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College town on the Blue RidgeCollege town on the Blue Ridge

Harrisonburg, Virginia, and its environs is a beautiful fall destination

Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic road within Shenandoah National Park, offers a beautiful view of fall foliage. Photo courtesy of NPS/Neal Lewis.

Disclaimer: I went to college in Harrisonburg, Virginia—James Madison University, home of the Dukes! Graduates of this little/big school bleed purple and gold, the school colors. To say JMU fans are passionate is an understatement. One of the reasons is because this big campus (721 acres) lives like a small school. Established in 1908 as a women’s teaching college, it became known as Madison College in 1938 and opened regular session classes to men in 1946. In 1977, the liberal arts college became a university, adding massive sports facilities, arts centers, and so much more. The “Bluestone” campus buildings (constructed of area bluestone) are the original campus and main quad inside the city proper of Harrisonburg. The continuing expansion has taken the university across Interstate 81 with residence halls, recreation centers, alumni buildings, and more athletic fields.

One of the reasons JMU became so popular—aside from good academics, great sports programs, relatively low tuition, a major art and theater program, and more—is the beauty of the campus and its surrounding area.

Harrisonburg is a quintessential small Virginia town in the Shenandoah Valley region. The city was named a Great American Main Street in 2014. Flanked on one side by the George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah National Park , and an entryway to the famed Skyline Drive , Harrisonburg is naturally beautiful most any time of the year. Fall brings the changing colors of the trees—vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges.

Skyline Drive is a 105-mile scenic road within Shenandoah National Park offering amazing views and incredible hiking and biking trails. The entrance to Skyline Drive is at Swift Run Gap off U.S. Route 33 from Harrisonburg. U.S. 33 also takes you into the George Washington National Forest—its winding mountain road is not for the faint of heart.

Although there is a private airport (Linville-Edom) in Harrisonburg, three general aviation airports best serve the GA traveler here. They are Bridgewater Air Park Airport seven miles south, New Market Airport 17 miles north, and Staunton’s Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport about 20 miles south.

Two resorts worth visiting in the area are Massanutten and Bryce Resort. You’ll find golfing and lake swimming in the spring and summer, fishing and hiking in the fall, and family friendly ski areas in the winter (I taught my sons to ski at Massanutten, which some ski snobs refer to as a “mass of nothin’” because it’s relatively small with 14 trails and a 1,100-foot vertical drop). Snowfall is the biggest challenge; as little as 10 inches some seasons, although there is snowmaking. One early winter we golfed in the morning, skied in the afternoon, and visited the indoor water park (with a full-service bar) in the evening.

Bryce Resort has its own airport.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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