Highland Maple Festival
The Highland Maple Festival always occurs during the first two weekends in March each year. This festival is a hidden gem that is worth a long visit to the criminally underrated Blue Grass Valley of Highland County, Virginia. There are bluegrass performances, arts and craft vendors, food stands, pancake breakfasts, and of course loads and loads of maple syrup! Read on to find out all about this fabulous event.
Though the festival is spread throughout Highland County, the majority of events happen in and around the county seat of Monterey. Monterey is a very small town. And when I say small town, I mean small - like, less than 200 people live there small. It’s an endearing little place nestled in some of the most picturesque pastoral surroundings in the state of Virginia. Seriously! Just look at these mountains:
If you love the taste of maple, you are in luck. (Honestly, who doesn’t?) At the Highland County Maple Festival there is more than just syrup to satisfy your maple cravings. Maple doughnuts, maple fudge, maple cider, maple cream, maple vinaigrettes and sauces… Seriously, there is no end to the delicious maple treats to be sampled. Honestly, I think it would be wrong to leave Monterey without buying at least a few maple treats and your own bottle of Pure Virginia Maple Syrup. You won’t be disappointed.
Sugar Camp Tours
If you’re going to ingest large amounts of maple at the Festival, you might as well see how the county’s famous maple syrup is made. Highland is dotted with multiple sugar “camps” that visitors can tour to get an up-close look at just how sap becomes the tasty syrup we all know and love. One of my favorite sugar camps to visit is Duff’s Sugar House near Mill Gap, which is the smallest syrup-making operation in the County. Duff still collects maple syrup the old-fashioned way: in pails. The whole operation is very charming and definitely worth a visit. I recommend checking out at least two different Sugar Camps to see a variety of syrup production methods.
The Pancake Breakfasts
I think it might be universally recognized that the best way to experience maple syrup is to drizzle it over a stack of pancakes. Thus, since this is a Maple Festival, pancakes abound. Now that I have attended the Highland Maple Festival on four different occasions, I think I can honestly tell you where the best pancakes can be sourced….
The best pancakes in Highland County can be found at the Bolar Ruritan Club (pictured above).
Bolar Ruritan Club’s pancakes are exactly what you want a pancake to be: fluffy, buttery, and hot off the griddle. Bolar Ruritan has been making pancakes for the festival since 1958! Their pancakes are endless as well; local volunteers will bring you as many plates of pancakes as you can fit in your gullet. Last but not least, they are one of the few pancake breakfasts where you get your pancakes served to you with real plates and silverware! I don’t know about you but I strongly dislike styrofoam plates and plasticware, which are unfortunately the norm at some other locations in Highland County.
Last but not least, a quick note to all vegetarians visiting the Maple Festival: be sure to make a point of saying “No sausage, thanks” to servers at any pancake breakfast you visit. All the plates tend to come right to you already paired with two sausage patties or links.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love souvenirs. Especially when they are handmade locally in the destination that I’m visiting. Which makes the craft tents at the Maple Festival a perfect place to be! There are a plethora of quality artisanal goods to be found. Some of my favorite items that make regular appearances at the Festival are wooden utensils, rag rugs, ceramics, candles, soaps, and knitwear. One of my favorite wooden spoons that I still use 7 years after initial purchase is a hand-carved spoon made out of Sugar Maple wood. That’s kind of my idea of an ultimate souvenir: practical, beautiful, and unique to the area.