As much as Jon and I love to travel, we often overlook nearby places. This Labor Day (2013) we took a last minute road trip down towards Charlottesville, VA, Shenandoah National Park, and Luray.
University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville
Because it was spur of the moment, we only started to plan our trip on Tuesday; 4 days before leaving. Lodging options were slim because it was a holiday weekend and both move-in weekend and the first football game of the season at UVA. We finally managed to book a very overpriced room in a two star hotel, but at least the location close to campus was good. We also talked about camping, but again because of the holiday all of the reserveable camp sites were already booked. However several campsites, both in Shenandoah National Park and outside of it, advertise ‘first come’ spots so we decided to take a chance finding a campsite for Sunday night.
Saturday we loaded up our car with a suitcase, camping gear, and a cooler and drove to Charlottesville. We stopped about 40 minutes outside of the city to visit a winery. We were looking for Horton Vineyard which was recommended by a friend, but somehow we got lost. Instead we decided to stop at the well yelp-reviewed Barboursville Winery. We entered into a modern visitors center designed to invoke Tuscany. Barboursville had a enjoyable selection of more than 20 tasting wines (tasting for $5, free tour of winery). Barboursville also had beautiful grounds, unfortunately we were there on a very hot day which made strolling the grounds a less than desirable activity for us. Despite the heat we did see several couples picnicking between the grapevines. We also took a few minutes to visit ruins of the old manor house on the property. However Barboursville is one of the most popular wineries in the area and it was crowded. The free winery tour was overlooked by most of the crowds and offered a nice opportunity to chat with staff about the wines which we weren’t able to do in the packed tasting room.
After checking into our hotel we walked to the Main Street – the Charlottesville Historic Downtown pedestrian mall. It started to rain during our walk, but we made it into our first stop, the South Street Brewery, just as a real downpour began. The wood carved interior wasn’t that of a divey brewery, but was somewhere where craft beers meet gourmet bar food. For some reason the restaurant was surprising empty. We pulled stools up to the bar and shared a flight of beers with some appetizers. The Pig Wings were a stand out item we’d return to have again.
After an hour the rain let up and we were able to walk around the pedestrian mall on main street. We expected a more vibrant energy and people at the mall, but the threat of continuing rain and the college football game kept people away. Not knowing how to spend the evening we stopped to sit outside for a drink and fried mussels at the uppity Skybar (422 E. Main Street). Just as we decided to go to dinner the rain started again. We waited out most of the rain under store canopies and in doorways. Luckily we ended up sharing a canopy with a hipster who had found a praying mantis and their antics keep us entertained until we deciding the rain had lightened up enough to walk in to dinner. We ate dinner at The Whiskey Jar (227 W. Main Street), a laid back restaurant with upscale southern cuisine, which lured Jon and his affinity for whiskey. The whiskey recommended by the bartender, Caol Ipa, did not disappoint. When we got back to the hotel the UVA game was just ending (after several rain delays) and the area where our hotel was, The Corner, was packed with people and excitement. The Corner neighborhood is the true ‘college town’ of Charlottesville and it is full of sports bars and dives.
Sunday morning we walked around campus briefly. The University of Virginia is a gorgeous campus and we wish we had seen information on how to join a formal tour. However, on an early Sunday morning after a game night we found the campus to be quiet and sleepy. Using yelp we got bagels at the college hot spot Bodo’s (1609 University Ave). Bodo’s was crowded, fast, and suitable – however we felt yelp had overated it. On our way out of town we got lunch to go from the well known Little Johns Delicatessen (1427 W. Main St), where it took us 10 minutes to select from their great selection of interesting looking sandwiches.
We left Charlottesville mid-morning and drove to Shenandoah National Park. We took a chance at the Lewis Mountain Campground ($15/night) and were able to rent a campsite. I recommend the Lewis Mountain walk-in campsites for a bit more privacy and seclusion. If you are able to get a camp site on the south side of the hill, there is a large outcropping of rocks with a great view of the sunset. We spent the afternoon on an easy/moderate hike called Doyle’s Run which led to a waterfall. It rained during half of the hike, but with the right gear and mild weather the rain wasn’t a hindrance.
At our campsite joined a dozen other campers to watch the sunset and then had a terrible time making a camp fire due to the earlier rain. We finally got the fire going enough that one of us could cook a hotdog if the other person blew constantly on the fire to keep it going. We only were able to cook 4 hot dogs and we skipped the marshmallows all together.
Monday morning we packed up camp and drove most of the length of the park on the famous Skyline Drive. We stopped on our way through the park to do a short hike called Bearfence. We had heard Bearfence is called little Old Rag which is our favorite longer day hike in the park. Bearfence only took an hour, but had 20 minutes of rock scrambling and an amazing 360 degree view from the top.
From Shenandoah we drove to Luray, VA and had lunch at the quaint and eclectic Gathering Grounds Patisserie & Café (55 E. Main Street) a yelp find in Luray. Luray Caverns (101 Cave Hill Rd., $24) was our final destination of the trip. The caves are a real tourist attraction and draw a large crowd so be prepared to wait in line. At first I was shocked by line and the price to enter the caves, but the caves were really amazing and worth it. Luray is probably the best cave that I’ve been in to date and was a nice break from the heat outside. The tour is a longer walk than you’d expect taking approximately about an hour. However,
South Street Brewery; 106 South St. Charlottesville, VA. – Create your own flight of beers by ordering 4oz glasses of each, and you must try the Pig Wigs (I can’t say it enough).
Shenandoah National Park – Before entering the park the gate attendant was nice enough to call campsites and ask if they had availability.
West Main Market – 123 W Main Street, Luray, VA (yelp)
White Spot – 1407 University Ave, Charlottesville, VA known for their infamous Guss Burger