It’s Virginia’s sweetest event of the year! Nestled in the peaceful, rural mountains on the western border of the Commonwealth, travelers can take a step back in time for a cultural and culinary adventure at the county-wide 63rd Highland County Maple Festival set for March 11-12 and 18-19.
Highland County is Virginia’s least populous county but has been drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the community since 1959 to celebrate the “opening” of the trees and to observe the process of making delicious, pure maple syrup. Free “sugar camp” tours provide a unique and educational experience for the entire family to learn how the golden delicacy is made from tree to bottle, ranging from traditional to modern techniques. Local sugar camps have even expanded to include syrups infused with fruits and spices or even aged in spirit barrels. Other tree syrups can be found at the festival as well, including hickory, birch, and black walnut. Ten local sugar camps will be open on Saturdays and eight on Sundays this year.
Local civic clubs and organizations will be bringing back their delicious food offerings, including those famous fresh maple doughnuts, pancake and buckwheat cake meals with sausage and gravy, trout sandwiches, pork rinds, funnel cakes, and just about anything maple-flavored.
More than 100 juried arts and crafts vendors will be available in Monterey, Virginia, and McDowell, Virginia, providing one-of-a-kind treasures, tasty treats, and special gifts. Admission to access vendors at the Highland County Public School gyms and The Highland Center is $5 purchased onsite (children 12 and under are free), and payment comes with a collectible maple leaf keychain that also provides access to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. entertainment at The Highland Center.
Each day of the festival this year will feature at least two live shows at The Highland Center. On March 11, enjoy the popular bluegrass band Southern Rail Express at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., as well as the classical banjo of The John Bullard Trio at 5 p.m. On March 12, listen to local favorites Mountain Air play their blend of acoustic Americana at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. On March 18, put on one’s dancing shoes with square dancing at 10 a.m. with local callers Ellen and Eugene Ratcliffe, and stay for the 2 p.m. square dance when old time music band Mudhole Control brings more heel stomping fun. Finish up the festival with two clogging performances on March 19 with the Hi-Horse Cloggers performing at 10 a.m. and the homegrown Little Switzerland Cloggers entertaining audiences at 2 p.m. For more entertainment options, visitors of all ages can listen to bluegrass music at Southernmost Maple in Bolar, Virginia, starting at noon on Saturdays, or those 21 and up can groove to the acoustic blues of Delta Junction at Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant & Tavern in Monterey, Virginia, starting at 8 p.m. on March 11.
In 1999, the Library of Congress designated The Highland County Maple Festival a “Local Legacy,” and in 2014, the Governor of Virginia signed a bill into law designating the festival as the “official maple festival of Virginia.” More recently, the festival has earned several user-voted awards, including the winner of Best Unique Festival in the Best of the Blue Ridge 2023 Reader’s Choice Awards from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and 2022’s first-place place winner for best Festival of the Shenandoah Valley Region in the eleventh annual Best of Virginia issue from Virginia Living. An economic impact study in 2022 conducted by Virginia Tech with assistance from Future Generations University revealed that the festival generated between $1.36 and $2.02 million in direct spending in Highland County.
Traditional hours of the festival include Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., though visitors can get a jumpstart to the day with maple doughnuts being served at 6 a.m. and pancake meals starting as early as 7 a.m. Full details on all the festival happenings can be found at www.highlandcounty.org/maple-festival, with posts highlighting the festival available at www.facebook.com/HighlandCounty and www.instagram.com/highland_county_va.
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