Virginia’s Shenandoah County is packed with natural wonders just waiting to be explored. Nestled in the historic Shenandoah Valley, between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian mountains, nearly a quarter of the county is covered by the George Washington National Forest, capped by the peaks and ridges of Great North Mountain and Massanutten Mountain. The North Fork of the Shenandoah River ribbons along the eastern edge of Shenandoah County, skirting the Blue Ridge, and stocked trout streams like Passage Creek also meander through the area.
Offering everything from spectacularly serene winter hikes to sun-drenched summer float trips, the abundance of year-round recreational offerings just might make Shenandoah County the most adventure-filled place in Virginia. Here are seven ways to make the most of your next trip.
1. Hit the Trails
First of all, the place is a veritable trail junction, with 178 miles of trails weaving through Shenandoah County. Hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers alike can choose from a motley assortment of routes—with everything from an easy, three-mile loop around Lake Laura to the 10-mile haul to the top of historic 2,106-foot Signal Knob, once used as a lookout by Confederate soldiers tracking Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley.
There are also options for bagging some serious mileage in Shenandoah County. The 71-mile Massanutten Trail strings together the high ridges of massive Massanutten Mountain, boasting stunning views of Fort Valley—the so-called ‘valley within the valley’. For an even longer haul, there’s the Tuscarora Trail, originally intended as a bypass for the Appalachian Trail. The 252-mile route winds its way through Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, meandering through Shenandoah County before meeting the Appalachian Trail in the nearby Shenandoah National Park.
For other types of trail lovers, Shenandoah County’s slice of the George Washington National Forest has tracks for everyone from equestrians to off-road enthusiasts. Fort Valley Ranch can arrange horseback rides in the national forest if you don’t have your own. Not to be excluded, off-roaders can tackle rugged forest tracks in the Peters Mill Run and Taskers Gap areas, just southeast of the town of Edinburg.
Shenandoah County’s network of mingling trails also makes the place an epic destination for singletrack seekers. Mountain bikers can hit the newly-forged Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, a 480-mile route that is pieced together with a string of local trails and forest service roads through the wilderness. Shenandoah County also features carefully curated mountain singletrack at the Bryce Bike Park. Unveiled in 2013, the park offers eight lift-accessible trails for both beginner and advanced riders, precision-crafted in cooperation with Gravity Logic, 402 Trails, and Trek Bicycles.
2. Ride the Scenic Byways
For cyclists who prefer seamless tarmac to singletrack, Shenandoah County has plenty of enticing routes to explore. The county’s scenic byways weave past wineries and swaths of national forest, connecting history-rich towns sprinkled with art studios, boutiques, museums, and eateries cooking up locally-sourced ingredients. One of Shenandoah County’s back roads, Route 11, has functioned as a transportation artery since before the American Revolution. Once called the Valley Pike, the route was first a thoroughfare for Native Americans in the region, and later, a well-trafficked toll road linking Northern cities with locations to the south and west, acting as a portal to the frontier for hearty settlers.
3. Take Flight
Ready to break the adventure mold entirely? While the trails in the George Washington National Forest showcase some pretty stunning scenery, nothing can compete with the bird’s-eye views bestowed by an aerial adventure—and Shenandoah County has plenty to offer.
Valley Ballooning in Edinburg offers breathtaking hot air balloon rides over the Shenandoah Valley any time of year. Thrillseekers can soar through the sky on Bryce Resort’s Zipline Adventure. The resort’s zipline course zigzags across several different lines, 90 feet above the ground. Be prepared to reach speeds of nearly 40 mph!
For experienced sky riders, Shenandoah County’s portion of the George Washington National Forest also features two of the region’s premier hang gliding launches: the Edith’s Gap Launch Site and the Woodstock Hang Glider Launch Area (newbies can find courses or instructors courtesy of the U.S. Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association).
4. Paddle the Shenandoah River
Paddlers can explore Shenandoah County along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, one of the most singular stretches of water in Virginia. While charting a course through the eastern edge of Shenandoah County, the North Fork contorts into a series of striking curves known as the ‘Seven Bends’—a stunning way to see the Shenandoah Valley. Best of all, riding the river doesn’t even require a paddle—the sluggish current and shallow water also make the North Fork ideal for canoeing or floating, and Route 11 Outfitters in Woodstock can arrange paddling or tubing trips. Note: the river is not entirely without obstacles, so consult a route map for navigational challenges likes dams and low water bridges before heading out.
5. Cast a Line
Aside from float potential, Shenandoah County’s waterways have another draw. Smallmouth bass congregate en masse along bedrock ledges lining the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, and 31 miles of trout streams lace the county’s portion of the George Washington National Forest. In addition to browns and rainbows, the forest’s streams have remained a bastion for native brook trout, which have vanished from much of their historical range in the southeast.
6. Hit the Slopes
Winter in the Shenandoah Valley is another opportunity for adventure. Skiers and snowboarders have precious few downhill options in Virginia, making Bryce Resort in Shenandoah County a real treasure. One of just four ski resorts in the state, Bryce’s 1,750-foot mountain is draped with eight downhill runs and a terrain park, including a black diamond route ominously named ‘Hangover’.
7. Explore the Towns
After a day outdoors, Shenandoah County’s charming towns are the perfect post-adventure digestif. In historic Woodstock, the fourth oldest town in the state, grab a bite and peruse Woodstock Café & Shoppes, or head to Strasburg and regroup with a locally-sourced lunch at the Cristina’s Café, a farm-to-table eatery serving up sustainable fare with a Mexican spin. Then, delve into the county’s rich history at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War in New Market, complete with battlefield trails to wander.
The veritable buffet of recreational opportunities on tap year-round in Shenandoah County might just make it the most adventure-filled place in the Old Dominion State, but you should really find out for yourself.
Originally written by RootsRated for Shenandoah County, VA.
Featured image provided by Photo courtesy of Shenandoah County Tourism