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4 Scenic Drives Through the Shenandoah That Make You Forget You’re In a Car

Photograph by Steven M. Shires.

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Four scenic drives where you can take in fall leaves, sample wines, explore history, and get a taste of the Valley.

1. Virginia Routes 252 and 39 / Staunton to Lexington

A local favorite for its cute roadside hamlets, such as Middlebrook and Brownsburg, as well as leaf-peeping come autumn, this route winds through cattle country. Other worthy stops and detours: Polyface Farm (43 Pure Meadows La., Swoope; 540-885-3590), of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc. fame, which offers a store, private tours, and twice-a-month hay-wagon excursions; Wade’s Mill (55 Kennedy Wades Mill Loop, Raphine; 540-348-1400), circa 1750, the Valley’s oldest water-powered gristmill; Rockbridge Vineyard (35 Hill View La., Raphine; 540-377-6204), which makes an excellent dessert wine, V d’Or; and the Virginia Horse Center (487 Maury River Rd., Lexington; 540-464-2950), with a 4,000-seat coliseum, 19 show rings, and barn space for 1,200 horses.

2. Virginia Route 42 and US Route 250 / Harrisonburg to Staunton

This route snakes through hilly pastureland with sweeping views of the Alleghenies while bisecting a couple of picturesque towns, Bridgewater and Dayton, where you might see old-order Mennonites in horses and buggies. Other worthy stops and detours: the Dayton Market (3105 John Wayland Hwy., Dayton; 540-879-3801), a cluster of nearly two dozen local-food-and-craft shops, many selling Mennonite goods; Bluestone Vineyard (4828 Spring Creek Rd., Bridgewater; 540-828-0099), a family-owned winery with panoramic views; and Natural Chimneys Regional Park and Campground (94 Natural Chimneys La., Mount Solon; 540-245-5727), a lovely park named for seven limestone spires, the tallest of which towers 120 feet.

3. US Routes 340 and 211 / Front Royal to New Market

Near the junction of I-66 and I-81, 50-mile-long Massanutten Mountain splits the Valley into two narrow valleys. This route, which follows the Shenandoah River’s South Fork, offers access to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park’s northernmost sections. Worthy stops and detours: Shenandoah River State Park (350 Daughter of Stars Dr., Bentonville; 540-622-6840) for hiking, biking, and a stunning river overlook; Luray Caverns (101 Cave Hill Rd., Luray; 540-743-6551), famous for its Great Stalacpipe Organ; and Southern Kitchen (9576 S. Congress St., New Market; 540-740-3514), a classic roadside lunch counter with a vintage oil painting of Endless Caverns.

4. US Route 11 / Strasburg to New Market

Originally a Native American hunting route, Route 11 follows the Shenandoah River’s North Fork on the western side of Massanutten Mountain and passes through a string of tiny historic towns—Woodstock, Edinburg, Mount Jackson. Other worthy stops and detours: Woodstock Tower (Woodstock Tower Rd., Fort Valley), which offers a remarkable view of the seven bends of the Shenandoah River; Big Schloss (Wolf Gap Recreation Area, Wardensville), a 4.4-mile hike to a rocky peak with great views, 15 miles west of Woodstock; Route 11 potato-chip factory (11 Edwards Way, Mount Jackson; 540-477-9664), where you can watch the frying from behind glass; American Celebration on Parade (397 Caverns Rd., Quicksburg; 540-477-4300), a museum exploding with parade floats; and Shenandoah Caverns (261 Caverns Rd., Quicksburg; 540-477-3115), the only Virginia cavern with an elevator.

This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Washingtonian.