For explorers and valley locals alike, check out this action-packed agenda full of trails and ales to get the most out of 48 hours in the charming city of Staunton and nearby Shenandoah National Park.
If you’re itching for adventure but want a quaint town to awaken to each morning, the charming city of Staunton, Virginia should be on your list of places to visit. Located at the foothills of Shenandoah National Park and a short 30-minute drive to the northern entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Staunton offers beautiful nature, historical sights, and a wide swath of craft breweries at its fingertips.
Before the gunslinging Wild West we’re all familiar with, Staunton, and greater Augusta County, was considered the western frontier of the time. The city has since become an epicenter of historic attractions, while being home to an award-winning theatre, the American Shakespeare Center, and the Frontier Culture Museum which provides a look into life from the 1700s. Fun fact, it is also the birthplace of the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson. But, if you’re not delving into history, you should be setting out for adventure in Shenandoah National Park and the nearby Appalachian Mountains. Read on for some of the best trails, outdoor leisure spots, and places to quench your thirst after a day out in the sun.
To get a vibe of any town, I always head right to their farmer’s market. Located downtown in the historic wharf district, you’ll find the city’s producer-only market, open until noon from the first Saturday in April until Thanksgiving. Get a true taste of the region from vendors who grow or produce their goods all within a 75-miles radius of Staunton. Grab some organic fruits and veggies to power up for the day, or save for a snack while exploring.
Pro tip, if you’re like me and want to start your day with a jolt of caffeine, don’t forget your reusable mug and head to Blue Mountain Coffee for the local blend, not a part of the market but next door in the wharf.
- Distance: 23 miles, ~30 minute drive from Staunton
- Hike: Humpback Rock Trail, 1.7 miles, hard difficulty
Humpback Rocks is one of the best and most accessible hikes offering towering views of the Shenandoah Valley. Start at Humpback Rock parking area to begin a vertical hike where you scramble 790 feet up for over a mile to reach the summit. Once you’re done gaining elevation, you’ll see a sign for the Appalachian Trail and head left where there’s an opening in the treeline. Venture along the rocks until you find a nice place to cool off, watch cars pass on the Blueridge Parkway, and see birds soaring through the valley. If you head up early for sunrise to beat the crowds, you may be rewarded with a mystic mountain fog passing through, making for some great photos.
On the way back down, stop at the Humpback Rock Visitor Center and walk through the Outdoor Farm Museum (if the parking area is full, this will be where you want to park). This easy stroll offers a garden, a log cabin staffed with a Park Ranger, and a series of other buildings that represent elements of the late 19th century. During the summer months, be sure to catch the Old Time Concert Series at the visitor center.
- Distance: 24 miles, ~35 minute drive from Staunton
- Activities: Kayaking, fishing, swimming, hiking, easy difficulty
Another great place that offers an array of activities is Sherando Lake. Whether you want to take a dip, kayak, fish, picnic with friends and family, or spend a night in one of 65 campsites, Sherando Lake is a great spot. This is a perfect opportunity to put those farmers’ market goods to use.
You can expect to find a 25 acre Lower Lake with a sandy beach, stocked trout waters, easy hiking trails around the circumference, and a small island that is fun to swim or kayak to and set up a hammock or slackline. There’s also a 7 acre Upper Lake offering a more quaint setting, as it’s only used for fishing, and a visitor center for a taste of history, having been built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the mid 1930s. If you’re not fishing, be sure to park at Lower Lake.
The place is beautifully maintained and super accessible, with very clean facilities. Spend an afternoon recreating, or after your strenuous day hike Lower Lake is a great place to refuel with lunch and cool off in the water on a hot day.
- Distance: 15 miles, ~20 minute drive from Staunton
- Favorites: Daily Pils Pilsner and Ebb IPA
One of fifteen breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail is Basic City Beer Company. Basic City makes its home in a former industrial complex that once housed Virginia Metalcrafters, with high ceilings, saw-tooth windows, reclaimed pipe, and wooden tap room tables. A natural spring pumps a million gallons of artesian water for use in the brewery’s beers, which are served across one of the largest single-pour zinc bar tops in the country. There’s plenty to do for all ages—including the kids. Be entertained with arcade games, cornhole, outdoor picnic tables, and a hammock grove. If the weather’s nice, relax outside with some Hops Kitchen food truck grub, or while away the day indoors challenging friends to endless foosball. Located just outside of Shenandoah National Park, Basic City is a great place to head after hiking Humpback Rocks or kayaking Sherando Lake.
Try the “don’t forget to take your Daily Pils” Pilsner, a classic favorite. If you’re feeling something different, the Ebb and Bask IPA’s are fan favorites with citrus and mosaic tastes. Be sure to grab your Beerwerks Passport here and collect your first stamp! If you’re still feeling hungry, Chicano Boy is a local favorite with some of the best tacos in the area, and the Supreme Taters are a huge hit.
- Distance: 1 mile, ~5 minute drive from downtown Staunton
- Favorites: Mountain biking, hiking, sports, picnics
Very close to downtown Staunton is Montgomery Hall Park, comprised of 148 acres of rolling hills, quiet woodlands, sports fields, playgrounds, picnic shelters, trails, sports courts, and a public swimming pool. One of its highlights is a 4.1 mile loop offering singletrack, fast trails with short climbs. There’s a total of three trails on the loop in the park: Scout, Yulee’s, and the MHP Expressway. The typical loop starts at the bottom of the park on the MHP Expressway, and you can pick up the trailhead by heading around the bottom of the park.
Trails are suitable for an expert getting a ride in, or taking the entire family for a bike ride. Halfway through, you’ll find a part that is meadowy and has many switchbacks that are exhilarating to ride through, laid out in such a way that if you ride them fast, you’ll always be on edge. The trails are maintained by both city staff and local cyclists, and always in great shape.
- Distance: 4 miles, ~10 minute drive from downtown Staunton
- Favorites: Summer Ale and Belgian Dubbel
Another place to quench your thirst on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail is Skipping Rock Beer Company. Before heading over, Cranberry’s is a great place to grab a bite of “organic and natural foodstuffs” and has some great lunch options. Their grilled organic peanut-ginger tofu “Signature Wrap” and local kombucha was delicious. No need to worry if you have food restrictions, they have a large variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches for everyone. A quick drive from downtown and one of Staunton’s five breweries, Skipping Rock’s taproom and 1.9 acre lot has a relaxed feel with outdoor space, offering cornhole, picnic tables, and a Hops Kitchen food truck. There’s a stage for concerts and other events, making it a great place to “bring your family and friends to worry less and live more”, as their slogan states. Head here after mountain biking Montgomery Hall Park or walking around town. Try their delicious small batch, refreshing, and fruity blonde Summer Ale on tap, or the award-winning Belgian Dubbel with sweet, rich caramel and dark fruit flavors. Ask the bartender to stamp your Beerwerks Passport here too, you’re well on your way filling it up.
- Distance: 27 miles, ~35 minute drive from Staunton
- Activities: Rock climbing, photography, picnics
Last on the list is Raven’s Roost Overlook for a spectacular Shenandoah Valley sunset. Easy access off the Blue Ridge Parkway with a parking lot and picnic area offering views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and valley to the west. This is a perfect place to watch the sunset after a hike at Humpback Rocks, or once you’ve grabbed a cold one at a Beerwerks Trail brewery. To the left, a path heads from the overlook to a broad rock ledge and features an iconic tree somehow jetting out from the rocks. If you’re a climber, this is a popular spot along the bluffs. There at least 14 established toprope routes, consisting of mostly easy and moderate grades from 5.4 to 5.8. It’s good climbing, and a longer, single-pitch route that gets up to about 100 feet.
Zak is a New York City based explorer, freelance photographer, and creative strategist by way of the Midwest. His passions are around creative strategy, digital media, visual storytelling, environmental justice, and sustainable living. Growing up along the shores of the Great Lakes instilled in him at a young age a deep appreciation for the natural world. In his free time he enjoys adventuring to all new parts of the world! Read more about his work on his website.