MD/DC/VA United States

Escape D.C.: The George Washington National Forest

When you live in the city for a while and you love the outdoors, a mini-road trip outside of D.C. is mandatory.

When you live in the city for a while and you love the outdoors, a mini-road trip outside of D.C. is mandatory. This time what took us away was the Virginia Spartan Super and Sprint, held at the Infinity Downs Farm,  located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia, within the vicinity of the George Washington National Forest. This scenic area is a popular destination for trail runners and is no stranger to ultra-marathons, so it is by no surprise that this was the chosen location for the race.

We stayed at the Fenton Inn, a venue inspired by Old-World Europe, with a town square, clock tower, bakery, theater, gym, spa, a hot tub, an amazing view, and (brace yourselves, pet owners) a soon-to-be-open room where dogs will be allowed to stay. Will and Lilia, the owners and managers, put a lot of love into creating this magical space, where every brace and figure has meaning. Will built the Inn himself using locally-sourced wood–each window and door has a unique design, consistent with the personality of each room and structure.

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Each door has its unique characteristics and was built by Will. 

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Entrance to the movie theater. 
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Lobby area
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Dining room
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Best table in the dining room. This is where we had breakfast both days. We even skipped brunch at Wintergreen because this was so perfect and the food delicious. 

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The Inn is a perfect place to contemplate… 

There are many other places to stay around that area, the most obvious one being the Wintergreen Resort, but there are many cabins surrounding the property, if you want a more intimate stay. Among many others in this pristine country, a few other appealing stays are Cabin Creekwood, Royal Oaks, Cabins at Crabtree Falls.

Food, Beer, and Wine

Already being there for the race, we wanted to explore the area as much as we could with the limited time we had. We had two breweries on the list, but at the end of this post I will include links to other places that you could also visit. On Friday night, we had dinner at the Devils Backbone Brewing Company, at their Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows location. This is where they develop their craft recipes, kind of like a “test kitchen.” They have craft beer from 16 taps and the pub menu specializes in oakwood-fired smoked dishes. I recommend their Café de la Mañana and their Peppercorn Grand Cru beers. As for food, we had the jumbo pretzel and shared the Devils Platter which was enough for two people.

After the race, we were starving. Per my fitbit, I burned 2,000+ calories and my body made it  clear about how much energy I needed to regain. After a bit of searching, I stumbled upon Wild Wolf Brewing Company, which Lilia from the Fenton Inn also recommended. The owners started building this brewery as a restaurant on a 100-year-old schoolhouse. Eventually, the restaurant morphed into a brewery. One major pro in my book: the hops grown on the property are chemical free and fertilized by chicken poop. I kid you not. They received the 2015 and 2016 Green Brewery of the year Award for their sustainable way of production. Their food is incredibly delicious and you can either enjoy it inside or outside on their sun-speckled patio (with either your canine or human pups). We ate the pulled pork nachos, I ate the Korean tacos and the hubby had the jambalaya (yes, we were extremely hungry).

Going back home

Sunday was rough. After running for 9 miles, climbing 8 feet walls, crawling under barbed wire, scraping and bruising your knees and elbows, all you really want to do is sleep, regret your decision to run, and plan for the next race. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from exploring the area a little more before heading home. We took the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way back, which meanders along a segment of the Appalachian Trail. We stopped at a few overlooks (pictures below).

Three Ridges Overlook

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Raven’s Roost Overlook

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Humpback Gap Overlook

For this one you have the option of doing a .8 or a 4 mile hike to the top. We did the short version given the limited time we had, but be advised that the hike is very steep.

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After coming down from the mountains heading east, we decided to stop at a few of Virginia’s wineries and vineyards along the way. The first vineyard stop was at King Family Vineyards, where coincidentally the proprietors were hosting a polo match. We did a classic wine tasting, which costs $10, but if you would like to book a private tasting with a group of friends, they can accommodate that. Just shoot them an email and make sure you will spend a minimum of $100. My favorite wine there? Crosé 2016.

Because we were already in the Charlottesville area, we decided to stop at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello before moving to the next vineyard. For those of you who have never been, Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation. Jefferson re-designed the main house using neoclassical features and tinkered with architectural and engineering elements to fit his particular lifestyle. Monticello is preserved by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and it is the only U.S. presidential home declared a World Heritage Site. The curators have different kinds of tours; I recommend you visit the website and plan your visit ahead of time. We misjudged the time we needed there and missed a few tours I would’ve loved to do, like the Hemings family tour—a history of the enslaved family owned by Jefferson, who worked and lived at Monticello.

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As part of the activities they have British Invasion reenactments on Saturdays at 11am & 4pm, and on Sundays at 11am & 2pm. 

Keeping with the Jeffersonian theme, we moved on to the Jefferson Vineyards in Charlottesville. Prior to the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson recruited Italian viticulturist Philip Mazzei to plant a vineyard near the estate, on property Jefferson granted to Mazzei. Jefferson had hoped to take advantage of Virginia’s rolling hills to create an American wine industry for sale to the British. Mazzei built a modest house he named Colle on this site. Years later, Mazzei became swept up in the American Revolution; and as relations between the American colonies and Great Britain soured, Jefferson abandoned his experiment in exporting Virginia wine. In the 1930’s, Colle was disassembled and in 1939 the Woodward family purchased the property and rebuilt Mazzei’s home using Colle’s original foundation. Later visited on more than one occasion by then-President Truman, the site gained increasing attention into the mid-twentieth century. To prevent further development encroaching on the history of this location, the Woodward family purchased an additional 400 acres of land. In 1981, the owners of the estate re-introduced wine grapes to the soil, and developed one of modern Virginia’s first prominent commercial vineyard and winery. My favorite wine there was the Vin Blanc 2016, though it’s not for people who lack a sweet tooth.

 

To do on the next visit

Other breweries, wineries, ciders, distilleries, etc.

Distilleries:
Silverback Distillery
Woodsmill Distillery
Virginia Distillery Co.
Ragged Branch – Home to VA straight bourbon whiskey
VITAE – Craft distillery

Cider:
Bold Rock Hard Cider
Blue Toad Hard Cider
Albermarle Cider Works

Breweries:
Woodridge Farm Brewery
Blue Mountain Brewery
Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery
Stable Craft Brewing

Wineries:
DelFosse Vineyards and Winery
Afton Mountain Vineyards
Veritas Vineyard and Winery
Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards
Pollak Vineyards
Rockbridge Vineyard
…and many others!

Hiking

Spy Rock – 3.1 miles out-and-back, medium hike, 1260 feet
Crabtree Falls – Highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River, 3.4 miles out-and-back, medium hike with steep trail
White Rock Falls – medium hike, about 4.6+ miles out-and-back
Three Ridges Wilderness – For this 13.2 mile circuit, some people recommend either a day-hike just for this or camping on site. Goes up to 3900 feet elevation, difficult hike with steep areas, and you will probably see a bear or two…
Humpback Rock – about 2.0 miles out-and-back
St. Mary’s Wilderness – This is a very popular circuit hike that used to be and iron ore mining area. For more information on how to do this ~17 miles hike, go here.

 

 

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