From historic battlefields and charming colonial-era towns to mouth-watering restaurants and national parks, the Shenandoah Valley is packed with can’t-miss sights. If you’re planning on driving through the Shenandoah Valley, check out this guide to discover the best road trip stops in the along the way.
Best stops to eat
If you’re a fan of home-style Southern cooking, one of the best stops in the Shenandoah Valley is Staunton, a delightful town bursting with buzzing galleries, lively theatres, independent shops, and belt-busting restaurants. Pull up to some old-school BBQ at the Depot Grille, a laid-back eatery in a former freight depot, or grab some funnel-cake fries at Wright’s Dairy Rite, a classic drive-in diner dating from the 1950s.
The Valley’s also renowned for its farm-to-table fare, and you’ll discover some of the best at the River and Rail, a warm Roanoke spot serving Windmill Point oysters, and White’s Wayside, a legendary Churchville restaurant dating from 1929. White’s Wayside has long been a hub for the local community, and you can sample some locally grown apple butter, settle in for some pan-fried trout, and pick up a peanut butter pie for a picturesque picnic along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Travelers looking for something a little more upscale can book a table at Palladio, a polished Italian restaurant on a storied Barboursville vineyard. Consult with the sommelier to pick the perfect glass of wine from the estate, and then enjoy the lush views over a plate of gnocchi with Barboursville-bred pork ragù.
To add a dash of international flair to your drive, hit historic Fredericksburg, where you’ll find some of the best food in the Shenandoah Valley: dive into some French fare at La Petite Auberge, grab some duck schnitzel at Otto’s German Bistro, and sample some moussaka at the Paradise Diner.
Best things to see on a Shenandoah Valley road trip
Though the scenic 200-mile drive through sweeping swathes of unspoilt countryside is a memorable adventure in itself — especially in the autumn, when the striking red-and-yellow foliage provides a breathtaking backdrop — there’s no shortage of things to see in the Shenandoah Valley, and you’ll find a range of must-visit sites for history buffs, hikers, beer lovers, families, and more.
Cruise along the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive to discover why it’s considered one of the country’s most beautiful routes, and stop to explore the 500 miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive winds on to Waynesboro, where you can hop off and hit the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail to take a craft-beer tour and soak up some live music.
History-minded visitors, meanwhile, should make sure to stop by Harpers Ferry, one of the Civil War’s most important locations. Although it’s a small town with only a few hundred permanent residents, Harpers Ferry’s numbers swell with half-a-million annual visitors. Most of the notable sites, including the Civil War Museum, the John Brown Museum, and John Brown’s Fort, are located in the Lower Town Historic District. History buffs should also plan to visit the George C. Marshall Museum in Lexington, the Cedar Creek battlefield, site of Sheridan’s Ride, and the town of Winchester, the home of what was once the Valley Turnpike, a well-traveled Civil War path.
The Shenandoah Valley is also a big draw for outdoors enthusiasts, and adventurous visitors can get a new perspective on the area by heading underground at the Luray Caverns, a striking cave system stretching beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains. Wandering beneath the towering columns and past the mirrored pools is a fantastic way to explore the area’s startling natural beauty, and you can even check out the Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument.
Best road trip stops for things to do
The pace of life in the Shenandoah Valley can be as sleepy as a Sunday morning — this is a land of creaky porches, shaded maple glades, sun-splashed town squares, and glassy rivers, after all—and you can choose to kick off your shoes and laze in the lulling rhythms of a tranquil trip. But if you’re the type of visitor who prefers a racing pulse to a restful pace, you’ll fine plenty of activities to stoke your interest.
Head to Douthat State Park in Millboro to fish for trout, hop on a horse, bike the trails, and rent a boat. Or stop by the banks of the Shenandoah River to explore the area by kayak, raft, or canoe. The famous Appalachian Trail also cuts through the region, and you can hop on a 101-mile section of the trail in Shenandoah National Park.
Winter travelers wondering what to do can hit the slopes at Massanutten Resort, or check out the peregrine falcons on a hike up Hawksbill Mountain, while theatergoers can take in a Shakespeare performance at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton. Families will love Lexington’s hot air balloon rally, the Frontier Culture Museum, Foamhenge, and the wacky Dinosaur Kingdom II, a roadside attraction portraying an alternate universe where dinosaurs and Confederate soldiers are locked in eternal battle.
Some the best activities while in the Shenandoah Valley involve just soaking up the area’s natural beauty: snap some pics of the Natural Bridge, go on a wildflower walk, and explore the Virginia Safari Park.
When to drive through the Shenandoah Valley
Fall finds the Shenandoah at its most photogenic, with Skyline Drive’s foliage drawing visitors from around the Eastern Seaboard, and the golden rod in bloom. Temperatures are moderate, with highs generally ranging from 53°F to 85°F. Winter can be chilly for visitors from warm climates, with high temperatures usually topping out between 42.8°F and 51.4°F. The winter is a slower time for tourism, so for travelers looking to save money on their accommodations, or to enjoy the sights without the bustle of the crowds, it’s perhaps the best time to visit the Shenandoah Valley; just make sure to pack some warm sweaters, wool socks, and a thermos of hot coffee for the road.
While Shenandoah National Park and the quaint towns can seem transcendent in the stillness of winter, if you’re wondering when to drive the Shenandoah Valley, spring is perhaps the best bet. Not only is it pleasant, with highs topping out in the low 80s, there’s very little rain, and the influx of visitors means that there will be plenty to do.
Summer is the busiest time in the Shenandoah Valley, with leisure-seekers flocking from D.C., and hikers hitting the Appalachian Trail. There are also plenty of annual activities: don’t miss the Route 11 Crawl, the Winchester Greek Festival, and the Virginia Herb Festival.
The Shenandoah Valley is one of America’s most popular getaways, and the perfect spot for an unforgettable road trip. These are just some of the best stops along the way.
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