Map Out a Shenandoah Valley Weekend

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With everyone’s time at a premium, exploring the Shenandoah Valley becomes very much a matter of pre-trip planning.  By considering the Valley as three regions—North, Central and South—travelers can break down ease of access, identify attractions they wish to see and narrow down activities they want to try. The idea is to maximize your time.

Below we offer some characteristics and a few highlights of each of these regions.  In general, businesses in the Valley are open, with mask-wearing, social distancing and other precautions in place. Be aware that some seasonal operations like canoe outfitters do start to close in November.

Key stops in the northern part of the Valley would include: Harpers Ferry, Winchester, and Front Royal. The countryside is full of apple orchards and historic towns and landmarks, plus the area is easily accessible from Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, has closed their Visitor Center and Museum, but hiking trails, a Visitor Information Tent and a Bookstore Tent are open. The Hollywood Casino in nearby Charles Town is also open, with some limitations on capacity.

In Winchester and the surrounding area, enjoy diverse shopping and dining in Old Town, or explore Civil War sites and battlefields  Historic and modern art may be viewed at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, and you can enjoy farm fresh produce at Marker-Miller Orchards. (Farmers Markets throughout the Valley are offering wider selections and more events than ever.) Marker-Miller has a Bakery Festival coming up November 14th you won’t want to miss.

In Front Royal—a straight shot out I-66 from DC–you can stroll historic Main Street and linger over a farm-to-table meal, after admiring large murals painted on the sides of buildings. You’ll also find the northern entrance to Skyline Drive in Front Royal, where in all probability autumn color will be evident into November. You should also walk the 4.5-mile loop of the Royal Shenandoah Greenway.

Moving south from Front Royal brings you into Luray, home of the world-famous Luray Caverns—which are open for tours with new safety measures in place. Also on the Caverns’ complex (and included in your ticket price) you’ll discover the Luray Valley Museum, a magnificent Car and Carriage Museum, Toy Town Junction, and the Shenandoah Heritage Village, a three-acre museum complex.  While in Luray, visit antique shops and restaurants on Main Street, and make time to wander the Warehouse Art Gallery.

Yet another cave—Shenandoah Caverns— can be explored in nearby Quicksburg, just off I-81. Visit November 21st for their first-ever Shenandoah Caverns Discovery Tour, a guided, candle-lit tour complete with hors d’ oeuvres and local cider.

While the Valley is famous for its small, charming towns, Harrisonburg, about 30 miles south of Luray on I-81, is the 17th biggest city in Virginia. Resplendent with restaurants, it is Virginia’s first Culinary District. It is highly regarded with adventurous mountain bikers. Several stops along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail are here, or you can tour a number of achingly beautiful vineyards. Massanutten Resort is nearby to keep you and your children busy and entertained—the indoor waterpark is open year-round and the water is a constant 84 degrees F.

Major towns—with much to offer travelers—in the southern part of the Valley include Waynesboro, Staunton and Lexington.

Waynesboro is about 100 miles northwest of Richmond, easily accessible from I-64. Eye-popping murals, many created in connection with the Virginia Street Arts Festivals, are giving this well-known fly-fishing area a whole new artistic vibe.  Waynesboro has a four-mile Water Trail on the South River and a 1.2-mile South River Greenway.

Staunton has a longstanding reputation for, well, several things– historic architecture, exciting dining, and performing arts. Good food is taken so seriously in Staunton they recently allowed Beverly Street restaurants to spill out over the sidewalks and into the street on weekends to accommodate eager customers. Have a great meal at Zynoda and see a play at Blackfriars Playhouse (under their SafeStart Protocols.)  A Christmas Carol starts December 2nd. And this just in—Staunton’s Blackburn Inn has a brand new luxury spa.

Easily reached by speedy I-81 or more leisurely Route 11, Lexington is a multi-faceted region. Stroll the Downtown area to find all the contemporary shops, galleries and restaurants a modern traveler wants. Yet historic landmarks abound–Stonewall Jackson House, Lee Chapel, the VMI Museum, Jordan’s Point, and Jackson’s tomb to name just a few. Nearby Natural Bridge State Park is a must-visit—not just for its powerful beauty but its inherent history. Native Monacans considered it sacred; Thomas Jefferson bought it (plus 157 acres) for 20 shillings—less than $200 today. And it was one of the earliest tourist attractions in Virginia.

With all the attractions to choose from (we’ve barely mentioned Shenandoah National Park or George Washington National Forest) it makes sense to narrow down what you want to see and do, and scout the region according. And definitely plan on more than one trip. Within an easy drive of several urban centers, the Shenandoah Valley can keep you and your family enchanted for many weekends.

Lodging options in the Valley include high-end hotels, secluded cabins, well-maintained campgrounds, and inns and resorts for every taste. View many possibilities here.  

Banner photo: Tour the Valley to see many creative LOVE signs like this one in Woodstock.

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