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June 6, 2011 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Almost heaven... Shenandoah river...This is what I want: third week of August, a cabin on the river. Suggestions?

I am Canadian. I know the river from the song. Adults, kids, grandparents traveling together: we're looking to rent a cabin/cottage or stay at a b&b, but have no clue about the river, the region, or anything about anything down there.

We'd like to be near a town - at least, we're not interested in something totally secluded, but two exits down from the supersize highway outlet mall isn't our speed. We want to swim & go fishing, so downstream from a giant chemical factory would not be ideal.

Self-catering would be ok, but we're not looking to go actually rustic - some restaurants in walking/driving distance would be awesome. A very quaint but non-frou-frou inn would be ok.

Call me an uninformed asshole, but the stereotypes I have in my head lead me to think I am not particularly interested in dodging snakes or banjo-wielding locals.

I want to go somewhere low-key, real, and beautiful. Does this exist? Your suggestions, please and please and please!
posted by Mrs Hilksom to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For towns to be near: I like Staunton, VA, but it's not near the river and may be bigger than you're looking for. Awesome Shakespeare theater there, which you probably wouldn't be expecting in (semi)rural America. Other thoughts: Harper's Ferry is always super pretty to drive through, and right on the water. Lots of Civil War tourists and folks tubing right at the Ferry, but there may be more secluded spots to rent nearby.

But I mostly jumped in to let you know that you're conflating two songs! One's an old American folksong about the river, and the other's Country Roads, John Denver song about West Virginia.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2011

Almost heaven, West Virginia! Try here for cabin rentals. Audra, in particular, is lovely.
posted by media_itoku at 9:09 PM on June 6, 2011

I've never been there, but Strasburg looks cute. Here's a Strasburg cabin on the river. Interesting-looking hotel in town.
posted by Orinda at 9:17 PM on June 6, 2011

I picked that Strasburg cabin off this list of Shenandoah Valley vacation rentals, but be aware that not every locality in VRBO's Shenandoah Valley region listings will be anywhere near the river. (See "Shenandoah Valley: cultural" in this Wiki illustration.) Also be aware that there's a North Fork and a South Fork of the river, each about 100 miles / 160 km long, in addition to the main stretch of the river between Front Royal and Harpers Ferry. (Good news: you have lots of river frontage from which to choose your vacation spot!)
posted by Orinda at 9:49 PM on June 6, 2011

As a native West Virginian, I should inform you that "West Virginia" and "Virginia" are two different states, like North Carolina and South Carolina. A lot of people even in the US don't know that, so definitely don't feel bad as a Canadian, but we West Virginians may take offence if we are referred to as "Virginia." West Virginia is "Almost Heaven"; Virginia's catch phrase is "Virginia is for Lovers."

I'll be in Audra for a couple of days tent camping in late June, but I don't know about cabin camping there. We could meet up and hike if you want to!

I've been to Staunton, Virginia and it's lovely. Shenandoah National Park is actually in Virginia, and it's amazing! I'm not sure about a cabin on the river, but they do have cabin rentals there and a lodge.

Good luck to you in your trip!
posted by shortyJBot at 3:58 AM on June 7, 2011

Oh, and Harrisonburg, Virginia is nice, too!
posted by shortyJBot at 4:00 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Welcome! I'm from the area. All of the above suggestions are good. MeMail me if you have any questions.

Luray is another river town: Shenandoah River Outfitters offers cabins and a cottage. You could also visit Luray Caverns, hike in Shenandoah National Park (observing its 75th anniversary this year), and drive or bike the Skyline Drive.

Here's a list of places to eat in Luray and in the small towns over the mountain from Luray in the Shenandoah Valley itself. I'd suggest exploring New Market (14 miles away) and having a meal at the Southern Kitchen on the south end of town: it's straight out of the 1950s. Maybe catch a live performance at the Schultz Theatre, built in 1901, which houses a local theatre group. Explore Civil War history at the New Market battlefield state park.

In the small towns up and down Route 11, the main valley road that parallels Interstate 81, there are many locally-owned shops to explore in Shenandoah County, especially in Woodstock and Strasburg. It's a pleasant drive through a largely agricultural county, and "low-key" is a perfect description. Joe's Steakhouse in Woodstock is a good place to have dinner. South of Harrisonburg in neighboring Rockingham County, the Dayton Farmer's Market is open weekends--the Cheese Place there is a bulk food store operated by local Mennonites, some of whom still get around by horse and buggy . If your trip coincides with the dates it is open, I recommend the Green Valley Book Fair, also south of Harrisonburg near Mt. Crawford, VA.

If you go north on Route 11 instead of south, you can visit the Wayside Theatre in Middletown (Equity professional), and in the next town north, visit the Family Drive-In Theatre.
posted by apartment dweller at 6:02 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I came here to suggest Strasburg. My wife and I, an inter-racial hippie couple, have fallen in love with the town, and have camped within its confines or nearby on a half-dozen occasions. There's quite a little music scene there, and little funky hippie shops in and amongst the antique stores and diners. I've been swimming and tubing in the river there, and have never gotten any weird parasites or anything. It's lovely, and we're currently fantasizing about moving there.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:14 AM on June 7, 2011

Music in the Park, August 21
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:20 AM on June 7, 2011

Something for the kids: watch potato chips made at the Route 11 Potato Chip factory outside of Mt. Jackson (call for frying times).
posted by apartment dweller at 6:58 AM on June 7, 2011

After seeing shortyJBot's answer I want to jump back in and make explicit a point that I glossed over earlier. There's an ambiguity in your question about whether you're more interested in the Shenandoah River itself or the region described in the John Denver song. Most of the Shenandoah River (and its North and South Forks) lies in the state of Virginia. The John Denver song is about the adjacent state of West Virginia. Only in its last 20 miles does the Shenandoah River flow through the state of West Virginia, and that is only through the state's narrow eastern panhandle.

As shortyJBot points out, residents of West Virginia and Virginia consider their states to be distinct from each other culturally and topographically, though from your perspective they might both just look like the rural southeast U.S. I think of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia as very agrarian, with rolling green farm fields lining the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah. The parts of West Virginia I'm familiar with are steeply mountainous, although it appears that the eastern panhandle where the Shenandoah flows through continues the topography of the Shenandoah Valley (of course).

Answers from deludingmyself, Orinda, apartment dweller, and MrMoonPie mostly assume you're interested in the Shenandoah River (including the North and South Forks) and/or the Shenandoah Valley. Answers from media_itoku and shortyJBot mostly respond to the West Virginia reading of your question (Audra State Park, which indeed sounds beautiful, is on a river, but not the Shenandoah).

While I'm making geographical distinctions, I'll mention that the Shenandoah National Park is also gorgeous, and well worth a visit, but it runs along the mountaintops of the Blue Ridge and never touches the Shenandoah River. I'd suggest visiting both the park and the river, but don't go to the one looking for the other.

Both the Shenandoah Valley (in Virginia and West Virginia) and the state of West Virginia have a lot to offer that's "low-key, real, and beautiful"—I think you won't go wrong by booking a nice cabin or B&B in either of the two overlapping regions. Enjoy your vacation!
posted by Orinda at 7:11 AM on June 7, 2011

Country Roads refers more to Virginia by name. It does mention the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains, both of which are in Virginia and not so much in West Virginia. A lot of the images it invokes, though, such as big, intense rivers and crazy mountains are more about West Virginia.

West Virginia has a lot of wilderness company type things which offer cabins and guided activities like rafting, climbing, or other outdoor adventure type things (including gentle things like fishing or tubing). In Virginia, you're more likely to just find a cabin to rent and then be on your own to find things to do. This is cheaper up front, but be sure to budget for things like park fees, fishing license (if you plant to fish in the parks), and gas since you will be driving every where.

By the way, how old are the kids and what kind of shape are the grandparents in? Younger kids and older grandparents would be all about Virginia, while older kids and sprier grandparents might prefer wilder scenery in West Virginia.

(Oh, and you're unlikely to see crazy locals, but there's a near certainty of meeting non-poisonous snakes, and 100% chance of lizards. There's also a fair chance of seeing a bear if you go into the state parks.)
posted by anaelith at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2011

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