The 8 Best Shenandoah Valley Attractions
Shenandoah Valley attractions make this Virginia destination one of the most popular places to visit in the state. It is a paradise for fitness and recreational enthusiasts because of its size and wide variety of activities along the rugged mountain ranges and green forests, farmlands and vineyards. The valley also offers picturesque cities and towns, historical landmarks and some of the biggest festivals in the state.
In this article, you will find my recommendations for the eight best activities and attractions in this stunning area.
1. Skyline Drive
The most famous attraction in the valley and one of the top attractions in Virginia is a meandering, 105-mile road along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through 200,000-acre Shenandoah Valley National Park. Skyline Drive is the park’s only public road.
People drive slowly along Skyline Drive for all kinds of reasons.
They may drive slowly because of a family of deer, black bears or wild turkeys standing at the side of the road. The road also has sharp curves with a steep drop off the edge or a glorious view along one of the 75 overlooks that photographers love.
They also drive slowly because the speed limit is 35 miles per hour and strictly enforced. So it takes more than three hours to drive the entire distance even without stopping. The drive takes even longer during the fall when crowds travel through it to see the turning colors of the trees that blanket the valley.
Access to Skyline Drive is $20 per vehicle at the time of this writing. The park is one of the few national parks that allows pets on trails.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway takes over where Skyline Drive ends. The starting point is the city of Waynesboro and I-61.
It continues along the Blue Ridge Mountains for more than 200 miles until reaching the North Carolina border (and keeps going from there).
Attractions include access to Humpback Rocks, the Natural Bridge, Fallingwater Cascades National Scenic Trail, Roanoke River Overlook, Devil’s Backbone, Rocky Knob, Mabry Mill and Blue Ridge Music Center.
Fallingwater Cascades is one of the best waterfalls in Virginia. It is a challenging hike to the peak of Flat Top Mountain, but the views are worth the effort for anyone who is moderately fit.
Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This historic watermill, which still grinds flour more than a century after construction, is located at milepost 176.2 in Patrick County.
3. 2 More National Parks, 2 State Forests
Shenandoah Valley National Park is the best overall experience because of Skyline Drive, but other parks and forests have plenty to offer as well.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests reside on the western Appalachian Mountains side of the valley.
The most popular attractions include the Appalachian Trail, Virginia Creeper Trail and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
Shenandoah Valley also has two state parks including Douthat State Park in Millsboro and Paul State Forest near Harrisonburg. Douthat has cabins, a 50-acre lake and 43 miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails.
Shenandoah Valley is known for its many waterfalls including Fallingwater Cascades.
4. Fallingwater Cascades and Other Waterfalls
Shenandoah Valley is known for its many waterfalls including Fallingwater Cascades. Another great one is Crabtree Falls, which is the tallest vertical-drop cascading falls east of the Mississippi.
This steep, 4.4-mile waterfall hike is southwest of the Wintergreen Resort. The effort is worth the views from various points along the trail and at the top.
Skyline Drive offers access to many other waterfalls including Overall Run Falls, the tallest in the park at 97 feet; the cascading Rose River Falls at 67 feet; South River Falls at 87 feet; and Jones Runs Falls at 42 feet.
5. Appalachian Trail and More
The Appalachian Trail, completed in 1937, runs about 2,200 miles from northern Maine to northern Georgia. The longest route of any state lies in Virginia with 550 miles total, with a large section running through the Shenandoah Valley.
Natural Bridge is a commercially owned tourist attraction with a large bridge formed out of rock on land once owned by Thomas Jefferson. The most recent private owners transferred the deed in 2014 to the state, which plans to make it a public park.
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah Valley National Park at 4,050 feet.
Humpback Rock, near the northern entrance of Blue Ridge Parkway, is a massive rock outcrop near Humpback Mountain at an elevation of 3,080 feet. It earned the name for the hump of rock on the western face of the mountain.
The Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom festival in Winchester is the largest event in the valley.
6. Major Events and Festivals
The Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom festival in Winchester is the largest event in the valley and one of the largest festivals in Virginia. It takes place every April and attracts 250,000 visitors.
The New Market Day Parade & Ceremony occurs every May 15 when the Virginia Military Institute honors the cadets who fought and died in the Battle of New Market during the Civil War.
Cadets march in a full-dress parade. Visitors place wreaths on the graves of cadets who are buried on the school's grounds.
Another event on the VMI parade grounds is the annual Lexington hot air balloon rally with many giant balloons that lift off and float through the area the weekend of July 4 every year.
7. Luray Caverns and Other Caves
Luray Caverns in the town of Luray is a National Natural Landmark and one of the largest cave systems in the eastern United States. It attracts about 500,000 visitors a year.
Shenandoah Caverns near New Market go 220 feet underground and have an elevator for visitors. Endless Caverns also are located near New Market.
Grand Caverns in Grottoes also is a National Natural Landmark and the oldest show cave in the country. It opened to public tours in 1806.
The caves are open throughout most of the year and maintain an average temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Zoos and Wildlife Centers
Visitors to some of the Shenandoah Valley’s most popular attractions can add zoos to their visit.
Virginia Safari Park is near the Natural Bridge, which also has its own zoo. The safari park allows visitors to drive through its 180 acres and view more than 1,000 species of animals from six continents.
Luray Zoo in the town of Luray is a privately owned rescue facility with more than 250 unwanted, abused or injured animals. The accredited Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke has more than 175 animals.
Wilson’s Wild Animal Park has 40 species and is in Winchester. The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro is a hospital for native species and has treated more than 65,000 animals since opening in 1982.
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Where is the Shenandoah Valley?
The Shenandoah Valley runs from northeast to southwest for 200 miles between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains. It begins near Harpers Ferry, WV, and ends near Roanoke, VA.
It’s hard to miss for anyone traveling on the I-81 highway because the highway runs right through the middle of the valley.
The most common and easiest ways to reach the valley are four highway routes: I-81 from the north, I-66 from the east and Washington D.C., I-64 from the east and I-81 from the south.
© 2015 Scott S Bateman