Shenandoah County, Virginia is tucked away in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley between the Allegheny and Massanutten Mountains, just off I-81. If the highway isn’t your preferred route, take the more historic drive down Route 11. No matter which way you get there, you will be happy you came. Offering six quaint historic towns to explore, outdoor fun and fabulous dining take a look with me at my eight “must-do’s” in this area of the Mid-Atlantic United States.
Shenandoah County, Virginia: 8 Must-Do’s During Your Visit
Having lived in Maryland my entire life, I have come to realize that I don’t explore my own back yard nearly enough. Just a short, 3 hour drive down the road, is Shenandoah County, Virginia. Instantly I fell in love with not only the beautiful scenery, but the welcoming people of this area. While I had three days to explore much of the area of Shenandoah Valley, these eight places should be on your must-do list when you visit.
1. Shenandoah Caverns
Shenandoah Caverns opened in 1922 and has been welcoming guests ever since. This underground world of wonder delights visitors of every age with a variety of beautiful rock formations. This is the only cavern in Virginia with an elevator, making it fully handicapped accessible. You will travel, 60 feet underground and take a one mile tour of the various areas of the caverns and see Rainbow Lake, The Capitol Dome and Long View Hall to name a few places. Admission is $24 for adults and $12 for kids.
Included in your admission is entry to American Celebration on Parade. This is the largest exhibit of parade floats in the United States. From presidential inaugurations, to The Rose Bowl and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade you will see a grand display. This was quite a sight to see, and a little piece of Americana tucked away in the Shenandoah Valley.
2. Route 11 Potato Chips
Believe me when I tell you, this is worth the stop. For over 25 years Sarah Cohen has been making the most amazing kettle-style chips. We visited on a Saturday afternoon and they were frying fresh batches, the aroma in the factory was something candles should be made of. Sarah prides herself on a zero waste facility, let’s just say the local cows are well fed. You can take a look through the large factory windows and see the chips go from potato to bag, in 12 minutes! Talk about fresh. If I had to choose a favorite flavor, it would be lightly salted, but sour cream and onion takes a close second.
3. Muse Vineyards
Pack a picnic lunch and head to Muse Vineyards just outside of town in Woodstock. A husband and wife decided to escape the DC life, they would open a small vineyard in the Valley. Little did they know what a success this small vineyard would become. They are the proud winners of the 2015 Governors Cup, a coveted prized amongst Virginia winemakers. The inspiration for Muse Vineyards comes from the domaine wineries of France and Italy. Every grape used in the wines produced on the estates is grown there.
Their current selection includes white wines, red wines, rose and their award-winning, Clio. Try the Thalia blend of white Rhône varietals and barrel-fermented in the style of the great Rhône Valley white wines. If you can’t decide on just one to try, give all six a try in the tasting room.
4. Cristina’s Cafe
Located in the small town of Strasburg, Cristina’s Cafe is a favorite among the locals. Known for its farm to table cooking, you can regularly enjoy breakfast and lunch, with dinner served only during special events. Owned by local sisters, they pride themselves on locally sourced ingredients for their cafe. I was able to grab a special dinner at Cristina’s and the food was fantastic. I almost went back the next morning for breakfast because the menu looked so great, and I am a big breakfast eater. Do yourself a favor and be sure to visit Cristina’s, just not on a Tuesday or Wednesday, as they are closed.
4. Fort Valley Ranch
If you are looking to escape the city, and be blissfully surrounded by beauty, Fort Valley Ranch is the spot to be. You will escape to a cell phone, wi-fi free zone when you enter Fort Valley Ranch, and that is nothing to be mad at. You can horseback at many places in the valley, but none will compare to the experience here. It takes you back to a much simpler time, when cowboys made coffee over the fire, and horseback was the only way to get around.
You can visit for a day and take a full day or half day trail ride, or you can stay the weekend in one of their bunk house cabins. You are even able to bring your own horses and enjoy the ranch. I enjoyed a covered wagon trail ride with the owner, Bill, and it offered stunning views and a relaxing (cell phone free) escape for the morning. I could have spent all day hanging out at Fort Valley Ranch, it truly was that perfect.
5. Woodstock Brew House
Once upon a time this site was the home of the Casey Jones work clothes factory, now it is a vibrant brewery in Woodstock. The owners made a large effort to restore the structure to its original glory, from the grand 14-foot ceilings to the aged and worn wood flooring. Their goal was not to replace the factory, but bring it back to life.
The owners of Woodstock Brewhouse are local residents, who certainly share a passion for craft brewing. No one person’s tastes are the same and the owners of the Brewhouse are no different. This assures that there will certainly be a variety at any given time at the brew house. Aside from beer there is a small pub-grub style menu and on weekends they offer local 1752 BBQ. From light blonde, to IPA and stouts you will certainly enjoy a few pints at Woodstock Brew House.
6. Shenandoah Downs Harness Races
For eight weeks in the fall you can catch the excitement of harness racing at Shenandoah Downs. This year the season runs from Sept 16-Oct 15, on Saturdays & Sundays from 1-4 pm. The half-mile track has just undergone a one-million dollar renovation and now brings you a state of the art racing experience. This is certainly a fun, and exciting way to spend an afternoon.
Autumnfest will be the last special event of the season, held this year on October 14. Come for the BBQ, craft brews and family fun. Enjoy not only harness racing that day, but crafters, log splitting contests and more.
7. Staufferstadt Arts, Urban Murals
In the historic town of Strasburg, you will find some unlikely art appearing on the side of buildings. Featuring world class artists, this non-profit project has been designed to foster the local arts and open the minds of it’s residents. I was blown away by the five completed murals we saw, each telling it’s own story. There are three more to be completed by the end of the year, and more into 2018 as well. What was once a drab wall, is now a beautiful piece of art.
8. Shenandoah County Courthouse
This area is wrought with history, and the courthouse is a fascinating piece of the puzzle. Constructed in 1795 of native limestone, the Shenandoah County Historic Courthouse is the oldest working courthouse west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in continuous use. It saw much activity during the Civil War, with troops from both sides in and around the building.
If the walls of this one room courthouse could talk, I am sure they would tell a fascinating tale. You can try to put the tales together with the graffiti that has been discovered on the walls.
If you love historical travel be sure to visit The Woodstock Museum as well. This museum consists of two 18th century homes , The Marshall House and The Wickam House. Both are filled with an extensive collection of local and regional artifacts, and they are really quite fascinating.
While I was only in Shenandoah County for three days, I certainly experienced plenty. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, take a look at Shenandoah County, Virginia–it won’t disappoint.