Tucked away between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, it’s hard to believe Shenandoah County is just 90 minutes from the bustling metropolis of Washington, DC. Nearly a quarter of the county is blanketed by the vast George Washington National Forest and much of the rest is peppered with lush farm pastures, picturesque towns, and Civil War battlefields.
For paddlers and anglers, the North Fork of the Shenandoah River also traces a lackadaisical course through the county, offering plenty of water to explore. While Shenandoah County is teeming with fresh air escapes—from exploring palate-pleasing farm breweries to the picturesque pinnacle of Great North Mountain—here are eight of the region’s best off-the-beaten adventures.
1.Sip Craft Brews at Swover Creek Farm Brewery
Swover Creek Farm Brewery is much more than a run-of-the-mill tap room. The brewery emerged from the evolution of a fully-functioning farm that has been worked by the same family for over a century. Swover Creek still grows everything from berries to hops, meaning the crowd-pleasing brewery has much more than just beers to sip. The farm is open for seasonal berry picking, and the store adjacent to the tap room sells freshly-harvested fare and other goodies (be sure to try Swover Creek’s trademark gourmet sausages!).
Aside from the brewery’s tap list—which features everything from a vanilla sour wheat to a nitro oatmeal porter—Swover Creek also offers an array of tasty bites like brick-oven-fired pizzas, smoked sausages, and homemade soft pretzels. Best of all, the *whole *family is welcome at Swover Creek Farm Brewery—there’s even a fully-fenced dog park beside the outdoor beer garden.
2. Summit Strickler Knob
At nearly 2,700 feet in elevation, Strickler Knob is no ordinary walk in the woods. Starting at the Massanutten Trailhead just outside New Market on Crisman Hollow Road, the out-and-back trip is nearly nine miles. The quad-burning trip to the summit begins with a jaunt through the woods, but at the 3.5-mile mark, the route becomes a rock scramble to the peak’s craggy crest. Atop the towering stack of sandstone, soak up well-earned 360-degree vistas of the Luray Valley, New Market Gap, and the rippling blue-tinged peaks of the Shenandoah National Park.
3. Soar Shenandoah County Skies
While hikes like Big Schloss and Tibbet Knob yield some pretty spectacular Blue Ridge vistas, one of the most spectacular ways to see Shenandoah County is from the sky via an aerial adventure. The slopes of Massanutten Mountain offer some of the premier launch sites in the Southeast for hang gliders and paragliders, making Shenandoah County justifiably popular with the Capital Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (CHGPA). Expert hang gliders and paragliders regularly congregate at Shenandoah County locations like the Woodstock Hang Gliding Site on the western slope of Massanutten Mountain. Anyone intrigued by the chance to sail through the sky like a bird can get the scoop on getting started from CHGPA, or opt for lessons from area outfitters like Woodstock-based Shenandoah Paragliding.
4. Savor the Summer at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival
Over the years, everyone from Rosanne Cash to The Temptations have graced the stage at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival in Orkney Springs. A staple of the Shenandoah Valley for over a half-century, the long-running concert series covers every genre from bluegrass to classical. It’s more of a "season" than a traditional weekend festival, with nearly a dozen shows scattered throughout the summer between July and September. Best of all, the outdoor festival is held on the grounds of Shrine Mont, a historic retreat situated in the shadow of Great North Mountain.
5. Drop a Line at Orndorff’s Trout Farm
Shenandoah County’s waterways are brimming with angling opportunities. Home to some of the top trout spots in the state, the country has nearly 31 miles of fishable waters, including hotspots like Passage Creek and Tomahawk Pond.
One of the premier places to cast off in Shenandoah County is Orndorff’s Rainbow Trout Farm. The hatchery is open for fishing from March to September, and you just pay by the pound instead of having to spring for a license. The family-friendly venue is perfect for first-time anglers, or anyone else reluctant to spend all day in waders pursuing a single, trophy-worthy trout.
6. Tour Fort Valley on Horseback
Cradled by the far-reaching ridges of Massanutten Mountain and fringed by the vast George Washington National Forest, Fort Valley is the kind of place to explore slowly. The kind of place to take your time. And one of the best ways to savor the scenery of the so-called ‘valley within a valley’ is on a horseback trail ride at the Fort Valley Ranch.
Located about 10 miles from the town of Edinburg, Fort Valley Ranch is blessed with direct access to the George Washington National Forest and the staff can guide you on a variety of equine excursions from trips as short as an hour to all-day trail rides. The ranch itself is also laced with equestrian trails and even offers family-friendly wagon rides if you aren’t feeling quite comfortable on a horse (yet!).
7. Sample Fine Virginia Wine at Third Hill Winery
Virginia vineyards are responsible for crafting some of the finest wines in the country, and the state has emerged as one of the nation’s leading producers. While Virginia is home to seven different American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the Shenandoah Valley is among the most fertile wine-producing regions.
Sample some of the state’s premier wines along the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, starting with the Third Hill Winery at DeMello Vineyards. The tasting room features a well-rounded selection of reds and whites, from rosé to Traminette to Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery also hosts live music on summer weekends and taps into wine’s power as an unfailing artistic muse with Paint-n-Sip art classes.
8. Mingle with the Llamas of Posey Thisisit
Arrange for a meet-and-greet with some of Shenandoah County’s most unique locals: the animals of the Posey Thisisit Llama Farm in Toms Brook. The 27-acre farm is home to nearly 30 llamas—animals bred specifically to have a proclivity for hanging out with people. The farm also has two hearty breeds of sheep: one hailing from the United Kingdom, the other from the far eastern corner of Russia. Posey Thisisit offers pre-arranged tours, allowing you to mix and mingle with the farm’s four-legged residents and to peruse the selection of crafts handmade with llama fiber.
Originally written for Shenandoah County, VA.