Families, foodies, nature lovers, and retro-seekers will find plenty to love about Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Despite being located just outside Washington, D. C.’s congested Beltway, it could easily be mistaken for Mayberry, U.S.A. An easy drive from much of the Northeast corridor, this welcoming slice of Americana oozes small town hospitality and best of all, the prices here are anything but big city. If you’re looking for a road trip with a genuine throwback quality, you’ve met your match. Here are 10 things to do in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Visit Shenandoah National Park
Visiting this region without experiencing majestic Shenandoah National Park is like going to Rome and skipping the Colosseum. Motorists will marvel at the Blue Ridge Mountain views as they ramble along the 105-mile Skyline Drive—be sure to get out of the car to explore the park’s pristine beauty up-close. It’s a hiker’s delight with more than 500 miles of trails and countless nature opportunities. Ranger-led programs are free each day in summer and on weekends during colder months. The park also offers a variety of inexpensive overnight accommodations—camp out at one of four peaceful sites or stay at Skyland Resort or Big Meadows Lodge, where accommodations range from rustic cabins to rooms with gorgeous mountain views.
Ride down a lazy river
Shenandoah River Adventures offers a fun, refreshing way to get acquainted with the serene Shenandoah River. There’s beauty in spades along the water, and floating down it gives you an excellent vantage point. Rent a tube, canoe, or kayak and launch yourself into an adventure.
Check out the caverns
Head underground and explore one of the numerous caverns located in the valley. Those stalagmites you learned about in high school geology class are strikingly beautiful. Luray Caverns in Luray are the largest and most popular caverns in eastern America. A guided one-hour tour will take you on paths crammed with otherworldly formations and crystal-clear pools. Music is part of the experience, as the world’s only Stalacpipe Organ is here, creating live music of symphonic quality from the dazzling stone formations. Remember to wear a jacket as the cavern temperature is a constant 56 degrees.
Zip-line Bear Mountain
Adrenaline junkies, rejoice!Bear Mountain in Luray offers multiple zip-lines and climbing walls spread across 50 acres of scenic forest. Mature trees provide shade, so you can focus on the adrenaline-pumping excitement while hardly breaking a sweat.
Go back in time at Dinosaur Land
Step into the prehistoric past with a visit to Dinosaur Land. This roadside attraction in White Post is a sculpture park with 50 life-size dinosaur statues fabricated out of fiberglass. Kids (and kids at heart) will delight in climbing on these realistic-looking giants.
Watch an old-school Drive-In Movie
The venerable Family Drive-In Theater in Stephens City opened in 1956. In many ways, it seems frozen in time, but you can expect a quality 21st century viewing experience, complete with digital projection. The best part: Every night is double feature night with two films screened for the price of one. From the tasty food served at the concession stand to the on-site playground for restless kids, movie buffs won’t want to miss this refreshing blast from the past.
Spend a day on the farm
The agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley is a great place to connect with your food source. Depending on when you visit, you may pick your own apples, pumpkins, peaches, and strawberries. Mackintosh Fruit Farm is located in rural Berryville, where this family-owned farm sells fresh produce at their farm stand, or head to their fields and orchards and do it yourself. They also host delectable farm dinners in summer. Families favor Great Country Farms in Bluemont, where you'll find activities like a seasonal corn maze, wagon rides, and pig races. Plump donuts warm from the fryer and fresh-pressed cider are absolutely delicious and hard to resist.
Feast on local favorites
Comfort food rules in the Shenandoah Valley, so prepare your palate for down-home delicacies, large portions, and low prices. The Thunderbird Caféoutside Harrisonburg serves Southern classics in a casual environment. Breakfast is an eye-opener with creamy grits, pancakes, country sausage, and homemade biscuits providing sustenance for the entire day. Gathering Grounds, located in Luray, is a local hangout where the pie is always fresh and the coffee piping hot. Hearty sandwiches and homemade soups are easygoing options. Rumor has it First Lady Michelle Obama dined here when she visited the caverns, so it has the executive seal of approval.
Bring on the brew
Virginia is in the midst of a bona fide beer renaissance and the Shenandoah Valley is fast developing a reputation as a hops and barley hotspot. Brothers Craft Brewing in Harrisonburg is a popular watering hole. Their mission is to brew delicious craft beers while supporting the community and adhering to earth-conscious practices. Wet your whistle with a selection of balanced brews that should appeal to a broad spectrum of beer lovers.
Indulge in sweet desserts
There are several branches of Kline’s Dairy Bar scattered throughout the Shenandoah Valley, where the ice cream and frozen custard have been made fresh daily since 1943. Prices seem frozen in time, too, so there’s nothing stopping you from indulging in a creamy Kline’s cone on a steamy day.
This article was written by Allison Tibaldi, a native New Yorker who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto, and Los Angeles. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. When she's not traveling, she's scouring NYC for delectable eats. As a freelance travel writer, she focuses on family, culinary, and car-free travel. She's also a senior travel writer at offMetro.com.