The Oldest Rocks, the Deepest History: Five Reasons to Visit Virginia’s Historic Blue Ridge Mountains

The ancient Blue Ridge Mountains shelter not only millions of years of species diversity, but also tell a compelling story of native and early European settler history. Their rolling hills, shaded forests, and granite peaks invite visitors to experience history in a hands-on way, providing the perfect combination of education and exploration in this uniquely accessible mountain setting. We’re sharing five reasons to make the Blue Ridge Mountains your next geographic and cultural history adventure.

1. The Blue Ridge Mountains are the oldest in the hemisphere, and nearly the world.

Sculpting the soft curves and inviting slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains was no overnight trick of nature’s magic. Creating an ecosystem so diverse, ancient, and enchanting was a nearly billion year endeavor, and today’s Blue Ridges are the final testaments to mountains that once soared as high as any other in their day. Created by uplifting action from to the collisions of Earth’s tectonic plates, the Blue Ridge Mountains are second in age only to South Africa’s Barberton greenstone belt. While they may be smaller, this grandmother of a mountain range is many times the age of either the Rockies or the Himalayas, both mere geological upstarts in comparison. The Blue Ridge Mountains are living proof to the old adage, “it takes a long time to make something that looks this good.”

2. Explore the rich history of Native American settlements

While many children learn in school about the eastern Virginia Powhatan, in the mountain regions to the west dwelled the Siouan Indians of the Monacan and Mannahoac tribes, living in a confederation that stretched from the James River fall line in Richmond to the Blue Ridge. In these mountains, they grew the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash) along with fruit orchards, grapes, and nuts. Today, visitors can participate in a Monacan Indian living history exhibit at Natural Bridge State Park where they can learn about traditional cooking, tool production, pottery, basket weaving, gardening, and shelter construction.

Photo from the Virginia Department of Conservation https://www.flickr.com/photos/vadcr/27389921650/in/album-72157669233431052/

3. Visit the “Museum of the Managed American Countryside.”

The National Park Service calls the Blue Ridge Parkway the “museum of the managed American countryside” due to its easily accessible driving tour of historic sites such as the rough-hewn log cabins of mountain pioneers and the visible traces of early logging, railway, and canal industries. From the Humpback Rocks Visitors Center just south of Waynesboro, parkway travelers can walk through the Mountain Farm Trail to explore early settler life in the mountains, with log cabins collected from the surrounding region for easy viewing. During the summer, the log cabins are both open and staffed with historic educators.

Photo from https://blog.virginia.org/2016/08/blue-ridge-parkway-hikes-virginia/

4. Plumb the Depths of Ancient Geology

“Where History Runs Deep” is the apt and inspiring motto for Grand Caverns, a national natural landmark in Grottoes, Virginia. Formed from underground water action in the region’s limestone rock, Grand Caverns claims to be America’s oldest show cave, in operation since 1806. Visitors can stroll through high ceilings and open caverns in their classic tour, or sign up for an “Adventure Tour” through Fountain Cave. Fountain Cave was recently reopened to the public after almost 100 years, and visitors will be treated to a true caving experience that includes no interior lighting, a once-used rugged 1800s pathway, and a full outfitting of helmets, knee pads, and caving gloves. For those seeking a better lit encounter with geologic history, a hiking trail, swimming pool, miniature golf course, and picnic area provide family-friendly complements to the full caving experience.

Photo from https://www.facebook.com/Grand-Caverns-118751574853602/

5. Mile-by-Mile Driving Destinations, for Every Variety of Historic Adventure

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers nearly 500 miles of unfolding adventure, from waterfall walks to roadside historic interpretive signs. This Milepost Guide offers a turn-by-turn description of the cabin getaways, living history exhibits, sweeping vista overlooks, and roadside geologies of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Whether sticking to the Parkway or exploring the small towns and historic destinations in the mountain foothills, the road may be winding but it is never less than breathtaking, historic, and adventure filled.

The Lure of the Outdoors 5 “Ready to Roll” Adventures that Offer Natural Beauty and Easy Access

Late spring is the season of long evening daylight and beckoning weather. Luckily, Waynesboro offers the perfect mountain-town amenities for a sunset jog, a quick afternoon float, or an evening cycle through the Valley. These five adventures promise the mood-boosting benefits of time in nature, while utilizing the accessibility of local parks and backyard trail systems.

(1) Paddle the Waynesboro Water Trail

The Waynesboro Water Trail links five City parks in a four-mile run that includes a mix of Class I and II rapids, wilderness-level solitude, industrial skylines, and downtown take outs. With its surprising views into many unexpected corners of Waynesboro, it’s a unique way of exploring the City while staying cool, shaded, and on the water. Allow 2-3 hours to float the full South River Blueway from Ridgeview Park to Basic Park. A wide diversity of take out options help paddlers break the float into smaller sections or extend their trip to include Grand Caverns Park or the Port Republic confluence with the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

Recommended water levels for the South River are 2.75’ to 4’ on the USGS Waynesboro Gauge. Or, check with Rockfish Gap Outfitters for the latest water level updates and deals on local kayak rentals.

(2) Stroll through the Parks

There’s not much more satisfying than a run with man’s best friend through open fields past freshly blooming parklands. Coyner Springs Park offers a rustic 145 acres that include nature trails, a leash-free dog park, kite-flying skies, disc golf, and enough wilderness to offer up frequent sightings of red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, and foxes.

Joggers, baby strollers, and evening walkers find their riverside delights along the South River Greenway, a mile-long stretch of paved walking and biking surface that includes a river overlook, picnic shelter, and downtown access to after-walk drinks and dinner options.

(3) Cycle the Valley

Follow the South River along the base of Sawmill Ridge and the Blue Ridge Mountains in this evening, 12.5 mile bike ride called the Waynesboro Dooms Loop. For a longer, 35-mile pull, the Waynesboro to Grottoes Loop also hugs the river, offering a tour of the inflection between the Valley bottom and Blue Ridge topography, while still promising some of the flattest roads in Augusta County.

Both loops begin and end in downtown Waynesboro, promising enough in-town, gourmet calories to replenish the toughest ride. Cyclists are welcome along all three of Waynesboro Beerwerks Trail brewery destinations.

(4) Downtown Fly Fishing

The dinner-to-adventure jaunt can be shorter than a bike ride, as the South River’s Urban Trout Fishery offers fly fishing opportunities within a block of the downtown cultural core. Rare is the springtime day that a fisherman can’t be seen wading near the improved trout habitat and rock cascades of Constitution Park. Nearby South River Fly Shop offers equipment, gear, guided tours, and “big fish stories,” including a weekly Ties and Lies night. The South River itself offers spring-fed waters, ripping whitewater, easy parking, and exceptional catch-and-release trout fishing opportunities.

(5) Catch the Perfect Sunset (Sunset Park, Humpback Rocks)

Sunset Park, with sweeping views overlooking all of Waynesboro, remains under construction — but don’t be surprised to find weekly contingents of local mountain bikers building trails and readying its amenities for prime time. Outdoor enthusiasts seeking panoramic views needn’t wait, however. The Humpback Rocks trail system offers granite pinnacles in only one mile of climbing, with spectacular views of the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys. Longer excursions to Humpback Mountain (2 miles) and to a developed picnic area (4 miles) allows a choose your own adventure that can fit in an after-work nature-reset or expand to an all-day mountain top excursion.

Humpback Rocks trail includes both blue and white blazes, proof of its intersection with the nation’s “premier hiking path,” the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. “Day hikers” may encounter thru-hikers part-way through their adventure, with opportunities to swap stories and marvel that some of the mountains’ most breathtaking destinations are but backyard explorations from Waynesboro.

3 Farm Fresh Experiences From Town to Country, Local Food has Never Felt so Close

Meet Your Farmer at the Waynesboro Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s markets are the perfect spot to meet the folks who grow your food. The Waynesboro Farmer’s Market (a producers-only affair, meaning all the farms on-site participate in producing the products they sell) delights with characters, stories, and delicious ways to get to know the growers who are greening our local food shed. Their regular assortment of offerings includes fresh veggies, meat, bread and baked goods, honey, flowers, and a variety of arts and crafts.

Occurring every Saturday from 9 a.m. to1 p.m. throughout the growing season, the Waynesboro Farmer’s Market is a family affair. Located in Constitution Park in the heart of downtown Waynesboro, children and adults are welcome to shop, play along the river banks, or stroll along the nearby South River Greenway.

With so many farms, wineries, bakeries, and local food producers dotting the Valley, there’s no need to wait for a Saturday to explore a regional farmer’s market. The Staunton, North Augusta, Harrisonburg, and Lexington farmer’s markets will keep you munching all week with schedules that include Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

Cuddle Baby Goats

Nothing says springtime like soft fur and baby goats. Both A Better Way Farm and My Peeps Farm offer goat cuddling sessions that never fail to elicit smiles and shrieks of delight. Pair them with cheesemaking classes, farm tours, or a chance to buy pastured eggs.

My Peeps Farm raises Nigerian Dwarf goats on 10 acres. A Better Way Farm is a small eco-farm and micro-dairy in Augusta County focused on managing their land in harmony with nature. They promise “Happy goats make sweet, delicious milk,” and they let you be the judge by offering goats’ milk cheeses and more in their farm store.

Meet the Cow that Came to Town

The best part of cities nestled in farmland is the locally grown food available to downtown restaurants and retailers. This summer, the City Cow, the latest entrepreneurial initiative of the the owner of the Purple Cow Ice Cream Parlor and Cafe, comes to Waynesboro. Featuring displays from a variety of local vendors, visitors will find farm-fresh produce, items from the Enchanted Apothecary, Stone Cottage Candles, tie-dye, and even cow mugs to match the marketing decor. The City Cow will be one of the first landmarks seen by drivers exiting the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading into Waynesboro.

Visitors will find even more locally grown food at several downtown restaurants. The Farmhaus on Main serves up seasonal salads, sandwiches, coffee, and books, while BlueOregano specializes in catered meals and family cooking classes in their downtown storefront.

However you choose to partake in local food and farms this season, it’s glasses up and cheers to the many growers who are serving up great fare and farm-fresh experiences in the Shenandoah Valley!

Meet the 5 “Boots Optional” Trails Beating a Bold Path through the Shenandoah Valley

Some of the best trails in the Shenandoah Valley aren’t steep pitches that are best tackled with hiking boots. Casual walking shoes will carry you through artisan trails, welcoming farms in fields of gold, and even to the best craft breweries and wineries in the Shenandoah Valley.  We’ve mapped the five itineraries that promise adventure, culture, sweeping vistas, and a nice cold brew.

(1) Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail

The 14 craft breweries along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail range from the industrial vibes of Basic City Beer Co. –listed as “truly a brewery to look out for” by the Wandering Gourmand –to the horse farm and mountain views of Stable Craft Brewing. Others like Redbeard Brewing Company offer warm-fermented, unfiltered “real ale,” naturally carbonated  in the kegs they are served from in this nearby Staunton nanobrewery.  Never more than an hour’s drive from each other, the breweries along this trail will have you exploring the historic architecture and cultural centers of small downtowns, the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, and welcoming tap rooms with plenty of space for friends.

Skyler Hill pours a beer from Basic City Beer Company’s unique tap tower made of reclaimed materials from the Virginia Metalcrafters foundry.

Don’t miss the many live music events scheduled throughout the springtime calendar. Although the Beerwerks Trail is dotted with food trucks and onsite restaurants to fuel your adventure, don’t miss out on the trail’s side tours of local food offerings.

Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail map

(2) Fields of Gold Farm Trail

Cool Breeze Farms on the Fields of Gold Farm Trail

While in the search for the finest local fare, the Fields of Gold Farm Trail explores the stories and roots of Virginia’s family farmers. Taste fresh maple syrup with Back Creek Farms, pick daylilies and peonies at Andre Viette’s Flower Farm and Nursery, or learn how to make goat cheese with A Better Way Farm and Goat Dairy. Pick-your-own-fruit and working-farm tour options abound, as do farmers markets, food festivals, and gourmet meals at farm-to-table restaurant destinations.

Waynesboro Farmers Market

With over 200 farming venues, the variety of options are more abundant than August tomatoes. The Fields of Gold trail maps allow visitors to explore farms by location up and down the Shenandoah Valley, as well as search for adventures by keyword including farm experiences, trout fishing excursions, on-farm lodging, and more.

(3) Heart and Soil Artisan Trail

From sheep farms to hand-painted yarn stores, the Heart and Soil Artisan Trail connects travelers to the cultural destinations of craft, tradition, and locally made artwork. Explore artisan studios like  Make Waynesboro, which offers hands-on pottery classes and special events for all ages, as well as Appalachian Piecework, a working textile studio that also features handsplit bark baskets and turned wood bowls. At Wintuck Pottery, Lynn Hilton Conyers works as a contemporary potter combining Raku firings with mixed media surface decorations.

Jake Johnson teaches wheel throwing at his studio, Make Waynesboro

The Heart and Soil Artisan Trail also offers art gallery destinations like the Shenandoah Valley Art Center, the P. Buckley Moss Gallery, as well as more classical performance spaces such as the Wayne Theatre, whose bookings range from live music to movie nights to the very grandest of theatre productions.

Moss Gallery in downtown Waynesboro

(4) Virginia is for Lovers Wine Trails

With nearly 300 wineries along trails stretching across the state, Virginia is a unique wine destination and the Shenandoah Valley, with its blue ridges and sparking sunsets, offers some of its finest destinations. Rows of grapes drape rolling hills, beckoning visitors to stroll, explore, and relax.

Afton Mountain Vineyards

Wineries within easy striking distance of Waynesboro include Afton Mountain, Barren Ridge, Cardinal Point, Flying Fox, King Family, and Veritas, but the list doesn’t stop there. Explore the the Nelson 151 Trail on the slopes of the Blue Ridge, drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway to discover Virginia’s Mountain Road Wine Experience, or learn how Thomas Jefferson’s home has become the Monticello Viticultural Area in recognition of the region’s distinguished and burgeoning wine industry. The one thing holding you back will be the question of how to pack all possible trail adventures into one loop.

(5) Guided Tours by Local Trail Blazers

With so many trails to explore, working with a local guide can customize your adventures, while providing transportation for a “driving free” winery and brewery experience. Shenandoah Tours offers personalized craft beer tours featuring multiple brewery destinations, multiple tastings at each brewers, and a group lunch as part of the excursion.

Stephanie Spencer enjoys a flight at Stable Craft Brewing

To pair wine-sipping adventures with cozy bed-and-breakfasts, the Summer Valley and Vineyards Package at Belle Hearth offers a three-course gourmet breakfast, chauffered tours to award-winning vineyards and cideries, a picnic lunch, and dinner vouchers for two for a night on the town.

Belle Hearth Bed & Breakfast

Finally, the Iris Inn’s Shenandoah Valley farm tour introduces guests to celebrity farms like Polyface, renowned for ecological and regenerative farming practices, as well as White Oak Lavender Farm for aromatherapy workshops, and Open Gate Farm for baby chick and milk goat petting. By the end of these trails, a relaxing evening in the Iris Inn’s outdoor hammocks will be well deserved–no shoes required!

Iris Inn Bed & Breakfast and Luxury Cabins

A Trail of Two Waynesboros

Hikers of the Appalachian Trail may be surprised to find Waynesboro on their map twice—once in Virginia and once in Pennsylvania. Both are designated Appalachian Trail Communities (Waynesboro, PA shares its ATC designation with Washington Township and together they go by “Greater Waynesboro Area, PA”). Hikers visiting both locales can expect a warm welcome when they stop to resupply, and visitors taking a faster mode of transportation will be equally charmed by the small-town culture.

Main Street in downtown Waynesboro, VA.

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5 Springtime River Adventures for the Whole Family

Spring is the season where the water is up, the warm weather invites, and the natural world bursts with new possibilities. It’s the season for trout fishing Saturdays, festivals and childhood wonder, and of course lazy river floats. If the season has you feeling as restless as the birds, Waynesboro has a golden suite of river and water adventures perfect for the whole family to celebrate spring.

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Live Like a Local: Out-of-the-Ordinary Festivities in Waynesboro

If you see one more showing of A Christmas Story, you’ll scream. What you’re ready for is a unique spin on the holiday season, fresh experiences that flavor the season with something other than cloves. Look no further than Waynesboro, Virginia, where out-of-the-ordinary holiday festivities come as naturally as the mountain vistas out our back door.

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Live Like a Local: Holiday Events for the Traditionalist

Are you a traditionalist that insists on turkey at Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas? Is there a favorite holiday movie you have to watch every year? Do your grandmother’s antique decorations still adorn your Christmas tree? Then you’re sure to enjoy these familiar and well loved traditions in Waynesboro!

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Civil War Driving Tours

Bordered by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, the Shenandoah Valley acted as a north-south passage for travelers during its settlement and growth, and at no other time was its location so critical than during the Civil War. Union and Confederate troops clashed along its length as the two armies sought to gain ground while driving the enemy backwards. Today, Civil War buffs can experience those costly battles through a variety of museums, films, tours, battlefields, and re-enactments. Since any point in the Shenandoah Valley is easily reached within an hour or two of Waynesboro, the region is ripe for day trips and driving tours.

A cavalryman rides across the battlefield during Waynesboro at War’s Civil War Weekend. Photo by Katie Ford, courtesy of Waynesboro at War.

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