A Weekend In The Shenandoah Valley

by Josh Lesser , Staff Writer

What was once the western frontier of colonial America; today the Shenandoah Valley is the jewel of the Appalachian Mountains. Located in the western part of Virginia and the panhandle of West Virginia, once in the valley drive down Interstate 80 and soak in all the valley has to offer such as history, culture, cuisine and of course its nature. From the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic the Shenandoah Valley is a short enough drive to turn a long weekend into a nature filled adventure.

  1. From the Civil War to Civil Rights: Friday 1:00 P.M.

In the northern most tip of the valley the Shenandoah River snakes into the Potomac River to form the beginning of the valley. Right where the two rivers meet a peninsula juts out into the water. The peninsula itself belongs to West Virginia a state that broke away from Virginia after the state succeeded from the Union. On the other side of the river is both Maryland and Virginia. Today this peninsula is home to the sleepy small town of Harpers Ferry but back in the 1859 the town was home to one of the most famous events leading up to the Civil War, John Browns Raid.

John Brown was an abolitionist who teamed up with several slaves and raided the town of Harpers Ferry. Why would John Brown and a bunch of runaway slaves raid Harpers Ferry, such an insignificant town?  Well going all the way back to Americas founding Harpers Ferry was home to the country’s largest armory. John Browns aim was to start an armed slave revolt in the south. However after two days John Brown was captured and sentenced to death for treason. Although he did not succeed in starting an open revolt John Brown was able to send shockwaves across America. In the south he was viewed as a traitor and a terrorist while many people in the north praised him for his valiant efforts of trying to free the slaves. Regardless of how he was viewed it soon became clear that both John Brown and Harpers Ferry would go down as just one of the many casualties to an even larger struggle in the fight for freedom.

During the Civil War Harpers Ferry would be the scene of a small battle that resulted in a Confederate victory. Shortly after the battle at Harpers Ferry, Confederate and Union troops would meet at Antietam home to the first major Union victory. Years after the Civil War W.E.B. DuBois and many other prominent African Americans would meet at Harpers Ferry to form the Niagara Movement the precursor to the NAACP. Once again Harpers Ferry played a major role in the quest for freedom.

Once one has reached the entrance to Harpers Ferry the best place to start off a visit is to the Harpers Ferry visitor center. Inside the visitor center one can get additional information on things to do in Harpers Ferry.

  1. The Battlefield: Friday 1:15 P.M.

Right next to the visitor center is the entrance to a trial. The trial climbs up and over a slight ridge and into a large field area known as Murphy’s Farm. The farm and the field around it is where the battle of Harpers Ferry took place. The trial around the battle field makes for an easy walk and provides people with a great view of the Shenandoah River. Also along the trial is the site where the Niagara Movement was founded. The walk itself should take no more than an hour and a half and is the perfect beginning to a visit to the historic site.

This is the battlefield where the Battle of Harper's Ferry took place. The house is known as Murphy's Farm. The battle resulted in a Confederate victory.
This is the battlefield where the Battle of Harper’s Ferry took place. The house is known as Murphy’s Farm. The battle resulted in a Confederate victory.
  1. Shopping and Dinner in the town: Friday 3:00 P.M.

The walk should end back at the visitor center where there are shuttles that take tourists to the town of Harpers Ferry itself. The town is located on a hill directly overlooking where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River. Old buildings that date back before the Civil War line up and down the main road in the small town. There are many different places to shop in the town including a candy shop that sells candy from all different time periods. From the town there are a few walks that give great views of the rivers and also give more historical background on Harpers Ferry.  Also within the small town there are quite a few different restaurants to choose from including the Coach House Bar and Grill which serves anything from grilled cheese to burgers. Between eating and shopping in the town one can easily spend a few hours.

This is the view from Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. At Harper's Ferry The Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River. Also the town is where John Browns famous raid occurred.
This is the view from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. At Harper’s Ferry The Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River. Also the town is where John Browns famous raid occurred.
  1. Winchester, VA: Friday 7:00 P.M.

The perfect city to use as a base to explore the Shenandoah Valley is Winchester, Virginia. Not only is the town located in an ideal area of the valley but it is also filled with history. Both George Washington and Stonewall Jackson a general for the Confederates had offices in Winchester. However since it is night the museums are only open during the day. At night the best spot to get dessert is CrepeWorx. This Crepe restaurant is located on Winchester main shopping street N Loudoun Street. The menu is vast and offers customers a variety of crepes to choose from. After dessert one can continue to walk around the old town of Winchester and admire its old southern architecture.

 

  1. Shenandoah Valley National Park: Saturday 11:00 a.m.

A short drive away from Winchester is the biggest attraction in all of the Shenandoah Valley and it is Shenandoah National Park. This National Park is unique compared to all the other parks in the country in that there is one main road that makes the park easy to travel through. Skyline Drive jumps from mountain top to mountain top and provides tourists with breathtaking views of the valley. When first entering the park it is advised to stop at the visitor center first. From the visitor center there are a few hikes ranging from easy to challenging. These hiking trails should give tourists a good intro to what the park is all about.

  1. Skyland: Saturday 1:30 P.M.

After spending time near the visitor center continue driving down Skyline Drive. Make sure to stop every few overlooks to soak in the amazing views of the valley. Also while driving it is possible to spot numerous kinds of wildlife from deer to bears. After a long scenic drive through the park stop at Skyland. Skyland is a hotel run by the national park service that overlooks the valley at over 3,000 feet. Within Skyland there is also a restaurant that serves numerous kinds of food. The food happens to taste extremely good and will easily keep one going for the next few hours.

  1. Waterfalls and Meadows: Saturday 3:00 P.M.

After lunch, drive to Dark Hallows Falls Trailhead. The hiking trail is short but somewhat steep and takes approximately and hour and a half. From this trail you can obtain some amazing views of the waterfalls as well as the stream.  The last waterfall on the hike is over 70 feet high.  Remember to bring water with you since the climb back up can be strenuous.  Right down the road is Big Meadow.  Big Meadow is a beautiful pasture filled with tall grass and flowers.  Feel free to stroll through and relax.  People are lounging and playing ball in this picturesque field.

The Dark Hollows Falls Trailhead is easily one Shenandoah National Parks most popular the trail. The waterfall along the trail make it extremely popular with tourists.
The Dark Hollows Falls Trailhead is easily one Shenandoah National Parks most popular the trail. The waterfall along the trail make it extremely popular with tourists.
  1. Southern Food: Saturday 7:00 P.M.

After completing much of Shenandoah National Park, exist the park and head to Harrisonburg Virginia. The town of Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University and also a variety of great tasting restaurants. One of the town’s great restaurants is Jimmy Madison’s Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar. At this restaurant one can order traditional southern dishes. For the appetizer it is worth getting either the fried green tomatoes or the fried pickles. The food can be a bit pricy so it is important not to spend too much on the appetizer so one can save room for the amazing entrees. For the entrees they have sandwiches such as southern fried chicken sandwiches, burgers and an area of large main dishes. Some of the many main they have to offer include: Mahi Mahi jambalaya, shrimp and grits and smoked baby back ribs. Overall the food at this restaurant is worth the stop in Harrisonburg and also makes for a good stop over before heading back to Winchester.

The town of Harrisonburg, VA is where James Madison University is located. It is also where many great restaurants are located such as Jimmy Madison's.
The town of Harrisonburg, VA is where James Madison University is located. It is also where many great restaurants are located such as Jimmy Madison’s.
  1. George Washington Offices: Sunday 12 P.M.

After a late wake up and breakfast head over to George Washington’s Office located in the center of Winchester. The museum allows visitors to see where George Washington worked when he was a British officer during the French and Indian War. The office is a good way to close a trip to the Shenandoah Valley before heading back home or to another nearby destination such as Washington D.C..