Start at Front Royal. Finish near Waynesboro. In between, be spellbound by 105 miles of Blue Ridge Mountain views along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. April is the month when spring color truly begins to abound. Set against verdant green mountains, the redbuds, dogwoods, trillium, and bellworts are among the multitude of blossoming flora that will captivate you.
With a speed limit of 35 mph it would take about three hours to drive straight through—which of course no one does. Smart drivers know to slow down and be on the lookout for deer, bears or turkeys crossing the road. Pause at any of 75 overlooks that provide safe places to pull over and take in the spectacular views. Stop at either Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mp 4.6)* opening April 6, or the Byrd Visitor Center (mp 51), which opened March 23, to enjoy exhibits on the history of the Park, and buy souvenirs in the gift shop.
You can also stop at several “waysides” along the drive that provide food, gifts and camping supplies. Elkwallow Wayside is located at mp 24, and Lewis Mountain Wayside at mp 79.5. At the Big Meadows Wayside (mp 51.2) you can buy gasoline as well. And of course there are several inviting picnic spots along the drive where you can linger.
To combine a bit of hiking with this scenic drive, consider that you can walk about 500 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park. Here are ten that start from Skyline Drive. It is always wise to check road conditions on Skyline Drive, even at this time of year. In early March, ferocious winds knocked over and/or uprooted trees in the Park, and forced temporary closures of the drive. Some late ice snow closed the Drive as well, temporarily. If you want to hike or backcountry camp, be on the lookout for trees leaning over paths or camping areas. To check road conditions, call 540-999-3500. Press 1, then press 1 again. Trail conditions are updated here.
There are four entrances/exits to Skyline Drive:
Front Royal, (mp 0) accessible via I-66 and Route 340
Thornton Gap, (mp 31.5) accessible via Route 211
Swift Run Gap, (mp 62.7) accessible via Route 33
Rockfish Gap, (mp 105) accessible via I-64 and Route 250 (Rockfish Gap is also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway)
A fascinating synopsis of the history of Skyline Drive may be found here.
Easily accessible from Skyline Drive are:
Front Royal –The northern entrance to Skyline Drive, Front Royal is about 70 miles west of Washington, DC, easily reached from I-66. Eat well at the Apple House, a longtime favorite with locals and travelers, and stay at Motel 6 or Super 8. Be sure to visit Skyline Caverns as well, almost nextdoor to the Drive’s entrance.
Luray— From the Thornton Gap entrance to the Drive, take Route 211 into Luray and choose from the Hotel Laurance or the Mimslyn Inn with its Manor House and Cottage Collection. Contact All Star Lodging to learn about hundreds of cabin rental options. (Cabin amenities vary widely and the staff at All Star Lodging are experts at finding you the exact kind of hideaway you need.) Be sure to ask if you need 4WD, as some cabins in the area are remote.
Harrisonburg— Exit the Drive at Swift Run Gap and travel Route 33 into the thriving Valley city of Harrisonburg. Lodging options include:
By the Side of the Road Inn and Cottages
Comfort Inn Harrisonburg
Country Inn and Suites by Carlson
DoubleTree by Hilton
Hampton Inn Harrisonburg-University
Holiday Inn Express
The Village Inn Harrisonburg
Waynesboro–Leave the southern end of the Drive at Rockfish Gap (Routes 64 and 250) and motor into Waynesboro. Stay at any of several major chains and take in a performance at the Wayne Theatre, or visit the nearby Frontier Culture Museum.
*Visitors to Skyline Drive will see concrete milepost (mp) markers along the west side.
Photo courtesy the National Park Service