Happy Trails

Richmond magazine | May 24, 2023

Satiate your thirst for fun and adventure in Nelson County 

Though Wintergreen Resort and Crabtree Falls Hiking Trail continue to attract thousands of tourists annually, Nelson County has much more to offer. It’s an easily drivable destination for all manner of adventure seekers.

Drinking It All In

The Nelson 151 Craft Beverage Trail is lined with almost 20 family-friendly breweries, distilleries, wineries, cideries and meaderies. Hill Top Winery & Meadery in Nellysford offers a tasting room and a covered patio overlooking a hillside property where guests can see (and sometimes pet) friendly goats or Scottish Highland cattle. Hill Top serves wine made from fruits like blueberries, blackberries and peaches, as well as small-batch mead, an alcoholic drink made with fermented honey. My favorite was their spicy Dragon’s Breath mead, made from hickory-smoked hot peppers and honey and served in a house-made bloody mary.

Wood Ridge Farm Brewery in Lovingston features wide-open spaces with a driving range, live music, small-batch craft beer releases and a food truck. Remember to pet farm pup Maggie.

For an adult-friendly experience, visit Virginia Distillery Co., also in Lovingston, for a tasting of their award-winning American single malt whiskey or a tour of their distillery, museum and cask house. The impeccable facility and grounds create a relaxing, upscale experience to enjoy with friends or for a fun day date.

Afton’s Brewing Tree Beer Co. features an extensive craft beer menu including my favorite, the Bucha Buzz, a refreshing home-brewed kombucha and hard seltzer drink. Elevated food options crafted by culinary-trained Gina Thompson (who opened the venue with her husband, renowned brewer Mark Thompson), in the onsite scratch kitchen set the brewery apart, along with a river view, giant sandbox and music stage. Visit nearby Mountain House Trading Co. for honey, gifts and more, and check out their live bee display.

Take a Bite

As breweries add more extensive menus, food options continue to expand. Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton features brewpub fare, indoor and outdoor seating with scenic Blue Ridge Mountain views, a music stage and eight to 10 Blue Mountain draft options daily. Sister location Blue Mountain Barrel House & Smokin’ Barrel Restaurant in Arrington offers the delicious Dark Hollow barrel-aged imperial stout, along with other ales, lagers, IPAs and more, and a sit-down restaurant featuring appetizers, handhelds, pizzas and house-smoked barbecue.

Devil’s Backbone Basecamp in Roseland offers several seasonal and year-round spots to eat and drink, including Brewpub, Backbone Bar & Grill, Meadows Outdoor Bar, the Distillery Lounge and The Shanty. The campus also features a gift shop, two greenhouses growing farm-to-table ingredients, a music stage, 71 acres of camping ground and RV sites, and two on-site rental properties: a five-bedroom luxury home and a vintage Airstream trailer.

Lovingston staple Vito’s Pizza Bar & Grill remains a popular option for locals, serving delicious pizzas including my favorite, spinach and sausage bianca on a cauliflower crust. Quaint cafe Basic Necessities serves casual French fare for brunch, lunch and dinner in Nellysford. Drop into Trager Brothers Coffee in Afton for a cup and to buy some of their small-batch, house-roasted beans for brewing at home.

Trek the Trails

The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail in Arrington is an easy jaunt along the Piney River for walkers and horseback riders. Visit the Rockfish Valley Foundation Natural History Center in Nellysford or hit the 4-mile, nearly flat Rockfish Valley Loop Trail, which winds along the Rockfish River just south of Route 151. In Afton, the half-mile walk from the east trailhead to the historic Blue Ridge Tunnel is enlivened by placards detailing the tunnel’s history. The crushed gravel rail trail is an easy walk, but bring comfortable shoes and a flashlight and prepare for cool temps inside the mile-long train tunnel under the mountain.

Spend the Night

In addition to being a gorgeous event venue and fully estate-grown vineyard and winery, Lovingston Winery also offers cabin and farmhouse rental opportunities on its 64-acre property. Owners Wes and Tessa Roberts have thoughtfully outfitted each of their rentals’ interior and exterior spaces. If you’re visiting the Delfosse Vineyards and Winery in Faber to sample its 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup-winning wine 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage, consider renting the historic 1870s log cabin or spacious four-bedroom farmhouse on the secluded property. For a relaxing, adults-only experience, check out Orchard House Bed & Breakfast in Lovingston. Their saltwater pool and chef-style breakfast have brought me back to the area more than once. Happen to have your dog on the trip? The brand-new Indigo House bed-and-breakfast just off Route 151 in Afton welcomes adults and dogs to its four national park-themed guestrooms.