In the summer of 1978, my family made a classic 1970s trek to Washington, D.C. Even though the sights and sounds of D.C. left an impression on me, it was the trip through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley that introduced me to the region’s natural beauty. Dressed in our blue “Virginia Is For Lovers” T-shirts (which I kept for several years after), we rolled down the windows of our spacious Oldsmobile to take in the scenery. My sister Aimee Nebel-Gould, who now lives in Akron, Ohio, has fond memories of our family’s trip, which took place just before she headed off to college. “I recall the mountains being absolutely beautiful and peaceful,” she said. “The landscape in that area is spectacular, in that there is this blue haze from a distance over the mountains.” Almost three decades later, the Shenandoah Valley is still a pristine slice of Virginia that welcomes all visitors.
A great starting point
The best place to start a tour of the region is at the new Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, a cute hamlet located in the northwestern tip of Virginia near Maryland and the northern edge of West Virginia. Built on a working farm, this museum proudly depicts life in the valley. The museum consists of a house and garden and features a reception hall, tea room, retail store and four galleries that display the history and art of the Shenandoah. After viewing the museum, take a stroll through the town of Winchester, an eclectic community of beautiful homes, restaurants and coffee shops. A future museum there will pay tribute to legendary singer Patsy Cline, who was born here in the early 1930s.
Head out on the highway
Once you’ve become familiar with the territory, it’s time to visit the breathtaking Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that winds through Shenandoah National Park. “Skyline Drive is a must,” said Tamra Talmadge-Anderson, national public relations manager for the Virginia Tourism Corp. “I would suggest spending a few days at the park to go hiking, camping and just enjoying the view from the mountain tops.” Overnight accommodations can be found at the Skyland Lodge in Luray. This mountain-top rustic property offers panoramic views of the valley. The Skyland Lodge has 177 units including authentic cabins as well as suites. Recreation options range from horseback riding to nightly entertainment.
Harrisonburg’s outdoor resort
Head south of Luray on U.S. Highway 81 to reach the Massanutten Resort in Harrisonburg. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring, winter, fall or summer — the outdoors awaits here. The resort is known as a premier place for skiing and snowboarding, but golfing, fishing, mountain biking and hiking at the resort are just as exciting. There’s even a new indoor/outdoor water park at Massanutten, which features attractions with names such as the Blue Ridge Rapids, Avalanche, Massanutten Meltdown and Frog Pond.
A stunning Blue Ridge community
Nearby is the city Roanoke, where you’ll find plenty of offerings, including its lively downtown, Mill Mountain Zoo and Explore Park. The talk of the town is the O. Winston Link Museum. This structure is a tribute to the famed photographer, who produced an impressive collection of visual images. Link’s photography from 1955 to 1960 is on display here. There are more than 240 black-and-white and color prints that captured the beauty of the Norfolk and Western Railway.
Valley for everyone
From the rolling mountains to its quaint towns and museums, Virginia offers a variety of things to do in the summer. “Virginia is for nature lovers, and the Shenandoah Valley boasts some of the most beautiful and diverse natural landscapes in the country,” Talmadge-Anderson said. “The area is an excellent outdoor recreation destination because regardless of the season or one’s experience — or lack thereof — with outdoor activities, there is something for everyone.”
Virginia Tourism Corp. www.virginia.org
Luray Caverns www.luraycaverns.com
Roanoke, Va. www.visitroanokeva.com
The Shenandoah Valley stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. It’s been nicknamed “The Big Valley” and immortalized in song, dance, film and television.
The Shenandoah Valley’s Skyline Drive is recognized as a National Scenic Byway. Roanoke’s O. Winston Link Museum is located in the former Norfolk and Western Railway Passenger Station, which was built in 1905.
Roanoke is home to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. It features an extensive collection of locomotives, exhibits of road and rail and carriages.
Sources: Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau