I recently had the chance to travel to Harrisonburg, VA, which is an extremely friendly town chucked into the Shenandoah Valley. I use the word “chucked” here in an effort to avoid the travel writing cliché “nestled.” If I had a nickel for every time I read about something being “nestled,” in the outdoor writing business, I expect I’d be having some rather strained conversations with my bank about nickel counting.
To be fair, though, Harrisonburg is one of those places that a person could easily be convinced to write sweet things about. It is awfully nice. The surroundings are beautiful. The downtown area is beautiful.
Everywhere we went there was a focus on farm-to-table food, not to mention local beer and wine, which are two of my big foci.
As the world’s only adventure humorist, I have learned in my travels that the best adventures are those that are in close proximity to comfort, and Harrisonburg certainly hits that particular nail right on the head. I mentioned to several locals that I enjoy hiking, and got some great trail recommendations, close to town. Probably the most oft-repeated recommendation for local hiking we heard was the Old Rag trail. There’s a Tripleblaze blog post about it from back in 2009 here, and our user review page for it can be found here.
Of course, there’s also the great grandpappy of hiking trails, the Appalachian Trail, close by. In fact, Harrisonburg enjoys a designation from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as an AT community. Check out the article on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy page here. Take a guess as to what intransitive verb that article uses to describe Harrisonburg. Go on, guess.
There’s even a bed and breakfast in the area, the Stonewall Jackson Inn, that will arrange pickup from the AT, then bring you to their inn where they’ll have hot cocoa or cold lemonade waiting for you. Here’s a post on the Inn’s blog about welcoming hikers.
I called the Inn to see if I could get a bit more information, and Wayne Engel, the owner, picked up the phone. I asked him what made him want to reach out to hikers.
“Well I’m a hiker myself,” he said. “I’ve hiked about everywhere. The hikers are really a wonderful bunch of people. They’re very interested in sustainability and maintaining the pristine environment on the trail. When they come here I treat them quite well.”
I meant to ask him if he’d describe his inn as “nestled,” but I forgot. He did mention that he’ll handle mail drops for thru hikers, and he’s even got plenty of room for airing out your gear while you’re enjoying some time off the trail.
In terms of off-trail relaxation, there are so many choices piled into Harrisonburg your biggest problem will be choosing what to do. One of our favorites was the White Oak Lavender Farm. Normally I wouldn’t go out of the way to visit a farm for fear of someone asking me to perform manual labor, but at White Oak, lavender farming is just the activity around which an oasis of relaxation is wrapped.
The farm is owned by the Haushaulter family, who welcome visitors to walk around their gardens, or maybe have a few moments of introspection in their labyrinth. Did you know that a labyrinth is not the same thing as a maze? A labyrinth isn’t meant to trick you with dead ends, it’s just meant to be something you take time to complete, time you can use to think. I learned that at the farm.
It’ll cost you $3.00, but that’s a small price to pay to get to sit and read a book for a few minutes at a spot like this.
If you’re in the mood for a nice Italian dinner, I recommend L’Italia. It was delicious, especially after an active day of lavender labyrinthing. The table’s favorite was the butternut squash ravioli. I think L’Italia might have a wizard on staff, because that ravioli was magic. Balsamic glaze? Sorcery, I tell you.
We finished off our night with a trip to local favorite Kline’s Dairy Bar and some ice cream, because ice cream is not just for kids. It’s also for adults. Adults like me.
I have had the good fortune to visit a number of towns whose focus is on outdoor activities. For my money, Harrisonburg is hard to beat, especially when compared with some of the big-name towns out west whose day-to-day prices are a lot higher. There’s enough hiking in the area to keep anyone busy, and enough comfort in town to recharge your batteries.
And let’s not forget that all this enjoyment is… is- Dang what’s the word I am looking for here? Not “situated,” but something like that. I want to describe that Harrisonburg is located in the legendary Shenandoah Valley, but, you know, with some fancier language. Oh well. It’ll come to me.