Upon departing New England we had the pre-planned portion of our venture to Florida via Maine under our belts, and it was time to drive south to a new destination.
We have been trying to get to the Outer Banks for a few years, but keep getting denied due to stormy weather. Perhaps our timing is not quite right for that section of the country because yet another hurricane had passed through and we weren’t quite sure how the conditions at the coast might be, so we again scratched the Outer Banks plan. But hey, there is a lot more to this great country than a couple coastlines, so inland we went.
We had never been to Virginia, and decided let’s give it a whirl. I am a big John Denver fan, and he seemed quite fond of the Shenandoah Valley area, so it seemed like a good area to land for a week. It turned out to be a very good decision.After a quick trip around the internet via Google and the good folks the at Campground Review website, we booked a site at the Shenandoah Valley Campground.
Home for this week was directly off the freeway, and following an uneventful drive we pulled in and got set up with the bright autumn sky overhead and the Blue Ridge Mountains as our backdrop.
The campground was a new and nice one, maybe a bit noisy due to the freeway traffic, but a good fan can take care of that situation . The owners were very friendly and quite helpful in giving us suggestions of what to do while visiting in the valley.
In fact, to date, I must say the Virginians were probably the most friendly and welcoming people of all the states I have stayed in for any amount of time.
We settled in quickly and started making plans for our week of adventuring in the area. Although we had a very fun week, I would probably say our two trips to the Shenandoah National Forest were the highlight of our stay. Turns out Mr. Denver knew what he was talking about.
We ventured out one morning in search of the national forest via the Skyline Drive which was located about a half-hour from our RV park.
Skyline Drive is an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway and spans about 105 miles along a ridge of mountains, and has 75 scenic overlooks where one can stop and take pics or just enjoy the splendor of this area.
The park itself is over 200,000 acres situated mainly along either side of Skyline Drive. There are also 2 resort areas, Skyland Resort, located at the highest point on the drive, and Big Meadows Lodge, where one can rent a room or cabin. These two were in the vicinity of the route we took, and I believe there is one more resort area in the section of the Skyway we did not travel.
There are also a few campgrounds for those willing to haul their rigs up the mountain. We find staying at the base of the mountains and traveling up by truck sans trailer works best for us. I must say the camping did look amazing.
There are over 500 miles of Shenandoah Nat’l Park trails, and 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail as well. So many trails, so little time….
We choose the Dark Hollows Falls trail (another one that claims to be easy-moderate, but I found it to be a bit challenging.) We also trekked along on the Stony Man trail which was much easier, but longer in distance. The second time we returned we hopped on the Appalachian Trail for a spell. All the hikes were amazing, and as glorious as Maine was with it’s red hued trees, Virginia held it’s own with glorious shades of yellow and gold colored trees all decked out in their autumn glory.
Although one certainly could spend everyday in the mountains, there is certainly plenty to do in the valley as well.
Directly down the road from our park was the Route 11 potato chip plant. Complete with fry-viewing and chip sampling. So one morning we laced up our sneakers and walked on down the road to check it out. The plant was super clean and tidy. The chips were fried in small batches, and it was interesting to watch. Yum yum, those chips were good! We bought 4 bags to take with us, but ending up eating them all before we ever left Virginia. Salty goodness in a sack….If I find them again, I will get more!
We had both visited caverns before, but it had been some time, so caverning seemed like a worthy way to spend an afternoon. The Shenandoah Caverns were also located just down the road, so off we went. These caverns have been open to the public for 90 years, and have an elevator, which must be a bonus in the cavern industry because it was one of it’s main selling points. It only takes you down 60 feet, but it is a whole different world when you step out of the elevator. We took an hour long, mile long guided tour that took us through 17 different chambers. It is cool in the caverns, 56 degrees year round, so if you go, take a sweater if you tend to get chilly like I do.
But that ain’t all! Included in the price of admission was free entry into the neighboring Celebration on Parade museum housing 20 full-sized floats some used in the Presidential Inauguration, the Tournament of Roses Parade and several others.
Upstairs from the float museum is a Main Street on Display museum which contains antique store displays from the 40’s and 50’s when the Main Street displays were a main form of advertising. Sorry I have no pics of the displays they were very ornate and detailed and inspired a sort of whimsical feeling to me. Both museums had a nostalgic quality about them and were pure Americana. It was delightful and weird all at the same time.
The weather looked even nicer toward the weekend, so we checked around for a local festival and found the Shenandoah County AutumnFest just a few miles down the road in a little town called Woodstock.
The festival ran from 11-5, and featured a State Championship BBQ competition, live music, craft beer tastings and a free mug, local arts and crafts, and two wineries, and one distillery were giving out free samples.
The price of admission was $10 and included the mug AND free BBQ tastings. And there were around 15 or so competing. The officials judged for the state competition, but the festival goers judged the people’s choice award. Brisket, ribs, pulled pork. We were in BBQ paradise! The craft beer pours were available by tickets which were a buck a piece, and the pours were generous. Lots of good food, beer, lively music, and fun people. Americans, at our finest, enjoying our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on a lovely Saturday afternoon.
It was a great way to enjoy fall Virginia-style. I would do plan on attending every year if I were a local.
Sometimes taking the road less traveled can take you to a place you may have never thought of going. And sometimes that place is a magical place that steals your heart. Bye-bye Virginia with your fine mountains and valleys laid-back people, excellent food and drink. Until we meet again.