The Shenandoah Valley is one of America’s great scenic and cultural regions. Nicknamed "The Big Valley," it stretches roughly 200 miles from Roanoke, Virginia in the south to Harpers Ferry, WV in the north. Largely characterizing the terrain of the Shenandoah Valley are the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Culturally, the Shenandoah Valley offers such things as Civil War sites, historic downtowns, and museums. Other features that contribute to the region’s overall identity include wineries, caverns, picture-postcard farms, and charming bed and breakfasts. It’s no wonder the valley attracts so many visitors.
Civil War Sites
Civil War Sites Image: Scott K. Brown / Virginia Tourism Corporation
During the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley acquired the nickname of "The Breadbasket of the Confederacy." This reflects its role as a region that provided sustenance to the Confederate troops. It was also a place where battles were fought and all around tension reigned supreme. Major Civil War events that took place in the region include the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the 1864 Valley Campaign, and the 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign saw General "Stonewall" Jackson’s troops defeating the Union forces, while the Valley Campaign represented a reversal of fortune. During the Valley Campaign, the General Sheridan-led Union forces managed to defeat General Jubal A. Early and his Confederate outfit. The Battle of Cedar Creek once again resulted in a Confederate defeat and essentially ended the Shenandoah Valley’s conventional Civil War operations. Numerous Civil War sites relate to these events and many others that unfolded in the Shenandoah Valley, and they are major targets for visitors to the region. Regional orientation centers, such as the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District Orientation Center in Winchester VA, provide info and resources that are intended to orient the visitor to these regional sites.
Historic Downtowns Image: Jason Riedy (flickr)
The Shenandoah Valley is known for its rich history. Reflecting this history are the historic downtowns that can be found in the region. Many of these historical districts are listed on state-level and national-level historic registers, and they delight with their old-fashioned architecture and atmospheres. Examples include the downtown districts of Martinsburg WV, Charles Town WV, Front Royal VA, Staunton VA, and Lexington VA. These and the other historic downtowns that are found in the Shenandoah Valley are ideal for walking tours. They can also be great places to shop and dine, thanks to their stores, markets, and restaurants. When visiting the historic downtowns of the Shenandoah Valley, it is possible to get tips on such things as walking tours at the local visitor centers.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park
A common saying has it that "Virginia is for Lovers." The state is certainly a destination for lovers of the Great Outdoors, thanks in part to Shenandoah National Park. Found just 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., this 200,000-acre national treasure provides scenic views to take your breath away and numerous recreational activity options. The fact that Shenandoah National Park encompasses a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains helps to explain its scenic allure, and there are numerous hiking trails that can be used to explore its various environs. Other features of the park include waterfalls and fascinating rock formations, and in addition to hiking, the recreational opportunities include camping, bicycling, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, and wildlife viewing. No discussion about Shenandoah National Park would be complete without also making mention of Skyline Drive. This 105-mile road is the only public road through the park, and it runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The views from the road are amazing, and there are no less than 75 overlooks where drivers can stop and take it all in.
A number of caverns call the Shenandoah Valley home, and they are certainly worth keeping in mind when looking for ways to fill your time while in the area. Guided cavern tours can be arranged in the Shenandoah Valley, with an example being the guided tours that are offered at Skyline Caverns. These caverns are found near the northern tip of Shenandoah Park and the town of Front Royal. Among the other notable caverns in the Shenandoah Valley are the Luray Caverns, the Shenandoah Caverns, the Grand Caverns, and the Dixie Caverns. The natural formations in these caverns are astonishing, and the fact that they have average temperatures of around 54 degrees means that they can make for fine places to cool off during the hot summer months.
Shenandoah Valley Wineries
Shenandoah Valley Wineries Image: TrailVoice (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Some of the best wineries in Virginia are found in the Shenandoah Valley. This is good news for wine enthusiasts who are organizing visits to the region. Many of the area vineyards offer wine tours throughout the year, and they are also known to host live music shows and other special events. At some of the Shenandoah Valley wineries, it is also possible to enjoy rewarding dining experiences. Worth noting is the Annual Shenandoah Valley Wine and Jazz Festival. It is held in June at the Frontier Culture Museum. This living history museum can be found in Staunton, which you might be interested to know is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson – the 28th U.S. president.