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Sipping, munching through the Shenandoah Valley
By Tom Adkinson

route 11 chips; shenandoah valley
Visitors to the Route 11 Chips factory take home boxes and boxes of chips; image by Tom Adkinson.

JUST OFF I-81 – Refreshment stops during long interstate highway drives usually are hurry-in and hurry-out episodes, but three spots just off I-81 in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley could easily inspire you to add a half-day to your trip and perhaps an overnight. All are in Shenandoah County, just north of Harrisonburg.

Within a 20-mile radius are a factory tour of a famous potato chip company, a multi-generation farm where you can pick your own blueberries and blackberries and a vineyard where you can sit back in an Adirondack chair with a crisp Chardonnay and enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Route 11 Chips are famous in the Mid-Atlantic and even have national distribution, so it’s a treat to visit the only place they are made. It’s especially fun when the “We’re Cooking Today” sign is posted.

Bursting-with-flavors Route 11 Chips spring forth from a non-descript industrial building within sight of I-81 near the Mt. Jackson community. Inside, 14,000 pounds of potatoes can be transformed into 3,500 pounds of chips every day. Potatoes arrive from up and down the East Coast (Maine to Florida), and they require different preparation and slicing, but they all lose a lot of weight to evaporation when cooked.

The tour is modest, consisting of peering through big windows at the process. Huge vats of 300-degree sunflower oil bubble as potato discs splash in, but soon enough, thin and crispy chips are zooming along on conveyor belts, destined for sprinklings of seasoning and ultimately into airtight bags.

cape meares lighthouse
A group of youngsters crowds around a window to watch potato chips bubbling in 300-degree sunflower oil; image by Tom Adkinson
route 11 farm tap
A taproom with almost a dozen craft brews is one of the major attractions at Swover Creek Farms; image by Tom Adkinson.

Varieties include sour cream and chives, salt and vinegar, dill pickle, barbecue, Mama Zuma’s Revenge (say that aloud to get the joke) and Chesapeake crab. Sweet potato chips are generally available from September through May, and late summer provides a special treat – Yukon Gold chips made from Shenandoah Valley potatoes.

Yes, there’s a gift shop, and chips are bagged and boxed for loading up your car in case you can’t find them at retail where you live.

swover creek farms
Tourism is a big part of the operation at Swover Creek Farms, which has been in one family since the mid-1800s; image by Tom Adkinson.
route 11 blueberries
Blueberries and blackberries are there for the picking for many weeks every summer; image by Tom Adkinson.

Not 15 miles away via some lovely country backroads is a certifiably peculiar place, Swover Creek Farms, that almost certainly has something to interest you. It’s a Virginia Century Farm, meaning it’s been in one family’s ownership for more than 100 years.

Lynn St. Clair’s family started farming here in the mid-1800s. St. Clair took it over from her grandfather in 1998 and just keeps adding elements to the mix. If it had a full and fancy name, it would be Swover Creek Farms, Kitchen, Brewery, Country Store, Pizza Parlor, Sausage Emporium and Pick-Your-Own Blueberry and Blackberry Place.

It is a working farm, but tourism started in 2000 with blueberries and blackberries. Farm-crafted sausages came next, then a brewery and taproom and then pizzas from a wood-fired, custom-built oven. Along the way came country crafts such as rugs, quilts and jams.

swover creek farms muse vineyards
Muse Vineyards offers many ways to chill out and enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains scenery; image by Tom Adkinson.

While there are multiple reasons to hang around Swover Creek Farms, you can cap off the day in Shenandoah County with another taste experience. Just 12 miles away, after passing a Walmart Supercenter and crossing over I-81, is Muse Vineyards.

As casual as Swover Creek Farms is, Muse is elegant in the style of a European vineyard. The high-ceilinged tasting room offers great views of the mountains, a 1.8-mile-long wine trail winds through the property and there’s even a footbridge over the scenic North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

The 20 grape varieties grown at Muse are put to good use, producing award-winning wines. Such diversity is possible because there are three contiguous vineyards, each with a distinct soil type. The signature wine at Muse is Clio, a blend of five Bordeaux varietals.

When your day of exploring Shenandoah County ends and you just don’t want to drive any farther on I-81, it’s only three miles from Muse to the 12-room Inn at Narrow Passage. It has received guests since 1740.

Trip-planning resources:,, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published September 6, 2019

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