We fell in love with Afton, Virginia, a few years ago. From Richmond, we made day trips to wineries in Nelson county and weekend camping getaways in Shenandoah National Park. Afton just kept calling us back. In our opinion, it’s countryside is incredibly beautiful, it has the best wineries and breweries, and it has so much history. We joked, “Maybe one day we could live here?”
Little-by-little we’d like to feature some of our favorite Afton attractions, but as a starting point, here’s Part 1 of Afton’s highlights. Think of this series of posts as a teaser for more in-depth future posts. For Part 1, I’ll focus on trains, hiking, and wine, beer, and cider. For a nice Afton overview, Virginia Living published an article a few years ago. I love the introduction:
“Among the 6 million or so people traveling through Rockfish Gap each year are hikers on the Appalachian Trail who share the Parkway bridge with retirees in RVs. Cyclists struggle up the mountain on National Bike Route 76, mapped from Yorktown, Virginia, to Astoria, Oregon. Migrating hawks, butterflies and dragonflies float across the gap on updrafts while CSX trains rumble through the tunnel several hundred feet below.” Afton: Mountain, Myth Legend by Ann Wright
One of the first things I noticed (well, heard) in Afton was the train. Choooo choooooo, chooo choooooo, chooo chooooo. I love it. I actually jumped up and down when I first heard the whistles. Turns out there is a track that runs from Richmond right through Afton Mountain. You can check out CSX’s System Map – it’s pretty neat. This current track is the second one built to connect Albemarle and Augusta Counties. The first one welcomed trains in 1858 but took 8 years to construct – lead by Claudius Crozet, Public Works Department’s chief engineer and surveyor. At the time, it was the longest tunnel (over 4,000 feet).
9.16.13 update: For news on the Blue Ridge Tunnel restoration project, check out this article from the Daily Progress. Phase 1 could begin fall of 2013 and “will be a footpath from the former Afton rail depot to a concrete bulwark 700 feet into the tunnel. The first piece of the trail will begin and end on the east side of Afton Mountain.”
Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail are only a 10 minute drive up the mountain with access to the Shenandoah National Park at the Rockfish Gap entrance (where I-64 and Route 250 meet). They’re all up there! It’s a great place to go hiking, camping, or bird watching. You can also see waterfalls, panoramic views, and wildflowers – depending on the time of year and the trail you’re hiking. Not a hiker? You can still enjoy the scenery by car (we once saw a bear cub bounding up the hill off the road, plus plenty of deer and turkey). There are lots of overlooks for stopping to enjoy the sights.
Wine, Beer, and Cider
There are over 200 wineries in Virginia and four of them are in Afton: Afton Mountain, Veritas, Cardinal Point, and Flying Fox. There are a lot more in the neighboring areas, too – visit virginiawine.org for the complete listing and a map. Wineries offer tastings of their current wines for a few dollars and sometimes the tasting comes with a logo glass. Keep an eye out for special events such as Starry Nights at Veritas or Afton After Hours at Afton Mountain (both are a summer concert series).
Afton also has an awesome brewery: Blue Mountain Brewery, with 3 more breweries within 15 miles: Wild Wolf, Devils Backbone, and Starr Hill. The beer selection is great – there are always new seasonal brews to sample. Ordering a flight is a fun way to try them all and find your favorite. Don’t forget cider! Albemarle Cider Works is just a 20 minute drive, and they also sell a variety of apples (Albemarle Pippins, Winesap, and Mutsu to name a few). We love to buy a blend of their apples and can applesauce each fall. Bold Rock Cidery and Pub is also nearby, just down Rockfish Valley Highway in Nellysford.
- Virginia Living‘s timeline of Afton history
- Secrets of the Blue Ridge, by Phil James
- Nelson County’s official website
- Nelson 151, the “main street” for the Rockfish Valley