Food, Brews, and the Outdoors: An Inside Look at Shenandoah Valley's Self-Guided Cultural Excursions

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley offers several self-guided tours to discover the best food, drinks, and outdoor activities in the region.
The beautiful Shenandoah Valley offers several self-guided tours to discover the best food, drinks, and outdoor activities in the region. Jeffry N. Curtis
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The Shenandoah Valley encompasses eight Virginia counties, five charming cities, and countless small towns, all located within the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountain ranges. The lush, fertile plains contain thousands of acres of farmland and abundant recreational activities, like horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, and river floats. To help visitors explore the Shenandoah Valley’s rural landscape, the communities banded together to launch a series of self-guided trails focused on a variety of experiences. All of these trails stretch along the Interstate 81 Corridor and will keep you exploring for days.

Fields of Gold

The largest of the Shenandoah Valley trails is Fields of Gold, which features 256 farm-friendly activities. Encompassing a wide swath of Virginia counties, the Fields of Gold website lists a variety of activities, from llama trekking to strawberry picking. Driving through the valley’s golden wheat fields is incredibly scenic and part of the inspiration behind the name. The roads that meander through the valley are dotted with agritourism venues including farm-to-table restaurants, vineyards, cideries, breweries, and farmers markets.

"It’s my daughters’ favorite thing to do on the weekends," says Tracey Coltrain, who lives in the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley. “We pull up the website and decide what we want to do. Sometimes it’s a cooking class at BlueOregano or horseback riding at Fort Valley Ranch. We love to be on a farm experiencing nature.”

A Llama Farm provides an unusual Fields of Gold experience.
A Llama Farm provides an unusual Fields of Gold experience. Andrew Thayer/Shenandoah County Tourism

At the foot of Woodstock Tower is Woodstock Brewhouse, where you can sample smoky local barbeque and handmade beers in a former blue jeans factory. Posey Thisisit Llama Farm offers an unusual Fields of Gold experience. Owner Joyce Hall invites visitors to make crafts using llama-wool and allows them to feed the animals. She’ll can even facilitate a big kiss on the lips with the friendliest of the residents (hint: it involves crackers). A Better Way Goat Farm & Dairy sells soaps and cheese, and visitors can try Goat Yoga. There’s nothing better for stress relief than snuggling a baby goat.

Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail

Stable Craft Brewing is one of the 13 breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail.
Stable Craft Brewing is one of the 13 breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail. Jenna French/Shenandoah Valley Tourism

The Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail stretches from Harrisonburg to Lexington and includes 13 breweries within the cities of Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton, and Waynesboro as well as Rockbridge and Augusta counties. The Beerwerks trail helps visitors navigate to acclaimed craft beer makers operating in the valley. On this trail, you can easily incorporate a tour and tasting after your hike, bike, ride, or paddle.

Shenandoah Spirits Trail

The Shenandoah Spirits Trail expands the map of beverages to include wine and spirits. On this trail, you can visit cideries, vineyards, distilleries, and craft breweries from Harrisonburg to Winchester. Shenandoah Valley has more than 40 establishments offering tastings and selling homemade products in their rural outposts. Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse has farmed apples for more than 50 years. Owners Sharon and Shannon Showalter recently expanded to produce award-winning hard ciders under the name Old Hill Cider. Surrounded by 40 acres of apple trees, the rustic tasting room is a popular hangout, and the place to sip extraordinary ciders with blends that are tart, dry, sweet, or aromatic.

The Shenandoah Spirits Trail features more than 40 establishments in the region that create wine and spirits.
The Shenandoah Spirits Trail features more than 40 establishments in the region that create wine and spirits. M Joabar/Shenandoah Valley Tourism Partnership

Swover Creek Farm grows hops and fruit on its Virginia Century Farm (it’s been in the same family for more than 100 years). Lynn and Dave St. Clair turned their historic barn into a brewpub and beer garden, so after you’re done picking blackberries, stop in for a cold Dirty Blond, Swover’s bestselling craft beer, or try its wood-fired pizzas (the best is The Reuben). Close to Harrisonburg is the new Purple WOLF Vineyard and Tasting Room. Located on Julie Haushalter’s White Oak Lavender Farm, your visit can be a garden tour with lavender cuttings, or culinary experiences (berry ice cream infused with lavender) and interactions with friendly animals. "My mission is to help people relieve tensions," Haushalter says. “Lavender offers a natural way to help with anxiety.” Lavender lovers relish the soothing scents, including trying their wine blends with lavender for the smoothest of vintages. Award-winning Backroom Brewery, located in Warren County is famous for their Hop Harvest Party (in late summer/early fall) where you help the brewmaster actually harvest the hops and then can partake in the brew. It’s really great fun for the entire family.

Artisans Center of Virginia

The network of Artisan Trails sprinkled throughout Virginia are collections of galleries, country stores, studios, and agri-artisan farms. Woodstock Garden Café is a member of the Shenandoah County Artisan Trail. This cafe serves farm-to-table dishes inside a bountiful nursery filled with local crafts and plants. Cristina’s Café combines locally sourced baked goods and entrees with a platform for musicians and artists. E. Pearls in downtown Strasburg features original floral designs, pottery, and antiques. While you’re there, don’t miss Strasburg’s world-class Staufferstadt Murals along Main Street.

Wilderness Road

The Shenandoah Valley’s Wilderness Road is a history-oriented trail illuminating the migration route of settlers moving west during frontier times. The museums on this trail are often inside centuries-old homes that have been lovingly restored. Belle Grove Historic Plantation is a National Park site and survived a bloody battle during the Civil War. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley features exhibits on the history, culture, and art that developed in the region.

Where to Stay

Find a cabin to spend the night at Shenandoah River State Park.
Find a cabin to spend the night at Shenandoah River State Park. Virginia State Parks

Looking to spend the night? You have lots of options throughout the region. Cabins and lodges are available in the Shenandoah River State Park and on Skyline Drive. Accommodations like Shenandoah River Lodge feature breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge. There are bed and breakfasts, like the Inn at Gristmill or Applewood Inn & Llama Trekking, all over the region, each offering its own unique attraction. As Coltrain describes her favorite experience:

"Spend the night on the farm, then pick your own eggs in the morning for breakfast. Get a real taste of farm life. A little time among those rolling green hills, red barns, and white farmhouses, and you’ll feel your stress melting away."

Originally written for Staunton.

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