Expeditions / Shenandoah Valley

Lying between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, the Shenandoah Valley is a stunning place brimming with natural beauty, historic towns, wineries, and breweries. I visited twice during October 2017, on two different fall weekends.

My first stop was the Purple Wolf Vineyard. The vineyard lies on the White Oak Lavender farm, a delightfully pastoral spot west of Shenandoah National Park off of Highway 81. The vineyard has both indoor and outdoor seating, and sitting outside was perfect on an unseasonably warm October day. We alternately relaxed in the winery’s comfy chairs and explored the farms as we drank our wines.

Sipping wine at Purple Wolf
Sipping wine at Purple Wolf

Unfortunately, the quality of the wines didn’t live up to the surroundings. While all of the wines were drinkable, none were outstanding, and only a few were very good. The whites were definitely better than the reds; my favorites were the Traminette and the Imperial Gem chardonnay. They were fun to drink as we wandered around the farm on a hot afternoon, but neither was good enough to justify purchase of a bottle. If you’re in the area and have the time, Purple Wolf is worth a stop for the tranquil serenity, but if you’re only looking for the best wines, it doesn’t need to be on your list.

We spent the weekend at a cabin we rented on VRBO in the Masanutten Resort. The cabins in the area are quite nice, and it seemed like a perfectly good base of operations for exploring Shenandoah. I can’t comment on the amenities of the resort because we didn’t take advantage of them. The pool, ski area, and outdoor waterpark were closed for the season. The indoor waterpark is open year-round, and though I’ve heard that’s fun, we didn’t spend any time there.

Most of our second day in the area was spent hiking the South River Falls Trail Loop. We parked in the South River Picnic Grounds. From there, the hike is a 3.3 mile loop, with about 910 feet of elevation each way. The hike follows the trail down through a beautiful forest until you reach South River Falls, an unspectacular fall that’s hard to see from the trail because of the angle of the river gorge. The falls observation point, which is near the junction of South River Falls Trail and South River Fire Road, is also the lowest point on that hike, so returning to your car means ascending the 910 feet you dropped to reach the falls. The hike was fun and enjoyable, but nothing unmissable.

The view from South River Overlook
The view from South River Overlook

We began my second weekend in Shenandoah with a stop at the North Mountain Vineyard. Like the Purple Wolf, North Mountain Vineyard is on a beautiful farm. The tasting room features both indoor and outdoor seating, and the vineyard puts on frequent events and often has live music. The staff was especially friendly and helpful, and the wines were very good. Here, I liked the generally liked the reds better than the whites; the Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc Reserve were my favorites. None of the wines disappointed, and most were quite good. North Mountain is definitely worth a stop if you’re exploring the wineries of Virginia.

North Mountain Vineyards
North Mountain Vineyards

This time we were based in the town of Edinburg, located about an hour north of Massanutten, and significantly closer to my home in Washington, D.C. Edinburg a cozy and sleepy town. We checked into our lodgings, the Edinburg Renaissance Bed and Breakfast. The Edinburg was fantastic. It’s comfortable and welcoming; the hosts, Bill and Donna, were fantastic; and the food was great. Given the prices of other lodgings in the area, it’s a great deal.

After checking in, we drove up the hill to the Ridge Runner Farms and Brewing Company. Located on a quiet country road, Ridge Runner has a great vibe. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and the outdoor seating offers nice views of the surrounding country and the mountains to the east. There’s a firepit for cold nights, and the staff was extremely friendly. The beers are all very good, though they may be a little pedestrian for those seeking more interesting and unusual brews. For our purposes–enjoying some good beer on a gorgeous night while watching an incredible sunset–Ridge runner was the perfect spot.

Sunset from Ridge Runner Farms
Sunset from Ridge Runner Farms

We returned to Edinburg for dinner at Sal’s Italian Bistro. The service was very slow (apparently a couple of cooks didn’t show up for work), but the food was very good. We shared a salad and the stuffed shells, which were both quite good. We also got  some delicious freshly baked bread with garlic olive oil. After dinner, we walked back to the Renaissance and spent a restful night there.

The next morning, we lingered over breakfast, which was fantastic, and enjoyed chatting with Bill and Donna. Then we drove west to Wolf Gap Recreation area, the trailhead for the Big Schloss hike. From Wolf Gap, Big Schloss is a 4.4 mile out-and-back hike, with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The hike begins from the back of the campground at Wolf Gap, where it begins to climb steadily. The longest and steepest climb is the first two miles to the ridgeline. Once you gain the ridge, the hike continues along a rolling ridge, until you reach Big Schloss.

The view from Big Schloss
The view from Big Schloss

Big Schloss itself is a rocky outcrop on the ridgeline that boasts spectacular views in all directions. The rocks are fun to climb, and each time you climb one, you’ll be rewarded with a new vista. The hike was a lot of fun, relatively easy for such a reward, but Big Schloss itself was overrun with other hikers, so much that it was hard to find a spot to sit and rest. If you’re looking for seclusion, this is the wrong hike to do.

Upon returning to the parking lot, we drove to Swover Creek Farms & Brewery, a farm that’s been converted into a brewery on a sleepy back road in the middle of nowhere. Swover Creek is a neat spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a kitchen that produces some delectable pizzas. The setting and the vibe aren’t quite as nice as Ridge Runners, but Swover Creek’s beers are better. Our favorites were the milk stout and the Red Clay, though there were none that were subpar. We picked up a couple of growlers to take with us, and then it was time to return home.

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