A Trip to the Shenandoah Valley (on Two Legs and Four)

Whether planning an easy weekend getaway or a longer trip in the valley, there’s so much to discover in Woodstock. Read more here!

City dwellers and their pup get away to Woodstock and get in touch with nature.

Muse Vineyards’ greeter Emma in the vines.

By Anthony Istrico

Alexandria, VA – We’ve all spent plenty of time indoors throughout the pandemic. As a result, a lot of folks have added a four-legged companion to their family. With the longer and warmer days upon us, I’ll admit, the outdoors calls my name. For my wife Heather and me, adopting our loyal basset-lab mix Lionel was a life-changing decision, and a lot has changed for the better as a result.

However, one thing that keeps us from taking a trip with our pup is if our destination is not dog-friendly. Recently, though, we found the perfect weekend getaway.

Lionel the hunter at Seven Bends State park.

Nestled just 90 minutes outside Washington, D.C., Woodstock, Virginia’s open landscape and natural beauty immediately caught my interest as a dog owner. Often confined to our Del Ray condo walls, Lionel is kept on a short leash with little room to explore. As our family drove west on I-66, I imagined my sweet pup finally having room to roam.

Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by the plethora of dogs, and their owners, walking around the aptly named Main Street. With Lionel happily sniffing his way down Woodstock’s main stretch, we encountered many small businesses that were not only friendly to Lionel but accepted dogs in their retail spaces. That acceptance, coupled with the charm and idyllic setting of downtown, made it an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Anthony and Lionel kayaking in the Shenandoah River at Seven Bends State Park.

After a stroll down Main Street, a quick drive to Seven Bends State Park satisfied the unobstructed nature views we were after. Lionel was free to roam and sniff down the walking paths and across lush fields without his leash. Eventually, he found his way to the mouth of the river and dove in. Heather and I had no clue our energetic pup was a swimmer, so we delighted in watching Lionel paddle around the clear, shallow waters with ease. Upon returning, we plan to bring inner tubes for an easy float downstream.

Woodstock is a historic place founded through a land grant by Lord Fairfax in the mid-1700s. Since its conception, this secluded town in the valley has been home to dedicated residents, shop owners, and dog-lovers alike. Sally Cowal, the owner of the revered Muse Vineyards, notes how her travels overseas inspired the winery’s dog-friendly policy.

Sally Cowal with her dog Emma in vines at Muse.

She says, “When I lived in Geneva, Switzerland for several years, I was always struck that well-behaved dogs went everywhere with their families. My dog, a 90-lb. Bouvier des Flandres, had his own bus pass, for example! And he dined and stayed with me in lovely restaurants and inns. When we opened the Muse Vineyards tasting room in 2016, it seemed natural and right to me that important family members should be included! And so they are.”

These days, guests at Muse are greeted by Emma, the vineyard dog. Lionel was and continues to be a welcome guest.

Not far from Main Street is a stretch of conveniently located hotels and larger stores. Among these is the familiar Hampton Inn, managed by Stephanie Zayhowsi. She notes that guests are always welcome to bring their four-legged friends. “Our best guests are dogs, but we love accommodating their owners too!” Stephanie’s sweet pup, Addie, frequents the Woodstock Hampton Inn (Addie and Lionel became fast friends, too)!

Muse visitor Rich LaFace with his dog, Duke.

Woodstock offers a unique ability to leave, if only briefly, the overwhelming hustle and bustle of city life and find something better for dogs and their owners alike. The Shenandoah Valley is truly Virginia’s hidden gem, whether you are a first-time dog owner or experienced pet person.

For Nora Kubach and her red golden retriever, Fable, visiting Woodstock brought discoveries. Nora adopted Fable in late 2020 and had few opportunities to take her pup out of the city. Woodstock gave her four-legged friend a chance to run free and, well, be the puppy she is. “Woodstock is super dog friendly,” Nora says, “I had a blast with my puppy Fable. Fairview Dog Park was a standout. I loved how clean it was and all the fun obstacles they have. And of course, you can’t forget about Swover Creek!”

Lionel on the deck at Muse Vineyards.

Whether planning an easy weekend getaway or a longer trip in the valley, there’s so much to discover in Woodstock. Heather, Lionel, and I found the long-needed relaxation we hoped for and more. As I watched Lionel run across a field chasing spring bugs, I knew that my sweet four-legged friend had finally found his freedom. For a look at Woodstock’s dog-friendly offerings, visit ourbendintheriver.com/

ICYMI: America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places – 2021 List UNVEILED

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