Maple Festival vs. Hands & Harvest – Which is Better?

Maple Festival brings 40,000 to 70,000 guests to Highland County, Virginia, every March. Hands & Harvest? Considerably less. Does that make Maple Festival better? You be the judge!

Here’s a list of similarities and differences between the events. Which one suits you better? (We suggest coming to both to find out!)

Maple Festival
Photo Credit CL Photoz


Of course, the famous doughnuts are the first topic of contention. While these tasty treats are more plentiful at Maple Festival, they’ve made past appearances during Hands & Harvest at Southernmost Maple in Bolar.


During Hands & Harvest, maple goodies, such as syrup, candy, and fudge, are available at Sugar Tree Country Store in McDowell, Southernmost Maple in Bolar, and Bruce’s Syrups & Candies in Monterey. Additionally, The Curly Maple added Maple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls, Maple Pecan Pies, and Maple Pumpkin Raisin Cookies to their special Hands & Harvest menu in 2019 while Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant & Tavern featured Maple BBQ Sandwiches and Ribs. We anticipate similar specials for 2020.


With the exception of a few, most sugar camps are open during Hands & Harvest. Duff’s Sugar Camp at Fair Lawn Farm, Sugar Tree Country Store, Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, and Southernmost Maple are staffed and ready to explain Highland County’s maple syrup industry. With a couple new additions to Highland’s Maple roster – Mill Gap Farms and Tonoloway Farm – there may be new stops for Hands & Harvest in the coming years.


On a pretty Maple Festival day, vehicles can sit for hours and miles before entering Monterey. McDowell and Blue Grass are less cluttered, but regardless, people are EVERYWHERE! Hands & Harvest is a smaller event, so visitors can enjoy a better view than their dashboard, leisurely stroll the streets and shops, and experience more one-on-one time with maple producers.

Fall Leaves Annette Naber Emerald Mountain Sanctuary
Photo Credit Annette Naber, Emerald Mountain Sanctuary


Hands & Harvest has another one-up on Maple Festival – vibrant fall foliage! Depending on the year’s preceding weather, color differs from year to year. However, one can usually discover rustic reds, oranges, and yellows atop Allegheny Mountain – the home of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers. Visit their camp for maple goodies and amazing views and photo opps!


Specific performers vary from Maple Festival to Hands & Harvest, but each event features live entertainment including clogging, square dance events, storytellers, and live music like bluegrass, folk, and blues.


Sugar camps open during Hands & Harvest, but in recent years, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce also added a Harvest Trail featuring agricultural-based stops, such as Elegius Mini Equine Sanctuary, Lucky Loop Hollow Farm, and Emerald Mountain Sanctuary. Harvest Trail locations usually change a bit every year, so pick up a Harvest Trail map at the Highland Visitors Center when you get to town.

Most everyone is familiar with Maple Festival’s Sugar Trail; however its only recently received an official state designation. Members of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and Highland County’s sugar producers have worked with the Virginia Tourism Corporation to establish the new “Virginia is for Maple Lovers” sub-brand!

Hands & Harvest crafts
Photo Courtesy Highland County Chamber of Commerce


With well over 100 juried arts and crafts vendors ranging from handmade chocolates, woodworks, candles, photography, artistry, and jewelry, the Maple Festival has Hands & Harvest beat. But don’t let that discourage a fall visit. There are still plenty of treasures to find!  During Hands & Harvest, five to ten vendors set up on the Couthouse lawn in Monterey carrying goodies like jewelry, lavender products, maple items, pottery, alpaca products, lotions, salves, and soaps. Local stores, which feature vintage and antique items, collectibles, thrifts, clothing, garden-themed items, photography, artistry, and handmade creations are also open. The best part? During Hands & Harvest, visitors can actually stroll and gander instead of fighting their way through crowds.



Most will say Maple Festival has more food options; however, this isn’t 100% accurate. Yes, Maple Festival has different food booths; however, Hands & Harvest features specialty menus at local restaurants like High’s Restaurant, Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant & Tavern, and The Curly Maple. During the 2019 fall festival, The Curly Maple added Trout Sandwiches, Hull’s Hideaway featured Maple BBQ Ribs, and High’s Restaurant served Pumpkin Pankcakes for breakfast with Big Fish Cider-braised Chicken, Pumpkin Alfredo, and Rotisserie Chicken with Potato Chowder for lunch and dinner. (Plus, you don’t have to wait for a seat during Hands & Harvest like you would at Maple Festival!)

Again, we ask: Which is better? Neither! They’re just different.

If you hate crowds and traffic, you may consider renting Blue Grass Cabin on the second full weekend in October during Hands & Harvest. But if there’s no way you can pass up Maple doughnuts, be sure to book your stay months (or years) in advance for Maple Festival.

Or just be awesome and come to both!


couple love - CopySeeking easy, no-brainer plans for a perfect Valentine’s Day? We got ya covered.
What’s more romantic than a lovey-dovey weekend getaway in a secluded, mountain cabin?

Here are 7 Reasons to Gift an Escape to Blue Grass Cabin in Highland County, Virginia:

Big Fish Cider#1: Free Big Fish Cider and Gearharts Chocolates with your Reservation! Book your stay at Blue Grass Cabin for Valentine’s Day, and you’ll receive a free bottle of locally-made Big Fish Cider of Monterey, Virginia, and a package of Gearharts Chocolates, hand-crafted confections from Charlottesville, Virginia.

#2: Privacy & Solitude: Richmond, Roanoke, and Washington DC are pretty cool places… but they’re also pretty noisy. Definitely not ideal for a quiet dinner-for-two. At Blue Grass Cabin, it’s just you, your love, and maybe a hoot owl perched on a tree outside. No light pollution, no honking horns, no noisy neighbors… just peace.

#3: Cuddling in Front of the Fireplace: Yes, we are quite fond of our fireplace, but who wouldn’t be? With the adjacent plush couch and the coziness of the exposed-wood walls, who could resist the urge to snuggle up with their sweetheart and toast with a glass of wine (or Big Fish Cider!)

#4: Massages for the Heart & Soul: Massage therapist Nicole Frye of Heart & Soul Massage has been treating clients for approximately 15 years, so it’s no wonder locals visit her and her staff regularly for their aches, pains, stress management, and to simply relax. Heart & Soul Massage is located in Monterey (an approximate 20-minute scenic drive from the cabin), and you can schedule an appointment by calling (540) 292-0568 or messaging their Facebook page.

#5: Fresh Flowers from Meadowdale Blooms: Erica Stephenson, floral designer and owner of Meadowdale Blooms, grew up around Highland County’s natural elements, which she now pairs with fresh-cut flowers to create spectacular arrangements for all occasions including Valentine’s Day. Roses are great, but a custom-made floral creation is even better!

#6: Homemade Treats at The Curly Maple: This historic general store, located in Monterey directly across from the Couthouse, has been restored and features a bakery, coffee bar, fresh produce, and lunch and food items. There’s certainly some sweet treats, such as homemade cookies and candies, to be found in their displays, and if you’re lucky, you’ll stop in on a Cinnamon Bun day!couple hug

#7: Cuddle in the Cabin: Take advantage of the cabin’s peace and quiet. Spend some time inside relaxing and reconnecting with your one-and-only while enjoying these memorable activities:

Just call us at (434) 249-0419 to reserve your stay, and we’ll have the cider and chocolates waiting! Happy Valentine’s Day!

What’s a Wassail?: An Event for Cider-Lovers!

Big Fish Wassail pic
Big Fish Wassailers Preparing for their March to the Orchard

With all the cider craze these days, we have to ask: Have you ever heard of a Wassail?

In a nutshell, wassailing is an old English custom performed to ensure a healthier apple orchard by walking through an orchard at night, scaring away evil spirits that are harmful to the trees, and waking the tree spirits with gifts and a blessing. The folks at Big Fish Cider Co. in Monterey can surely explain the event to you! Take a look at the video below where Kirk Billingsley, Big Fish owner and cider maker, tells a little more about the tradition.

For updated event information and ticket prices, call Big Fish Cider at 540-468-2322.

For more information on Big Fish Cider, their products, awards, and events, visit their website at And if you’re a big cider fan, consider becoming a member of the Big Fish Cider Club!

We hope to see you at the Wassail!

Top Wintertime Activities at the Cabin


Living in the city offers a variety of activities to enjoy at any given moment even in the winter. However, noisy traffic and the constant hustle and bustle of people can get old and monotonous.

For our friends in nearby cities, such as Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, and Washington DC, Blue Grass Cabin can provide a quick and inexpensive vacation to the hills of Highland County, where families can leave dirty, snow-slush streets for solitude, bonding time, and relaxation.

Reserve your winter or holiday stay at Blue Grass Cabin, which includes three bedrooms, two baths, a full kitchen and dining area, an outside deck, covered front porch, and a cozy family gathering area complete with a plush couch, recliner, and warm, stone fireplace. (View our full list of amenities here!)

To add to your stay, here is a list of 10 fun, snowy-day activity suggestions. Just stock up on some food items and a few supplies before you hit the road!

PLAY A BOARD GAME Monopoly, Clue, Trivial Pursuit… Pack some of your favorite family games, stop at the store to purchase your favorite snacks, slip on the cozy, comfy pajamas, and enjoy a family game night!

WATCH A CHRISTMAS MOVIE Could anything be better than watching a Christmas classic by the fire while sipping hot cocoa and cuddling in a big snuggly blanket? Hop on Netflix, and watch White Christmas. Or find Holiday Inn, The Christmas Story, or Prancer!

CREATE WINTER CRAFTS Set up Santa’s Workshop at the dining table. (Just make sure to lay a protective cover on the tabletop!) Create fun, handmade Christmas ornaments, sparkling pine cones, penguins from egg cartons, or your own customized snow globe. Here’s a link for more ideas!

A WALK IN THE WOODS Hugging the cabin is a beautiful forest where families can explore and learn about nature. Take a camera, photograph different birds or trees, then bring the images back to the cabin where you can research your findings!

ICE SKATING AT THE HOMESTEAD For around $15 to $25 per person (depending on the time of day and age of the individual), your family can make memories by gliding on the ice at the historic Omni Homestead resort, located in Hot Springs, Virginia, which is an approximate 45-minute drive from the cabin.

RELAX WITH A COLORING BOOK Even though grown-ups might act skeptical about adult coloring books, you know they’d love them. Besides, it’s supposed to relieve stress, right? Grab a coloring book, some warm cider, and enjoy creating with the family! (A very personal keepsake for the scrapbooks!)

WINTER SPORTS AT SNOWSHOE Skiing, snowboarding, shopping, good restaurants, and more are laid out for families to peruse and enjoy at this mountain-top resort. Snowshoe, which is about 45 minutes away, also holds special events including concerts. Check out their website for more details!

BAKING PROJECTS Have you ever built a Gingerbread house? If not, your vacation at the cabin is a great place to start. Just stop at the store and pick up the ingredients on your way in. Decorative, seasonal sugar cookies are also a fun project – a treat to savor during that Christmas movie!

SNOW FUN Usually in January or February, you can find snow on the ground in Highland County. If so, let your imagination guide you! Build a snowman version of your family. OR! Each member of the group can build their own snow fort. Then… let the snowball fight commence! (Remember, there’s a warm fireplace and homemade hot chocolate inside afterwards!)

INDOOR CAMP OUT If there’s no snow on the ground, no worries! The weather is always right for an indoor fort made of blankets, chairs, and pillows! Set up camp in the living room or bedrooms, grab a story book (or coloring book!), and enjoy!

Living Room cropped
Relax in Front of our Cozy Fireplace

Three Free Fall Activities

Traveling on a budget is sometimes hard, but Blue Grass Cabin guests can easily have a memorable and relaxing time in Highland County with these free-to-inexpensive activities:

Barn Quilt
Photo Courtesy: Highland County Chamber of Commerce

BARN QUILT SELF-GUIDED TOUR: With over 50 barn quilts in Highland County, our mountain paradise is home to the first barn quilt tour in Virginia. “What’s a barn quilt?” you may ask. This unique piece of artistry, which decorates country barns, is a hand-painted square featuring a pattern similar to a quilt square. The first barn quilt trail began in 2001 with Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio. Today, Highland County is one of the thousands of communities nationwide that participates in this newer tourism and heritage trend. A majority of squares featured on the Highland County Barn Quilt Tour were created by local barn quilt artist Margie Boesch of Highland Barn Quilts while others were created by local residents. Take a look at this online brochure from to see the variety of shapes and colors you can find along the trail. It can be a learning experience for kids or even a kind-of scavenger hunt for all ages!

Highland County
Photo Credit: Highland County Chamber of Commerce

SCENIC DRIVING SELF-GUIDED TOUR: Another Highland County self-guided tour includes a Scenic Driving option that points drivers through the beautiful Bullpasture, Cowpasture, and Blue Grass valleys. Explorers will also pass through Big Valley, Back Creek, and Doe Hill – all of which are little corners of Highland County that are even less-populated and showcase true country and remote living. Additionally, the McDowell Battlefield Drive holds something for history buffs as it highlights the Highland County Museum & Heritage Center, Sugar Tree Country Store, the historic and cannonball-hit McDowell Presbyterian Church, as well as Sitlington Hill and the McDowell Battlefield, itself. Click here to download the online brochure through!

HHS_Museum_smallHIGHLAND COUNTY MUSEUM & HERITAGE CENTER: As mentioned above, this educational stop is part of the Scenic Driving tour; however its also a great stand-alone attraction. Enter the museum through the massive door of what is locally-known as the “Mansion House,” which was originally owned by George Washington Hull. Believed to be the first large brick home in the village, the house served as a hospital during the Battle of McDowell in 1862. Around the turn of the century, the Bradshaw family operated the Mansion House Hotel, which catered to those traversing the historic Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. Today, it houses the McDowell Battlefield Orientation Center as well as other exhibits that feature local history as well as civil war info. It is also home to the Highland Historical Society – a group of volunteers and one employee, who passionately document Highland County’s history. (The Center is closed from the end of October until the first weekend of the Maple Festival in March, but they are available at other times by appointment.)

IMG_5777BONUS TIP! If a getaway where you stay tucked away sounds ideal, Blue Grass Cabin is fully-equipped with a full kitchen and features a spacious back deck for warmer days as well as a cozy fireplace with a nearby comfy couch where you can curl up in a large blanket with a good book, your favorite movie, or settle in for a Netflix binge.

Navigate over to our Rates & Reservations page to plan your trip!

Planning Tips for Hands & Harvest

Highland Farmers Market
Customers line-up to snag their ag goodies at the Highland Farmers’ Market (Photo Credit: The Highland Center)

Every year on the second full weekend in October, the Highland County Hands & Harvest Festival celebrates the culmination of the area’s agricultural production season with maple sugar camps, farm tours, apple butter, the Highland Farmers’ Market, maple doughnuts, local honey, local cider, and more. Visitors can traverse throughout the county and experience farm life amidst the vibrant, autumnal, rolling hills that lovingly embrace the fields and farmlands of Highland County.

Even though Highland County is one of the smallest counties in Virginia, there is still a lot of ground to cover. Here is a sampling of some of the regular activities festival-goers can enjoy during the event:

LSC 2019 Team Pic cropped
The Little Switzerland Cloggers perform on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Sundance Studio & Productions.)

Fair Lawn Farm
Fair Lawn Farm owner Tim Duff shows young visitors how to peel an apple. (Photo Credit: Fair Lawn Farm)

For more detailed festival information, visit the Highland County Chamber of Commerce website or call (540) 468-2550. We hope to see you at Hands & Harvest!

5 Fall Area Day Trips

For explorers longing to see a variety of sites in one trip, Highland County, Virginia, is a perfect home base. In an easy one to two-hour drive, travelers can ride historic railways, view naturally growing Venus Flytraps, learn about the search for extraterrestrial activity, and explore 460-million year old caverns.

Here is just a sampling of day trips where one can achieve adventure while staying at our Blue Grass Cabin. (And the potential fall colors in these locations is just an added bonus!)

Day Trip #1: Cranberry Glades

Cranberry Glades Botanical Area photo credit Pocahontas County CVB
Photo Credit: Pocahontas County CVB

This protected botanical area, known as Cranberry Glades, is the largest collection of bogs in West Virginia and is home to extremely rare plants for this part of the United States, such as carnivorous or insect-eating plants. Over 10,000 years ago, climate and glacial changes made way for several species of unique plant life to migrate from Canada and the northern U.S. and take root in this unique, 750-acre property. Two boardwalks allow visitors to traverse through the bogs and view these plants in their natural habitat. Visitors may also spot wildlife, such as the American Black Bear, West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel, Red-tailed Hawk, American Bald Eagle, Coyote, Cooper Hawk, Screech Owl, and White-tailed Deer.


Day Trip #2: Seneca Caverns

Seneca Caverns Fairyland Photo Credit Dorothy Stephenson
“Fairyland” Photo by Dorothy Stephenson/Life’s A Dance

In about an hour’s drive through scenic, country back roads, travelers can discover the attractions at Seneca Caverns. Drive up around noon, and pack a lunch to enjoy under the picnic shelter or dine in Asbury’s Restaurant, a log-cabin eatery located next door to the cavern’s entrance. (The caverns and the restaurant share a parking lot, so you can walk from one to the other.) However, before you enjoy lunch, reserve your spot on the next cave tour at the Seneca Caverns Visitor Center. Then, get some food in your belly and walk it off during the one-hour tour that takes explorers 165 feet below the earth’s surface to see stalagmites, stalactites, fairies, devils, Chief Bald Eagle, and Princess Snow Bird. Some NFL teams even make a special appearance, too!


Day Trip #3: Greenbank Observatory

Greenbank Observatory Photo Credit West Virginia Tourism
Photo Credit: West Virginia Tourism

Visit the Greenbank Observatory to see the world’s largest steerable telescope, which weighs 17 million pounds and has a surface that could hold two entire football fields! Even though the famous telescope is so massive, it can be directed with an accuracy of one arcsecond – the equivalent to the width of a human hair seen from 34 feet away. Learn about the fascinating world of radio astronomy from the pioneer instruments of the 1950’s to today’s most modern technology. Visitors can also take a SETI tour, which offers exciting and comprehensive info on the on-going search for extraterrestrial life. On the Behind-the-Scenes High Tech Tour, one can visit telescope control rooms and engineering labs normally off limits to the public. Not to mention there are walking trails, a gift shop, a cafe, star parties, and Star Lab Sundays – a planetarium event offered every Sunday at 2 pm.


Day Trip #4: Cass Scenic Railroad

Cass Scenic Railroad photo credit Train Wizard Productions-Pocahontas County
Photo Credit: Train Wizard Productions & Pocahontas County CVB

Built in 1901 to haul lumber to the mill in Cass, West Virginia, Cass Scenic Railroad is now a state park where visitors can experience the same Shay locomotives used in Cass during the time of the railway’s creation. Home to the world’s largest fleet of geared Shay locomotives (six to be exact!), the legendary turn-of-the-century class C-80 Shay #5 has been making the trek up Cheat Mountain for nearly 100 years, which makes it one of the oldest engines in continuous services and the second oldest Shay in existence. From September 24 through October 27, the train will depart the station at 12 pm Tuesday through Sunday for riders to enjoy a relaxing and scenic ride up the mountain. (View their website for additional seasonal hours.) The approximate 22-mile trip lasts around 4.5 hours and climbs to an elevation of 4,842 feet to Bald Knob, the third highest point in West Virginia.


Day Trip #5: Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls Photo Credit WV State Parks
Photo Credit: West Virginia State Parks

Explore one of the most photographed attractions in West Virginia – Blackwater Falls. This 57-foot cascade is tinted by tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. A short walk on a well-maintained path will lead visitors to several viewing platforms where the falls can be enjoyed year-round. (Other landmarks, such as Elakala Falls, Lindy Point, Pendleton Lake, and Pendleton Point Overlook, are also located nearby if you want to add more sites to your trip!) And if your geocaching enthusiast (or even if you’re a first-time geocacher), there are plenty of hidden cache sites to search for. The park also offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails for the warmer months as well as cold-weather activities including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and is home to the longest sled run on the East Coast. Not to mention, this site is a photographer’s paradise during any season!

 Of course, at the end of any day-trip adventures, you can settle in at your home-away-from-home, the Blue Grass Cabin. Comfortable beds, a soft couch, a fireplace, and a back deck offer the relaxation opportunities you need after a big day of exploration!

Family Fun at the Highland Fair!

County Fair (Calendar of Events)
Photo Credit: Highland County Fair

The Highland County Fair means many different things to many different folks in our majestic, mountain community: the end of Summer, the culmination of livestock projects, nostalgia, family tradition, celebration, relaxation, volunteerism, you name it…

Since the early 1950’s, our community has pulled together to host one of our iconic events – the Highland County Fair. Locals volunteer to work food stands, drive golf carts to pick-up and deliver parking guests to the fairgrounds, serve on committees, help and encourage youth, and so much more. Some even volunteer throughout the entire year just to see this annual goal through to fruition. It is at the heart of our community.

221 HC Fair HS 09
Photo Credit: Kathy Cobb Photography

The annual Highland County Fair kicks off with the Highland County Horse Show, a portion of the festivities that elders the Fair’s history. English and Western riders from around the community and the region bring their equine friends to the fairgrounds and compete in classes, such as Cloverleaf Barrels, Youth Horsemanship, Over Fences, and Pleasure and Gaited classes. (In yesteryears, the Horse Show was the main event of the Fair and took place on Saturday. It began around 9 am, took a break for lunch and dinner, and in some years, lasted until close to or after midnight!)

Festivities continue on Wednesday with events like the Fair Parade on Wednesday, the Demolition Derby on Thursday, the Tractor and Diesel Truck Pull on Friday, and the Truck Pull on Saturday. Other favorites including the Hog & Cattle Show (Wednesday), the Goat & Sheep Show (Thursday), the Kiddie Show, Sheep Costume Contest & Obstacle Course, and the Little Switzerland Cloggers show (Friday), and the Dog Show, Cornhole Tournament, and Bluegrass Show (Saturday).

To see a full Schedule of Events including new, annual featured events, CLICK HERE!

Early 2016 Fair pics 017
Photo Credit: Highland County Fair

Of note for families, Wednesday night is “Family Night” and offers a reduced rate of $6.00 for “Ride All Night” wristbands, and on Saturday, there is a matinee ride time from 1 – 5 pm when wristbands are only $10. (Normally, “Ride-All-Night” wristbands are $15 each.)

Of course, one can always have fun at the Fair on a modest budget by taking in the arts & crafts, baked goods, educational, sewing, and photography exhibits in the Elementary Gym, enjoying the free live entertainment throughout the fairgrounds, AND one can spend a mere 25 cents per card on games of Bingo. (The latter is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat multiple times throughout the evening!) And of course, you can enjoy yummy fair food, such as chicken patties, hamburgers, steak subs, ice cream, onion rings, and french fries, while enjoying the attractions.

Also, if you plan to attend multiple nights of the Fair, purchase a Season Ticket for $25. You can buy this ticket at the gate during the event or at any pre-sale locations, which include Blue Grass Mercantile, Brightway Exxon, Fast Break, Lightner’s Electrical, Stonewall Grocery, and Rexrode’s Country Store. Season Tickets went on sale August 7. (Regular daily admission is $10 for ages 15 and up. Kids under 15 are free!)

But… as an adult… we have to say the best thing about the Highland County Fair is the opportunity to turn into a kid again! Come out to the Highland County Fair, grab some cotton candy, ride the Ferris Wheel, and take in one of the oldest small county fairs in the state of Virginia!