By Lynn R. Mitchell
Voted as one of America’s Top 20 Main Streets by Travel and Leisure magazine, the central Shenandoah Valley city of Staunton was also recently named one of the 20 Best Small Towns in America by Smithsonian magazine as well as Virginia Living magazine’s Best of 2012. Known as the Queen City, Staunton was founded in 1747 and was named for Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife of Virginia’s Governor William Gooch.
With views east toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and west toward the Appalachians, Staunton is an historic slice of Virginia that offers restored Victorian homes, cozy downtown shops, and small-town atmosphere. Patriotic holidays find her streets lined with American flags, and the always-popular Christmas parade takes place each year on Beverley Street, the main thoroughfare that is lined with restaurants, store fronts, the Dixie Theater, the city courthouse, and old-fashioned lamp posts.
There are many things to do during the leaf season that peaks in October so here are some places and events you may find interesting. Check back often … this list will be updated throughout the month. It’s autumn in western Virginia.
A great way to get around downtown, Staunton’s two trolleys cost 25 cents to ride, and pick up and discharge passengers at stops located throughout the city. More information can be found at the Staunton Visitors Center on New Street.
2. Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia
This unique hands-on outdoor museum in Staunton brings the past alive with costumed interpreters and farm animals that can be seen along a two-mile trail that connects the Old World’s English, Irish, German, and African farms with the New World’s American homesteads. Walk back in time and learn the story of America’s settlement while enjoying October’s activities that include Oktoberfest and Freight at the Museum. More information is available at the museum’s website.
3. Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market
Voted one of the best farmers markets in Virginia, the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market offers fresh, locally grown produce, flowers, herbs, eggs, fruits, meats, and more from the convenience of the Wharf parking lot in downtown Staunton. Open Saturdays from 7 a.m.-noon.
4. King’s Gourmet Popcorn at Afton Mountain
It’s not just an October thing but if you have a snack attack while around Afton, be sure to stop by King’s Gourmet Popcorn and say hello to Ron King. He has kettle and caramel corn, and many other flavors along with pork rinds, hotdogs, cold beverages, coffee, and more. Umbrella-covered picnic tables provide a respite during a day of sightseeing. Located at the top of Afton Mountain on Rt. 250 where I-64, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail all cross. Look for the bright yellow food truck or follow the Burma Shave-like signs to King’s Gourmet Popcorn.
5. 2015 Hands & Harvest Festival in Highland County
October 9-10, while enjoying the spectacular autumn colors and crisp mountain air, drive an hour west of Staunton to Highland County for their Hands & Harvest Festival. Visit area sugar camps and farms for apple butter and cider making, BBQ and other food, farmers market, and entertainment. A complete list of activities including pumpkin carving and hayrides is available at the website.
6. 2015 Apples Days Craft Festival
On October 24-25, Waynesboro hosts the annual juried Apple Days Arts and Craft Show under the covered sidewalks of Willow Oak Plaza. More than 100 participants from throughout the United States feature and sell jewelry, Christmas ornaments, quilts, fine arts, and handmade furniture. Watch as apple butter is made; apple cider, homemade apple dumplings, entertainment, and more.
7. 2015 Fall Foliage Festival Art Show
The weekend of October 11-12 will see the Fall Foliage Festival Art Show take over the streets of downtown Waynesboro as they are turned into an outdoor art gallery. More than 200 booths of fine arts and fine crafts will line Main Street and Wayne Avenue featuring artists from all over the country. It has been named one of the top shows in the East with paintings of all kinds, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, and more.
8. 2014 Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival
At the peak of fall leaf season for the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, the Fall Foliage Bike Festival based out of Staunton will be held the weekend of October 16-18. Enjoy the warm days and cool nights riding the back roads through scenic vistas of rural beauty. Shelburne Middle School, Staunton.
9. Blackfriars Theater
The Blackfriars Theater was built in downtown Staunton in 2001, the world’s only exact replica of William Shakespeare’s indoor theater, and is home to the American Shakespeare Center. What a great place to catch a play, tour the facility, or get involved in their camps for young and old alike. Check their website for current plays and activities.
10. Staunton’s Ghostly Evening Tours
What better way to see the architecture of historic downtown Staunton than with the Ghosts of Staunton Tour? Spooky historical tours of the Depot train station, DeJarnette, Gypsy Hill Park, and other locations. If you are looking for something different and unusual that will make your heart race and blood pump, this is the tour for you. Reservations strongly recommended.
11. Shenandoah National Park
Nature’s calling! Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Staunton, Shenandoah National Park offers 200,000 acres of wilderness, campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, horseback riding, lodges, and visitor centers along the 100-mile-long Skyline Drive. Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Resort and several campgrounds provide overnight accommodations. Escape to the quiet beauty of the mountains.
12. Humpback Rock Farm and Hike
A mountain homestead much like the ones from the nineteenth century, Humpback Rock Farm is located at Milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Afton and I-64. Costumed interpreters and musicians are on hand weekends throughout the fall to answer questions and demonstrate crafts from a bygone era. Farm animals, a working garden, mountain music, and more round out the experience. Visitor Center and picnic tables are available on the site. Hike to the top of Humpback Rock, grill out in the picnic area, or go back in time at the farm.
13. Dayton Farmers Market
A favorite with visitors and locals alike, the Dayton Farmers Market is located on Rt. 42 about 30 minutes northwest of Staunton. Featuring the “best big soft pretzels on the East Coast,” it also has a restaurant as well as a variety of shops offering goods plus fresh produce with apples and pumpkins. Outside is a hitching post for the Old Order Mennonites to park their horse and buggies when they stop by to do a little shopping of their own.
14. Green Valley Book Fair
Open October 3-25 from 10-5 daily, the Green Valley Book Fair offers hundreds of thousands of books at up to 90% off retail price that include classics, children’s, political, novels, fiction, history, health and self-help, religion, science, sports, cookbooks, home and garden, crafts, art, reference, computer, nature, and outdoors. Convenient parking, no admission charge. Located in Mt. Crawford 20 minutes north of Staunton.
15. Nichols Apple Barn
Located in Middleburg, Nichols Apple Barn offers a wide range of apples right at the orchard. Walk in the barn, get a bag or box, and start picking out your favorites straight from the wooden apple crates a few steps away from the orchard where Staymans and other juicy varities grow.
16. Paugh’s Orchard Roadside Stand
In a curve along Rt. 42 in Shenandoah County, you will find Paugh’s Orchard offers an explosion of fall goodies including many varieties of apples, pumpkins, mums; mini pumpkins, gourds, and Indian corn for decorating; jars of jams and jellies and other goodies. See Autumn afternoon road trip to apple country and Apple season in Shenandoah County, Va. Paugh’s is closed on Saturdays.
17. 2014 Massanutten Fall Festival
The annual Massanutten Fall Festival will be held on Saturday, October 10, from 11:30-5:30, with chairlift rides, arts and crafts, food vendors, beer garden, wine tasting, kids activities, entertainment, and more. It takes place at the scenic Massanutten Resort east of Harrisonburg. Cost: $5 advance / $10 at gate / Free for kids 6 and under.
18. Dayton Days Autumn Celebration
One of the largest craft and food festivals of the fall, Dayton Days Autumn Festival has celebrated the arrival of autumn since 1980 by closing the small historic downtown area to all but foot traffic where thousands enjoy crafts, live music, entertainment, exhibits, arts, children’s games, and food food food. If you’ve never been, you’ve missed a fantastic day in Old Order Mennonite country. Usually held the first Saturday in October, inclement weather moved it to Saturday, October 10.
19. Lexington Apple Day Celebration
Held annually at the Stonewall Jackson House and Garden, Apple Day Celebration visitors enjoy cider pressing, old-time music, children’s activities. House admission fee; autumn activities free.
20. Lots of Eats
There are plenty of places to grab great eats in the Valley … here are a few: Depot Grille, Byers Street Bistro, Split Banana, Shenandoah Pizza, Rowe’s, Clock Tower, Kline’s, Green Leaf Grille, Wright’s Drive-In, Mill Street Grill, Emilio’s, and Sorrel’s in Staunton’s Stonewall Jackson Hotel.