From Shenandoah Mountain to Sapsuckers, a Photographic Journey Through Maple Syrup Country


[Editor’s note: Sunday, March 20, is the last day of the 2022 Highland County Maple Festival that is held annually on the second and third weekends of March. Here’s a look back at photos from 2017 and 2018.]

The sun was just beginning to peek above the horizon Saturday morning when we left our home in western Augusta County for the annual hike to the Highland County Maple Festival. The air was cold and we had experienced a wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow the night before. Our destination had snow on the ground before more fell on Friday so we hoped there would be plenty of photo ops since the last time I photographed the festival in the snow was in 2013 Road trip!

I clicked a picture of the sunrise from the road, then we turned west on Hwy 250, pointed towards Appalachia. By the time we reached Deerfield in far western Augusta County the ground was covered in snow and from then on we were in the snow until we got home. The temperature hovered just above freezing point and we still had to cross four mountains before reaching Monterey.

Going up Shenandoah Mountain, the fog set in, the snow was thicker on the sides of the road, and the plows were going the other way. Mr. Mitchell, who had worked for VDOT while in high school, greeted the drivers we passed. Thanks to them, we were about to do this trek on clear roads. The top of Shenandoah mountain was blanketed in fog and the historic lookout was empty – no sights to be seen in all the fog.

At the foot of Shenandoah Mountain, we crossed the sleepy Headwaters berg. The small general store, a popular stop for many over the years, is closed and for sale. The fog lifted a bit at lower altitudes…

…then we crossed the second mountain and descended into McDowell, a small historic crossroads that features the first place (coming from the east) to find a pancake breakfast and artisan and maple products, and the fried pies on the panel in the photo.

McDowell’s famous Civil War battle took place on the hill overlooking the town, a place where history still lingers in the woods and across the fields. Learn about the battle and how Shenandoah Mountain and Staunton played it.

These pies were baked with this configuration but we didn’t stop.

Two more mountains and then we were in Monterey, and it was only 8:00. The quiet street shows how early we were – perfect! Vendors shoveled the sidewalk in front of their stalls while others settled in for the day.

The Highland Inn was pretty in the snowy landscape. Their dining room was open to the public for the festival.

Our usual parking lot was nearly empty and covered in snow when we pulled up. There was no line for Mill Gap Ruritans famous maple donuts which would take 45 minutes to an hour later in the day. No wait but the donuts weren’t hot like those that are fresh and hot and melt in your mouth.

The non-existent donut line early Saturday morning. I had emailed ahead to make sure the folks at Back Creek were going to be in Court Square so we could buy our usual case of maple syrup for friends and family across the Commonwealth .

Next stop: Duff’s Sugar House south of Monterey. We turned on Rt. 220 for the short drive to Rt. 84 and drove along that mountain stream to Tim and Terri Duff’s “Fair Lawn Farm” where they process sugar water old fashioned with authentic, antique evaporation equipment. It’s an experience listening to Tim explain the process and watching the steam rise and escape through the roof vent.

This year, Fair Lawn Farm has a new covered outdoor area at the gate of the sugar shack, and a new parking lot allows visitors to get off the busy road. 84. There’s Clancey, the big white farm dog, who greets visitors. Check out their Facebook page.

fair lawn farm

Fog rising from the Jackson River.

We came back to Monterey where we found LOVE, then turned west on Rt. 250.

The snowy side streets of Monterey got slushy as the day went on.

Heading west we went to Hightown and the Blue Grass Valley where the sugar shacks of Rexrode and Puffenbarger were, then up the mountain to Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, the newest of the camps that has opened about five years ago, located almost in the state of West Virginia. line.

I love seeing Highland County sheep so forgive me for the sheep pictures.

This photo cracks me up. Looks like they roam the south forty, as the saying goes.

I would have liked to sit down and have a conversation with this guy. He watched me take pictures, chewing occasionally but never moving from his stand. The other two were all laid back…everyone was in Sunday afternoon mode.

These guys or ladies were in front of the entrance to Rexrode’s sugar shack in Hightown.

Meadowdale Road

Sapsuckers! The highest sugar camp in Highland County, they had 10 inches of snow earlier in the week. Their route to camp often requires four-wheel drive, and they had the tractor and cart in the parking lot on Rt. 250 for riders to park and roll. Open for seven years, it is the newest sugar camp in Highland. It’s a fun place for the kids…a trail through the woods to the sugar shack, food at the lunch counter and maple products. Check out their Facebook page. This was my blog post when Mr. Mitchell and I visited them in 2014.

Turn into Sapsuckers parking lot was clear but risky. From a previous visit to this unique location: “Okay, these guys get the best view award…and that’s an understatement in Highland County where you can’t find a bad view.” Located atop Alleghany Mountain which straddles the Virginia-West Virginia line ten miles west of Monterey, Laurel Fork Peaks at the highest elevation of the seven sugar camps.

How high ? Try 4,400 feet. The breathtaking scenery alone is worth the trip. They are also the newest camp. The land has been in the family for four generations, but the camp has only been in operation since 2010 and includes eighteen acres of sugar maple trees. It was our first visit but it won’t be our last. » Read the full message here.

Back Creek Road was snowy when we passed Rt. 250, which is why we didn’t take that, a regular route, from Duff’s Sugar House to Hightown. It’s a higher, shaded elevation that makes the snow stick.

This wetland between Hightown and Sapsuckers has been frozen over, a winter wonderland that is in its last days of winter 2016-17.

It’s my usual spot overlooking Hightown where I’ve taken many fall photos, a perfect perch to capture the fiery reds, oranges and yellows of the trees below.

Route 250 above Hightown heading east away from Sapsuckers.

Dugspur Road, Hightown

As we approached Monterey from the west around 11:00 a.m., a thick fog had settled over the town.

Monterey was bustling – the courthouse lawn was full of vendors and spectators, and the main street sidewalks were busy. As we left town to return to Staunton, the vehicles steadily rolled down the mountain. It was a beautiful drive and we were back at noon with our maple donuts, maple syrup and a camera full of memories. Highland Maple Festival 2017 is now stored in the travel diary.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
Highland Maple Festival
March 18, 2017


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