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A Northern Shenandoah Valley road trip offers incredible scenery, delicious local food and drink, rich history, unique places to stay, and a chance to unwind, not far from Washington DC. Allow three to five days to explore the scenic area from Winchester to Harrisonburg, Virginia, avoiding the busy highway and enjoying beautiful country roads.
Explore and Escape in Winchester and Frederick County, Virginia
Begin your Northern Shenandoah Valley road trip in the historic downtown of Winchester. The Old Town Winchester Walking Mall is a lovely pedestrian area lined with unique stores, restaurants, museums, a nanobrewery, a theater, and historic buildings, including a tavern that George Washington frequented.
When you’re ready to explore further, take a slow drive along the country roads of Frederick County, stopping at local farms and wineries, or enjoying a hike along the West Virginia border. In summer, you can catch a flick at the Family Drive-in Theater, an old-school drive-in with car-mounted speakers. In fall, farms offer apple-picking, pumpkin patches, and other family-friendly fun.
Here are 15 fun things to do in and near Winchester Virginia:
Back Road Fun in Shenandoah County, Virginia
Heading south along Route 11 or smaller country roads, the next area to explore on a Northern Shenandoah Valley road trip is Shenandoah County, Virginia. Beautiful scenic roads, excellent hiking along the West Virginia border, local wine and beer on the Shenandoah Spirits Trail, small towns, and interesting museums give visitors plenty to do. We recommend at least two nights in the area if time allows.
Here are our 10 fun places to explore, eat, and drink in Shenandoah County:
Town and Country in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Virginia
Our final stop in Northern Shenandoah County is Harrisonburg, home of James Madison University (JMU) and the county seat of Rockingham County.
Things to Do in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County
Start your visit at the Hargesty Higgins House Visitor Center, which has an excellent orientation center, a small museum about the historic Valley Turnpike (route 11), a gift shop, and a small cafe. Pick up a map and explore the historic downtown on foot. Harrisonburg was the Great American Main Street Award Winner in 2015.
Be sure to get a picture at the Harrisonburg LOVEwork, behind the Virginia Quilt Museum. The LOVEwork highlights four cultural themes of diversity, agriculture, recreation, and arts.
If you prefer a hike, ask the Visitor Center for advice and trail maps. We drove west to the Hone Quarry area of the George Washington National Forest for a short but fairly steep half-mile hike to a spectacular viewpoint.
For a short walk through nature in town, visit JMU’s Edith J Carrier Arboretum. The network of paths, with benches for relaxing, is a nice place for a break.
Drink and Eat Local in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County
Bella Luna serves delicious wood-fired pizzas using fresh, local ingredients in the historic Livery Building downtown. They also offer a nice selection of fresh salads and sandwiches, and the vibe is warm and relaxed. If you’re in the mood for a treat, head across the street for some of Bella’s tasty gelato, made with milk from a local dairy.
Another option for dinner in town, Clementine’s Cafe brings food, music, and art together. The outdoor downstairs patio was quiet during our dinner, but trivia nights and live entertainment bring a crowd on weekends. Closer to JMU, we like Corgans Publick House for Irish specials, good burgers, and a pint.
Downtown Harrisonburg is home to four of the craft breweries on the Shenandoah Spirits Trail and the BeerWerks Trail: Pale Fire Brewing Company, Brothers Craft Brewery, Three Notch’d Brewing Company, and Wolfe Street Brewery. Pale Fire Brewing opened in 2015 in the renovated Ice House, a cool industrial building, and has a nice open tasting room and patio. We tasted 5 of the 11 brews on tap, and particularly liked the Red Molly and the Lucille Irish Stout.
Where to Stay in Harrisonburg Virginia
The comfortable Fairfield Inn and Suites is a good option for a stay in Harrisonburg. It’s located near James Madison University and the Arboretum, just a short drive from downtown.
Northern Shenandoah Valley Road Trip Tips
Many people, like us, have traveled through the Shenandoah Valley on busy highway 81 without ever enjoying all that the region has to offer. To make the most of your visit:
- Get off the highway. Route 11 is the obvious alternate to route 81, since it parallels the highway, but there are plenty of smaller, beautiful country roads that take you into the heart of the valley. Make time to explore a road less traveled
- Take it slow. The beauty of a road trip through Northern Shenandoah Valley is the change to see and experience something new. Enjoy the country roads; stop at a farm stand; visit a winery; poke around a small town.
- Extend the fun. If you allow extra time you can extend your road trip into Southern Shenandoah Valley or east onto Skyline Drive.
Have you explored the Northern Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia? We’d love to hear your tips on favorite stops for our next visit.
For more Shenandoah Valley tips and things to do, check out these related articles:
- Southern Shenandoah Valley Road Trips: Staunton to Lexington
- 8 Great Things to Do in Shenandoah Valley
- 8 Great Things to Do in Roanoke Virginia
- 8 More Wonderful Overnight Getaways Near Northern Virginia.