Find Your Next Bucket List Adventure Right Here in the Shenandoah Valley
January 24, 2022
Your bucket list should include all the things you want to do before you die. It won’t just keep you busy, it will also help you figure out how best to spend your days engaged with things that matter most to you. Though your list is probably long and varied, it might include things like jumping out of an airplane, shooting down a zipline, or crossing the finish line of a 100-mile endurance race. Did you know you can do these things right here in the Shenandoah Valley? From thrills to learning new skills, here’s your local guide to living your best life while working through your list.
Explore the Animal Kingdom
Watching Tiger King during lockdown probably inspired you, well, not to open a tiger farm, but at least to have more experiences with wild and exotic animals. A good place to start is at the 180-acre drive-thru Virginia Safari Park (Natural Bridge), where more than 1,000 animals roam free. This zoo is interactive: you’ll feed giraffes, let birds perch on your fingers, and treat zebras, bison, deer to lunch from your car windows. The zoo even offers the chance to get up close to rhinos, penguins, sloths, and giant anteaters!
Make a new best friend at Point of View Alpacas (Mount Sidney) when you take a 40-60-minute Walk-a-Paca tour. You’ll learn all about these cool critters as you lead them on a stroll around the beautiful farm. You’ll get to hand-feed them grain snacks and take lots of selfies because alpacas love to pose. Remember your visit by taking home products made of alpaca wool from the farm store.
If you’d rather ride than walk, explore the forests surrounding Fort Valley Ranch from the back of a gentle horse. Guided trails rides can be as short as an hour or as long as a day for seasoned riders. Young kids trying the saddle for the first time can take hand-led rides around the ranch. Extend your stay: the ranch offers several lodging options including cabins and horse camping.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is a hospital for native wildlife that attempts to rehabilitate injured animals and return them to the wild. They help more than 2,000 patients each year! The center also provides education for the public on topics such as preserving habitats and what to do if you find a sick or injured animal. The center offers programs and summer camps for kids and training for veterinary students. Visitors can enjoy a wildlife walk that allows them to meet “teaching” animals that are unable to return to their natural habitats.
Spoil Your Senses with Food and Entertainment
Is eating food fit for royalty on your bucket list? If you’re a foodie, indulge in an award-winning meal at the Joshua Wilton House in Harrisonburg. Tom French, the executive chef, interned at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. He’s been named Top Chef Harrisonburg, and his seasonal menu emphasizes fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Menu items include specialty cocktails, Prince Edward Island mussels, duck breast with creamy mushroom farro and blackberry gastrique, and flourless chocolate tortes. Located in Harrisonburg’s historic downtown district, the restaurant and inn are situated in a classically-restored Victorian home.
Savor some of the Valley’s best craft beers along the Beerwerks Trail. The trail’s 19 breweries are all within an hour’s drive of each other and are located in downtown Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Lexington as well as the surrounding areas. Visitors will find home-brew-inspired beers as well as meticulously crafted mainstays. Seasonal offerings include the fresh tastes of locally sourced ingredients. Beerwerks breweries regularly host events like live music, trivia, and painting workshops. Sign up for a Beerwerks Passport, get it stamped at eight breweries, and earn your own Beerwerks t-shirt.
The annual Red Wing Roots Music Festival will bring some of the biggest names in folk music to Natural Chimneys Park on June 24-26. The lineup is still TBA, but in past years, artists included The Steel Wheels, Tim Mavericks, Sarah Jarosz, Hiss Golden Messenger, Ragged Mtn String Band, and over 40 more. Besides music playing on five stages, festival attendees can expect a beer garden, food and craft vendors, and lots of fun outdoor activities like bike rides, yoga, and lawn games for adults and kids alike.
The family-friendly Appaloosa Music Festival is known for fantastic music, camping under the stars, unique and high-quality food, yummy beer, dancing, craft and other vendors, and lots of fun. People come from all over to party down at this year’s Labor Day weekend festival at Skyline Ranch Resort. Come for the day or camp and make a weekend out of it. The lineup isn’t posted yet, but last year, Scythian, Dustbowl Revival, Young Dubliners, Yarn, and many more rocked the stage.
Time travel by watching a play in the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriar’s Playhouse in Staunton. Performances strive to nail down the historical artistic style and atmosphere that would have been experienced in the Bard’s time. This year, Shakespeare classics like Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night share the stage with modern adaptations and “compelling exploration of the themes” found in Shakespeare. Performances often include live music and some feature discussions and lectures so you can learn as well as be entertained. Follow up with a tour of the theater to learn about its inner workings.
Breathe in the Outside Air
One of the coolest things to do near Waynesboro is to explore the Blue Ridge from 500 feet underground while inside the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The trail follows an old railroad line through the restored and stabilized Claudius Crozet Tunnel. When it was constructed in the 1850s, the tunnel was the longest of its kind at 4,264 feet. It’s now a favorite of hikers, bikers, and history lovers alike.
In fact, the Shenandoah Valley boasts some of the most amazing hikes ever, including sections of the Appalachian Trail and along trails running through our natural areas. Day hikers will love the Stony Man Mountain Hike located off the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park near Luray. It’s only about a mile long and takes an hour to hike, but the views from the summit and overlooks along the way are extraordinary.
Learn the difference, once and for all, between a stalagmite and a stalactite at Luray Caverns, the largest cavern in the Eastern U.S. Lighted and paved walkways lead visitors past subterranean geological wonders like the Stalacpipe Organ. Additional cavern attractions include the 75 classic vehicles at the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, the tests of nerves and agility on the Rope Adventure Park, and the pleasantly perplexing one-acre ornamental hedge maze. You can also get underground at Grand Caverns (Grottoes), America’s oldest show cave, and Endless Caverns in New Market, which features an on-site museum devoted to the history of parade floats.
700-acre Blandy Experimental Farm (Boyce) is a University of Virginia research facility and home to Virginia’s state arboretum. Visitors will see native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, including 25 Virginia Champion Trees, which are the largest of their kind in the state. The boxwood garden contains the state’s largest collection of boxwood varieties. Explore the themed gardens, native plant trails and more with guided and self-guided tours.
If you’ve been busy bucket-listing, you might eventually need to slow down and cool off. Spend a lazy afternoon tubing or kayaking on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River through Rockingham County and beyond. Numerous boat landings give access to miles of winding river and beautiful scenery.
Get your thrills in almost too many ways to count at Massanutten Resort. Ski, snowboard, and ice skate during the winter weather. The Indoor Waterpark is open all year and includes massive slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, and areas for even the youngest children. In warmer weather, visitors can explore the treetops on the canopy tour or rocket down the 800-foot Mega Zipline, ride mountain bikes on the Western Slope or hurtle downhill without having to pedal back up on the lift-served Mountain Bike Park.
Sign up for a guided snowshoeing excursion on Bryce Mountain by sunset or full moon. These trips promise thrilling outdoor adventure, a chance to bond with friends and family, and they’re appropriate for both experienced and beginner snowshoers.
Brush up on your orienteering and make sure your canoe is ready for the water: Bentonville’s Shenandoah EPIC will take place April 23-24, 2022. This 24-hour race will test all your outdoor skills including trekking, paddling, and mountain biking as you challenge yourself to cover up to 100 miles. Compete with other teams and pick up checkpoints along the way.
Ready to destroy your legs and have a great time doing it? Sign up for the Shenanduro on May 7 for some amazing endurance mountain biking in Shenandoah River State Park on some of Virginia’s best singletrack. Select from a six- or twelve-hour course that can be tackled solo or with a two- or three-person team. Earn great swag and compete for prizes.
Make a lifetime of memories with a scenic flight in a hot air balloon with Valley Ballooning (Woodstock). You’ll love the unique perspective on the Shenandoah Valley and the Shenandoah River. Bridgewater’s Star Ballooning, Front Royal’s Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons also offer hot air balloon excursions. For a fun ballooning event with chances to watch balloons and ride in tethered balloons, check out Balloons over Rockbridge on July 2-3.
Learn New Skills
Will this finally be the year you conquer your fear of heights and learn to fly? New Market’s Skydive Shenandoah provides beginners with instruction, guidance, and equipment for their first jump. After you complete the series of jumps in the basic course, you can even work toward your professional license. Hang gliders and paragliders should check out Capitol Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association for tips on finding instructors and accessing launch sites. Valley favorites include Edith’s Gap Launch Site and Woodstock Hang Gliding Site.
Take your bucket list education into your own hands and finally become an expert in local history. You can visit small museums up and down the Valley, but the Winchester area has several, so you’ll want to make a weekend of it. Explore the galleries and gardens of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, where exhibits range from National Geographic photos to an examination of the civil rights movement in the South. The Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum features “Civil War graffiti,” and Kernstown Battlefield and Pritchard House offers walking trails and insight into the site’s battles. Area museums are also devoted to Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters and Washington’s Office Museum. Finally, fans of country music won’t want to skip the Patsy Cline House, where the singer lived during her formative years.
If you weathered store shortages, worried about putting food on the table during lockdown, and are disgusted by the amount of waste humans create, you’ve probably imagined being a lot more self-sufficient. The Homesteaders of America organization believes in a simple life of “modern and conservative homesteading” with gardens, farm animals, and more. This community seeks to educate and connect with like-minded people. Check out the Homesteaders Conference at the Warren County Fairgrounds on October 7th and 8th, 2022.
Hone your disc golf skills on the new, expanded courses at Limestone Ledges Disc Golf Complex (Maurertown). Experts will find plenty of challenges, including the PDGA gold-level Massanutten Monster, but there are opportunities for beginners and families to learn as well. Swover Creek Disc Golf is on the grounds of a brewery, so you can look forward to a tasty beer after your round. Valley visitors can also find excellent disc golf courses in Winchester, Front Royal, Luray, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, and Lexington.
You’ll work both your body and your brains when you take up fly fishing. This seductive sport is both challenging and fun, but don’t take our word for it. Sign up for lessons with knowledgeable and patient instructors who will teach you how to tie flies, cast, and catch small-mouth bass and native brook trout at Murray’s Fly Shop in Edinburg.
You have the rest of your life to complete items on your bucket list, but hopefully, we’ve inspired you to get started today!
For more bucket-list ideas, explore all of the unique cities and towns in the Shenandoah Valley!
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