Late summer is one of the best times to visit Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and the surrounding small towns. You can go for an epic hike, sample craft beer and wine, but don’t leave without produce from the local markets. There are just so many great reasons to tour this beautiful region. Here are 10 activities to make the most of summer’s end:
- Drive on Skyline Drive – Take in the views from the winding road on top of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Mountain ranges. Stop at the overlooks for panoramic views of the Piedmont in the east and Shenandoah Valley in the west.
- Stay in a country inn or Bed and Breakfast — Villages along the Shenandoah boast dozens of charming inns tucked into mountainsides and valleys. Some have Select Registry status, so they’re luxurious and sophisticated. Others are cozy and affordable. But all their innkeepers send you off for the day with a satisfying breakfast. My favorites are the Iris Inn and Glen Gordon Manor. Or, if you want to stay inside the park, consider Skyland Resort, run by the National Park system. At Skyland there are rangers on hand to offer tips on wildlife viewing, recommend hiking trails and point out the plants and trees you’ll see on your adventures.
- Go Shopping – There are so many cute boutiques and antique stores in this region. I recommend visiting (Little) Washington or Sperryville. Then you’re right at the entrance to the Park, and they have lovely eateries, furniture shops and art galleries.
- Climb Old Rag Mountain or White Oak Canyon – the rocky cliffs and steep paths carved into these famous peaks will get your lungs pumping. Besides the workout, the views from the top will take your breath away and make it all worthwhile. White Oak Canyon has a soaring cascade of water to swim in.
- Relax on the River – Rent a kayak, inner tube or raft, then float down the Shenandoah River. Check out Shenandoah River Outfitters for details.
- Visit a craft brewery – there are 16 crafter brewers in the Shenandoah’s, and all open their doors for tours, tastings and events each fall. My favorite is Devil’s Backbone near Wintergreen Resort. But check out the BrewRidgeTrail for more ideas.
- Drink some wine – the region has become the East Coast’s version of Northern California with dozens of vineyards. Guests are invited to sample their stock; many serve meals on outside patios with non-stop views of the mountains. For something unique, stop at Narmada Winery, where they serve Indian tapas with their wines.
- Hike the Appalachian Trail –Almost 500 of this 2,200-mile path passes through Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains, paralleling Skyline Dri
ve and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Escape into the wilderness with its rich assemblage of biodiversity–you might see bear, deer, elk, snakes and other small mammals along the famous Appalachian Trail called “the AT.”
- Learn to Cook – Take a cooking class at an inn that uses ingredients foraged right on the property; some examples include Glen Gordon Manor, Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville.
- View the Stars – Between the high elevation and the lack of city lighting, the night sky in this region offers a rare glimpse of the Milky Way, planets and other bright stars. This region has a truly dark sky–not much light pollution–so your night sky viewing will be something to remember. For more information visit the Shenandoah Valley Stargazers website. Fun Fact: Shenandoah is often translated as “Daughter of the Stars”