Shenandoah Valley

Overview

Introduction

The spectacularly beautiful Shenandoah area incorporates the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains and rolling hills of orchards and farmland. Its pastoral beauty makes it hard to believe that life-and-death drama unfolded there during the Civil War. In 1862, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson earned his reputation as a brilliant commander after a series of victories in the valley. The farms in the Shenandoah were a valuable source of food for the Confederate forces—so much so that the Union's Gen. Philip Sheridan eventually laid waste to the area in 1864, burning houses, stripping the fields and slaughtering livestock.

The region's natural beauty is showcased in Shenandoah National Park, a vast mountain wilderness of oak, hickory, birch, dogwood and chestnut trees. Wildlife includes foxes, bobcats, black bears, deer and hundreds of varieties of birds. The principal route through the park follows Skyline Drive, which is particularly beautiful in spring and fall. Join the route at Front Royal and drive south to Waynesboro. The drive is only 105 mi/170 km long, but because the spectacular scenery demands stops for photographs and close-up viewing, plan on the better part of a day. Those who choose to linger in the national park will find ready access to picnic spots, camping, nature trails, horseback riding, food service, a souvenir shop and a store. Backcountry use requires permits. Lodging is available in the park—some of the cabins have stone fireplaces—but reserve space far in advance. Some facilities and the parkway may be closed part of the year and during inclement weather.

Other Shenandoah Valley attractions include towns rich in history. Winchester changed hands 72 times during the Civil War, and it now contains the restored headquarters of Stonewall Jackson. Other sights in town include the small log building used as an office by George Washington in the mid-1700s and the Glen Burnie Manor House and Gardens, a restored estate that was built in 1736.

New Market is home to New Market Battlefield Park, where a corps of young cadets from Virginia Military Institute turned back Union troops. Also near New Market, you'll find American Celebration on Parade, a collection of floats used in past presidential inaugural parades, the Rose Parade in California and the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Several nearby caverns are open to the public—the Luray Caverns are the most popular.

Another sort of feud can be relived at Cooter's Place in Sperryville, which commemorates the 1970s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard and chronicles the Duke boys' struggles with the show's dimwitted rural cops. There's even a replica of the General Lee, the 1969 Dodge Charger that tooted "Dixie" on its horn everytime the boys eluded the fuzz by soaring over a mudpit or breaking through a roadblock (in other words, in every episode). If you're lucky, you'll stop by at a time when the museum's namesake proprietor—Ben Jones, the fellow who played the mechanic Cooter on the show—is around.

In Staunton, Shakespeare lovers should see a production at the Blackfriars Playhouse, a detailed reconstruction of one the Bard's favorite theaters. The plays, too, are produced and performed as they would have been in Shakespeare's time (for example, sparse sets, period costumes). History buffs will want to stop at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace (the restored first home of the 28th president) and the McCormick Farm and Workshop Museum (dedicated to the man who invented the first reaper). Staunton's Museum of American Frontier Culture is a living-history museum with working farms. It presents life in various parts of Europe from the 1600s to the 1800s—then shows how Europe influenced life on a U.S. farm in the 1800s.

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