Explore Skyline Drive with the kids

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.

Syline Drive Color W"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 lookSkyline DriveFall at Big Run OverlookW

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.

Take a kid-friendly hike

Skyline Drive Bear Trail Photo Cred VisitSkylineDrive.org WWith 500 miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park, many of which are accessible from Skyline Drive, the drive has no shortage of hiking opportunities for every skill and stamina level.

For younger kids, Chorley recommends the park's two new TRACK Trails: the 1.3-mile Limberlost Trail at milepost 43 and the 1-mile Blackrock Summit Trail at milepost 85.

A TRACK Trail is a family-friendly, self-guided hiking trail with a corresponding activity brochure for kids. Each trail's activity brochure contains a trail map and fun activities that teach kids about the area where they are hiking. Pick up the TRACK Trail activity brochure at the trailheads or download it from kidsinparks.com.

Chorley also recommends the Fox Hollow Trail at mile 4.7, which is an easy 1.2-mile loop that begins near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and takes about 45 minutes to hike.

Visit the Shenandoah website, nps.gov/shen, for additional hiking suggestions and trail maps.

Become a Junior Ranger

For kids ages 7 to 12, Shenandoah National Park's Junior Ranger Program is another way to engage kids at the park. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge by attending two ranger-led programs and completing 12 of the 15 activities in the Junior Ranger Activity Book. Pick up an activity book at one of the park's two visitor centers at miles 4.6 and 51, or download it for free from the website.

The Junior Ranger programs are held on weekend afternoons throughout the fall at the visitor centers and at Loft Mountain Campground, mile 57.5. The fall ranger-led program schedule also may be downloaded from the website.

Try EarthCachingSkyline Drive Deer Crossing Photo Cred Bob KuhnsW

Families who enjoy hunting for geocaches may want to try EarthCaching in Shenandoah National Park. EarthCaching is similar to geocaching, except the goal is to find natural and geological features in the park rather than traditional, physical caches.

EarthCachers read an educational description of a geographic location, search for the site using their GPS, and then record their findings on the EarthCache website, earthcache.org.

Go horseback riding

For a different way to see the park, visit the stables at mile 42.5 and take a guided horseback ride that will wind you along wooded trails and through an old apple orchard.

Available on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 15, horseback riding costs $50 per person for an hour-long ride or $90 per person for a 2.5-hour ride.

Pony rides are available for children age 5 and younger and cost $7 per child for 15 minutes or $13 per child for 30 minutes.

Call 877-847-1919 for horseback riding reservations.

Stay overnight

If your family wants a longer getaway, consider staying at one of the four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park. Each offers a variety of amenities. From north to south, the campgrounds are: Mathews Arm (mile 22.1), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

While some sites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis, Chorley highly recommends reserving sites in advance as spots fill up quickly on fall weekends. Campsite reservations can be made online at recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Cost is $15 to $20 per night.

If your family prefers more traditional lodging, Lewis Mountain has furnished, historic cabins available for rent. Also midway through the drive, Skyland Resort (miles 41.7 and 42.5) and Big Meadows Lodge (mile 51) offer a range of accommodations from rustic cabins to rooms.

Skyland, the larger of the two locations, also has premium suites available. Both locations have free family-friendly entertainment nightly, as well as other activities such as cooking demonstrations and wine and cider tastings throughout the week.

For more information about things to do and see at Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, visit the Skyline Drive website or the National Park Service page for Skyline Drive. visitskylinedrive.org or nps.gov/shen.

By Hannah Anderson

Check this story for more places to take the family camping in the fall.

Also, check out some cool state parks that are a bit closer to home.