Wildlife encounters are one thing that attracts visitors to Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic highway that runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.
Yvonne Deaver of Severna Park has taken her family to the Virginia park many times, but her most memorable visit was with her husband and in-laws years ago.
The foursome stopped at a trailhead along the drive to hike down to some waterfalls. During their uphill hike back to the car, Deaver sat down on a branch to rest when her husband very urgently told her to get up and walk away.
“Then he said, ‘Don’t look back.’ Of course I looked back, and two feet from me was a black bear gnawing a piece of wood,” she recalls.
Skyline Drive has an abundance of deer, wild turkeys and other woodland animals that make frequent appearances along the breathtaking drive. The kids will never get board looking out the windows — but if they do, plenty of activities along the drive will keep them happy.
“Skyline Drive has a lot to offer families, from hiking to ranger-led programs,” says Justine Chorley, acting management assistant for Shenandoah National Park. “We have a new Junior Ranger program and two new interactive trails called TRACK Trails.”
Though the drive is beautiful any time of year, fall is one of the most popular times to visit as the trees begin to display their colors. There is even a website with the most up-to-date Fall Color Report (nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/fall-color.htm).
Here’s everything you need to know to plan a family road trip along the drive.
Skyline Drive facts
Visitors can enter and exit Skyline Drive at four different points. The park’s northernmost entrance in Front Royal, Va., is the closest access point for visitors from the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area, about a two-hour drive from Annapolis.
It takes approximately three hours to travel the entire length of Skyline Drive. The park entrance fee of $20 per vehicle is good for seven consecutive days. An annual pass costs $40.
Skyline Drive’s speed limit is a leisurely 35 miles per hour, allowing families to enjoy the trees, wildflowers and catch glimpses of the wildlife. Mileposts on the west side of the road, beginning at mile 0 in the north and ending at mile 105 in the south, make it easy to find overlooks and trailheads at specified mile markers along the route.
Stop and look
With 77 overlooks on Skyline Drive, it’s easy — and safe — for visitors to pull off the road and take in beautiful views of Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont region to the east. With so many options, Chorley says it is difficult to pick a favorite spot to stop and look.
“They pretty much all have great views, and they are spread out throughout the park,” she says.
However, she does recommend the view from Stony Man at mile 41.7.
Visit a visitor center
The park has two visitor centers with interpretive displays and rangers who can tell you where to go and what to do, Chorley says.
The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in the park’s northern district is at mile 4.6, and the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, the larger of the two, is in the center of the park at mile 51. Both visitor centers have restrooms, information desks, educational exhibits, bookstores and ranger-led programs.
Click next below for where to hike, horseback ride and stay on skyline drive.