Shenandoah Valley

Highland County Maple Festival

There’s a great annual festival in Highland County, the Maple Festival. We’ve tried to go the past couple years but something has always come up, so we were very excited that we were able to make time to go this year! It was a beautiful day for a drive since it has recently snowed but was finally warming up.

There are buckwheat pancakes, craftsmen, maple syrup, and tours everywhere in Highland county, so we started in Monterey, Virginia at the schools where they have two full gymnasiums of crafts and tasty treats. There were so many amazing products there from chocolates, aerial photos, jewelry, quilts, handmade wood products, and so much more! We got a few gifts, had delicious BBQ, and then headed out to see a sugar camp where they make the syrup.

This car is usually all blue.
This car is usually all blue. I think it might be crying.

We attempted to go to Duff’s Sugar Camp but was mysteriously closed on Sunday, so we kept going thinking that wasn’t it and we just had to go farther. Then we realized we could go back up this other road called Route 600. This was not the best road to drive in a Civic on a day when the snow was finally melting. Between the loose rocks, mud, single lanes, and hairpin turns, I’d say it was treacherous…and LONG at 11.7 miles. That was a terrifying adventure! But we survived and so did the car… it’s a good thing too since there’s no cell service to call AAA.

Once we got BACK on Route 250 (the main road where we should’ve stayed) we headed to Laurel Fork Sapsuckers to see how they did things. To get there we had to go up a long and fairly steep hill in mud with water literally flowing downhill through the tire tracks. We did not think the car would make it up the one lane trail. But by keeping constant speed and encountering a nice person going downhill getting out of our way, we made it to the top! The funny thing is, you either walked or took a 4-wheeler work horse down the other side of the steep hill in the snow and mud to get to the shack.

Laurel Fork Sapsuckers
Laurel Fork Sapsuckers…ok, this part was flat, but not most of it!

They do some tubing on the maple trees that flows by gravity to a holding tank. Then they use 100 year old pans over fire to steam away the water leaving the wonderful maple syrup. There were great guys there telling us all about their hobby and they just love it so much that you can feel the pride! Unfortunately, they were sold out of every size of the syrup except the tiniest one at about 2 ounces. But we got that because we had to buy maple syrup!

After that trip we took some main roads, well main roads for Highland County (I love the country!). We attempted to visit Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard but it was crazy packed, so we kept driving to Rexrode’s Sugar Orchard and wandered around a bit. They do their syrup the same as the Laurel Fork Sapsuckers (doesn’t that sound like a kickball team name?!), so we had already had our private lesson.

This is how they evaporate all the water from the sap.
Laurel Fork Sapsuckers. This is how they evaporate all the water from the sap.

Once done, we headed back to Monterey’s main drag to see the other festival-type happenings and ran into a co-worker from the University I work at! She showed me her family’s stall of animal skins and BBQ rub, you have to love that. We did search around for a while to find some Grade B syrup which is the darkest, and really most condensed version of maple syrup and best in baking, but it’s made at the end of the season and it just wasn’t time yet.

It’s so beautiful in this area. It would be amazing to be able to (A) Afford a weekend home, and (B) Building a beautiful eco-friendly one in Highland County. People are so nice and welcoming, they just couldn’t wait to share their craft with you! Next March, check it out in you are in the area. You’ll love it! But bring a 4×4 vehicle if you plan on going to the outlining areas. Would’ve been perfect for the jeep!

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