WHY GO: Just 90 minutes from Washington DC, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is seeing a surge of long and short-term visitors seeking wide-open spaces and outdoor recreation in majestic mountains. For obvious social distancing reasons, hiking and other outdoor excursions have inevitably become preferred local getaway activities. Not only are they pleasurable, but these activities contribute to your health – a win-win.
Start in the northernmost town of Strasburg, and then, wend your way 30 miles down Route 11 to Toms Brook, Woodstock, Edinburg, Mount Jackson, Bayse and New Market.
In the 1800’s, Shenandoah County was the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy,” torched by Union General, Philip Sheridan, during the Civil War. Destroying every last sprig of wheat, stalk of corn and storage barn, the raid succeeded in cutting off Confederate food supplies.
Now, “The Burning Raid” is generally relegated to the history books. The Shenandoah Valley is verdant, beautiful and open to all. There are caverns to explore, Rose Bowl floats to ogle, superb potato chips to munch, murals to study, summits to climb, wine to sip, and, surprisingly, a growing number of passionate artisans and crafts-people. The Getaway Mavens tells you how to get the best out of this region through its history, food and art. Read on….
WALK: Strasburg Mural Tour, the Staufferstadt Mural Project, Strasburg
Amble down Main St. Strasburg and you’re rewarded with cool art by “people from all over the world” – thanks to The Staufferstadt Mural Project. (Staufferstadt is Strasburg in German).
Mural Artists from other lands immerse themselves in the community, absorb Strasburg’s essence, and then create impressions of their time here. Some of the results are thrilling, others, disorienting. But all ten murals tell a story, like the husband/wife collaboration of a rainbow, complete with fawn. (David and Desiree Guinn saw one on their way to Virginia and had to add it in).
Another depicts a young woman from a black and white photo that artist Lula Goce found in the Strasburg Library. That scene can be found on the exterior library wall.
Other murals include one about Father and Sons – on the side of an ice-cream shop. Another – the house-painted River Tributary, and spray-painted black/white Baby With Grandparents by Over Under.
EXPLORE: Strasburg VA Downtown
Do you still have your slot-car from childhood? I do! Then, don’t forget to bring it along. Yep – Strasburg accommodates this Boomer pastime with slot car racing at Strasburg Hobbies.
For unusually flavored ice cream made by the local Mennonite community, stop in to Sugar Creek Snowy & Sweet. Even if there are no events at the immaculate town park (with covered stage), check it out if only for one of the many the LOVEworks “LOVE” signs throughout Virginia.
VISIT: Strasburg Museum, Strasburg
You might first dismiss this museum as a dusky place with a lot of old dusty stuff, but resist the urge and plan at least an hour here. You’ll see some amazing things related to Shenandoah County. Inside a former steam-driven pottery factory in use until 1913, and a railroad station until the 50’s, it was turned into a museum in 1970.
Strasburg citizens delved into attics, barns and closets to create exhibits you see now. Black history, Native American History, Civil War, German heritage, farming – you’ll find it all here. Representing two sides of a conflict and then Unification, Confederate and Union Flags hang alongside the American Flag from a soaring 40-foot ceiling.
If you have only 30 minutes, be sure to see these three things
Two intact Colonial Era German bibles: One saved by a dead cat
This 1773 bible was owned by founder of Strasburg, Peter Stover. The larger one, printed in 1739, was in the possession of the Miller Family.
The 1739 bible was nearly destroyed during a Native American raid, when many in the Miller family were massacred. The bible was set afire, saved only by the weight and blood of a dead cat tossed on its cover. The last of the Millers donated it to the museum.
Strasburg was so famous for its pottery the town was nicknamed “Pot Town.” This museum happens to be repository for what is considered the best public display of Strasburg Pottery in the same place where said pottery was made.
A thriving industry in the 1800’s, most clayware companies in Strasburg turned out utilitarian ceramic food storage vessels. By the turn of last century, glass bottles and tin cans had effectively put pottery companies out of business.
John Schreiner’s Golden Age of Rail Model Train Set
Out back in a restored railroad car, you’ll find a version of September 21, 1939 writ small. Constructed in great detail by model-train set wizard, Schreiner, this multi-media diorama incorporates the Arthur Godfrey radio broadcast from that day, Gone with the Wind playing at a tiny drive-in-theater, a passenger train with interior lights, four smokestacks pumping out steam, night scenes with neon lights and stars in the sky, a very believable sunrise, and so much more.
Schreiner’s latest project involved photoshopping 300 images to use as backdrop for his 55 ft by 5 ft creation. This pulls the whole incredible scene together. If you have just a few minutes to spare – make a beeline to this dynamic historical wonder. Open May-October daily 10-4, $3 adults $.50 kids.
VISIT: Hupp’s Hill, Battle of Cedar Creek Museum, Strasburg
This little known museum is a must see for every Civil War buff. It tells the story of the last battle of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign on October 19, 1864 (which began in New Market in May of that year).
On General Grant’s orders, Union General Sheridan had taken a torch to Confederate food supplies in the valley on a destructive raid called “The Burning.” Once the breadbasket of the South, the Shenandoah Valley was so decimated, it was said, “a crow flying over would have to carry its own knapsack.”
Outside, a walking trail has signage about the battle, and the museum itself is worthwhile for its exhaustive database and printout of soldiers killed, captured and wounded in the Battle of Cedar Creek on both the Union and Confederate sides. $5, open daily 9-5.
TOUR: Battle Of Cedar Creek National Park, Strasburg
A Confederate victory at dawn and a Union victory by early evening, October 19, 1864 was one hell of a whirlwind day during the Civil War. Marching at night, the greatly outnumbered Confederate unit stealthy snuck around the clueless Union camp. Surrounding them on three flanks by 5am, the soldiers pushed them north to Middletown.
General Sheridan heard the cannon fire as he rode south from Winchester, and quickened his pace to rally his troops (later commemorated as “Sheridan’s Ride”). The men rose to the occasion with a Union victory by 5pm.
The 6th Regiment Volunteer Vermont Infantry sustained the greatest loss- out of 164 men, 110 were killed or wounded. Visitors from that State often want to see the Vermont Monument sculpted from Vermont granite that honors them.
The Battle was fought over a ten-mile range, and there’s lots to see on both public and private land, including the location of the bridge where the Confederate Army crossed at 3am.
Covering 3,700 acres, this somewhat confusing site is not your typical National Park. For starters, it’s managed by 6 entities, and is still improving with signage and mission.
And the Contact Visitor’s Center is located in a strip shopping center. But do stop there first. You’ll get an overview of the Battle and can pick up a free audio tour – or, if you’d like, arrange for a 2-hour car caravan or step-on tour led by Park Rangers. Open daily 9-4:30, free, fee for tours.
TOUR: Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown
A “witness house” during the Civil War, The Battle of Cedar Creek was fought in part across the street from this distinctive 1797 limestone home, quarried from the still-operating open-pit mine down the road.
Owned by Isaac Hite and his wife Nelly (James Madison’s sister), the 7500-acre gristmill, sawmill, livestock and whisky-making plantation kept 101 slaves at its peak. (Copper Fox Distillery now makes a 1797 Belle Grove Whiskey using the same recipe as Hite’s).
Thirteen ft. ceilings are more Antebellum than Colonial – very high for the era – and have been restored to original bright colors. Nellie died in 1803, and Isaac remarried Ann Morey who bore him ten children in 14 years. The bourgeoning family necessitated the addition of another wing.
A 45-minute tour will take you through the house, out onto the front porch where you can see indentations from Civil War bullets on one of the columns, and cannonball holes on the limestone façade.
You’ll continue into the original children’s bedroom, where Civil War General, Stephen Ramseur, died surrounded by his best West Point friends, General George Custer, and Captain Henry A. DuPont. A photo of that scene is posted on the wall. Open Mid-March – Dec. Mon-Sat 10-4, Sundays in summer 1-5. $12 adults, $6 children.
TOUR: Posey Thisisit Llama Farm, Toms Brook
Llamas manage to look regal and adorable at the same time, with their dignified stares and impossibly long eye lashes. Joyce Hall (nicknamed “Posey”) keeps 31 llamas on this farm open to the public. You first meet the attention-seeking “Mocha Man,” who greets you coming up the drive.
Also, meet “Butterscotch Mink,” who loves a deep tissue back massage, rolling his eyes in satisfaction. And “Easter Bunny” who demonstrates a “Llama Kiss” with a quickly eaten mouth-to-mouth-co-joined carrot.
These animals are so docile, they are brought to nursing homes as therapy animals. Plan a stop here to break up a hectic day. Call for an appointment – (540) 436–3517.
HIKE: Woodstock Tower in George Washington National Forest, Woodstock
The hike up from the parking area to the Woodstock Tower is pretty easy, but the switchback drive up Massanutten Mountain is an experience in itself. Tight corners are an understatement. Just take your time. The spindly steel tower, built in 1935 by the CCC for tourism (it isn’t a fire tower, in other words), is fun to climb. Just don’t expect unobstructed views. Surrounded by overgrown trees, this is not the best vantage point for sweeping vistas of the valley.
If you want the best overview of the landscape and snaking Shenandoah River below, take the gravel path to the hang-gliding launch point (you’ll see the road beneath you to your left as you walk down from the tower). If you time it right, you might see humans flying off the mountain as well.
HIKE/WALK: Seven Bends State Park, Woodstock
Seven Bends SP, referencing the seven turns and curves in the Shenandoah River here, is Virginia’s newest State Park (previously Camp Lupton). With over a thousand acres – some leased by corn farmers – and eight miles of trails that loop along the river and through meadows and woods, this exquisite place has proven popular with dog-walkers and groups of friends. At sunset, with cornfields aglow, 7 Bends is absolutely enchanting.
SIP: Muse Vineyard, Woodstock
This Estate Wine vineyard sits on a fork of the Shenandoah River. In fact, when the river swells, and the road in impassable, visitors can access the tasting room via a swing bridge. Award winning wines are made strictly from grapes grown on Muse’s 50-acre property.
STOP: Shenandoah County Historic Courthouse and Visitors Center, Woodstock
A symbol of Shenandoah County, this is the oldest working courthouse west of the Blue Ridge. Until 2012, trials were still held here, but local citizens wanted this historic building opened to the public.
A bit of Revolutionary War history. In January 1776, Pastor John Peter Muhlenberg had his Patrick Henry moment. Ending his sermon with, ‘There is a time to preach and a time to fight. This is the time to fight,” Muhlenberg threw off his frock to reveal his Continental Army uniform.
The current building has stood here since 1795, and was a prison for both Union and Confederate soldiers whose graffiti you can still see on the walls. Thurs – Sat. 11-4, free.
VISIT/TASTE: Swover Creek Farms and Brewery, Edinburg
Who knew this little obscure place could hold so many surprises. A “Century Farm,” – meaning it’s been in business at least 100 years – Swover Creek has moved into beer-making as a “Farm Brewery” (yes, that’s a thing).
The farm grows its own hops, and utilizes homegrown ingredients in the making of its Dirty Blonde, Red Clay (my favorite), IPA and other small-batch brews. Walk into this unassuming building to find a pretty tasting room and bar shelves lined with local-potter-thrown mugs, representing 130 members of the Swover Creek Brewery Mug Club.
Even more amazing – house-made sausages, served snug inside pretzel rolls, are the best I’ve ever had. No surprise that they took 1st Prize in Virginia Living Magazine.
SIP: Shenandoah Vineyards, Edinburg
In 2018, world-renowned vintner, Michael Shaps, took the reins of Shenandoah Vineyards – Virginia’s 2nd oldest, opened in 1976. As per Covid protocols, owners expanded outdoor seating – so you can enjoy flights of Rieslings, “Old Vine” Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and best-selling Chambourcin wines while overlooking a tapestry of vineyards and mountains. Flights 6 for $10.
This is one of the few mills to survive “The Burning,” though some scorched timbers are still visible. A 40-minute documentary about Sheridan’s torching of the Shenandoah Valley shows here four times a day. This is reason enough to stop by, but you may also want to wander through this somewhat slapdash trove of local artifacts, donated by Edinburg residents.
Most notable is an extensive collection of Red Cross memorabilia, and a display of the First Civilian Conservation Corp’s (CCC) camp in America – Camp Roosevelt. Established in 1932 , it’s just nine miles from here. Open Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5, $3.
VISIT: Route 11 Potato Chips, Mt. Jackson
Route 11 is the South’s version of Cape Cod Chips – and comes in all kinds of flavors (e.g Old Bay). Come into the factory to see 100 pounds of potatoes sliced in 42 seconds, then fried in 300 degree sunflower oil. Chips are inspected and “bad ones” – with holes, green etc. – are pulled out and fed to local cattle. Lucky cows. Open Mondays – Saturdays, 9am-5pm, free.
TOUR: Shenandoah Caverns and Main Street of Yesteryear, Quicksburg
Descend 60 feet into the only cavern in Virginia with elevator service to a wondrous subterranean world. This is the most formation-rich cave I’ve ever seen.
Throughout 17 rooms – this one-hour one mile tour will expose you to some of the best of them. Opened in 1922, Shenandoah Caverns has employed most of the surrounding population (within a 15-mile radius) at one time or another.
There are visual delights around every bend. You’ll see the multi-colored lit Grotto of the Gods, Cathedral Hall (most popular for weddings), Diamond Cascade glittering with calcium crystals, the “Capital Dome,” and let’s not forget the bacon. In 1964, National Geographic proclaimed Shenandoah Caverns to have some of the most realistic bacon formations on earth.
Access Main Street of Yesteryear from the Cavern gift shop. This collection of electrified, dynamic department store window displays from the 40’s and 50’s are in mint condition and still thrill. Circus scenes, Nutcracker reproductions, Cinderella at the Ball – you can stare for hours at these animatronic scenes. Open daily 9-5 (until 6pm in summer). $25 for Caverns, Main St. and American Celebration entrance.
TOUR: American Celebration on Parade, Quicksburg
You’ll find this homage to Rose Bowl and Presidential Inauguration floats in a humongous warehouse just down the hill from the Shenandoah Caverns.
Opened in 2000, this Technicolor extravaganza of a museum showcases over 20 full-sized parade floats created by Hargrove, Inc, a company that originated with a horse-drawn float for Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Parade.
Don’t miss the 47 ft wide, 20 ft. tall glittery woman used for the Miss America Pageant, the Rose Parade and Philly’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The ginormous 60 ft. long American Flag, appearing in both Reagan’s and Obama’s Inaugural parades, is arguably the most popular float here. Hargrove still creates these movable pieces of art for events all over the country. Open in season only, $25 adults for a Cavern Tour, Main St. and this museum.
ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES: Bryce Resort, Basye VA
This small and quaint member-owned resort is a tight community that also happens to be open to guests. There’s a seemingly endless array of activities on offer: from non-motorized boating on large man-made Lake Laura, to golfing on an 18-hole course, pools, tennis courts, zip-line, mini-golf, a climbing tower, and small ice-rink.
The centerpiece: skiing in winter and downhill biking in summer (both accessed via chair lift). When the snow flies, enroll your kid in ski school, and/or try snow tubing downhill.
Book a condo (some slope-side) through airbnb or directly, and avail yourself of all the outdoor adventures. Drive or fly in. Bryce Resort maintains its own small-plane airport.
On Wednesdays in warmer months, pick up baked goods, produce, and condiments at on-site Farmers Market – held in the main parking lot.
You’ll find two worthwhile restaurants nearby – not affiliated with the resorts. Basye Brew Hollow serves great craft beer and unique pizzas. R-House, serves upscale Venezuelan food in a trendy upscale space, with short ribs as special of the house.
PROVISION: Paugh’s Orchards, Quicksburg
On your way to or from Bryce Resort, provision up at this roadside Farm Stand. Pick up apples, peaches (each in season), and other produce.
SHOP: Jon Henry General Store, New Market
Though Jon Henry General Store was “Est. 2018,” it occupies a former General Store that opened in New Market in 1802 and closed on the eve of the Civil War. Afterwards, this main street building became a bank, overflow for a funeral home, and other businesses, before Henry decided to restore and turn it into one of the most (probably the most) eclectic General Stores known to man.
On the day I visited, outside bins were filled with oversize produce. One box held 15 to 70 lb. Naples Green Squash. Honestly, these veggies are the size of a young human. Henry sources all these foods from his farm in Mt. Jackson – and if you do nothing else, they are a sight to see.
But Henry has a flair for the fun and obscure. So step inside a warren of rooms to find a trove of treasures from birdseed to olive oils, Dippin Dot’s to Matchbook cars. The store sells towers of gently used Levi Blue Jeans (for $10!), all manner of chips, and pickles from inside the “Pickle Vault” (formerly the bank vault).
Novelty socks are huge sellers, as are Vegan Burgers. In fact, Gluten-Free Vegans will go wild here. I’m married to one, so I stocked up on gluten-free flour, candy, chips, and yep, vegan tooth brushes.
There are tote bags and dishtowels; some emblazoned with what Jon Henry learned was “the Christmas Animal of 2020 – the Possum!”
And, wait, there’s more! Dog treats. Toys for kids. Amish Herbal Tonic. Fudge. Dram CBD Water. And hot sauces from Henry’s Jumpin’ Run Farms. I left off 90% of what the Jon Henry General Store carries. So, you’ll just have to visit this antic place to find stuff for yourself. It’s worth a stop off of I-81.
SHOP/EAT/VISITORS CENTER: Calico Emporium and Jackson’s Corner Coffee Roastery and Café, New Market
Sharing space with the New Market Visitor’s Center (which may or may not be open), Calico Emporium features the work of 25 local artisans. One, Bobbie Wilinski, fashions lamps from household objects like coffee and teapots, bird cages, lathes, cameras and other improbable items.
Across the hall, find Jackson’s, a Coffee Roaster and Café. It’s Jon Henry’s go-to for coffee in the morning, and mine for basic, yet totally delish sandwiches.
VISIT: Virginia Museum of the Civil War, New Market Battlefield Shenandoah County
Every Civil War battlefield has its own dramatic story. This one involves kids. The Battle of New Market was the first time in history that 257 cadets, ages 15-21 from Virginia Military Institute, were called up as Confederate reinforcements to face the encroaching Union Army.
They marched 85 miles in five days, and fought on an open field so muddy from rain, it sucked the shoes right off their feet. (The battleground was subsequently called, “The Field of Lost Shoes”).
The Southern victory came at great cost. Ten cadets were killed and 47 wounded on May 15, 1864. Along with a stained glass wall by Israeli artist, Ami Shamir, depicting the battle, the museum houses uniforms, body armor and copies of letters that the cadets sent home. Those letters, imploring parents “not to be uneasy” about the upcoming battle, are the most heartrending of all. Open daily 9-5, free.
VISIT: Artist Studios on the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail.
There are now over 70 artists on the Trail, but stopping in at the studios of the following few is a start, and brings you to some that are most involved in community events. This is a fantastic way to discover back roads and small hamlets, and of course, fantastic people.
Kary Haun Pottery, Woodstock
Haun’s painting-like glazes are distinctive works of art. She works “slow and steady,” concentrating, for example, on the shape of geranium blooms, or woodland scenes.
Most popular for wedding gifts are her one-of-a-kind pour-over coffee brew pots, a unique and lovely version of the standard Melitta, that recipients will want to keep on display.
Susie Wilburn, Laughing Orange Studio, Tom’s Brook
One look at the bright orange/yellow house and you’ll know how the pottery studio got its name (which happens to be the name of the Sherman Williams paint color).
Though known for her diminutive fairy garden décor – mini fairy ponds, tables, leaf-seating, toadstools – Wilburn’s fantastical platters and bowls are stunning museum-worthy pieces.
Chickadees Pottery Gallery, New Market
You can still see 1898 graffiti in this pre-civil war jailhouse turned art gallery. Watch hand-thrown pottery being made in the back and then pick up a piece.
Where to Eat in Shenandoah County VA
EAT/DRINK: Woodstock Brewhouse, Woodstock
Belly up to the curved poured concrete bar in the repurposed Casey Jones Work-Clothes factory (which manufactured Wrangler jeans). Eight friends – all with other careers – got together to open this brewhouse. In 2015, “there was no place like this to go. So we created it.”
Sit overlooking fermenting tanks or on chairs from several baseball stadiums around the country. There’s even a green stool from Fenway’s Green Monster! Pub-grub, like Flatbread pizzas, hits the spot. Especially if it’s washed down with Brite Blonde, Tipsy Squirrel (nut brown ale), 7-Bender (referencing the Shenandoah River), Crow’s Provender IPA or other fresh brews.
EAT: Woodstock Garden Café @ Fort Valley Nursery, Woodstock
“On a stressful day, I love coming here to reset,” says a frequent patron of this true farm-to-fork café. Owners Brooke and Bryce Long source all their produce, eggs, and pork products from their family farm. Take your tasty Brie/Turkey/Jam on Croissant, Flatbread, or other fresh dish to the pretty outdoor covered patio and revel in the beauty all around you. The Woodstock Garden Café plans to stay open year round (with heaters).
EAT/BEER: Box Office Brewery, Strasburg
For those keen on really good pub food with their craft brews, plan a meal at the Box Office Brewery, in the former historic Strand Theater. The wings and fries are especially delectable. It’s a hot spot for sure in this small VA town that’s getting more artsy and foodie by the minute.
EAT: Locals Love
Old Dominion Doggery & Burger Shop for unusual beef franks (Strasburg). Woodstock Café in Woodstock – always a staple, now with gourmet dinner served Thurs-Sat nights. And the relatively new Edinburg Mill Restaurant,(Edinburg) for fine Woodstock farm-to-table meals.
Where to Stay in Shenandoah County VA
STAY: Hopewell House B&B, Strasburg
When Hopewell House owners, Alice Muellerweiss and Kevin Watson, tired of “roof-racking” their bicycles and then driving from their home in Alexandria VA to Shenandoah County VA on weekends, they decided to purchase a Victorian house in the small town of Strasburg.
They were intrigued by this home, built in 1905, and owned by Dr. Harry T. Hopewell, who maintained one side of the living room as his office, and the other as his home’s parlor. “That’s why there are two exterior doors side by side,” Muellerweiss explains. In late 2017, the couple decided to “transition the home into a Bike and Bed:” a B&B that began operations in June 2018 with three guest rooms.
Alice and Kevin live in a more recent expansion of the home, demarcated by a chef’s kitchen, where Alice performs her greatest hits (via skillet, stove, and oven).
Muellerweiss and Watson are both retired Military (Army), with a passion for cycling. In fact, many of their guests are avid cyclists as well. (The website, after all, is www.bikebedva.com). Watson actually wrote a book about Biking Day Trips from DC, highlighting 19 back-road routes. Watson is also in the process of developing a program of Inn to Inn rides, with 9 establishments already on board, incorporating VIP tours of wineries and micro-breweries.
First Impressions of Hopewell House
With wraparound porch, stunning interior woodwork – including large oak pocket doors – a fireplace, and Victorian period furnishings, my first thought was, “wow: cyclists don’t have to give up luxury for an active weekend stay.” Alice greets guests with a warm, infectious enthusiasm for both her home and the region. She and Kevin are good sources of information about attractions, hiking – and especially biking.
Rooms at Hopewell House
All three rooms are bedecked with antiques from the early 1900’s. I stayed in the “Century Room” (named for 100-mile cyclists) – a pretty canary-yellow hued suite with its own separate sitting room. Another room features two beds (double and single), meant for family or friends traveling together. (Alice makes it plain that all kinds of couples are welcome).
Breakfast at Hopewell House
Alice serves a delicious and hearty morning meal – the ideal send-off for hikers and cyclists out for the day. I sampled one of the most popular – sweet potato pancakes with apple compote – made from scratch, and ate a full stack. It was that good. The B&B also caters to those with food allergies, so, yes, call in your preference and Alice will work with you.
All 3 rooms are $150 per night, including breakfast, wi-fi, parking, and endless information about back-country bike routes. Just be aware – for possible discounts, call the inn directly: 703.606.9454 or contact through email. For now, Hopewell House books through Airbnb, which takes a fee.