Despite a location just 45 miles northwest of the nation’s capital, Purcellville feels personably removed from D.C.’s urban sprawl. It’s got an old soul-quaint and historical in appearance with a colorfully diverse populace of around 6,000. While it is an inevitable extension of Loudon County’s suburban explosion-case in point nearby Leesburg-right now it is still an oasis of small town peace and quiet.
To the outdoor world, though, this is a cycling town. It’s the western terminus of the 45-mile W&OD multi-use rail trail, beloved by bikers in the Metro D.C. area, so on the weekends the town sees a concentration of Spandex to rival the pack at the Tour de France. From there it opens into one of the biggest networks of country roads in the Commonwealth, resting on the northern edge of the Shenandoah Valley.
TOP 5 ADVENTURES
1. Rides with a Twist
Every Wednesday Trail’s End Cycling leads a free dirt road night ride. The crew leaves from the shop around 8:30pm, so check those headlamp batteries and get ready to roll through 20 miles of rural countryside-nocturnal style. If you think biking is better with a little buzz, the local outfitter also offers long-distance rides that connect a few of the many vineyards in the area. Try the Lucketts Tour, which meanders on quiet dirt roads with stops at Lost Creek, Hidden Brook, and Tarara Vineyards.
2. Shenandoah Splash
Purcellville is just 10 miles from the Shenandoah River-the benignly flowing mountain waterway perfect for a flatwater kayaking or canoeing adventure. For a bigger rumble take a whitewater rafting trip on the class II-III rapids section that combines with the Potomac (www.riverriders.com).
3. Middle of the Road
To get a taste of the amazing cycling in the area, try the Middleburg Route, a 32-mile rolling ride past old stables through pastoral Shenandoah horse country with the Blue Ridge hovering glorious ahead to the west.
4. Bears Den Odyssey
The Appalachian Trail Conference’s Bears Den Lodge, located just off the A.T., is a popular destination for cyclists as well as hikers. For a hearty weekender, bike from D.C. on the W&OD, then the next day ride up to Harper’s Ferry and pick up the C&O Canal Towpath for a flat and scenic 62-mile ride back to the nation’s capital.
5. Northern Shenandoah Leg Stretcher
For a short-distance but rewarding day hike, try the section of the Appalachian Trail from Snickers Gap to Virginia Highway 605. Creek crossings and steep ascents will get your heart pumping, but it will be worth it when you catch the Shenandoah Valley views from Bears Den and Lookout Point.
“We get a spill-over of wealthy dot-commers, artistic old hippies, and farmers. In town you can see a Ferrari or a tractor drive by. If the town can embrace and responsibly grow with the diversity, this will become an excellent place to live.”
“The W&OD is a shaded and secluded ride. I’ve done bike tours in Europe and up in Vermont, and this is just as good.”
After a long ride, replace those calories with one of the delectable selections at Magnolia’s (540-338-9800), an old mill that’s been converted into a semi-swank eatery in downtown. You can grab an upscale entrée or creative sandwich, and you’re mouth will be watering as soon as you see the overwhelming selection of draft microbrews.
Owned by the Appalachian Trail Conference and operated by the PATC, Bears Den Lodge is a stone hostel just off the Appalachian Trail and under 10 miles from Purcellville. The mountain-nestled retreat offers camping space, bunk beds, or a private cottage that make the perfect primitive retreat. A.T. visionary Benton MacKaye called the property a recreation camp that escapes “the common curse of both the high powered tension of economic scramble.” www.bearsdencenter.org.
If you’re doing the B&B thing, bunk down for the weekend at the Middle Grove Inn (540-338-0918).
SAVE THE TRAIL
Around town you might notice the bumper sticker “Savethetrail.com.” With urban sprawl creeping closer to Purcellville, Dominion Virginia Power (DVP) is planning to place more overhead transmission lines and towers in Loudoun County. DVP owns an easement on the W&OD Trail and could potentially change the scenic treasure forever. The community group Save the Trail, Inc., intends to stay involved in DVP’s application process before the State Corporation Commission, who has the ultimate power to decide whether transmission towers should be erected along the W&OD Trail.