In addition to awe-inspiring views, spectacular caverns, and Civil War history, the Shenandoah Valley is commonly identified with classic Virginia small towns. Their genuine charm, farm-to-table meals, antique shops, and Main streets with mountain views are a welcome summer respite from traffic-choked big cities.
Tourists may notice that, particularly along roads like Route 11, towns are about 20 miles apart—or one hard day of travel for early Scots-Irish and German pioneers. Memories of the early residents are maintained in local museums throughout the Valley.
Below we suggest a few stops—towns and specific attractions– that will enhance your exploration of the Northern end of the Valley—loosely from Martinsburg to Mt. Jackson.
The far northern entry to the Shenandoah Valley is actually in West Virginia, and Martinsburg makes an ideal starting point for a small-town tour. As in almost every town in the Valley, outdoor recreation is the main draw here—the area has become quite popular with the geocaching community, and hiking paths like Tuscarora Trail, a 250-mile long spur trail of the Appalachian Trail, lure many seeking an outdoor challenge. While Civil War sites like the home of southern spy Belle Boyd and the B&O Railroad Roundhouse are well-known, the area has ties to the Revolutionary and French and Indian wars, too. In nearby Inwood, the Cider Press Deli and Grill is open for dine-in and serves farm-to-table food regularly.
More a small city than a small town, Winchester has many attractions—the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Patsy Cline’s home, and the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum (which just re-opened July 15th, with some restrictions in place). And one of the most popular sites is Old Town, where hours can be spent in shops, cafes, galleries, etc.
Marker-Miller Orchards & Farm Market
Located just outside the National Historic District of Opequon. Relax on the front porch rocking chairs, or venture out to pick your own fruits and vegetables. Pack a lunch and or purchase something from the food building (weekends from August to October) and spread out at a picnic table. For dessert, investigate many options at the bakery, such as apple cider donuts, or homemade fudge from the Sweet Shop.
With wineries, a surprising number of restaurants in Berryville, and an enchanting French country inn called L’Auberge Provençale, Clarke County combines classic farmland scenery with a wide variety of attractions. Got the kids with you? Head straight for Dinosaur Land. This unique playground boasts life-size recreations of prehistoric life—Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus, and Coelophysis are among the 50-plus dinosaurs your awe-struck children can learn about on while you visit the extensive Gift Shop.
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park
Just south of Middletown, this is the site of the October 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek, a critical Union victory in which more than 8,000 were killed, wounded or declared missing. The Main Visitor Contact Station has been moved temporarily to the park’s Morning Attack Trail trailhead (8739 Valley Pike, Middletown, Wednesday – Sunday). But the three trails themselves and driving tour are operating normally.
Search for aged treasures among 90 antique vendors in the Strasburg Emporium, or visit two downtown breweries, a hand-churned ice cream shoppe, vintage boutiques, coffee shops, bakeries, unique restaurants, and the Strasburg Museum (although the re-opening date was not certain at press time.)
Front Royal is the Canoe Capital of Virginia, the northern entrance to Skyline Drive, is minutes from the Shenandoah River State Park, and is a designated “Appalachian Trail Community.” It has a popular Royal Shenandoah Greenway and was also the first town in the Shenandoah Valley to become an Appalachian Mural Trail Town. Sense an outdoor theme? There is also an historic Walking Tour– an easy, one-mile loop, beginning and ending at the train station on Main Street. A number of historic homes and churches, the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, and the Belle Boyd Cottage are among the rewards.
Andy Guest/Shenandoah River State Park
(Virginia State Parks are open but Phase 3 guidelines are in place.) Located between Front Royal and Luray, this 1600+ -acre park takes beautiful advantage of the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, fish, canoe or kayak, and of course ride the zip line. About five miles of shoreline border the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. More than 24 miles of well-marked trails take you on level ground by the river or up steep inclines to ridgetop views. The park is open year-round; it has tent sites, yurts, bunkhouse cabins, regular cabins and a lodge.
Small-town touring virtually forces you to slow down and relax. And without the big crowds common in big cities, social-distancing is almost built-in. Enjoy the summer safely as you visit the Valley’s small, historic communities.
Banner photo of Old Town Winchester courtesy Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau/Robert Harris Photography