Just 90 minutes from Washington DC, Virginia’s Shenandoah County is a world away from the bustle and grind of the city. Sitting in the shadow of Great North Mountain and the rippling ridges of the Massanutten range, Shenandoah County is a mountain mecca—and the ideal place for a weekend retreat for outdoor lovers.
Nearly a quarter of the county is covered by the George Washington National Forest, offering 178 miles of trails to explore, as well as paddling on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. We put together an itinerary that covers just one of the many ways to spend a fun-filled 48 hours in Shenandoah County, but a single weekend is really just scratching the surface.
Kick off your time in Shenandoah County with the short-but-sweet hike to the Woodstock Tower. Built by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the historic tower is perched atop one of the peaks in the Massanutten range in the George Washington National Forest. After hiking less than a quarter-mile, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping, 360-degree view from atop the tower—which includes striking natural features like the Seven Bends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the bucolic Fort Valley.
For lunch, head to the fourth oldest town in the state: Woodstock. Grab a beer and a bite in the historic locale at the Woodstock Brewhouse. The brewery is housed in a repurposed clothing factory once called Casey Jones, and features a tap list offering everything from sessions to saisons. On weekends, 1752 Barbecue begins serving up classics like beef brisket and pulled pork at the brewery, beginning at noon.
Too early for craft brews? Head to the cozily chic Woodstock Café, offering lunch staples like specialty sandwiches, soups, and salads. (The café is also a popular spot for brunch on the weekends!)
After lunch, head for the river—the North Fork of the Shenandoah, that is. There are nearly a dozen public access sites scattered throughout the county to launch from, including public parks such as the Strasburg Town Park.
In Shenandoah County the waterway charts a pastoral course, skirting the base of the scenic Blue Ridge, so you can’t really go wrong when choosing a section to explore. Plus, much of the waterway is a class I-II paddle, perfect for kayakers who want to practice their skills or for someone who wants to avoid fast water altogether.
Tackle the river at an even more leisurely pace with one of the tubing trips offered by Route 11 Outfitters in Woodstock. Aside from float trips, the outfitter also offers both professionally-led and self-guided kayaking excursions on the North Fork ranging from 3-5 hours.
Late Afternoon Relaxation
After a stint on the water, squeeze one last outdoor adventure into the itinerary and hit Shenandoah National Park. Use Strasburg as a jumping off point and head for the northern entrance to the national park near Front Royal. Spend the afternoon cruising Skyline Drive—the picturesque 105-mile motorway bisecting the park—while keeping an eye out for roadside wildlife, like berry-chomping black bears.
As the sun disappears behind the famously blue-hued mountains, seize the opportunity to stop and linger at any of the 75 scenic overlooks adorning Skyline Drive for killer photo ops. Or, swing by the Elkwallow Wayside at mile 24.1 for hand-dipped milkshakes.
Morning Bike Ride
Ease into the day on two wheels and take advantage of the diversity of rideable routes weaving through Shenandoah County. Mountain riders will love the rocky singletrack at the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area in the George Washington National Forest. For an adrenaline-charged excursion full of gritty climbs, make the 1.5-mile trip to the Buzzard Rock Overlook and continue another three miles to 2,106-foot Signal Knob, once used by Confederate troops as a lofty lookout during the Civil War.
Meanwhile, newbies can cut their teeth on the spellbinding and meticulously crafted singletrack at the Bryce Mountain Bike Park. A part of the Bryce Resort, the mountain bike park features eight lift-accessible trails catering to riders of all skill levels and was developed in conjunction with Gravity Logic, 402 Trails, and Trek Bicycles to create the ultimate rider-centric experience. Take the benign 2-mile loop around Lake Laura for a warm-up.
Next, let your legs recover with a culinary pilgrimage to Cristina’s Café in Strasburg. The homey, coffeehouse-style café cooks up a globally-inspired meal with locally-sourced ingredients and features a menu loaded with everything from quiche to quesadillas. Best of all, the place serves breakfast until 3 pm on weekends, so you can still have the requisite Sunday pancake stack for lunch.
After lunch, head to Murray’s Fly Shop in Edinburg to get the inside scoop on one of Shenandoah County’s premier pastimes. The legendary outfitter has been teaching anglers how to successfully hook smallmouth bass and native brook trout for over a half century, and offers lessons, workshops, and guided fishing trips. If you want to set out on your own, just load up on maps of Shenandoah County’s 31-miles of trout streams and go solo in pursuit of a brag-worthy fish of mythical proportions.
Late Afternoon Paddle
Cap off the afternoon back on the water at Lake Laura, part of Bryce Resort. Bask in the sun on the beach, go for a swim, or explore the 45-acre lake by kayak or SUP before wrapping up your weekend and heading home. The resort offers both upscale dining and The Express Grill with pizza and sandwiches, so you can grab an early dinner or head back into the valley and pick up something at any of the towns on your way out.
Where to Stay
Call it a day at one of Shenandoah County’s quaint and cozy bed & breakfasts. In Woodstock, the historic Inn at Narrow Passage has been welcoming guests for over three decades, and the riverside accommodation once served at the headquarters for General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson during the Civil War’s Shenandoah Valley campaign.
Or, head for the River Bluff Farm Bed and Breakfast just outside New Market. Spread over 20 acres, the B&B features three unique guest rooms, plus offers private access to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River (and provides loaner tubes for lazy floats!).
Originally written for Shenandoah County, VA.