When I was planning my trip home to Virginia for Thanksgiving, I knew I had to take advantage of the long weekend by tacking on a weekend excursion to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The section of the Appalachians that runs through Virginia is full of amazing views, great hiking, and a TON of breweries, cideries, and distilleries. My only regret is that there weren’t more hours in the day to explore more.
This is a long weekend trip that is totally do-able if you’re in the Richmond or Washington DC area. The northern end of Shenandoah National Park in particular is actually pretty close to DC. Or you can tack on a day in Richmond to explore more breweries in another excellent city.
Here’s a recap of our whirlwind weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
First things first – lots of driving. We set out on Friday to make the drive to Roanoke. This leg of the trip was added on after the general outline was created because we really wanted to check out the new Ballast Point location nearby. I have been a fan of Ballast Point’s beer (based in San Diego, CA) for a while. It is pretty easy to find in Philly, so I had already tried most of their stuff. Stopping here was SUCH a good decision. It was an unseasonably warm afternoon and we got to sit outside, drink our flights of beer, and take in the sun and mountain views. The pours in the flights were also pretty generous, which certainly upped the enjoyment factor. I would highly recommend checking this place out if you’re in the area. Pro tip: the Thai Chili Wahoo beer is ridiculously good.
After Ballast Point, we headed over to check into the Hotel Roanoke. This historic hotel is my mom’s favorite hotel and I had never been, so when I saw a good deal on a room for the night I jumped on it. This hotel is not only adorable (with Christmas decorations already in full swing the day after Thanksgiving) but also has the benefit of being situated directly next to a covered footbridge leading straight into Downtown Roanoke.
Number one on my list for Friday night was to head to the Starr Hill Pilot Brewery in Downtown Roanoke. This place was a little further from Downtown than we anticipated, but the walk was worth it. One of my favorite fall beers is Starr Hill’s Last Leaf Maple Brown Ale and I was excited to go to the source. Roanoke is a little bit of a sleepy town, but the vibe at Starr Hill was great. Every table and every seat at the bar was filled. The beer was, of course, awesome and most importantly I got some of my beloved Last Leaf. I wish we could have stuck around here longer, but most places close early (like 9pm or 10pm) in Roanoke, so we had to move fast.
Next, we grabbed an Uber over to the Deschutes Brewery Tasting Room. Deschutes is headquartered in Oregon, but is one of several out-of-state breweries to recently make inroads in Virginia (thanks, Terry McAuliffe). This place was a little quieter and didn’t have much on tap that I was really excited about, but was still a good stop.
After Deschutes, we were planning to go to Big Lick Brewing Company but someone (hint: not me) was crashing hard and needed some food, so we popped into Tuco’s Taqueria Garaje for a late dinner. These tacos were SO good and were just what we needed. Next time I’m in Roanoke I will definitely stop in here again. Unfortunately by the time we finished the tacos, everywhere else was pretty much closed. This ended up being fine because we needed to conserve our energy for a long Saturday.
On Saturday, we got on the road early because I wanted to take the long route to our lunch destination. Instead of taking the boring highway route, we opted to take the Blue Ridge Parkway most of the way. This road, which goes through the Blue Ridge Mountains, is both really fun to drive and gives you amazing scenic views around every turn. There are a lot of overlooks along the road where you can pull aside and take in the views, which is nice if you’re driving and can’t really pay too much attention to the scenery while your eyes are on the road. The only downside to this road is it takes a long time to get where you’re going. If you’re okay with a leisurely drive through the mountains though, I can’t recommend this enough.
Finally, we made it to Devil’s Backbone, which is one of my favorite Virginia breweries. Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager is one of my favorite “basic” beers and is one of the first craft beers that I got really into. I never did make it out to the brewery when I was living in Virginia, so I was excited to finally check it out. We stopped at the location in Roseland and wow, this place is huge! It’s not just one building, but a collection of buildings and outdoor bars with a fire pit in the center. We grabbed lunch in the restaurant, then went outside to explore the outdoor bar and sit by the fire for a while. I think we could have stuck around here for several more hours, but we were racing against the clock to make it out for our afternoon hike.
After our trip to Acadia National Park over the summer, we have been wanting to get out to more national parks. This trip presented a great opportunity to get into Shenandoah National Park. I researched some trails on the south end of the park and chose a hike to Chimney Rock, which is a moderate-level section of the larger Riprap Trail. I would have loved to do the whole loop, but we needed a shorter hike to accommodate our non-negotiable plan of hitting a brewery earlier in the day. This hike was a lot of fun and resulted in some amazing views once we reached the Chimney Rock viewpoint. The biggest struggle of this hike was that the route back down to the trailhead had a lot of uphill sections. Aside from my out-of-shape self being exhausted by trudging uphill for most of the hike, this was a really fun outing.
We finished the hike faster than anticipated, which ended up being really fortuitous because I hadn’t though through how difficult Skyline Drive (the scenic route through the park) would be to drive in the dark. After a very long 50 miles and seeing more deer near the road than I would have liked in the 15 or so miles we did after dark, we made it to the Skyland Resort, where we were staying that night. Unsurprisingly, we were totally exhausted and fell asleep early after wine, dinner, and a few episodes of Seinfeld.
Currently trying to decide which national park to check out next. Any tips? Let me know.