Category Archives: Attractions

Climbing at Raven’s Roost

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I’ve been behind on my blogging, but here’s a new post finally. Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time for more outdoor climbing. Raven’s Roost is an overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway around mile 10, and it’s only a 30 minute drive from Ridgeside!

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There are  beautiful views overlooking the valley and surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, plus if you are familiar with building a safe and secure natural anchor (using trees and boulders), there are lots of routes you can climb on top-rope. Here are the details from Mountain Project. As with all outdoor climbing, make sure to be cautious.

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The routes are nice and long (cliffs are about 50 to 80 feet high), and you can walk down a trail at the south end of the cliffs for easy access to the bottom of the wall.

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So far, we’ve climbed a few of the routes, and we really enjoyed them. I think the routes we climbed were about  5.7-5.9. Raven’s Roost makes for a great day-trip, so we’ll definitely be back to try more of them!

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Hiking Crabtree Falls in the Fall

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Crabtree Falls observation site is just under an hour drive from Afton, Virginia, and is a popular attraction offering a beautiful set of waterfalls and a hike that takes you to the top. Fun fact: Crabtree Falls are the tallest falls east of the Mississippi. We visited for the first time over the weekend. It was a misty and crisp day – perfect weather for a hike.

Don’t forget to pay for your parking pass on your way in! But it works best when placed inside your vehicle. Josh is illustrating what not to do with your parking pass:

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After we ate a small picnic lunch, we were ready to see the falls and start the hike to the top. It’s only a short distance to the bottom of the falls, which even at this time of year had a most impressive show of water.

Crabtree Falls

The climb to the top of the falls had lots of stairs and switchbacks. If you visit in the fall, keep in mind there are some steeper portions and rocky areas that can be slick (especially with fallen leaves lining the path). Much of the trail is lined with railings, though, and overview areas are well fenced, also.

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The total hike to the top was 1.7 miles. Sounds short, but the grade was enough to tire me out. The climb followed the water for most of the way, and every view of the falls was pretty.
IMG_2165I can’t actually remember how long it took us to get to the top, but I was excited when I reached the 1.7 mile post. On a clear day, the view of the valley and the mountains must be beautiful, but since we visited on a misty day, our view was of the fog. Still fun, though! I look forward to doing this hike during other times of the year to see how the waterfalls and the views change (there’s a lot of rhododendron – must be very pretty when in bloom).

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For more details on hiking Crabtree Falls, visit Hiking Upwards’ overview. Also, if you want to add more adventure to your trip, you can catch the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive north back to Afton – there are plenty of overlooks and other hikes.

Colors of Fall

The first bit of colorful foliage in Afton appeared on the first day of fall – September 22, but only a few yellow leaves. Since then, fall foliage has taken it’s time. I’ve been impatient since this is our first fall in Afton – hurry up and be orange, yellow, and red please!

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The trees at higher elevations along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are just past peak now. Here are a view photos taken from Raven’s Roost on the Blue Ridge Parkway last weekend:

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But the colors of fall in the valley are still coming in. Here’s a sampling of the colorful foliage at Ridgeside:

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IMG_1797We have many green trees that I expect will still turn and have some beautiful colors, including a red maple, ginko, and sweet gum tree. For more photos and updates, take a look at our Fall album on Facebook.

Afton Highlights Part 3: History, Art, and Food

This last installment of the Afton Highlights series will cover history, art, and food. If you missed the first two, check them out here: Part 1: Trains, Hiking, and Wine, Beer, and Cider and Part 2: Bicycling, Swannanoa, and Farms and Farmer’s Markets.

History

The village of Afton, Virginia, was established in 1859. The construction of a train tunnel linking Augusta and Albemarle Counties was completed in 1858, and a train depot and post office were built at the east end of the tunnel (this became Afton!). The train tunnel was the longest of it’s time and was primarily constructed by Scots-Irish immigrants who had settled in the area in the mid-1730s.

Piedmont and Rockfish Valleys, Afton, VA

Piedmont and Rockfish Valleys, Afton, VA

The naming of Afton, Virginia, was most likely influenced by the River Afton, a small river in Scotland. Robert Burn wrote a poem in 1791 about the River Afton called Sweet Afton, and this poem helped popularize the naming of other U.S. towns as well (there is also an Afton in Wyoming, Minnesota, and New York).

In 2011, Afton (along with neighboring Greenwood) was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as a rural historic district, and a marker was installed May 2013, on US 250 past the junction of Hillsboro Lane and US 250 North.

Art

There’s a neat variety of artists and artisans in Afton who work with ceramics, ironwork, fiber and more. To find local artists and their work, visit the Piedmont Council for the Arts’ artist directory. Another helpful resource is the Artisans Center of Virginia website – they provide Artisan Trail Network maps for studios and craft venues. You can also find local artists at markets and festivals like the Nelson County Farmer’s Market and the Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival (held twice a year).

Food

One of our favorite subjects! There are some popular and delicious places to grab a bite to eat in Afton such as Blue Mountain Brewery, Paulie’s Pig-Out, and The Blue Toad.

Blue Mountain Brewery has tasty beer of course (I love the malty ones like Steel Wheels and Blue Reserve, and Josh loves the hoppy ones like Full Nelson and Red Zeppelin), but they also have really great food. We recommend a pizza (herbed crust with unique toppings), the Reuben sandwich with fries, or the bean burger (house made and so good).

Paulie’s Pig-Out is another favorite, but I’ll be honest – we always have pulled-pork barbeque sandwiches with coleslaw and a side of mac and cheese. It’s so good we’ve never tried anything else! They do offer a lot of other items like ribs and barbeque chicken. Paulie’s Pig-Out is take out only, but you can call ahead to place your order for pick-up.

Paulie's Pigout sign and smoker

Paulie’s Pig-Out sign and smoker

The Blue Toad is a fun place to listen to live music, and they offer at least one beer from every state. For meat-eaters, they offer a lot of tasty choices – we recommend a burger (the one with bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese is my favorite). In addition to great burgers, Blue Toad also makes good soup.

There you have it! A highlight of the many wonderful experiences Afton offers. Now that I’ve presented a teaser on things like hiking, wineries, farms, and food, I’ll feature one specific topic at a time, in more detail. Let me know if you have any requests.

Afton Highlights Part 2: Bicycling, Swannanoa, Farms and Farmer’s Markets

It’s time to feature more of our favorite Afton, Virginia, attractions. Part 2 will focus on bicycling, Swannanoa, and farms and farmer’s markets. Here we go!

Bicycling

Bike Route 76, also called the Transamerica Route, runs from the eastern coast of Virginia to Oregon, and it happens to run right through Nelson County, up part of Afton Mountain Road. It takes about 3 months to complete the entire route (4233.5 mi.).

U.S. Bicycle Route 76 sign

U.S. Bicycle Route 76 sign

June Curry (1921-2012) lived on Afton Mountain Road and was a friend to bikers, known to them as the “Cookie Lady.” During the inaugural ride of Route 76, she began offering water and cookies to thousands of riders passing by her home, and for the next 30-plus years, she continued to provide bicyclists with water, cookies, company, showers, and a place to rest.

Don’t forget, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive are also both wonderful places for road bikes and motorcycles!

Swannanoa

As a current Richmonder I love visiting Maymont, an estate built by James Henry and Sallie Dooley that was left to the city as a park and museum. The Dooley’s also built an elaborate summer villa in Afton, Virginia, called Swannanoa. This mansion had Tiffany windows, expansive gardens, and was the first home in Nelson County to have electricity.

Swannanoa

Swannanoa

Swannanoa is currently open to self guided tours by appointment or during open-house weekends – $6 per person. What a neat historic building to have in Afton, and it is interesting to see how time has aged the estate. We just went for our first visit last weekend and can’t wait to share the details in a future post.

Farms and Farmer’s Markets

There are many wonderful farms in Nelson County, and in Afton specifically, but a few to highlight include A.M. Fog, Critzer Family Farm, and Goodwin Creek Farm and Bakery.

A.M. Fog greenhouses

A.M. Fog greenhouses

A.M. Fog focuses on greenhouse grown produce including maitake, oyster, and lots of other delicious mushrooms. Critzer Family Farm, located just next to A.M. Fog, has been a family operation for 5 generations and grows corn, peaches, strawberries (pick your own), plus other seasonal produce. Goodwin Creek Farm and Bakery makes organic and all-natural loafs like baguettes and cinnamon raisin walnut bread. Yum!

Critzer Family Farm entrance

Critzer Family Farm entrance

enjoying some strawberry ice cream on a hot day

Josh enjoying Critzer’s strawberry ice cream on a hot day

Where can you find some local mouth watering goodies? Nelson County Farmer’s Market is open Saturday mornings in Nellysford (a 15 minute drive from Afton), Greenwood Gourmet Grocery is in Crozet (also a 15 minute drive), plus Charlottesville Farmer’s Market is a larger market open Saturday mornings.

Did you miss Afton Highlights Part 1? Click here to read about trains, hiking, and wine, beer, and cider in Afton, Virginia.

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Afton Highlights Part 1: Trains, Hiking, and Wine, Beer, and Cider

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?”

view near Afton Mountain

view near Afton Mountain

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

Trains

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.”

Afton Tunnel

Blue Ridge Tunnel

Hiking

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.

hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Corinne hiking in Shenandoah National Park

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 Mountain Winery vines

Afton Mountain Winery vines

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.

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