Road-Tripping From DC to Shenandoah National Park: The Best Stops Along the Way
Check out the many stays, shops, activities and libations
Shenandoah National Park is one of America’s best uses of land: The 200,000 acres of natural beauty is a wonderful respite from daily life in nearby Washington, DC. Though it’s only 75 miles from the nation’s capital, it feels like a different world. And depending on your route to the park, you can stop by others all together in different worlds.
Where to stay
If you’ve never camped in the park, you should absolutely camp in the park. If you’ve never stayed in a cabin in the park, you should absolutely book a cabin ASAP and spend a night living like it’s the first part of the last century. If you have spent a night both of these ways, you probably already know you don’t need to punish your spinal column any more. Get a room outside the park.
A relatively close spot that isn’t a run-of-the-mill Hilton is The Blue Door Kitchen & Inn. The Flint Hill Inn only offers four rooms, giving it a cute, bed-and breakfast feel with a high-end presentation. If you don’t want to leave the grounds, fine — their restaurant is much better than anything you’re going to find in the park.
Where to shop
There are dozens of antique stores and stores that bill themselves as antique stores but are not actually antique stores, and more in line with what Joanna Gaines might buy to furnish a fixer-upper (lots of distressed American flags on pieces of wood and shiplap). Some of these spots have some gems. But if you care more about taking home something rather than sharing a photo on social, head to the Strasburg Emporium. The place is a massive haystack, and it’s your job to find the needle. Some of it is awful; some of it is great. It’s a real flea market/antique store space — indeed, an emporium. From large furniture pieces to 100-year-old jewelry, it’s all under one roof. It may take a few hours to find your treasure, but isn’t that the point of getting out of DC? If it’s too overwhelming, we’ve had some success at the extremely close Vilnis & Co. Antiques.
Where to see big ships and enter big caves
Did you know the Smithsonian is not actually one museum that occasionally comes to life when Ben Stiller is working? Of course you did. And of course you know the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall has a sister museum in Chantilly, Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. And like all Smithsonian institutions, this one also has free admission (but a $15 parking fee). If you need to see some pretty large spaceships before scaling some pretty large mountains, visit this museum, which features the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Blackbird SR-71 and a Concorde in two large hangars. It’s big.
If you prefer to admire the majesty of caves rather than the far reaches of space, how about stopping by the Luray Caverns? If you’re not sure where the Luray Caverns are, they’re in Luray, Virgina. If you forget, you’ll see hundreds (not really, but it’ll feel like it) of billboards letting you know where to stop off to see the Luray Caverns.
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Where to enjoy Virginia libations
Here’s the part where we remind you not to drink and drive. Don’t do that. Moving on…
We’re in the golden age of local brewing. Across this great country, there are men with beards making way-too-hoppy IPAs for your future brewery visit. While we can’t speak to the beardiness of Bald Top Brewing, we can attest to the brewery space and atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you can enjoy with your significant other and/or the entire family.
There’s no shortage of Virginia wineries, specifically in the Shenandoah Valley. We’ve had good experiences at Early Mountain, Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery and The Winery at La Grange. Get a tasting flight. And if none of these wineries are on your route to the park (the park has multiple entrance points that will dramatically alter your route), stop by one of the dozens of wineries you’ll see pop up in your Google Maps directions to the park. And get a flight. It’s easier to walk away from a small taste if you hate it.
We had a very good experience at Copper Fox Distillery, specifically on the tour (flights and tours are the way to go when you’re driving). It was good enough to buy a bottle for home consumption, and what more do you need from a distillery?
Where to stock up
If you’re going to Shenandoah to camp, you should stop for provisions rather than attempt to go out for dinner. Fine dining and pitching a tent aren’t usually done in the same evening. We like the experience at Yoder’s Country Market in Madison, Virgina, because in addition to having what you need — they’re a bulk store that’s environmentally friendly, and all of their breads and pastries are made by Mennonite bakers — they have a petting zoo, which you absolutely do not need but can be a fun reminder that you are definitely no longer in DC. The National Zoo is in DC, which is the closest thing you’re going to get to a petting zoo and is absolutely not a petting zoo.
Screw it, the traffic is too bad
Did you make the mistake of leaving DC to get to Shenandoah on a Friday between 3 and 6 p.m.? Did your 90-minute drive turn into a three-hour slog? Turn around, go home and just visit Great Falls Park tomorrow. It may not be as large as Shenandoah, but it’s only 15 miles away and also features some breathtaking scenery. Think of it as Shenandoah lite.
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