The Allure of Luray, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley
Seen from a Bear’s Den, a rocky ledge in Luray, Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley in autumn is a picture-perfect swathe of burnt orange, brilliant scarlet and deep golden yellow. Shenandoah is all about the great outdoors, as it always has been, in fabled verses, songs and poems of authentic Americana.
The best way to get to know the Shenandoah Valley is to cruise the Skyline Drive, a 109-mile road that runs along the crest of the Appalachian Mountain range for the entire length of the 200,000 protected acres of Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Skyline Drive, VA was carved out for recreation and scenic purposes in the 1930s, and to this day, slow is the way to appreciate it. Twists, turns, trail crossings and abundant wildlife keep the speed limit at 35 miles per hour, so here’s the chance to roll down your window to let the fresh, fragrant mountain air in. To facilitate viewing and great photo opportunities of panoramic valley scenes, 75 overlooks make it easy to pull over.
Natural geographical wonders, such as the Shenandoah Caverns, are woven into the fabric of the earth. Luray Caverns, with the only stalacpipe organ and an elevator to take you underground, are the most remarkable caverns in Virginia, a sight that you simply won’t want to miss.
Luray Caverns: Geology Hall of Fame
Andrew Smith was walking in the hills one August morning in 1878 when a rush of cold air extinguished his handheld candle. The local tinsmith was determined to find out why, leading to the discovery of the largest series of caverns in the Eastern USA, an underground maze of massive stalagmites and stactites millions of years in the making.
Enter enormous spaces higher than a 10-story building and cathedral-like chambers filled with stone columns. Admire crystal-clear pools mirroring fantastic forms suspended from above, pure white veils of calcite and the spectacle of a 47-foot-tall double column where a giant stalagmite and stalactite have been joined by nature’s hand.
These astonishing sights are enhanced by the Great Stalacpipe Organ, called the largest musical instrument on earth -- or underneath it. The pipes of this organ, installed in 1954, are selected stalactites, chosen for the tones they create when struck with the keyboard hammer. Music reverberating through the underground acres inside Luray Cavern is unlike any ever heard outside this cave.
Where to Stay: The Mimslyn Inn
Take the circular drive past lovely landscaped gardens and lawns leading to the columned portico. This grand-looking Virginia estate from the 1930s warmly welcomes you to a world of Southern hospitality and charm less than one mile from the Luray Caverns. And, there’s so much more to see and to do within a 10-mile radius of The Mimslyn Inn’s gracious veranda.
Here’s a sampling of nearby adventures to top off your autumn visit to Luray Caverns and the Shenandoah Skyline Drive.
1. Lose the kids...intentionally, that is. They’ll love getting lost inside the ornamental hedge maze, the mid-Atlantic’s largest, at Luray Caverns.
2. Pick a pumpkin. Valley Star Farm invites you to pick your own from the patch less than 5 miles from The Mimslyn Inn.
3. Go horseback riding. Trail guides at Fort Valley Ranch or Jordan Hollow Stables will take you along trails through a 140-acre property or into the national forest. Both are less than 10 miles from the inn.
4. Have a river adventure. Float in a tube or paddle in a kayak or canoe. Shenandoah River experts offer fun days and fly fishing trips that begin just a short drive away.
5. Take a back-country road. Extending from one end of Virginia to the other, George Washington National Forest and Jefferson National Forest are glorious in autumn. Bring binoculars.
Upon your return to The Mimslyn Inn, your choice of a fitness center workout, a spa treatment, a drink at the Speakeasy Tavern or a seat by the fireplace could be your next item on the day’s agenda. Over dinner at Circa ‘31, map out the next day’s adventures. Your hosts are happy to offer plenty of tried and true suggestions.