley was under water. The ancient ocean limestone base developed a karst landscape in the region creating sinkholes and caves all throughout. The most notable, and famous tourist attraction in the region is Luray Caverns, the largest cavern in the eastern United States. A short walk will take you into the first room where you immediately see unearthly formations created over many millennia. A curvy path continues down, constantly exposing more and more spaces with out-of-this-world formations.
Your cavern tour will not be complete without a visit to Shenandoah Caverns, Skyline Caverns, Endless Caverns, Caverns at National Bridge, and Grand Caverns where you will find 200 signatures of Civil War soldiers.
Another surreal stop in the Valley is Crozet Tunnel in Waynesboro. This man-made 4,700’ long abandoned train tunnel opened to the public only recently and bares no artificial lighting. Walking through the tunnel is eery. As your eyes adjust to the darkens and other senses sharpen you will hear water dripping through the rock walls, small creatures going about their day, and might even spot a crawfish in the narrow rivers at the wall’s edge.
A quick dip into local culture
To many this region is known for its Civil War history but there is more to Shenandoah Valley than war memorabilia. National treasure Patsy Cline grew up in Winchester and you can visit her home any day of the week. Downtown Winchester, Staunton, and Lexington are a wonderful showcase of historic architecture. And if time permits, on the outskirts of Winchester, is The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. This is a public park, gift shop, and museum that you can spend an entire day in. The gardens, created by Julian Wood Glass Jr., are a light maze of gentle walks showcasing mixed sculptures, plants, and thematic gardens.
One of the main draws to Staunton, aside from its lively food and drink scene, is the American Shakespeare Center. Built as a replica of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse this is a rather unique building. The theatre is operated by a group of extremely passionate individuals who work on re-creating the original “vibe” of live a Shakespeare play. This theatre is casual, comedic, and welcoming to all.
Eat & Drink
From country classics to fine dining
Like many regions situated away from urban centers, Shenandoah Valley is gentrifying. With renewed interest in the area and rising population come revitalization projects and new openings. Many of these initiatives, whether by younger newcomers or retirees looking to bring a passion to life, are in the food and beverage world.
On the upper scale side of things, Staunton and Lexington have quite a few impressive options. Owned by the same Staunton group Zynodoa and Blu Point Seafood Co., for example, are elevating standards for farm-to-table, sea-to-fork meals. A few miles over Haywood’s Restaurant and TAPS at George’s Hotel are on a mission to create seasonally fresh meals carefully pared with choice wines and craft spirits. Asian Station (Luray) and Mashita (Harrisonburg) are cooking up exciting twists on fusion cuisine with local and harvested ingredients. And for a scenic meal, take the elevator up to the Ridge Room in the Hyatt Place Hotel (Harrisonburg) where the menu offers a range of cultural influences from artisanal cheeses to blackened fish tacos.
Winchester revitalization initiatives created space for Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery which occupies an old Esso station. This traditional diner serves hearty family-style Southern meals created by a classically trained chef. Further down the road, on the outskirts of New Market, we stop for a meal at Southern Kitchen or opt-in for rustic American fair at The Restaurant at the Edinburg Mill.
Microclimate wines & small-batch distilleries
With a microclimate similar to the Finger Lakes and Niagara region Shenandoah Valley currently has 20 wineries and about 15 breweries. This tasting collection is spread across the valley and can be taken as a wine route or a beer trail. Whether you chose to focus on one or the other it is worth stopping by a couple, even if only for a meal.
Woodstock Brew House, for example, is a large community space where people gather for pints, chicken wings, and live music. Devils Backbone Brewing Company, perched up on a scenic hillside in Lexington, is another local staple for brews, parties, and sun-kissed lunches on the patio. Harrisonburg’s neighborhood hub is Sage Bird Ciderworks, a husband and wife-run cidery with indoor dining and an intimate terrace where people gather for trivia and other inclusive events.
Standing on the corner of Middlebrook Ave and St. Lewis St in Downtown Staunton your wandering eyes will spot Redbeard Brewing Company, Ciders From Mars, and the Ox-Eye Vineyards tasting room. Ox-Eye Vineyards is an initiative of John and Susan Kiers who apprenticed in France and Oregon. The duo is currently focusing exclusively on estate-grown wines. A more traditional taste of the wine country can be found at Muse Vineyards. Another family-owned winery producing classically styled wines inspired by the Domaine wineries of France and Italy. The roads of Lexington and Rockbridge County will lead to Rockbridge Vineyard & Brewery, an old dairy farm that serves as a perfect palette for an award-winning winery and brewery.
Rest & Relax
A charming historic hotel located in Downtown Winchester. The property is a Wyndham Grand Hotel with a stately exterior. Among amenities are a restaurant, lounge with live music performances on the weekend, a small gym, spa, and an indoor pool modeled after a Roman bathhouse.
Lodging at Massanutten Resort
1822 Resort Dr, Massanutten, VA 22840, United States
Rooms starting at $111 US /per hotel | $150 USD/per condo & townhomes | $243 USD/per townhome
Book: massresort.com | Expedia* | TripAdvisor* | hotels.com*
Massanutten, mentioned above, is a beast of a property. You can rent a simple, minimal hotel room, or a complete house with a stocked kitchen and indoor jacuzzi. The property occupies 6,000 acres and has multiple dining locations (including custom catering), outdoor activities, and a waterpark.
Recently renovated historic hotel in the heart of Staunton. This pet-friendly property was originally built in 1924 and is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Hotels of America. The rooms are light and airy, there is a fairly well-equipped gym, indoor pool, as well as a restaurant and cocktail lounge on the ground floor.
A woman-owned boutique luxury property is spread across four historic buildings in downtown Lexington. With their clean lines, top-notch dining, and event spaces Georges is at the heart of this town. Read the full hotel review here.
Impressively large historic hotel situated within walking distance from the Natural Bridge State Park and the Caverns at Natural Bridge. This is a pet-friendly property with two restaurants, a fitness center, and an outdoor fire pit.
Getting to Shenandoah Valley
By air: You can land at Dulles International Airport and drive to Winchester (an hour +) or land in Charlottesville–Albemarle Airport and drive to Lexington (also a bit over an hour). There are a handful of smaller municipal airports in the region as well.
Getting around: rent a car at the airport (link link) or hire one to take your around, USA guided tours do private service.