Many think our maple industry is only open in the late Winter and early Spring, but that’s not entirely accurate. Highland County’s maple season doesn’t only occur in March. Nope, it’s a year-round process!
While some local sugar camps are offering activities this March to celebrate Highland County’s maple season, we want to show you what they offer all year long.
Of course if you’re visiting camps, please be sure to follow the current CDC Guidelines and Virginia Guidelines for preventing the spread of coronavirus. And, please, please stay home if you have symptoms, are in a “hot spot” area, or are feeling sick. Additionally, please be aware of and adhere to each camp’s COVID-19 protocols.
Maple Syrup Trail
The Virginia Maple Syrup Trail is a “passport program” offering visitors the chance to visit eight sugar camps in Highland County throughout the year (excluding the second and third weeks in March when camps are super busy).
Two of these participating camps are not currently open to the public during regular Maple Festival times, which adds another dimension of intrigue!
Through this new attraction, visitors can experience everything that happens on these farms year-round because… there’s so much more to the maple industry than what visitors see in March!
Travelers wanting to experience this new attraction should call ahead to sugar camps, schedule a visit, and get a stamp on their passport. After all eight camps are visited, participants will receive a prize.
Bruce’s Syrup & Candies
Did you know you can find Bruce selling most any Tuesday and Saturday at the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from the last week of March to the first week of January? Of course, he also sells at our local Highland Farmers’ Market, which is usually held every Friday from May through October. So, maple season in Highland County isn’t the only time and place you can purchase Bruce’s maple syrup, candy, or (my personal favorite) lemon pound cake. However, if Highland County is calling you in March, Bruce will be set up at his residence (dates and times listed below) with maple syrup and products. And, if the weather permits, Bruce is also open to giving some tours of his camp.
March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21, 9 am – 6 pm
For more info, visit Bruce’s website at www.BrucesSyrupAndCandies.com
Mill Gap Farms
Have you ever worn a pair of alpaca wool socks? I’ll tell ya – if you have cold feet in the winter, you need to invest. I have a pair, and they’re wonderful! So, how did I go from maple to alpaca? Because maple products aren’t the only thing Mill Gap Farms has to offer. In addition to their USDA-certified, organic maple syrup, they’re also home to alpacas and Merino sheep! Mill Gap Farms will be open during their March hours listed below; however, you can also purchase their products (even the socks!) anytime throughout the year via their online store. You can even stay on the farm in their vacation cottage, too!
March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21. Saturdays: 9 am – 5 pm; Sundays 9 am – 3 pm
Visit their website at www.MillGapFarms.com
Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard
Third-generation maple producer, Doug Puffenbarger, along with his wife, Terri, operate Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard, which has been in producing syrup for over 100 years. It started with Doug’s grandfather, Melvin, who passed it to Doug’s father, Ivan, who then passed it along to him. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Read their full history here!) Whether you’re visiting during their March hours (listed below) when they’ll be selling maple syrup and other goodies or you prefer to come another time (say, when it’s lush and green?), the Puffenbarger family will be honored to show you their camp any time of the year. (Call ahead to schedule a visit outside of their March hours.)
March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21. Saturdays: 9 am – 5 pm; Sundays: 9 am – 4 pm
Visit them online at www.PuffenbargerSugarOrchard.com
Rexrode’s Sugar Orchard
Derek Rexrode of Rexrode’s Sugar Orchard is a fifth-generation sugar producer carrying on a family tradition handed down to him by his grandfather Everett Rexrode. As he has since childhood, Derek keeps a careful eye on the same boiling pans his grandfather did for so many years and taps the same trees his family has for generations. The Rexrode family will be selling their syrup and maple products during the March hours listed below. And, if you need any syrup throughout the rest of the year, just get in touch with them, and they’ll be happy to oblige.
March Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21, 9 am – 5 pm
Visit their new website at www.RexrodesSugarOrchard.com
Black Walnut syrup? Yup, it’s a thing! In fact, Tonoloway Farm, a newer camp located in McDowell, not only produces Maple syrup and Hickory syrup, but they’re the first and only commercial producer of Black Walnut syrup in Virginia. (They also produce Shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts, and hazelnuts!) Stop by their Open House in March (hours below), but if you can’t make it then, you can purchase their products online or visit them at the Staunton Farmers’ Market, Richmond Bryant Park Farmers’ Market, and the Alexandria Old Town Farmers Market.
March Open House Hours: March 13 and March 20, 9 am to 5 pm. (Limit of 3 vehicles at a time will be allowed to drive-up to the sugar house. Walk-in visitors are welcome with plenty of parking along route 250.)
For more info, visit www.TonolowayFarm.com.
Duff’s Sugar House
This primitive-style maple sugar camp is situated on a historic Highland County farm. The main house, which has been fully-restored by owners Tim and Terri Duff, dates back to 1887. During their March hours (listed below), they’ll be selling syrup and yummy smoked cheeses. Plus, they’ll have an Orvis Trout Guide available for free lessons. However, if you can’t make it over in March, rest assured, you can’t go wrong visiting Fair Lawn Farm anytime of the year. The Duff’s (and their buddy “Clancey” the dog) are always happy to visit with friends, old and new. Plus, there are usually some fun Fall activities held at the farm every year!
March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21, 9 am – 5 pm
Visit their website at www.ComeHomeToFairLawnFarm.com
Back Creek Farms
Maple syrup of all kinds – traditional, infusions, barrel-aged, lavender… Throw a little sarcasm and stories in there from owner Pat Lowry (with a few loving eye-rolls from his wife, Valerie), and you have the maple magic of Back Creek Farms. During their March hours, they’ll have their products to sell as well as vendors on-site including BlackThorn Lavender, Susanna’s Confections, Hot Flash Pottery/Meraki Baskets, Haleigh Deem Jewelry, Skunk & Owl Woodwork & Preserves, and MORfoods hand pies. If you can’t make it in March, they also sell their goodies online, AND you can visit throughout the year by staying in their lovely, creekside cabin (with a hot tub!)
March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21. Saturdays: 10 am – 5 pm; Sundays: 11 am – 4 pm
Visit them online at www.BackCreekFarms.com
Sugar Tree Country Store
Visiting this historic icon during maple season is great, but the doors to Sugar Tree Country Store are open most all year, March through December. They not only carry their line of maple products (ask about the Maple Peanut Butter candy!), but their shelves are also full of pottery, homemade soap, baskets, gifts, jellies, jams, and other food items like their delicious apple butter. They’re also right next to the Highland County Museum (opening in May 2021), so you can see two historical attractions in one stop! During the second and third weekends in March 2021, Sugar Tree will be selling Brunswick stew and maple doughnuts with limited camp tours available. (Plus, a pork and chicken BBQ vendor will be selling out front!)
Regular Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm. Closed Sundays
Visit their website at www.SugarTreeCountryStore.com
Laurel Fork Sapsuckers
Right when you think, “What else can they do with maple?” Enter Laurel Fork Sapsuckers with their fermented Maple Vinegar, which can be used in salad dressings, homemade BBQ sauces, marinades, or your own unique creations. Purchase some during their March hours or order from their online store, which includes other goodies, such as their infused maple syrup and ramp salt. On your Highland County vacation, call ahead to explore this certified Tree Farm’s educational interpretive trail including information on how weather affects maple syrup production, managing trees for increased production, and other non-timber forest products.
March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21, 10 am – 5 pm
Visit them online at www.LaurelForkSapsuckers.com
It’s a toss-up as to which product this camp is best known for – their maple products or their BBQ. I can say from experience, both are equally tasty. And, you can experience both as well as maple doughnuts, a variety of vendors, a free fishing pond, and their country store during their additional March hours listed below. During that time, they will also have bluegrass music at noon (weather permitting) and pancakes, buckwheat cakes, and sausage for carry-out orders and curbside pick-up. But don’t forget – you can visit this camp anytime throughout the year during regular business hours, and you can also hire Puff’s BBQ to cater your event. (Check out sample menus on their website!)
Regular Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (Monday – Saturday)
Additional March 2021 Hours: March 12 & 13 and March 19 & 20, 8 am – 6 pm
Check out their website at www.SouthernmostMaple.com
Eagle’s Sugar Camp
The sugar water first started boiling at Eagle’s Sugar Camp in 1802. At that time, no fancy tools or machines helped with syrup-making. In fact, there wasn’t even a shelter. Just open iron kettles over an open flame. Jay Eagle, the camp’s current owner and a sixth-generation sugar producer, learned the trade from his father and grandfather. During Jay’s childhood, the Eagle’s filled large, wooden barrels with sugar water collected from their trees. Young Jay, who tapped his first tree at the ripe old age of seven, rode atop those barrels, which were transported to the boiling kettles on a horse-drawn sled. Today, Jay continues his family tradition with fully-modernized equipment- likely far beyond the imagination of his father and grandfather. (P.S. Those original iron kettles are still at the sugar camp, and the tree Jay first tapped as a child is still standing.)
Extended March 2021 Hours: March 13 & 14 and March 20 & 21, Saturdays & Sundays: 8 am – 6 pm.
Or call ahead to schedule a visit any other time throughout the year! (540) 396-6126.
HOT TIP!! If you’re looking for a sit-down meal with a little maple flava, check out what extra fares these restaurants are offering during maple season and all year round!
The Church at the Old Oak will also be open during Maple Seasos. Check out this post for more info!
So, you see, March is definitely maple season in Highland County, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy our maple industry ALL year round. (Besides, wouldn’t you rather visit when it’s warmer?? I know I would!) But, no matter what time you travel, you’re sure tol have a “sweet” trip!
About the Author
Dorothy Stephenson grew up on her family's cattle operation in Meadowdale, located in the southwest corner of Highland County. When she wasn't on horseback helping her father gather and work cattle, you'd likely find her (still on horseback) jumping creeks in her family's nearby "Big Pasture." Today, though she doesn't ride horses much anymore, she has her own cattle, land, and expansion plans for a farm. Additionally, (and with the inherited, Stephenson, entrepreneurial spirit) she owns two small businesses in Highland County - Sundance Media & Design and Sundance Studio & Productions, which houses another of Dorothy's long-time loves - Clogging. Dorothy loves exploring new places, skills, and ideas, and she intends to live life to the fullest as long as it will let her. (Oh! And she LOVES Christmas!)