Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: April 2018
Only a two-hour ride south of Washington, DC, rural Virginia makes for a nice weekend getaway from the city. There are plenty of hiking trails and wineries to visit with beautiful views of mountains and bubbling streams.
Focus on the scenery
Where to Stay
Airbnb has become very popular over the last few years, so you should have no issues finding an affordable mountain side cabin for around $85-$120 a night. We wanted to have easy access to hiking trails, so we stayed in an Airbnb just a 10-15 minute drive from the Swift Run Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park. If you go this route, I strongly recommend downloading directions before you get to the area as cell service is mostly nonexistent. Additionally, a lot of places do not have Wi-Fi or cable so make sure to pack a book to read. Finally, you’ll want to arrive in the daylight. It can be difficult to read mailbox numbers and drive up long and windy driveways in the pitch black night.
Hiking in Shenandoah National Park
Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park
has over 200,000 acres of protected forest and 500 miles of trails within the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can take in its majestic views via car on Skyline Drive or tough it out on the Appalachian trail. There are four different entrances but we based our trip around Swift Run Gap. The park costs $25 to enter and your pass is good for 7 days.
South River Falls
Just under a five-mile loop, the South River Falls trail starts near mile marker 62 in the park. There is a large picnic area with plenty of parking and bathroom facilities. The hike is a down hill trot through the woods and a few switch backs to a beautiful waterfall overlook.
Boulders along the switchback
Take a break here to admire the view and then continue to follow the trail markers to the bottom of the waterfall. The hardest part of the trail is the quarter-mile scramble on some rocks and trail to the base of the falls. It’s 100% worth the trek to sit on a boulder, eating your lunch and feeling the waterfall spray.
Base of the falls
Don’t forget to check out the fragrant wild flowers dotting the landscape!
Wild Flowers on the trail
This trail starts directly across the small parking area for the Bearfence Area. It’s a short mile long loop but intense trail that gives you a full body workout while bouldering over the unique rock formations. There are a few scenic views along the rise but the creme de la creme is the 360 degree viewpoint at the top!
Entrance to the trail
A strong note of caution, if it’s raining or slippery, do not attempt this trail. The rocks are extremely jagged and even a minor fall could result in a serious injury.
Not somewhere you want to fall
The Grape Part of the Escape
Today, Virginia has over 240 wineries covering seven American Viticulture Areas. However, its vineyards weren’t always flourishing. Its history of epic failure dates back to Jamestown settlers in 1619. They tried and tried but they had no luck growing European grapes. Continuing the tradition, both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington made attempts for years but never had a successful harvest. Finally, in the 1820s Virgina wine makers planted native grapes and Norton Wine made its debut to the world. Prohibition almost stomped out the Virginia wine industry in the early 20th century, depleting most of the vineyards. Finally, in 1976 pioneer vintner Gianni Zonin hired Gabriele Rausse to grow and harvest vinifera grapes near Charlottesville. He established Barboursville Vineyards and then helped other vineyards do the same, blossoming into the renowned wine region we love today!
Vines and Mountains
A tour through Virgina wine country wouldn’t be complete without stopping at the vineyard which revived the entire industry. This Italian winery
is family owned and operated amongst the pleasant blooming meadows. There is an authentic Italian restaurant on site, a special tasting room called the Library for the vintage wines and accommodations at the inn or cottages. It boasts a historic landmark on site as well. Thomas Jefferson designed the residence for Governor James Barbour in 1814, The residence burned down on Christmas day in 1884 but you can still tour in the ruins.
The winery has a robust tasting of 17 wines for $7. You’ll find many friendly and diverse patrons to discuss which ones are your favorites. I enjoyed the Vermentino, which is a medium bodied white from volcanic soil in Sardinia. While not part of the tasting the crown jewel of Barboursville Vineyards is their Octagon blend. First bottled in 2001, it’s a blend of reserve selections of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. It won 68 gold medals and was selected to be served to Queen Elizabeth II by the Virginia Governor in 2001. Grab a glass, head to the library and enjoy the view!
Glass House Winery
Have you ever wanted to sip wine at a vineyard surrounded by tropical plants? Well then you will love Glass House Winery
! This dazzling setting features a large conservatory with great views and live music.
Welcome to the Glass House Winery!
If the indoors isn’t your thing, head outside to the deck or one of the tables surrounding the lake and watch some of the patron’s doggos running around. The tasting is $10 for 8 wines and comes with a little piece of chocolate from their in-house chocolatiers. If you are hoping for something more substantial, they bring in food trucks on weekends or you can bring your own picnic.
Take the long gravel driveway to the most architecturally interesting winery in Virginia. While most vineyards play up the rustic theme, Moss Vineyards
is founded, owned and operated by an architect husband and wife team. The aesthetic is sleek!
Moss Vineyards welcomes you!
Enjoy your $10 tasting of 5 wines in an area that was specifically designed for Cabernet grapes because they grow best in soil at this particular elevation, which makes sense as our favorite wine was the 2015 Cabernet. So bring your snacks and pup and take in the beautiful mountain views or just sit on the porch and play on your phone because they actually have free Wi-Fi!
Relaxing with some award winning wine!
This quaint family owned and operated winery
has been around since 1994 and started producing their own label in 2001. The tasting consists of 6 wines for $6. Once your finished you can buy a full glass of your favorite for $6, which was the best deal we found, and enjoy it in the pleasant english style garden overlooking the vineyard. I highly recommend their award-winning Cabernet Franc.
Walking with the grapes
One last stop….
Alpacas of the Morning Mist
As a huge animal lover, once I found out about Alpacas of the Morning Mist
from the Airbnb guide-book there was no way I wasn’t going to visit. They don’t have regular hours but all you have to do is give them a call to schedule a time to come by. What I thought was going to be the most awkward phone call of my life turned out to be the most fun experience! The owners could not be more kind! They have around 20 Alpacas on their sprawling farm and are happy to tell you all about their different personalities and let you feed and pet them! Samson was the friendliest and so he was the favorite. We hung out with the Alpacas for around 30 minutes and are looking forward to when they start selling yarn!!
The famous Samson
Also – the husband and wife team run a large Vietnam War Museum
on the property which you can tour! You only need to call and make an appointment!