While the internet can be a great source of information when planning a trip, quite often the websites hit the major tourist spots, and occasionally a hidden gem or two. It can be especially tough to know where to start in a place like Shenandoah County, where there is so much to explore. So we went right to the source and talked to a few locals to get the best recommendations of what to eat, see, and do the next time you find yourself in this quaint pocket of northwestern Virginia.
Sip Wine at Third Hill Winery
“When we first moved here, I didn’t think there would be a lot to do besides going to the Shenandoah River, but I was so wrong!” explains Wendy DeMello. She decided to retire here, and you’ll now find Wendy and her husband Ed running Third Hill Winery, tucked away in the charming town of Quicksburg. The DeMellos love comfortable and fun environments, so they designed their winery in the same way. They serve a variety of red and white wines as well as a rosé, alongside pairings like cheese plates that, according to Wendy, are “great for enjoying by our fireplace in the winter or outside on our spacious deck on warmer days.”
Take on the Full Wine Trail
Third Hill is just one of a handful of spots that make up the Shenandoah County section of the larger Shenandoah Spirits Trail. Slicing through the county along Interstate 81, following this wine and beer trail will familiarize you with the vino that the valley is known for. Each spot on the way has its own unique characteristics, like Cave Ridge Vineyard and Winery that boasts spectacular views of the valley or Muse Vineyards that won the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup.
Learn to Tie Flies at Murray’s Fly Shop
Since starting his now famous fly shop in 1962, Harry Murray has written 15 books on fly fishing and has contributed to all the national fly fishing magazines. It’s safe to say that Harry knows what he’s doing, so if you’ve ever wanted to learn to tie your own flies, this is the place to go. Murray’s Fly Shop hosts roughly 20 seminars in the shop each winter, but it doesn’t stop there. “In the spring we conduct about 15 schools on trout fishing in Shenandoah National Park and in the summer we have about 20 classes for smallmouth bass fishing in the Shenandoah River,” explains Harry. Besides the fly fishing opportunities, he appreciates that “history is an important part of the entire Shenandoah Valley. George Washington surveyed the area in his 20s and the area played an important role in the early part of the civil war.”
Snow Tube at Bryce Resort
This festive resort in Basye, Virginia hosts a variety of traditional winter activities, but by far the most unique is the snow tubing that takes place along their 800-foot tubing lanes. Wendy DeMello is a fan of the beauty of the area and notes that it’s a great place to go even just to watch. “Eat in the Copper Kettle and watch the kids snow tubing as the sun sets. Once twilight sets in, the lights come on across the resort and it’s magical,” she explains.
Stock Up on All Things Apple at Paugh’s Orchard
Paugh’s Orchard concocts so much more than apples, venturing into unique local products apple butter, cider, and honey sticks that go over well with little ones. And you can feel great about your purchase, too, because Mr. and Mrs. Paugh (who also have been married for 52 years) are “committed to supporting local businesses and helping the agriculture industry carry over to the next generation.”
Taste Historic Barbeque at 1752
If you think you’ve had barbecue before, think again. According to Craig George of 1752 Barbecue, “because of the deep history of roadside chicken and Native American influences in Virginia, some people believe that barbecue actually started in Virginia.” 1752 operates out of Woodstock Brewhouse, serving up their finger lickin’ confections on the weekends. “It’s kind of like a food truck, but inside a building instead of outside of it,” Craig notes.
Have a Brew at Woodstock Brewhouse
Speaking of the Woodstock Brewhouse, this place is worth a visit all on its own. With a slogan of “one-of-a-kind beers crafted in the one-and-only Shenandoah Valley,” it’s impossible to pass up. Besides barbecue on the weekends, pizza and gyros are available during the week, which pair well with their collection of top notch beer, like their locally inspired Seven Bender American pale ale. The Brewhouse also hosts local music once a week in addition to other fun events, so be sure to keep an eye on their calendar.
Float the Shenandoah River
One thing that Craig from 1752 Barbecue recommends is floating the bends in the Shenandoah River. “The thing about the seven bends in the Shenandoah river is that you can drop in, float for two hours, and get out and walk back to your car.” Since any river floating fan knows that sorting the pickup and drop off logistics of a float is the worst part, experiencing this section of the Shenandoah is an easy feat that you can even tackle solo.
Spend the Night at River Bluff Inn
Move over Airbnb—traditional bed and breakfasts are alive and well in Shenandoah County and River Bluff Inn is one of them. Spending a night here feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, yet the space is conveniently located on the Shenandoah River just a few miles of off Interstate 81. Expect remote log cabin vibes from the moment you check in until you check out.
Visit Big Schloss Overlook
Schloss means “castle” in German, and was given the name by settlers in the area due to the appearance of this rocky outcropping. Sitting at almost 3,000 feet in elevation, head to the top of Big Schloss for expansive views of Little Schloss Mountain in Virginia and the valley below in West Virginia. There are several routes to get up there, including a 4.4-mile trail from Wolf Gap Recreation Area in WV, or an 11.4-mile trek from the Virginia side. Either way, this is a challenging hike, but we promise the views will be worth it. The leaves are beautiful and bursting with color in the fall, but this popular trek is a must-do anytime of year.
Camp in the George Washington National Forest
Covering a quarter of Shenandoah County, the George Washington National Forest is a favorite local recreational area. With more than 170 miles of multi-use trails to explore, why not bring your tent and stay for the weekend? While dispersed camping is free and allowed anywhere in the forest, there are three historic campsites worth checking out. Camp Roosevelt was the very first Civilian Conservation Corps Camp in the U.S., and you can still see the foundations where the original buildings once stood. Little Fort Campground also holds a bit of history, as this primitive campsite is located near an old stagecoach rest stop. The campground at Elizabeth Furnace offers easy access to the Pig Iron and Charcoal Trails, which lead to a cabin and old iron furnace from the 1800s.
When asked to describe Shenandoah County, George told us, “when you cross over the mountains, you immediately know you’re somewhere else.” Sounds about right.
Originally written by RootsRated for Shenandoah County, VA.
Featured image provided by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishin