Shenandoah Valley Overview
Spanning 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, Shenandoah Valley has been dubbed "The Big Valley." Geographically, it sits between Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. When you make your way to this scenic region, expect local flavor in small towns, an awe-inspiring national park and a heap of exhilarating outdoor recreation, including horseback riding, hiking and fishing, which have become mainstays of this natural jungle gym.
Shenandoah National Park
Packing 200,000 acres of protected land, Shenandoah National Park is a remarkable destination to explore untainted nature. The park features 300 square miles of Blue Ridge Mountains in the southern Appalachians, with its highest peaks - Stony Man and Hawskbill - exceeding 4,000 feet. While wandering the trails, visitors can encounter cascading waterfalls, unbelievable vistas and serene wooded hollows.
There's no wrong time of the year to visit, since each season has its perks. During the winter, you stand a better chance of spotting woodland animals such as turkeys, deer and woodpeckers, while the air-born water rising from plants in the summer produces a haze to which the Blue Ridge owes its name. Beyond the wildlife, there's more than 300 structures - architecturally-designed buildings to bridges - that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail
Fans of wine flock from near and far to the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, which offers some of Virginia's best wineries and is only an hour's drive west of Washington D.C. You can tour through the trail to sample delicious vintage as you soak in the rural scenery. If you come during the summer, there's an annual Wine & Jazz Festival every June. Perfect for romantic retreats or an outing with friends, the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail serves as an an intoxicating attraction on several levels.
American Shakespeare Center
For literary buffs, to go and or not to go to the American Shakespeare Center is the question. The Blackfriar's Playhouse is the only re-creation of Shakespeare's original indoor theater in the world. Situated in downtown Staunton, Virg., this 300-seat Renaissance theater features productions of the literary giant and other plays year-round.
Small Town Charm
Branching off the park trails, you can discover dozens of quaint towns that merge historic sites with modern luxuries. In Berkeley County, West Va., there are more than 3,000 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including a handful which George Washington visited. Journey to the opposite side of the fighting line at Lexington, Buena Vista, Rockbridge County, where travelers can tour through the only home ever owned by Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Turn up the relaxation at Hot Springs, famous for its warm mineral waters that offer wellness for both body and soul. Wherever you venture, southern hospitality and unique town highlights should be expected.
For all the animal lovers, deciding between where to greet your favorite creatures might be the hardest part of the trip. Take an elephant ride at the Natural Bridge Zoological Park or get up close and personal with exotic cats and birds of prey at the Luray Rescue Zoo, which is also home to the one of the largest venomous snake collections in the state. If serpents don't fit the bill, the fluttering beauty of butterflies at the Natural Bridge of Virginia might. The trails, caves and bridges are so stunning that Thomas Jefferson regarded the territory as "the most sublime of nature's works." Last but not least, kangaroos, monkeys and more animals wait at the Virginia Safari Park, open daily from mid-March to November.
With the range of towns in Shenandoah Valley, you won't have any trouble setting your eye on something flashy in the multitude of stores, malls and specialty shops. Everything from pottery to jewelry to Civil War goods can be found here. Rocky's Gold & Silver offers an incredible selection of fine jewelry, while Crossroads Country Store in Harrisonburg is considered Virginia's Premier Southern Heritage shopping destination, stocked with Civil War books, flags, handmade quilts and other Southern novelty items. Antique hunters should head to Antiquer's Treasure Trail to surface old-school finds.
Since wine flows throughout the area, it's only natural that restaurants fuse scrumptious menus with A-list vino.
Waterwheel Restaurant at The Inn, Warm Springs
Though located off the main road, Waterwheel Restaurant holds its ground with delicious American farm-to-table cuisine. Succulent meat and seafood from local farmers makes for a wonderful dining experience. Be sure to check out the wine cellar as well.
Local Chop and Grill House, Harrisonburg
Listen to local artists play as you dig into mouthwatering dishes at the Local Chop and Grill House. It offers three different rubs and about 10 sauces for the beef, pork, fish, chicken, duck and vegetarian options. Take note: Reservations are a must.
Vino124, Front Royal
Take the whole family to Vino124, unsurprisingly brimming with a wide selection of wine. The menu is changed daily, serving up local ingredients in a fun and inviting atmosphere.