The 64th Highland County Maple Festival

Virginia’s sweetest event of the year is almost here again!  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 Highland County Maple Festival during the second and third weekends of March.  This year marks the 64th event, set for March 9-10 and 16-17, 2024.

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 country side dishes, trout, pork rinds, and just about anything maple-flavored!  Food vendors on North Water Street and Main Street in Monterey offer expanded options for savory and sweet meals for visitors.

Over 100 juried arts & crafts vendors will be available in Monterey and McDowell, providing one-of-a-kind treasures, tasty treats, and special gifts.  Browse and shop with new and returning vendors for a seemingly endless variety of handcrafted items, from old-time trades to exclusive artwork to exquisite jewelry.  A Highland County Artisans’ Shop will be set up at The Highland Center in Monterey to showcase local crafts for sale as well.  Admission to access vendors at the Highland County Public School Gyms and The Highland Center will be $5 purchased onsite (children 12 and under are free).  That $5 payment comes with a collectible maple leaf keychain that also provides access to 10 am and 2 pm entertainment at The Highland Center.

Each day of the festival in 2024 will feature at least two live shows at The Highland Center.  On Saturday, March 9th, enjoy the popular bluegrass band Southern Rail Express at 10 am and 2 pm.  A special performance from popular folk duo Robin and Linda Williams of “A Prairie Home Companion” fame will take place at 5 pm for just $15 ($5 off with keychain.)  On Sunday, March 10th, listen to local favorite Alice Shumate & The Sounds of Highland play folk, bluegrass, and ole time music at 10 am and 2 pm.  During the following weekend on Saturday, March 16th, put on your dancing shoes with old time band Mudhole Control at 10 am, and stay to hear their heel stomping tunes for a 2 pm Square Dance with callers Ellen and Eugene Ratcliffe.  Finish up the festival with two clogging performances on Sunday, March 17th, with the Hi-Horse Cloggers performing at 10 am and the homegrown Little Switzerland Cloggers entertaining audiences at 2 pm.  All entertainment at The Highland Center is brought to you with the assistance and sponsorship of the Highland County Arts Council.  For more entertainment, visitors can listen to bluegrass music at Southernmost Maple in Bolar starting at noon on Saturdays.

There are several new Highland County organizations to enjoy this year in the scenic community.  Hazy Hollow Farm, just east of McDowell, will feature working cattle farm tours.  The Charles Pinckney Jones Museum on Main Street in Monterey will be open, and just down the street, The 3rd Space and Art on Main will host art demonstrations along with juried art from Highland County.  Close by, children can also enjoy gemstone mining for treasures while parents browse local artisan goods at The Rock Shop.  At the Monterey intersection of Rt. 220 and 250, shop at the grocery store of the Highland Roots Market, enjoy open house tours of the newly renovated Ernie’s Market that is now called The Highlander, or view The Barn event space behind the Monterey Inn’s lodging and dining experiences.

Also new this year will be a pilot program to help reduce traffic congestion on the first Saturday.  B & L’s Mountain Safe Transportation will be providing a complimentary shuttle service.  The shuttle plans to run from approximately 8:30 am to 5 pm on Saturday, March 9th.  Visitors can park for free at the Monterey Stockyard at 1367 Jackson River Road just south of Monterey off of Rt. 220.  From there, a 12-14 passenger shuttle will transport visitors north up Rt. 220 with a drop off/pickup area at the entrance to the Monterey Pool so they can take the Community Trail to either the Highland County Public Schools or downtown Monterey.  From there, the shuttle will travel to Spruce Street for a drop off/pickup area at The Highland Center in Monterey, and then continue on back to the Monterey Stockyard on a continuous loop.  Complimentary parking at the Monterey Stockyard is first come, first served.  No reservations are needed.

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 2024 Reader’s Choice Awards from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and 2023’s first-place place winner for Best Festival of the Shenandoah Valley Region in Virginia Living’s Best of Virginia.  An economic impact study in 2023 revealed that the festival generated $2.4 million in direct spending in Highland County.

The Highland County Maple Festival is coordinated by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and made possible with the help of countless volunteers and organizations.  Top sponsors include the Blue Grass Resource Center, the Blue Grass Valley Bank, Kissito Healthcare: The Springs Nursing & Rehab, LeafGuard, Summit Community Bank, and The Highland Center.

Traditional hours of the festival include Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 9 am to 4 pm, though visitors can get a jumpstart to the day with maple doughnuts being served at 6 am and pancake meals starting as early as 7 am.  Full details on all the festival happenings can be found at, with posts highlighting the festival available at and

Virginia is for Maple Syrup Lovers!

Story By


Brit Chambers

Brit Chambers is a resident of Highland County, Virginia and a news reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio. She loves living in a small town and relishes the outdoor adventures and community feeling that Highland has to offer. Brit has a background in journalism, marketing, and public relations and spends her free time reading good books, baking sourdough bread, and hiking with her family.

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