Your Leaf Peeping Paradise

Fall in Staunton Photo by Warren Fraught

If you’re in search of those perfect fall colors, look no further than the Shenandoah Valley and its Queen City, Staunton. Nestled between the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest and Shenandoah National Park, the mountain town is the just 20 miles from the entrance of both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. These scenic routes make for a great driving tour offering scenic overlooks with breathtaking mountain views ideal for photo ops and picnics. They also provide access to a number of the area’s most popular hiking destinations for all ages and abilities. Here are two that will offer those stunning fall colors you’re clamoring for:

From Skyline Drive try Blackrock Summit, a geological wonder that’s an easy 1-mile loop. From the summit of boulder-strewn Blackrock enjoy views that extend for miles in multiple directions. 

From the Blue Ridge Parkway, try Humpback Rocks; a challenging two-mile hike offering amazing views from the top of this popular rock outcropping. For those looking for an easy leg-stretcher start at the Humpback Visitor Center and take the Mountain Farm Trail (.25 mile) leading to the Outdoor Farm Museum where you can tour a 19th century log cabin and outbuildings complete with costumed interpreters providing demonstrations of subsistence farmers. Another nearby hike, Catoctin Trail, starts at the Humpback Rocks picnic area and is an easy walk (.3 mile) leading you to an overlook of the Shenandoah Valley. Spend the afternoon discovering the region’s flora and fauna culminating in a picnic lunch. 

Route 11
Or take the road(s) less traveled through the Shenandoah Valley. Traveling to Staunton–headed south–hop on Route 11 which parallels Interstate 81 and is a pleasant drive through charming small towns. Along the way, and not too far off Route 11 you’ll find: Route 11 Potato Chips, Luray Caverns and Dayton Farmers Market. From your home-base of Staunton you can continue south on Route 11 to Lexington with a stop at another natural wonder: Natural Bridge.

Route 250
From Staunton take Route 250 west to Monterey. Driving through the town of Churchville consider a stop at T-bone Tooters for lunch and then a jaunt at the top of Shenandoah Mountain. From the top of the mountain, is a popular viewing area and features an easy half-mile, winding-trail that offers an access point to the gently rolling Shenandoah Mountain Trail, and Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness.

Route 252
Another scenic route from Staunton is Route 252 toward Lexington. Start your morning at the Staunton Farmers’ Market for breakfast and some shopping. Take Middlebrook Road from Downtown Staunton (passing Sunspots Studios) and make your way through the small towns of Middlebrook and Newport before hitting the historic Wade’s Mill. Conclude your scenic drive at Rockbridge Vineyard before you heading back to Staunton for a farm to table dinner and a show at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse.

WINE Your Way Through Autumn Splendor in the Shenandoah Valley

ShenValleyScenic_28It’s no secret that October is the best month for leaf peeping in Shenandoah Valley. But did you know that it’s also Virginia Wine Month? Here’s a guide on how to uncork the fun:

Staunton and Harrisonburg are located just off Interstate 81, which runs north south through the Shenandoah Valley. These two vibrant cities – just 25 minutes apart – form the perfect bookends to your next wine getaway.

Downtown Staunton
Downtown Staunton

If you like curvy county roads, skip the highway and try Route 11 or Route 42.  Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park provides a loftier option (and with the higher elevation, an earlier color show.)

Fall’s cooler temperatures bring clear skies with spectacular views of the mountain ranges to the east and west.

Nearby Vineyards

The view from Barrenridge Vineyards
The view from BarrenRidge Vineyards

BarrenRidge Vineyards is located on the grounds of a family-owned apple orchard, and features an 1890′s apple barn that has been converted into a state-of-the-art winery.

In addition to a beautiful landscape, Bluestone Vineyards offers tastings and tours so guests can get a deeper look into the winemaking process. At CrossKeys Vineyards, you can sip al fresco on the patio, and grab a bite from the pairing menu.

Downtown Sips   

It’s always wine-time in downtown Staunton, so if you’re serious about sipping make time to visit Barking Dog Wine Bar, AVA Wine Bar, and the sleek downtown tasting room of Ox-Eye Vineyard.  Need something to carry home or share a favorite wine purchase? Check out the handcrafted, witty (and reusable!) wine bags at Made, conveniently located next to Barking Dog Wine Bar!

In Harrisonburg, Downtown Wine & Gourmet offers free wine tastings every Friday from 5-7pm. If you need to stock up for the ride home, check out Vintage Wines which offers the largest selection of wines in the Shenandoah Valley.

Sera_Petras_Photography_Zynodoa-51
Dinner at Zynodoa

Dine Out in Style

In Staunton, you’ll want to book a table at Zynodoa or Emilio’s. In Harrisonburg, you can’t miss with either Local Chop & Grill House or Joshua Wilton House. All of these fine restaurants proudly offer Virginia wine by the glass, and offer customized wine pairing suggestions for your meal.

Wondering how long to stay?

Plan to spend at least two nights, more if you want to take in museums, theaters, art galleries and other attractions. You can begin your wine-getaway in either Harrisonburg or Staunton – why not spend a night in each city to get the best of both worlds?

Travel tip: visit mid-week and skip the crowds!

Lodging packages

Want to stay in the city? Make plans to stay at The Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton.  Originally built in 1924 and a member of Historic Hotels of America, this 124-room is a Shenandoah Valley landmark. Ask for the “Downtown Wine” package (includes complimentary Virginia wine upon arrival, wine tasting for two at Ox-Eye Tasting room, 50% off bottles of wine in Sorrels Lounge, and more.)

If you prefer a more intimate location, luxurious amenities await you at By the Side of the Road Bed & Breakfast in Harrisonburg. When you book your reservation, ask for the “Shenandoah Wine Trail” package (includes complimentary Virginia wine upon arrival, a light gourmet picnic to carry to one of your vineyard stops, discounts at local vineyards, voucher for a romantic dinner for two, and a hot gourmet breakfast basket delivered to your cottage door.)

In the Shenandoah Valley, local goodness is everywhere. Stop by a local farmer’s market, brewery, or pumpkin patch to bring some of this season’s bounty home with you.