Like many towns in the Shenandoah Valley, Bedford is a diverse destination offering a multitude of reasons to visit — historic sites, natural beauty, progressive arts and entertainment, a thriving downtown scene and more.
Example: Smith Mountain Lake, one of the most popular attractions near Bedford, draws the most visitors in summer for swimming, boating, fishing, and camping or cabin rentals. But don’t think it’s not worth a visit in fall. Smith Mountain Lake State Park has more than 27 miles of well-marked hiking and biking trails, up to 3.1 miles long. The trails wind through scenic forests, all the more captivating in fall, and offer serene views of quiet coves and waterfront. In all it’s 1,148 acres of peace, recreation, and Blue Ridge beauty. Extend your stay in a designated campground or a modern, well-appointed rental cabin. (Note: Be aware the park will be closed Nov. 5-6 and 12-13 so managed deer hunts may be conducted.)
Bedford is in the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley, a bit off I-81 between Roanoke and Lynchburg, and also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We asked Nicole Johnson, Director of Tourism for Bedford County, to give us a preview of what else goes on this time of year.
“There is so much going on in November, especially leading into the holidays,” said Johnson. “The leaves should reach their peak fall color in early November, and then on November 20 the 10th Annual Festival of Trees kicks-off at the Bedford Area Welcome Center!” The Center will be filled with beautifully decorated trees with the theme “Victorian Christmas”, and visitors can vote for their favorite tree(s) for only $1.00/vote. All proceeds will benefit the charitable organizations designated by the businesses. The event is fun for the whole family and features a scavenger hunt for children, as well as certain nights when Santa will visit and there will be free cookies, hot chocolate and craft activities. The event runs through January 4, 2019.
“On Small Business Saturday, November 24,” Johnson continued, “come to historic downtown Bedford for unique and fun shopping, and check out the very first Handcrafted Hometown Holiday Market featuring fine art, pottery, vintage décor, food and more!”
November also presents the day we honor all military veterans; on November 12, a Veterans Day observance program will be held at the National D-Day Memorial, including special music, guest speakers, and recognition of all veterans. Guests are asked to bring their own chair. The latest installment of veteran bricks will also be dedicated. Free admission 10 a.m. until noon. (It still surprises some to find the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, but it’s there for a profound reason: Bedford lost more citizens per capita in the Normandy invasion than any other American community.)
The Bower Center for the Arts in Bedford also presents a full schedule in November. With programs, exhibits, events, workshops, performances, etc., the Bower Center is a multi-faceted operation with a strong emphasis on community engagement. On November 3, take part in the Suzie Viewmeister Gala and Art Auction to support a champion of artists and a prolific collector. Tickets $25.
On November 10 hear Garnet Rogers in concert. On November 16 hear the Spectrum Arts Society Choir bring classic show tunes to life on stage with Inspirare on Broadway. And the exhibit, “Russ Voelker & Randy Marling: A Brush with Color,” opened October 2 and remains open until November 10.
Yet another holiday with an historic theme is coming to Poplar Forest. Voted the third best tourist attraction in Virginia earlier this year, Poplar Forest is one of just two homes Thomas Jefferson designed for his own personal use. He began construction in 1806 on what may have been the first octagonal house in the country. Modern restoration efforts are driven by an absolute commitment to use early 19-century construction techniques whenever possible, and materials are exhaustively researched for authenticity to the era and the site.
From November 30 to December 14, Poplar Forest will host Holiday Candlelight Tours, a celebration of Christmas via one-hour candlelight tours of Jefferson’s private retreat, decorated for the holidays and reflecting Jefferson’s time. Listen as your guide relates true stories and anecdotes gathered from Jefferson’s letters and diaries. Admission is $20 per person. Reservations are required.
Moving into December, Johnson told us, “Bedford has been called the Christmas Capital of Virginia for more than 60 years, and on December 1 is the annual Christmas Classic 5K followed by the Christmas Parade at 11 a.m. Then at 5 p.m., a special Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held in Centertown Bedford to include music, horse-drawn carriage rides, letters to Santa, photos with Santa, hot chocolate, gingerbread house-making, and more! And no holiday visit to Bedford would be complete without driving through the festive holiday light display at the Elks Home.”
Where to Stay
Peaks of Otter Lodge, easily accessible from I-81 or the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 86) offers 63 rooms, banquet and meeting facilities, and Blue Ridge Mountain scenery at its best. A full service menu and a serene lake view make dining a pleasure, but a busy slate of events plus access to numerous hiking trails may keep you outside most of the day.
Plus you can tour the Peaks of Otter Winery and Orchards, the oldest fruit winery in Virginia, and sample many varieties of wine, plus jams, jellies cider, etc. in season. The majority of products are made from fruits grown right on this family farm.
Banner photo: Smith Mountain Lake provides recreation and serenity all year. Photo courtesy Bedford Tourism Office.