The Heart of Virginia
The Shenandoah Valley is a beautiful place full of history and natural wonders! Located only a modest drive from some of the biggest Eastcoast and Midwestern cities, it is well worth the drive!
We visited this area 8 years ago (wow, time flies), but I would love to go back. It was our last trip before our daughter was born. She was along for the ride, we just didn’t know it! We found out shortly after we returned home that Carrie had been one-month pregnant during our trip.
The Shenandoah Valley is the Heart of Virginia, both literally, it runs right down the middle, and figuratively as it has so much to see and do revolving around the state’s rich history. Natural, Civil War, Colonial, agricultural history is evident everywhere.
The MUST DO LIST:
- Skyline Drive
- Luray Caverns
- Virginia Museum of the Civil War & New Market Battle Field
The number One thing on my list is the Skyline Drive. This is the most scenic drive I personally have ever taken, and I would guess is one of the most scenic in the nation, especially East of the Mississippi! This mountain top by-way skims across the crests and peaks of the Blueridge Mountains giving million dollar views down into the Shenandoah Valley and across the Piedmont East towards to coast.
To tour the entire length of the trail, give yourself 3 hours as it is 105 miles in length and plan ahead as it is in the middle of the Shenandoah Nation Park with only 4 exit points along the route. This is a slow down and soak it in kind of drive, (the max speed limit is only 35 mph), so I would suggest giving yourself the whole day to pull off at the myriad scenic overlooks. Be on the lookout for wildlife as well!
I wish we had given ourselves more time. We started our trip up the Skyline Drive in the late afternoon and drove until it was dark. The positives of this were that it allowed us to soak in an amazing sunset and see the twinkling lights of little villages and burgs down in the valley and away off in the distance east.
We visited in the heat of the summer but up on the mountaintops, it was cool, and even chilly once the sun went down.
My suggestions for this excursion are: take a good camera, a picnic lunch, and sweatshirt or jacket if traveling in summer.
Otherworldly. Mesmerizing. Simply Awesome. The Luray Caverns are one of the most beautiful natural creations I’ve ever laid eyes upon! The series of mirror-pool caves is awe-striking. It looks literally as if you are looking across at an alien landscape. The stalactites and formations dangling above the pool reflect back upon themselves perfectly giving it an appearance of being twice the depth. These formations are relatively small but extremely impactful on the senses.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the Giants Hall, with enormous columns and formations. Titania’s Veil is a beautiful formation of snowy white, like crystalline silk cascading down over the face of a rock giant. The columns, stalactites, and stalagmites are astoundingly beautiful and immense. A Tolkien fantasy of underground dwarven kingdoms come true.
This was a self-guided tour with individual audio devices which allow you to take your time and enjoy the unique and beautiful sites. Any self-stylized geologist would find this a most worthwhile visit.
In addition to the caverns, the complex has an antique car and toy museum, cafe, garden maze, rope adventure park, cafe, and winery. If you are there at the right time, there is free entertainment from the Singing Tower.
Virgina Civil War Musem and New Market Battle Field
If you are a history buff, you are sure to enjoy a visit to the Virginia Civil War Musem and New Market Battle Field State Park. The museum has many artifacts from the war, sabers, rifles, flags, uniforms, and letters. It humanizes the long past battles seeing these relics. The letters especially bring home the lives of those long past and their struggles and aspirations.
The film “Filed of Lost Shoes (2000)” shows in the museum about the battle that took place just outside in the New Market Battlefield. It tells of young VMI students that felt compelled to fight along with their fellow Virginians. The field was muddy, and many soldiers lost their shoes in on the battlefield, this is why it is known as the Field of Lost Shoes. Many lives were lost on this field for both sides, including 10 of the young VMI recruits. Another film was made by the same name “Field of Lost Shoes” was released in 2014.
The New Market Battlefield is a self-guided tour where visitors can follow the path of the battle and visit the old farmhouse which was used as a field hospital. The history is palpable as you see canons set upon the hill, and a mix of exhilaration and sadness fell across me, thinking of the adrenaline filled action of the battle and the horrors of battle and the many casualties.
What to Eat
Virginia is proud of their famous pork product, Virginia Ham. Be sure to have some of this salty smoky delicacy at some point on your trip. I had mine at a small dinner with eggs for breakfast! A great way to start a day of adventure!
They are serious about the smokehouse in Virginia, so much we found a variety of chips I had seen nowhere else, Smoke House flavored potato chips! It is much like BBQ flavor, but less spicy, only smokey-sweet. I liked them quite a bit! I tried tracking these down online, but couldn’t find them. Maybe they are just a local delight? On a similar note, we tried Route 11’s Bay Crab Flavored Potato Chips. These were unique and delicious as well.
Speaking of crab! We stopped at a little restaurant, and although we were well inland, we were not terribly far from the famed the Chesapeake Bay, they had a focus on seafood and crab. My wife Carrie absolutely LOVED the Softshell Crab. She still speaks of it today and she hasn’t had any in nearly 8 years! Softshell crabs are blue crabs that had just molted its shell and not hardened to form a new shell again. They are cooked whole and have a subtle crunch and chew with the sweet crabmeat. For us in the Midwest, we will have to travel to the Atlantic Coast before we have a chance at this delectable treat again.
Many things to do!
This area is a rich in agricultural heritage and you will find many farmer’s markets, roadside stands, orchards, and farms! We visited a couple of lovely wineries when we visited, alas, we cannot remember which ones! (Must have been good!) For those who like other types of adult beverages, the area has distilleries, cideries, and breweries in addition to wineries.
Many more museums and historical attractions abound in this area, rich in history. We visited the Museum of The Shenandoah Valley. Exhibits range from the natural history and geologic formation of the area to settlers to the art of the area. If you didn’t get enough caves visiting Luray Caverns, Visit Shenandoah Caverns or
If you didn’t get enough caves visiting Luray Caverns, Visit Shenandoah Caverns or Grand Caverns. We visited Shenandoah Caverns also on our journey, and really enjoyed it!
If you are an outdoorsy type, the region will not let you down! Hiking, horse riding, and canoeing are all activities readily found in the Shenandoah Valley.
If you are into the arts, the American Shakespear Center will give you a taste of the authentic Shakespearean Theater from the Renaissance!
There is an abundance to see and do in this beautiful valley. Other resources I suggest are:
The Shenandoah Valley really is the Heart of Virginia! Visit and you will not soon forget it!
Tell me in the comments if you have been to the Shenandoah Valley and what were your personal favorites! Or, just let me know if this sounds like a place you would like to visit.
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