People go to national parks for lots of reasons. Some go for the scenic beauty or unique land formations. Some go to experience the history made there. Some go for outdoor adventure.
Shenandoah National Park, just 75 miles from Washington offers all three. You can travel the Skyline Drive and take in as much scenery as you like from an abundance of overlooks. You can learn about the role of presidents and the hard work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in bringing it all to fruition. And, you can hike, horseback ride, or camp among the park’s 200,000 acres.
But there’s another side to the park experience that’s attractive to nature lovers and history buffs alike. Skyland and Big Meadows lodges along Skyline Drive offer accommodations that are up close to nature (you may see deer and other wildlife from your bedroom window) in wood and stone facilities that fit in with the surroundings.
Skyland has 178 rooms and Big Meadows offers 97. Major improvements took place at Skyland over the winter and a plan is in place to renovate more rooms. Our newly renovated room at Skyland featured new bedding and other improvements including a significantly upgraded bathroom. The rooms retain elements of nature with their wooden walls and the bathroom tile had the look and feel of stone.
Great dining experiences
Skyland’s dining room has floor to ceiling windows offering vistas across the Valley, but the food is another good reason to visit. New executive chef Paul Lombardy’s menus provide tempting choices that prove delicious.
But an even better way to enjoy Lombardy’s talent is to attend one of the two Shenandoah Seasonings dinners he hosts each month. We attended a whiskey dinner, but there are also wine, craft beer, and cider dinners to choose from. Our Friday night dinner included about ten couples from as far away as Pittsburgh and Lancaster and as close as Alexandria. An army couple from Newport News celebrated their 11th anniversary with us. Chef Lombardy produced a six-course meal, each course prepared in some way with either bourbon or corn whiskey from River Hill Farm Distillery in nearby Luray and paired with the appropriate drink.
Courses ranged from crab cake to lobster medallion to pork tenderloin to bison, all prepared with one of the whiskeys and topped off with a chocolate bourbon mousse.
“This is fun, putting together the bourbon and corn whiskey with the various meats and coming up with different textures and tastes,” Lombardy said. His enjoyment and that of his staff was evident in their smiles and commentary.
Different distilleries, wineries craft breweries, and cideries are featured over the season. Two-day/one night packages include room, dinner, breakfast, and your tasting glass.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays chefs offer cooking demonstrations of farm to table recipes at Skyland and Big Meadows and you get to taste the results.
Reservations are required for the culinary events. Check goshenandoah.com/dining for dates and details.
There are a variety of getaway and hiking packages and a military discount is available for the lodges as well.
Shenandoah National Park Lodging: goshenandoah.com
Shenandoah National Park: nps.gov/shen
River Hill family farm
Fred Foley and his mother greeted us at Skyland’s whiskey dinner and explained that the bourbon and corn whiskey we’d be sampling came from their family recipes and was produced with products from either their farm or neighboring farms. We also learned that there was more to River Hill than the whiskey Foley crafts in 8-gallon batches.
The farm also produces fruit wines and corn-fed beef. You can buy retail size packages of beef or larger quantities.
For the total farm experience, you can rent a farm house and cottage on the property in Luray. (riverhilldistillery.com)
There is an abundance of accommodations outside the park as well, including Brookside Cabins just west of the park, which also offers home cooking in its restaurant, and the elegant Mimslyn Inn in Luray.