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Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The young George Washington surveyed part of what is now the valley’s Route 11.
  • Forebears of more than 43 million Americans migrated along the valley’s Wilderness Road.
  • During the Civil War, the city of Winchester changed hands more than 70 times.
  • President Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton (1856).
  • Luray Caverns claims the world’s largest musical instrument, an organ covering 3.5 acres.

Of scenic drives, wineries — and war

Shenandoah Valley is a 200-mile oblong patch of land pasted onto the western side of the Virginia map and distinguished for the beauty of its landscapes.

It is bound by the Alleghenies on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. The Shenandoah River (including a north and south fork) flows down the valley — meaning to the north — and, at the valley’s terminus, connects with the Potomac.

The long and narrow Shenandoah National Park follows the line of Blue Ridge peaks. The park encompasses Skyline Drive, a scenic byway, and 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail for hikers. The Blue Ridge Parkway touches the area, too.

The valley is an appealing destination for vacationers who love wild places for their solitude and for active, venturesome recreation — and equally so for the less venturesome who are happy with a fine resort, great scenery and diversions that include golf, horseback riding, theater, wine tasting and history.

As for the history, there is much to engage the buff. Because of the valley’s relatively early settlement (the 1730s are early by American standards), visitors can find historic homes, plantations and town centers. Route 11, aka the Wilderness Road, follows the migration path of the first settlers.

The defining event for the history lover, though, was the Civil War. The valley was the breadbasket for the South, close to the North-South border and close to Washington, D.C. — therefore much fought over. Today’s Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District focuses on about 21,000 acres, aiming to protect 10 battlefields and related historic sites. The cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro and Winchester are in the district, too.

There are battlefield sites and museums to see, plus guided walks, reenactment events and living history presentations to seek out. There are B&Bs and characteristic inns for those who want to sleep in the district’s small towns.

The Shenandoah Valley offers other excuses for a visit. For one, it is horse country, with all that implies in the way of riding opportunities and scenery. Already noted for its farmers markets, the valley is establishing a reputation as wine country, as well.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go canoeing, or tubing, or kayaking on the Shenandoah River.
  • Plan a self-drive tour of the valley focused on the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, which encompasses 10 Civil War battlefields. For the history buff, it is enlightening and sobering; an estimated 4,000 men died because of fighting in the valley.
  • Participate in the July Roanoke Mountain Bike Challenge in midsummer.
  • Plan to attend the Green Hill Medieval Faire and Highland Games in Salem (September). Register in advance to compete in some of the events.
  • Bring your camping gear for the two-day Nothin’ Fancy Bluegrass Festival in Buena Vista in September.
  • Camp in Shenandoah National Park. Hike its trails. Or camp and hike, or go rock climbing, in the Allegheny Mountains.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Ride the trails on horseback at any of several farms, ranches and stables offering recreational riding — and lessons if you or the kids need them. Time your visit for a horse show, too.
  • Ski at Bryce Resort. In summer, make that grass skiing, then get above it all on the area’s 3,000-foot zipline.
    Or, at Massanutten Resort, ski in winter or go mountain biking in summer.
  • See a Shakespearean play at the Blackfriars Playhouse, the only replica of the English-speaking world’s first indoor theater, built by Shakespeare and partners on the grounds of London’s Blackfriars monastery.
  • Take a two-day drive, called the Great Wagon Loop, that lets you explore the area’s Wilderness Road, a migration path. Start at the Museum of Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, drive on scenic Route 11. In Harrisonburg, see the Virginia Quilt Museum and visit CrossRoads, which focuses on Brethren and Mennonite settlers, and finally, tour Staunton’s historic downtown and its Frontier Culture Museum.
  • Join a guided Civil War walking tour of Middletown, Stephens City, Old Town Winchester or wherever you find one first.
    Also, get a look at historic Staunton on a nighttime guided ghost walk — but this isn’t just about Civil War ghosts!
  • Virginia is for (wine) lovers. Follow the Shenandoah Valley Wine Country Trail, visiting its five wineries, to see if you agree.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Choose your resort at Hot Springs and hone your golf game. Or ride horses, go fly-fishing or shoot sporting clays.
    For golf, make that the 1766 Homestead Resort, where golf legend Sam Snead learned to play.
  • Visit the truly cavernous Luray Caverns and hear the Great Stalacpipe Organ.
  • Tour Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace and his presidential library and museum in Staunton.
  • Attend the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester (April). Or, wait until the fruit is ready, and be part of the Apple Harvest Festival in Winchester in September. Another of several autumnal apple-related events is the Apple Days Craft Show, good for shopping, in October, in Waynesboro.
  • Take a horse-drawn fall color carriage ride in Harrisonburg. Dream up other ways to see the colors, on foot, on a bike, in a car.
  • Watch the Paint Lexington Paint-Out Show. On a couple of autumn days, artists strive to capture the fall colors in Lexington. You can see the “action,” and take a gander at the art exhibit showing off the completed efforts.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association at www.visitshenandoah.org