Driving the Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that bisects the length of the park winding along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, may be Shenandoah’s predominant feature, since it provides stunning views of the park’s mountains, valleys, and forests. This road rises and dips within sight of granite peaks and zigzags among wildflowers that, in spring, brighten sections of the park’s 197,438 acres.

From the breathtaking views along the Skyline Drive, to the splendor of watching a bear and her cubs, to the thrill of hiking to a mountain summit, it’s hard to leave Shenandoah without being inspired. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park and offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont area to the east.

You can enter Shenandoah National Park at four places: Front Royal near Routes 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Route 211, Swift Run Gap at Route 33, and Rockfish Gap at Routes 64 and 250 (the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway).

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the national park, at milepost 51. All park maps and information use these mileposts as a reference.

The parkway is open year-round, but the prime season runs from May through October. Peak blooming and autumn color displays occur at different times and places due to variations in elevation ranging from 649 to 6,053 feet.

You’ll admire dogwood, azalea, mountain laurel, and rhododendron during May and June, then brilliant hardwoods flaming from yellows to oranges and various shades of red from September to November. Amaz­ingly, you will see more species of trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway than in all of Europe.

Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views, many with picnic tables. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many who travel the drive, the highway itself is a park, complete with numerous deer and black bear sightings along the way. But the vehicles are passing the real Shenandoah. More than 500 miles of trails can be accessed from overlooks along Skyline Drive, and the arduous Appalachian Trail roughly parallels it for nearly its entire length.

The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it. The drive, following ridge trails walked by Indians and early settlers, transports visitors to a park built on a frontier that lingered into modern times.

Note: The clearance of Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12’8”. Know you height including air conditioner and be sure you will clear.

Photo Tips

National Parks with their bounty of wildlife, grand scenery, and beautiful details offer unlimited photo-taking opportunities.

Include a strong point of interest: Since your eye needs a place to rest in the image, include something of interest—a clump of colorful wildflowers, a large rock formation, a mountain, or an odd-shaped or colorful tree.

Place the point of interest off-center: Photos are more appeal when the horizon or your point of interest is not in the center of the image. Place the horizon a third of the way down from the top (or up from the bottom) of the frame.

Did You Know?

The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park was built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a government jobs program created during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Workers constructed the rock walls, overlooks, picnic grounds, campgrounds, trails, and the Skyline Drive. They also planted the mountain laurel that lines the road, and built more than 340 structures in the park, many now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The work of the CCC is commemorated by a statue of a CCC worker, Iron Mike.

Note: This is the second of a four-part series on Shenandoah National Park and its 75th anniversary celebration.

Part 1: Make Your Destination a Journey

Next in the series: Away I Go to Shenandoah

Worth Pondering…
Country Roads

All my mem’ries, gather ’round her
Miner’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
—John Denver

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