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Camping in Virginia Wine Country (plus Recipes + a Checklist!)

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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!

wine country old fence and rows of grape vines with blue ridge mountains in background
The vineyard at Veritas
Table of Contents

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.

Veritas Winery wine tasting bottles
“Taste in Place” at Veritas. Many wineries have moved to using individual tasting kits to allow patrons to social distance while enjoying a wine tasting.

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!

wine country campsite with picnic table, tent and canopy
Sherando Lake campsites are spacious + level and come with a picnic and prep tables, lantern post, food locker and campfire ring.

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.

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.

view of blue ridge mountains at blue mountain brewery
A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Blue Mountain Brewery & Brewpub

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: 

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!

virginia wine country dirt road, grape vines, a pond and mountains beyond
Just one of the great views from Afton Mountain Vineyards

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!

camp kitchen set up with stove, wash basins and other tools for making wine country recipes
Between the camp stove and the fire pit, we’ve got cooking covered. The yellow + orange wash basins are collapsible and have easy-carry handles.

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
Breakfast #1 – Breakfast Tacos
  • Crumbled chorizo
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Black beans
  • All the garnishes from Dinner #1
  • Simple Tortillas
Breakfast #2 – Pancakes + Bacon

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.

wine country camping checklist

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!

Pin for later ~ Camping in Virginia Wine Country!

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  1. I have never tried camping before, and I really wish I could go there some day soon. I love the way you have painted the picture of this beautiful place… I was almost there 🙂