An Alternative Spring Break: Five Road Cycling Excursions


Take a break from the hyped up tech world we live in with an alternative spring break. Fresh air renews the mind and spirit, and if we’re honest, we’re all probably overdue for an adventure. 

There’s no need to worry about what you’re leaving behind. Staunton will keep you busy when you’re not out exploring, as it’s a key cultural center west of the Blue Ridge Parkway and east of the Allegheny Mountains. Staunton is a natural home base for your Shenandoah Valley adventures when a spring break hub-and-spoke in Virginia outdoors is just what the doctor ordered.

EXCELLENT RIDES NEAR DOWNTOWN

The Perfect Loop is 15 miles beginning and ending in the city at Black Dog Bikes, your source for bicycle rentals and repairs. This loop is perfect for those who have a bit of biking experience and offers enough beauty and moderate climbs to keep the advanced rider content. Expect 835 feet of elevation change.

Heading south from the city, Arbor Hill-Stingy Hollow Loop is a little longer than Perfect Loop at 15.5 miles. The difficulty is about the same but does throw a gravel stretch and a gradual climb in for fun. The best part is the downhill coast back into the city. You’ll start and end at Black Dog Bikes for this ride. 

AWESOME COUNTRY BYWAYS

Stretch your ride a bit with a popular local route known as the Polyface Ride. You’ll start (and end) at Black Dog Bikes and head southwest toward the Alleghany Mountains. The prime attraction for this ride is Polyface Farm, a premier agricultural source for local restaurants and others across the Commonwealth. The ride is about 24 miles long and includes a gravel stretch that delivers you to Polyface. You can avoid that road and cut the trek down to about 20 miles, which in turn gives the route a beginner level rating.

Farther and bigger views await when you head out on the 31-mile Springhill Ridge Road Loop. Start near the duck pond at Gypsy Hill Park and head north. The course is a counter clockwise figure eight with rolling hills and a mostly downhill coast back into the city. For the distance, it’s considered to be an intermediate ride.

For the advanced cyclist, big mountain views and a distance of 45 miles await on the Badger Road Loop. This one also begins at the duck pond at Gypsy Hill Park but ventures northwest toward the Alleghany Mountains. Nice climbs equal nice descents, so the effort of this counter clockwise figure eight is absolutely worth the payoff. 

Prep, Eat, Sleep

Black Dog Bikes is your go-to for cycling equipment and repairs, not to mention tips for these routes and others!

Carb up for the day with a nutritious breakfast. We suggested Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery, which also has a nice selection of easy-to-carry snacks for the road. Farmhouse Kitchen & Wares, Newtown Bakery and Nu-Beginning Farm Store are also worth a glance for breakfast.

After your grand excursion, toast the effort, the views, and the new memories at one of our downtown breweries. There are four to choose from. We have faith that you can experience them all.

Rest well before and after your grand adventures. Find your perfect place to stay.


> Find more great rides in the area by checking out Bike the Valley.

> See part one of this series: An Alternative Spring Break: Five Awesome Hikes

Awesome Hikes: Mountain Views and Waterfalls

 

What’s better than spending a lovely fall day hiking to a great view or waterfall? Staunton is a natural home base for your Shenandoah Valley adventures where the options are almost unlimited, for everyone, from casual day-hikers to trail-savvy backcountry gurus. Just outside town, the southward-winding Blue Ridge Parkway is a portal to more than 300 miles of trails, while Skyline Drive provides access to more than 500 miles of hiking trails in the Shenandoah National Park. This doesn’t even include the two massive national forests—the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests—that flank this mountain-fringed town. 

Awesome hikes To The West

ELLIOT KNOB 

If you’re up to chasin’ waterfalls, Elliot Knob is a great place to start. West of downtown Staunton near Buffalo Gap, Elliot Knob is the highest point in Augusta County and the closest hike for stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley. The trail is 8.5 miles to the summit, and still considered to be a hidden gem in the grand scheme of Virginia’s best hikes.

Two significant and other minor falls are along the trail. Be cautious of slippery algae, but feel free to take off your shoes and chill out a while. The second major set of falls (marked by a cairn) is a great place to have a quick picnic. The flat rocks are begging you to perch, sunbathe, and enjoy a bright sunshiny day. If care to march on, a grassy summit with incredible Shenandoah Valley views awaits.

> Elevation Gain: 2,425 feet
> Time: Allow 5.5 hours for hiking; add additional for lunch and chill
> Parking: Virginia Route 42, pull-off to a gated area with a stop sign and an additional brown sign on the post marked “291.” Use “854 Little Calf Pasture Highway, Swoope, VA” as the address for GPS.

Extend the Elliot Knob hike by going around the backside of the mountain and trying Chimney Hollow. It’s a longer hike with more elevation gain, causing it to be rated 5 out of 5 in terms of difficulty. However, the views are worth the challenge (also rated 5/5).

All said, the point-to-point hike is 15.4 miles, but can be shortened by parking at Route 688 instead of Route 42 (the Elliot Knob parking point). 

> Elevation Gain: 3,670 feet
> Time: Allow 8 hours for the entire hike and don’t forget to figure in time for lunch
> Parking: Virginia Route 250, before Route 715. A non-descript pull-off on the right side of the road with coordinates of 38.27490, -79.29710. Have a partner leave another vehicle at the Route 688 lot (38.21332, -79.29599) or the Route 42 lot.

ramsey’s draft trail

Farther out Route 250 is the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness Area, which delivers a 16.8-mile loop that an overnight to accomplish. The Ramsey’s Draft Trail is highly rated across all HikingUpward categories, which means you’ll work your tail off, but the rewards are equally tremendous.

Expect steep ascents along two ridges in this loop, which will yield great views and really nice camp sites. You’ll dart back and forth across the stream as you go (be prepared for wet feet), and the trail has a tendency to be invisible in a few places due to rocky outcrops. Be aware of stinging nettles on the clockwise ascent.

As with all wilderness areas and Virginia outdoors in general, leave no trace. If those before you left evidence of their presence, please pack out what you can.

> Elevation Gain: 3,170 feet
> Time: Two Days
> Parking: Virginia Route 250, right on Ramsey’s Draft N (38.30828, -79.36090), go 100 yards beyond the Mountain House Picnic Area.

Awesome Hikes to the East

humpback rocks

Humpback Rocks once served as a landmark for wagon trains trying to cross the Blue Ridge in the 1840s. The trailhead for this popular hike is on the Blue Ridge Parkway and not far from I-64. Since the parking lot is usually well-populated, you might have better luck parking at the visitor’s center and strolling to the trailhead through the interpretive farm, which represents the regional architecture of the late 19th century.

The mile to the top is a steep, hard hike. Rocks stud the trail, but you won’t forget you’re close to civilization as there are occasional steps and benches. The beautiful views of the Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah National Park at the top are worth every step. This spot can score you amazing photographs, but you might have to shoot creatively around other hikers.

The most popular route is only two miles round-trip; however, if you’re looking for something longer, HikingUpward.com suggests adding two additional miles along the Appalachian Trail. The longer hike provides a gradual descent (your quads will thank you) and solitude that the well-traveled up-and-back does not.

> Elevation Gain: 800 feet
> Time: Allow 2.5 hours for hiking the longer route
> Parking: Park at the Humpback Rocks parking area, milepost 6. 37.96846, -78.89656

crabtree falls

1,200-foot Crabtree Falls, one of the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfalls east of the Mississippi, features five major cascades and many smaller ones. This great hike along and up a waterfall pays off almost immediately. In fact, the first section of the paved, nearly flat trail leads to a viewing platform from which you have an excellent view of the lower part of the falls.

Don’t let the ease of this beginning fool you, though, because from here on out, the trail becomes steep. The switchbacks repeatedly reconnect with the falls, offering the interest of several vantage points and viewing platforms. Steps and railings provide safety in some of the steepest, slipperiest sections. Rest and snack awhile at the large, walled area on top, and take in the rhododendron and the magnificent view of the Tye River Valley. Though it will be tempting to children and photographers, don’t leave the trail to climb on the slippery rocks.

While the up and back might be plenty (3.8 miles), those really wanting to break in their boots, might try the longer route connecting Crabtree Falls with another spectacular hike, Spy Rock (13.9 miles).

> Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
> Time: 2.5 for hiking up and back
> Parking: parking lot with per vehicle fee, VA56. 37.85144, -79.07922

Dobie Mountain

Wanna see something you don’t see every day?  There’s a plane crash site on Dobie Mountain just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll need to park at the very popular Humpback Rocks area to get there, but trust us, this is a really great redirection from the crowds that flood Humpback on the weekends.

Following the trail notes at Hiking Upward (linked above), you’ll be able to skirt off the trail for an excellent overlook of the Rockfish Valley and Nelson County before looping back around to see the 1964 wreckage of a lost Beechcraft*. Make time to get sidetracked for the sake of a great lunch venue, too: the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club shelter and Mill Creek.

* Do not disturb the Beechcraft crash site. Not only is it disrespectful, but you could cut yourself on metal or come upon a venomous timber rattlesnake.

> Elevation Gain: 1,560 feet
> Time: 3.5 hours plus time for lunch
> Parking: Humpback Rocks Lot at milepost 6

One final waterfall for you! The hike from White Rock Gap off the Blue Ridge Parkway to Torry Ridge features a 30-foot waterfall – White Rock Falls – with a caveat. You must hike the trail after a good spring rain for the falls to materialize. And when they do? Magic.

One of the cool things about this hike is that it passes through Sherando Lake campground, which has picnic tables for your lunch, and a lake with a beach area, if you feel like chilling out. The views along this trail are best in early spring (Hey! You’re right on time with spring break!), as the trees will not have fully leaved yet.

> Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
> Time: 5.5 hours plus lunch and whatnot
> Parking: White Rock Gap lot around milepost 18

 

Staunton, Virginia is Your National Park Hub


As the National Park Service celebrates 100 years, Staunton celebrates as well. Centrally located between Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Staunton is a National Park hub of food and culture.

In just 20 minutes, travelers drive from Staunton to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park. Entry points for both are atop Afton Mountain. The Parkway is known as “America’s Favorite Drive” and President Herbert Hoover chose Shenandoah as his presidential retreat. The reasons for both are quite obvious: immense views, hikes with payoffs (waterfalls included!), and abundant wildlife. 

Speaking of presidents, Staunton’s very own Woodrow Wilson put his executive signature on the National Park Service. Born in Staunton, Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service on August 25, 1916. His birthplace and presidential library are open daily for visitors to learn more about his life and legacy.

Visitors to Staunton enjoy a variety of accommodations, including the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, bed and breakfasts, and city stays. Likewise, dining opportunities are varied with farm fresh, casual, and ethnic flavors within reach. Staunton’s coffee shops and breweries are a hit with most everyone, and are perfect places to unwind.

If you have time between parks, catch a show at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse. In addition, a self-blown glass ornament from Sunspots Studios is a perfect reminder of your trip. Shop our boutiques, and simply soak in the beautiful downtown architecture.

Staunton welcomes you, outdoor lover.

Remaining 2016 National Park Service Fee-Free Days:

August 25-18 – National Park Service Birthday

September 24 – National Public Lands Day

November 11 – Veterans Day

Gypsy Hill Park: The Place for Summer Entertainment

Gypsy Hill Park 2

Locals and visitors, rejoice! There is near-nightly summer entertainment at Gypsy Hill Park, one of the jewels in the Staunton Parks & Recreation crown. Pack yourself a  picnic and spread out on the lawn for a terrific evening of music and family fun. Concessions are available at all concerts and at Family Night Flix. 

MONDAY NIGHTS

8 p.m. June through August: Find The Stonewall Brigade Band on the bandstand. It is the oldest continuous community band in the country, dating to 1855. Initially a brass band, now it’s a full concert band of at least 70 performers from the 120-strong roster of musicians. Each concert is different and includes a variety of genres. 

TUESDAY NIGHTS

7 p.m. in June and July: Praise in the Park is a series of concerts of Southern Gospel, Gospel Bluegrass, and Contemporary Gospel. Teen Night is June 26 and features the Covenant Band performing Christian Rock. Free pizza, drinks and giveaways for youth during this special event. 

WEDNESDAY NIGHTS

7 p.m. in July and August: Bluegrass! If you love a little pickin’ and grinnin’, this is the night for you.  You won’t want to miss this series. Highlights to include the brother and sister duo, Marteka and William, performing in the styles of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (July 18) and Little Roy and the Lizzy Show (August 15). 

THURSDAY NIGHTS

7 p.m. July and August: Jazz in the Park takes control of the bandstand to bring you exciting Big Band, Prohibition era jazz, Blues, and even a little Latin jazz this summer. Sentimental Journey Big Band kicks off the season July 5th with classic big band music. Other highlights include the Dave Braham Organ Trio and Quatro Na Bossa performing authentic Brazilian jazz. Hot summer nights will only turn up a notch when these exciting entertainers come to Staunton.

FRIDAY NIGHTS

June through August 4: Family-friendly movies under the stars create memories! Bring your kiddos and a big blanket to Family Nite Flix, lay back and watch new flicks: Coco (June 8), Jumanji (June 22), Paddington 2 (July 13), Peter Rabbit (July 27) and Black Panther (August 10). Movies start between 8:30 and 9:15 pm. 

Saturdays and Sundays in Staunton’s parks are great for swimming, golfing, picnicking, hiking, and biking. Make these green spaces your summer go-to for unwinding any day of the week. Happy Summer!