Fun In The Sun

A Guide To Getting Outside This Summer

Posted: June 21, 2014

Daily News-Record

Bill and Laurie Duxbury, who live near Charlottesville, paddle along Island Ford after a float from Port Republic in July 2012. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Amber Showalter, 26, of Harrisonburg hula hoops during the FundFest Summer Concert series installment held June 2, 2010, at the Turner Pavilion in downtown Harrisonburg. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R, File)
The first wave of cyclist start the 50k road race during the fourth annual DR100 held June 11, 2013. Cycling is a big draw for the area throughout the year. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R, File)

June 21 officially marks the first day of summer, a season filled with local residents and visitors alike enjoying the central Valley’s myriad outdoor activities and warm-weather events.

Downtown Harrisonburg
In Harrisonburg’s center, outdoor events are a common occurrence during the summer. That makes it easy for Jane Hoover, a travel specialist at Harrisonburg Tourism and Visitor Services, to keep guests looking for fun close to home.

“We, of course, send them downtown,” she says. “That’s the first place we send them.”

With FundFest taking place every other Wednesday evening beside the Turner Pavilion and Fridays on the Square playing out biweekly at Court Square, downtown is loaded with family-friendly outdoor events for the next few months. Both events present live music to the public, with FundFest serving as a fundraiser for the Rockingham/Harrisonburg SPCA  and other organizations, and Fridays on the Square not requiring an admission fee.

To add to those offerings, the city has its own Fourth of July celebration — Valley Fourth — which draws visitors from far and wide, Hoover said.

In fact, the whole season does.

“Summer is one of the biggest tourism draws, not just in Harrisonburg, but [Virginia], as well,” Hoover said.

Biking And Hiking
Though heat and humidity can easily soar to unsafe conditions in the middle of the summer here, local outdoor enthusiasts simply remember to stay close to water — and their water bottles.  

“There’s some really great places to go that are close to water,” Paula Benson, a field associate at downtown Harrisonburg’s Walkabout Outfitters points out.

One hike she recommends is in Shenandoah National Park — one of the unofficial outdoor playgrounds of the central Valley — and leads visitors to a large swimming hole. It’s outside of Rockingham County, but it draws many county and Harrisonburg city residents.

Called “Riprap Trail,” the hike is a nearly 10-mile loop that can be a long, strenuous trek, but less ambitious visitors can take a shorter route, Benson said. The hike, located near Crozet, also includes a waterfall.

“That’s probably the best waterhole within an hour from downtown,” Benson said.

Perhaps the most notorious water hole in the area — Blue Hole, located 12 miles west of downtown Harrisonburg on U.S. 33 — may be on the chopping block. On May 28, Rockingham County Administrator Joe Paxton brought up the possibility of selling the spot and the surrounding 4.5 acres. The county’s Board of Supervisors may decide to take that action due to the number of the complaints the county receives regarding the popular attraction.

Benson also recommends the Brown’s Gap hike, referred to as “Madison Run” by some because of the stream it follows. Starting just past Port Republic, it’s perfect for allowing children and dogs to play in the water, she said.

Karen Beck-Herzog, spokeswoman for Shenandoah National Park, reminds local residents that trekking into the mountains of the park gets them away from the heat.
It’s 10 to 20 degrees cooler up there, she says.

Though October is the park’s most popular month, usually with close to 250,000 visitors, July and August are the second and third busiest, tallying upward of 150,000 visitors each.

Visitors are certainly welcome to enjoy the park’s streams, she points out, but they should be careful.

“Nobody wants to have a rescue as part of their adventure,” she said. “Sometimes, people will slip on the wet rocks.”

Thomas Jenkins, one of the owners of Shenandoah Bicycle Company, recommends the North River Gorge Trail for cyclists. The summer is a great time to take advantage of the trail, located west of Mount Solon in the George Washington National Forest, he says, because it crosses the river multiple times and the water is typically low.

Kyle Lawrence, president of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, says the Rocktown Trails at Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg are “riding really well” right now.

Other Outdoor Activities
Another recommendation Benson has is to float the South Fork of the Shenandoah River from Island Ford to Elkton, one of the more popular stretches.

In general, river floating is one of the most popular summertime activities in the area, with several companies around, such as Shenandoah River Outfitters and Shenandoah River Adventures, to accommodate.

The area also boasts attractions such as Massanutten Resort, Bryce Resort, Luray Caverns, Mossy Creek Fly Fishing and Flying Rabbit Sporting Clays to keep outdoor enthusiasts happy.

Even though the ski slopes are down in the summer, it’s still Massanutten Resort’s peak time, according to Kenny Hess, director of sports and risk management.

“We just don’t have as much drive-up traffic as we do in the winter,” he explained.

The resort makes up for the lack of snow-topped slopes with summer tubing, a kids’ adventure course, a canopy tour and zip-lining, among other activities.

Local wineries and breweries also host a variety of outdoor events during the summer, such as the Toast the Weekend series at Bluestone Vineyard in Bridgewater.

After hours of enjoying the summer activities in the area, locals and visitors alike may want to head to one of the local food trucks or an outdoor meal.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or

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