Packed with towns, parks, battlefields, breweries and unspoiled vistas, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is resplendent in the autumn, when the Blue Ridge Mountains are ablaze with color. Whether your interest is in art, adventure or eating and drinking well, three in-the-know residents have recommendations just for you.
Art for All
“When you live in an area this beautiful, it’s hard not to be inspired,” says artist Piper Groves, the executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Art Center, in Waynesboro, Virginia. (Her focus is printmaking.) Artists here are often spread out and show in group galleries. The 60 artists affiliated with the Shenandoah Valley Art Center create everything from digital pieces to Chinese brush paintings. On October 13 and 14, the center hosts the Fall Foliage Art Show on the streets of Waynesboro. Now in its 48th year, it’s expected to draw some 20,000 visitors.
Two Waynesboro artists in particular have made a name for themselves. Painter P. Buckley Moss’s landscapes and depictions of small-town life—inspired by Shenandoah communities—are a treasured part of the American art catalog. And Groves describes Jake Johnson’s colorful clay teapots as “wonderful—whimsical and very contemporary.” Moss shows at her own P. Buckley Moss Gallery Waynesboro; Johnson’s pieces are on view in area galleries. He also runs Make Waynesboro, a studio that hosts pottery classes.
Groves recommends Beverley Street Studio School, 15 miles west, in Staunton, an art academy with a gallery of students’ and instructors’ work. It shares a space with Co-Art, a collective of more than 40 artists. Across the street is Artisans Loft, where the artists tilt toward funky and fun. Three blocks away, Sunspots Studio does live glassblowing demonstrations.
In Harrisonburg, Groves likes Larkin Arts, a large complex of contemporary galleries, an art school and five working studios. At Oasis Fine Art and Craft, you can see stained glass, metalwork and dyed silk.
By Land and Water
Derek Young, who runs Outdoor Adventure Experiences, has been leading expeditions around the Shenandoah since 1988. “We love to take folks out in rafts or kayaks. It’s a beautiful—and different—way to see the foliage,” Young says. (Tours are on offer through late October; sunny days last into November here.)
As the days grow cooler and rainier, many people go caving. Luray Caverns is the valley’s most popular commercial cave, with subterranean rooms, lakes and dramatic rock formations. There are paved paths, railings and lots of lighting. Bold amateur spelunkers can explore the Shenandoah’s many “wild caves,” where passageways are sometimes lit only by headlamps. Young’s company organizes trips through 14 different ones, ranging from dry and dusty to sloppy and muddy. “You come out just caked in mud—which a lot of people love!” he says. Adrenaline junkies can also try zip-lining with Bear Mountain, in a 50-acre expanse of forest.
Anglers would do well to turn to Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. “People come from all over the country to go fly-fishing with them,” says Young. Several outfitters offer horseback outings: Mountaintop Ranch has a host of rides through Appalachian forests.
The crown jewel of the area is Shenandoah National Park, a long and narrow wilderness stretching more than 100 miles. Skyline Drive runs the length of the park along the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers some 70 scenic overlooks of the valley below. There are also more than 500 miles of hiking trails, ranging from paved strolls to rocky 10-mile treks that climb 2,400 feet. Mid-October is usually peak foliage in the park, says volunteer Gabriel Mapel. “It’s spectacular up here. Every year it’s a little different, and every year it’s amazing.”
Our pick of West Main Market’s deli fare? The Italian Cold Cut, with Genoa salami. 123 W. Main St., Luray; 540-743-1125; lunch for two, $14*
Artist-run café Stella, Bella & Lucy’s displays works by local artisans. 327 W. Main St., Waynesboro; 540-949-5111; lunch for two, $18
Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint serves about 100 beers and fun burgers like the Elvis: peanut butter, mayo and bacon. 80 S. Main St., Harrisonburg; 540-433-5225; lunch for two, $15
Virginians have been making beer since the founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all had their own home brews. (President Madison allegedly tried to install a Secretary of Beer in his cabinet.) But when Brothers Craft Brewing began operating, in 2012, it was one of the first full-scale microbreweries around. “Now it’s hard to keep up,” says Josh Harold, who manages the Brothers taproom. The Resolute Russian imperial stout, aged in bourbon barrels, put Brothers on the map.
Harold likes nearby Pale Fire, a microbrewery in an 84-year-old former icehouse, for its light, crisp beers. “I’m a fan of their Salad Days saison.” Three Notch’d pours unusual seasonal beers, such as the Biggie S’mores imperial stout.
Harrisonburg’s most innovative brewery may be its smallest. At The Friendly Fermenter, proprietor Shawn Gatesman brews a barrel at a time. The basement taproom opened late last year. “Shawn just started unlocking his door every day, and people started showing up on word of mouth,” Harold says.
In Staunton, south of Harrisonburg, there are several breweries. “But anytime I’m down there, I stop at Redbeard.” The operation is known for its bourbon-barrel-aged Moriarty Russian imperial stout, usually released in October. In Waynesboro, Basic City Beer Co. is tricked out with pool tables, Skee-Ball and vintage pinball games. Bands often play on the outdoor stage. The kitchen puts out great elevated bar food—so why not order another pint?
19 W. Beverley St., Staunton; 540-324-2570
Beverley Street Studio School
217 W. Beverley St., Staunton; 540-886-8636; bssschool.org
22 W. Beverley St., Staunton; 540-886-0737; coartgallery.com
61 Court Sq., Harrisonburg; 540-236-4223; larkinarts.com
200 W. 12th St., Waynesboro; 540-445-1072; makewaynesboro.com; find Johnson’s work at jakesclayart.com
Oasis Fine Art and Craft
103 S. Main St., Harrisonburg; 540-442-8188; oasisartgallery.org
P. Buckley Moss Gallery Waynesboro
329 W. Main St., Waynesboro; 540-949-6473; pbuckleymoss.com
Shenandoah Valley Art Center
126 S. Wayne Ave., Waynesboro; 540-949-7662; svacart.com
202 S. Lewis St., Staunton; 540-885-0678; sunspots.com
2354 U.S. Hwy. 211 E., Luray; 540-743-1733; bearmountainadventure.com; zip-line tours, $75 a person
101 Cave Hill Rd., Luray; 540-743-6551; luraycaverns; adults, $28; children 6–12, $15; children 5 and under, free
Mossy Creek Fly Fishing
480 E. Market St., Harrisonburg; 540-434-2444; mossycreekflyfishing.com; four-hour fishing trips, $225 for a single angler
608 Weaver Rd., Elkton; 540-298-1455; mountaintopranch.com; horseback rides, $50 a person; children 12 and under, $45
Outdoor Adventure Experiences
7013 Ottobine Rd., Dayton; 540-879-9030; outdooradventureexperiences.com; half-day excursions, $100 for a group of up to four people
Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Hwy. 211 E., Luray; 540-999-3500; nps.gov; seven-day passes, $25 a vehicle
Basic City Beer Co.
1010 E. Main St., Waynesboro; 540-943-1010; basiccitybeer.com; drinks for two, $8
Brothers Craft Brewing
800 N. Main St., Harrisonburg; 540-421-6599; brotherscraftbrewing.com; drinks for two, $12
The Friendly Fermenter
20 S. Mason St., Suite B10, Harrisonburg; 540-217-2614; friendlyfermenter.com; drinks for two, $8
217 S. Liberty St., Suite 105, Harrisonburg; 540-217-5452; palefirebrewing.com; drinks for two, $14
120 S. Lewis St., Staunton; 540-430-3532; redbeardbrews.com; drinks for two, $5
241 E. Market St., Harrisonburg; 540-217-5939; threenotchdbrewing.com; drinks for two, $20
RCI® affiliated resorts in the Shenandoah include:
The surf is always up at the on-site water park, where guests can ride waves miles from the nearest ocean. 1822 Resort Dr., McGaheysville
Member Review: “Friendly staff.”
Explore nearby caverns and 140-foot natural columns. 1822 Resort Dr., McGaheysville
Member Review: “Beautiful and clean.”
The townhomes are cozy, and a private deck offers direct access to the great outdoors. 1822 Resort Dr., McGaheysville
Member Review: “Great fitness center.”
There’s no shortage of things to do—mountain biking, hiking and fishing—so everyone will be entertained. 4082 Peak Dr., McGaheysville
Member Review: “Scenic setting.”
Shares amenities with Eagle Trace at Massanutten. 1822 Resort Dr., McGaheysville
Member Review: “Great for every season.”
Guests can choose between units with a sauna, fireplace or Jacuzzi. 2565 Orkney Grade, Basye
Member Review: “Pet-friendly and quiet.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in the Shenandoah Valley include:
A main lodge plus freestanding cottages and cabins on a Blue Ridge mountaintop. 191 Chinquapin Dr., Waynesboro; 888-585-9018; irisinn.com; doubles from $199 a night
Olde Staunton Inn
A B&B in a 1910 home on Staunton’s free trolley route. 260 N. Lewis St., Staunton; 540-886-0193; oldestauntoninn.com; doubles from $76 a night
Silver Lake Bed & Breakfast
This circa-1750 log farmstead near Harrisonburg was carefully restored in 2015 as an inn. 1331 Silver Lake Rd., Dayton; 540-879-2717; doubles from $139 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Fall 2018