Camping in wine country is an economical way to visit one of your bucket list destinations. It’s easier than you might think to cook up excellent recipes at camp to enjoy with all that wine!
Table of Contents
- Why camp in Virginia Wine Country
- Features of Sherando Lake + campsites
- Things to do in the area
- Camp kitchen set-up
- Camping menu
- Checklist to plan any camping trip
Why Go Camping in Virginia Wine Country?
If you’re going to spend a few days exploring any of Virginia’s wine regions, you may also spend a pretty penny on hotels or B&Bs. Air conditioning and cozy beds aside (I love them, too), camping is an economical way to experience the region, detox from electronics and embrace your inner tree hugger. With the money you save on lodging, you can invest even more in stocking your wine cellar (aka that space under your basement stairs)!
It doesn’t quite qualify as glamping, but our favorite place to pitch a tent every summer is stunning and full of amenities. The Sherando Lake Recreation Area, known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is nestled in the George Washington National Forest about 45 minutes west/southwest from Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sherando Lake Camping Features
Our dear friends introduced us to Sherando Lake many years ago and we’ve returned with them nearly every July. Why would we dare go camping in the middle of the summer heat and humidity? Two words: mountains and forests. The elevation and forest canopy go a long way to keeping our campsites comfortable. We’ve also been blessed with great weather nearly every year (with the exception of the Derecho of 2012, but that’s another story).
The Sherando Lake Recreation Area is actually comprised of two lakes, the Upper and Lower. The area is open for day use as the lower lake is a popular spot for swimming, and has a sand beach, picnic areas, non-powered boating and fishing. The area also features several hiking trails.
Just a short walk from the beach are the camping areas that include RV, group and individual camping sites. Reservations are required and can be made through recreation.gov. Make your reservations well in advance as spots fill quickly!
In addition to bathroom facilities with flush toilets, warm showers (no quarters necessary!) and water pumps for campsite cooking + washing, individual tent-only sites (which is where we always stay) feature:
- Off-street parking
- Level pads covered with fine gravel
- Picnic table
- Serving / prep-style table
- Lantern post
- Campfire ring with grill grate
- Bear-proof food storage locker
Sherando Lake is a well-equipped spot for comfortable family camping with easy access to everything the region has to offer.
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Things to do in the Monticello AVA of Virginia Wine Country
The Monticello AVA (American Viticultural Area) overlaps several Central Virginia counties including Nelson and Albemarle, which are nearest to Sherando (which is actually in Augusta County). In addition to wineries, the area is home to many breweries, cideries + distilleries.
But, that isn’t all there is to do! You can enjoy tons of outdoor activities, museums + historic sites, orchards + farms, scenic drives, shopping and dining. Both the Charlottesville/Albermarle and Nelson County tourism websites provide excellent resources for planning your trip.
After a hearty camp breakfast, we strike out to explore wineries and breweries and enjoy a little nosh along the way. Over the years, we’ve adopted a few favorites and love to revisit them:
- Afton Mountain Vineyards
- Cardinal Point Vineyard & Winery
- King Family Vineyards
- Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards
- Veritas Vineyard & Winery
- Blue Mountain Brewery & Brewpub
- Pro Re Nata Brewing Company
- Devils Backbone Brewing Company
- Star Hill Brewery & Tap Room
P.S. One of the reasons these are our faves — they’re dog-friendly! Our pooches always come along for the ride.
PRO TIP: Don’t be stupid. Have a designated driver or use the spit bucket!
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Our Camping Kitchen
After a day of taking in Blue Ridge Mountain vistas and stocking up on newly released vintages, we look forward to relaxing at camp over an excellent meal. Until we started camping with our ‘Sherando Lake’ friends, I had no idea that camp cooking could be so good! Granted, I had little experience camping before then.
While our sites are pretty well equipped, there are a few tools and gadgets that make camp cooking easier and more enjoyable (to me, anyway).
A Good Cooler — after a lot of research, we purchased a new cooler this season. Requirements? Sturdy, large, excellent ice retention, and a gasket seal. (And, less expensive than a Yeti!) It even has a built-in bottle opener.
Camp Stove — from boiling water to scrambling eggs to sautéing anything, a camp stove is efficient and convenient. Ours is a 2-in-1 stove + grill. We’ll usually grill over the fire, so I treat the grill area as another burner.
Wash Basins — inexpensive plastic totes work just fine, but they take up a lot of space. I finally invested in some dedicated wash basins and these are fantastic! They collapse to save space and the handles make it easy to carry water from the pump back to your site.
Coffee Percolator — If you are a coffee drinker, this large percolator will be your best friend in the morning. In years past, we brought our tiny French press which gave us two cups at best. And if we’re hosting breakfast, that means we had to make coffee multiple times over.
Cookware — I make do with a medium saucepan and a non-stick skillet. Anything else I need is borrowed from our home kitchen. (I did invest in a 6.5” cast iron skillet this season for something specific, but I know it’ll get lots of future use.) However, my big skillet broke, so I’ll be replacing it with this one that has a detachable handle.
We do our best to keep waste to a minimum, so that’s why we’ve invested in items like dedicated camp cookware and wash basins. Other items in our camping kit include:
- Reusable plates + bowls (I purchased mine at a dollar store, but I have my eye on a new set of melamine plates + bowls)
- Silverware (we saved our old set when we acquired new)
- Enamel coffee mugs
- Acrylic wine tumblers (used for all drinks)
- Cooking utensils (I picked up a full set from a discount store)
Visit the Sip + Sanity Camping Essentials Idea List on Amazon to find all the supplies, tools + gadgets that make camping fun and comfortable for us!
Our Camping Menu + Recipes
Camping with friends makes everything more fun, but it also means you can share kitchen duties! We take turns cooking and hosting each other at our respective sites. (H/t to Patti for going the extra mile and hand-making tortillas from scratch…while camping! FYI: a wine bottle makes a decent rolling pin.)
Here’s this trip’s menu…
Dinner #1 – Skirt Steak Fajitas
- Skirt steak from Seven Hills Food
- Fire roasted poblanos + onions
- Black beans
- Pico de gallo, salsa verde + sour cream
- Fresh cilantro + jalapeño
- Shredded cheese
- Tortillas de Maiz
Dinner #2 – Choripán
PREP TIP: I make as many things ahead of time as possible! Pre-cooked potatoes can be wrapped in foil and warmed over the fire. Sauces like Chimichurri can be made ahead and stored in a leak-proof container. Dry ingredients for things like pancakes can be pre-mixed and transported in a zip-top bag.
A Camping Checklist
Planning a camping trip? I’ve converted my checklist into a fully customizable version for you to download and print. Or, save a copy to your own Google Drive.
Camping is a great way to disconnect from the world, reconnect with family + friends, and visit your bucket list destinations economically. I hope you’ll visit Virginia Wine Country and enjoy it as much as we do!