When she's not solving urban planning challenges in places like Memphis, Detroit, and Durban, Beth Silverman is admiring the handiwork of Mother Nature, mostly on hikes to a soundtrack of her own devising. She put together a fall escape to Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains and made a mixtape to go with it. Happy trails.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, Virginia – I grew up learning to love the outdoors because the Blue Ridge Mountains were just 75 miles from my home in Washington, D.C., and my parents loved to take the family on Nature 101 day trips along Skyline Drive to see leaves change colors as summer descended into fall.
Nearly 300 square miles of the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains lay within Shenandoah National Park, which has more than 500 miles of trails (including 101 miles on the Appalachian Trail) and some 862 different species (I've spotted snakes, black bears, falcons, and bugs galore).
Beyond the hiking, cycling, and scenic drives through the Shenandoah Mountains, the region is bursting with wineries and whiskey distilleries, bed and breakfasts, trout-fishing expeditions, a charming hodgepodge of antique shops, plenty of taverns, and absolutely stunning vistas.
IF YOU ONLY DO ONE THING
Take a hike and soak up those mountain highs. Here's where to do it.
Baby Steps: Hazel River Falls
A 5.4-miles hike that demands very little effort to reach stunning waterfalls and a picnic-perfect cave.
Intermediate: White Oak Canyon
A stunning 4.8-mile waterfall-filled hike complete with a swimming hole for warmer weather hikes. Download PDF map.
Butt Kicker: Old Rag
Often regaled as the most popular hike in the Mid-Atlantic region, this nearly nine-mile hike combines long switchbacks with demanding rock scrambles, but the reward is the absolutely breathtaking 3,284-foot summit of Old Rag. You may want to train in advance for this one.
EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Sharp Rock Winery
There are a number of wineries to explore, but Sharp Rock is my favorite by far for its tiny tasting room, Adirondack chairs, and tire swing on the lawn. If you're like me and routinely show up 20 minutes before closing still dirty from a nine-mile hike up Old Rag (a stone's throw away), they'll still let you enjoy a tasting of award-winning wines.
Copper Fox Distillery
Take a free tour and give the apple-aged whiskey a try. Located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Sperryville, Copper Fox is located across the road from an antiques warehouse and local artist studios.
Blue Ride Whiskey Wine Loop
Choose your own adventure from seven wineries and a whiskey distillery.
Pitch a tent at Big Meadows Campground or go a bit more glamp and stay at the Big Meadows Lodge. Then double down on s'mores.
The Patsy Cline Historic House
Not many folks know that country darling Patsy Cline spent her teenage years working as a soda jerk and first sang on Joltin' Jim McCoy's Sunday morning radio show in Winchester, Virginia. The house was converted into a museum in 2011 and is a music lover's gem. Tours are given Tuesday through Saturday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sundays (1 to 4 p.m.).
WHERE TO STAY
There's something for everyone: Bed and breakfast at The Cottages at Sharp Rock Vineyards, amazing yurts at Rose River Farm, your own tent at numerous campgrounds throughout Shenandoah National Park.
Those who want to take it up a notch can book The Inn At Little Washington, one of the best hotels and restaurnts in the US (and one of Popupla's Most Romantic Hotels in the United States), as well as assorted lodge and cabin options at Skyland Resort and Flint Hill Public House and Inn.
WHERE TO EAT
If you linger on Saturday night, live music might accompany your hearty meal at Griffin Tavern. Other notables include Rudy's Pizza, Flint Hill Public House, and, as mentioned, The Inn At Little Washington.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
You'll need hiking boots, a car, and a Shenandoah National Park pass.
When to Go
Fall and spring. Though I love a steamy summer hike with a jump in one of the parks spectacular swimming holes, the Shenandoah Mountains radiate most when summer slowly turns to fall and winter melts into spring.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and this guide to Shenandoah's best day hikes.
MIXTAPE FOR THE ROAD
Load up Beth's fall playlist on Spotify before you lace up those hiking boots.