Pass on the Highway: Alternative Ways to Reach the Valley and Get Around Once You’re Here
March 17, 2022
Interstate 81 is central to the Shenandoah Valley, providing rapid and convenient north/south travel. Interstate 64 is also a big road, bisecting the Valley east/west and helping travelers cut down on their time in the car. And while these two methods of traversing the Valley are wonderful, sometimes it’s nice to just take your time and enjoy the journey. We’ve gathered some slower, more scenic alternatives. Here’s our take on new ways to get to the Valley, and less obvious methods of getting around once you’re here.
The Shenandoah Valley has several airports for the convenience of travelers hoping to get to town quickly with little fuss. Shenandoah Valley Airport (Weyers Cave) connects the Valley to the rest of the world. This stress-free airport offers free parking and daily connecting flights to Washington D.C. and Chicago. Grab a window seat for phenomenal views from the sky.
Sky Bryce Airport gives travelers with access to an aircraft the ability to fly in and land at Bryce Resort for a round of golf, some skiing, or a meal and fly home again the same day. Also in Shenandoah County, New Market Airport is a privately owned airport that’s open for public use. It’s also the base of operations for Skydive Shenandoah where you can do everything from taking your first jump to becoming a licensed skydiver.
Other ways to see the Valley sights like the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah River, forests, farmland, and vineyards from the sky are from the baskets at Valley Ballooning (Woodstock) and Star Ballooning (Bridgewater). Hang gliders can take to the air from the launch at Woodstock Hang Gliding Site or Edith’s Gap Launch Area (Luray).
Recently designated a scenic river, The Upper James River Water Trail stretches for 59 miles of the James River from its headwaters in Botetourt County to Glasgow in Rockbridge County.
The UJRWT offers many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting adventures and is a favorite destination for anglers from all across the country. Get your gear from Wilderness Canoe Company, which rents canoes, kayaks, rafts, or tubes. Reserve one of their primitive campsites along the James River. Some are even large enough for groups of 10-30 people.
Photo by Chris Weisler
The South River flows north through the Valley, eventually merging with the Middle and North Rivers to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Part of the South River from Ridgeview Park to Basic Park makes up the 4-mile Waynesboro Water Trail. Here paddlers will find boat launches and access to float trips of varying distances, gentle rapids, and one of only two urban trout fisheries in the state. You can rent kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards from Rockfish Gap Outfitters.
The beautiful Shenandoah River flows south to north through the Shenandoah Valley. It’s a wonderful place to float your canoe, kayak, or inner tube. The North Fork, undulates through Rockingham and Shenandoah Counties, offering smooth, clear water, incredible views of Massanutten Mountain, and lots of wildlife, including many species of fish. Since much of the land lining the river is privately owned, visitors must utilize public access points for fishing and boat launching.
The river’s 97-mile South Fork has 20 public access points before it meets the North Fork in Front Royal. This makes it ideal for paddling and float trips of various distances. The South Fork is served by a number of canoe outfitters as it winds through Rockingham, Page, and Frederick Counties. Check out Massanutten River Adventures, Shenandoah River Outfitters, and Downriver Canoe Company for your next adventure.
The 57-mile main stem of the Shenandoah River flows through Clarke County and is designated a state scenic river before joining the Potomac. This gentle and scenic section of the river offers five public access points and a dense fish population. Rent a kayak or tube from Watermelon Park and enjoy shuttle service to various points upstream from which you can enjoy a lazy float back to your car.
Paddlers looking for a day on the water near Winchester will enjoy the 20-mile stretch of Cedar Creek from Middle Road to Rt. 11. It includes a section of class I and II rapids but is mostly flat and gentle.
Another good spot for boating and paddle-boating is 44-acre Lake Laura at Bryce Mountain Resort. The recently dredged lake reaches a depth of 30 feet and is surrounded by outstanding mountain scenery.
The Shenandoah Valley is packed with opportunities to bike, and you’ll find miles of quiet back roads for road biking as well as mountains full of the best single track around. Bike the Valley is a wonderful resource for mapping out your route on paved roads, gravel trails, and paths and greenways. The MTB Project is a good site to use for finding a mountain biking spot that’s appropriate for your skill level. You’ll find maps, descriptions of the terrain, and routes that are color-coded for difficulty. Bikers looking to experience the thrills (but not the tough work of climbing the hills) will find bike and gear rentals, seasonal access to the slopes, and much more at Massanutten Bike Park and the Downhill Mountain Bike Park at Bryce Resort.
The Trans Virginia Bike Route maps a 550-mile route from across Virginia (and through the Shenandoah Valley) from DC to Damascus designed for bikepackers. The route traverses “rideable, non-technical, unpaved terrain,” like unpaved country and forest roads, double track, and rail trails.
Harrisonburg is a bike-friendly city with streets mapped by bike comfort as well as air and repair stations. The city is working on two additional bike routes that will extend across the city, the Friendly City Trail and North End Greenway, shared-use trails that will connect schools, parks, community centers, and neighborhoods. If you’re in town but don’t have a bike, you can rent one through Shenandoah Bicycle Company where you’ll find mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, road bikes, and pedal-assist electric bikes. Another great way to get around is to rent an electric, dockless Bird scooter, which can be found in “nests” across the city and JMU campus and can be easily located and checked out with the Bird app.
Horse lovers are in luck! Book a narrated tour of historic downtown Lexington with Lexington Carriage Company.
Photo by Chris Weisler
If you’d rather be in the saddle, book a guided backcountry trail ride through 250 acres of Rockbridge County conservatory property with Morning Star Stables. You’ll appreciate the views of distant mountains in nearby Augusta County when you book a trail ride on one of Star B Stables’ gentle horses. North Mountain Outfitter (Swoope) offers trail rides and special weekends for “cowgirls” and couples. Secret Passage Ranch (Fort Valley) lets riders explore 850 acres of private land and an indoor arena. They also offer carriage rides, riding lessons, and therapeutic rides. Nearby Fort Valley Ranch rents horses for trail rides but also has horse camping facilities to use as a home base as you explore the trails in the surrounding national forest.
The Shenandoah Valley is home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails through the George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah National Park, and many state and county parks. You’ll find spectacular views of the mountains and the valley below, forests, rivers, lakes, and more.
Take an easy stroll with the family along Luray’s Hawksbill Greenway or the Royal Shenandoah Greenway, which winds for five miles through downtown Front Royal, along the river through Eastham Park, and through the Happy Creek Arboretum. Other level walking trails include Strasburg, Grottoes, Waynesboro’s South River Greenway, and Lexington’s Chessie Trail. Many communities like Winchester, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Lexington have extremely walkable downtowns, excellent for accessing shopping, dining, and history on foot.
Photo by Kevin Custer
550 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Virginia, and you don’t need to be a thru-hiker to enjoy the long section that runs through Shenandoah National Park and parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Towns like Berryville, Front Royal, Elkton, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, and Glasgow are AT Communities, dedicated to preserving the trail and easing the journeys of those passing along it. They make convenient starting, stopping, stocking, and resting points for those tackling long or short portions of the trail.
Photo by Chris Weisler
Book a trip with Enchanted Nature Tours (Churchville) for guided hikes through the “splendidly rural setting of the George Washington National Forest.” These customizable hikes last about four hours, include lunch, and are educational and entertaining. Enchanted Nature Tours also leads tours in downtown Staunton.
Interstates 81 and 64 are incredibly convenient for getting places quickly, but if you want to slow down and see the scenery, try one of the Valley’s quieter roads. The Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway connect at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park and stretch along the ridge of the mountains in both northern and southern directions. Both will knock your socks off with their views and many scenic overlooks for picnicking, hiking, and star-gazing.
Originally part of a historic colonial trail, Route 11 parallels the interstate and stretches all the way from New York to Louisiana. You’ll love the rolling farmland that surrounds the road as well as the distant view of the mountains. Route 11 winds through many of the Shenandoah Valley towns, including Winchester, Strasburg, Mt. Jackson, Woodstock, New Market, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Lexington.
Route 250 stretches west-east across the Valley from West Virginia to Richmond, traveling through Staunton, Waynesboro, and Charlottesville along the way. This scenic route treats riders to national forest views and exciting switchbacks on mountainous sections and is a popular destination for motorcycle riders. Route 340 is a pleasant north-south alternative to 81 as it hugs the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and runs through Waynesboro, Elkton, Luray, Front Royal, and other towns on the eastern edge of the Valley.
By Rail, Bus, or Trolley
Amtrak’s Cardinal line runs through Staunton, making stops three days a week at the historic Staunton Train Station. You’ll enjoy hassle-free travel and incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains. Travelers can venture as far as New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., Cincinnati, and Chicago on this line.
Photo by Zak Suhar
The Virginia Breeze intercity Valley Flyer bus route stretches Blacksburg to D.C. and includes several daily stops in communities in the Shenandoah Valley. Grab the bus in Lexington, Staunton, Harrisonburg, or Front Royal. Buses include restrooms, wi-fi, roomy seating, and the ability to buy your ticket on your phone.
ShenGo is another bus line based in Shenandoah County that allows easy travel from town to town and costs only $1 for each trip! Buses arrive at each stop in two-hour increments.
Staunton’s Downtown Trolley is a fun way to explore the city without worrying about parking or hiking the hilly streets. It makes a continuous loop through downtown and can be caught at the Visitor Center every half hour. It includes stops in the city’s historic downtown core, the Wharf Historic District, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, and Gypsy Hill Park.
Photo by Jean Boyd
Shenandoah County boasts Virginia’s largest OHV trail system on public land, which encompasses 36 miles of trails through George Washington National Forest. Another good spot to test your riding skills is the Big Levels 4×4 Trail that extends between Raphine and Stuarts Draft. Riders visiting Rockingham County will enjoy the good views and mud at Rocky Run ATV Trail as well as Big Boys Playground, where you’ll find mud holes, a drag strip, and a range of activities in a “safe, supervised environment.”
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