Saturday, October 11, 2014

Smooth Getaway Postcard From Shenandoah Valley

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is not merely noted for lovely scenery, though its position between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains certainly provides beautiful landscapes. The area also played an important role in the history of the United States, from its time as a British colony through its tragic Civil War and beyond.

A little over two hours’ drive West of Washington DC, the Shenandoah Valley offers visitors an experience rich in history, rich in scenic beauty and rich in Southern hospitality. You can start your tour in Winchester, at the North end of the valley off busy highway 81. Here you can see the headquarters of famed Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who is still considered one of the world’s military geniuses. There is also a memorial dedicated to country music legend Patsy Cline, who came from Winchester.

South of Winchester is the entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, one of America’s scenic highlights. Just North of where the drive terminates, near the junction of highways 64 and 81, is Harrisonburg, a vibrant college town and home to James Madison University. The town’s tourist center shows a video that follows Stonewall Jackson’s famed “Valley Campagn” that is often studied at military academies today. Nearby is the Virginia Quilt Museum, where history and artistry mingle.

Drive South on 81 to Staunton and continue your tour of the valley. (Or you could take an hour’s detour West on 64 to Monticello, the stately home of Thomas Jefferson.) Staunton has been named “one of the best small towns in America” by the Smithsonian Institution. Here you’ll find the Museum of American Frontier Culture, which documents the valley's settlement by Native Americans, enslaved Africans, then English, Irish and German immigrants. Local homesteads are recreated. 

Staunton is also where President Woodrow Wilson was born. The home of his parents is restored as a library and museum. It might seem incongruous, but Staunton is also the location of the American Shakespeare Center, which presents the Bard’s plays as they were once performed at the original Globe.

About thirty miles South is Lexington, also one of America’s prettiest towns. This is the home of the Virginia Military Academy (VMI) and Washington & Lee University. The latter contains the tomb of chief Confederate general Robert E. Lee, while VMI’s museum covers the school's role in training leaders including General George C. Marshall and George S. Patton. Some of the museum is dedicated to Stonewall Jackson, who taught at VMI before the Civil War.

A bit farther South on 81 is Natural Bridge, a geological wonder. On the eastern side of the Blue Ridge is Bedford, home of the D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson’s retreat Poplar Forest. Throughout the valley, there are many additional scenic and historic attractions, such as Luray Caverns and New Market Battlefield Historical Park. For more info or a tour guide, contact the Shenandoah Valley Tourism Association at

Mike Quane is a travel writer with twenty-five years experience. His work has appeared in The New York Daily News, Newsday, Grit, Endless Vacation, Parents Magazine, The Portland Press Herald, Telegraph Publications, Hong Kong Traveling Magazine, the inflight magazines of Singapore and Korean airlines plus many other places. He wrote a weekly column at This Week Publications for fifteen years and a monthly column at for over a decade.

1 comment:

  1. I follow a photoblogger from that area who regularly posts in the Shenandoah. It's a beautiful part of the country.