Monday, October 26, 2015

10 fun facts about Skyline Drive (Virginia)

Skyline Drive is a part of Shenandoah National Park and is a long stretch of beautiful road located in Virginia's mountains. My first trip into the park was in 2012 and I was immediately hooked and, the more I travel the park, the more I'm finding there is to love.

A glimpse of the Shenandoah River and some surrounding towns. This photo was taken from one of the northern overlook points

If you want more than just a glimpse of Skyline Drive, you're going to want to set aside several hours. The road stretches for 105 beautiful miles and is the only public road inside of the park. 

A couple of years ago, finally had a year where we spotted several bears. This was taken near Big Meadows, mile marker 51.

In addition to the lovely overlooks, there are numerous trails located throughout Shenandoah National Park as well (to date, I've only gotten off the road on a few trips, we've done both ranger-led hikes and self-ones. We've seen wildlife, fauna, waterfalls and other forms of nature's beautiful handiwork along some trails. I even ran across a cemetery one day).

Views on Oct. 24, 2015
Want to learn more about this beautiful place? Here are some fun facts to know.

10 fun facts about Skyline Drive:

1. Skyline Drive starts in Northern Virginia in Front Royal (near Route 66 and 340), it is one of four entrance/exit points to Shenandoah National Park. The Front Royal entrance is mile marker 0.

Fall foliage along Skyline Drive (2015)

2. The other three points are at Route 211 (exit for Luray) at Thornton Gap, Route 33 at Swift Run Gap and Route 64/Route 250 at Rockfish Gap. This is the end of Skyline Drive at marker 105 and is located in the Waynesboro-Charlottesville area.

3. The speed limit is 35 mph throughout the park (some curvy spots of the road are reduced).

4. There are 75 overlooks where you can enjoy the spectacular views of different areas. Be prepared because temperatures can vary from overlook to overlook as can the wind conditions. Each mountain has its own weather. In the fall we wear layers and also throw some winter coats in the trunk - just in case. One year we did actually use them.

A Shenandoah sunrise

5. There is a rock tunnel located around mile marker 33. This tunnel, built in 1932, is known as Marys Rock Tunnel and is just south of the Route 211 exit. The tunnel is 12' 8" for vehicle clearance. Beautiful photo op and the engineering is incredible. It really integrates well with nature.

Marys Rock Tunnel

6. 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park.

7. Big Meadows, located at mile marker 51, is the largest developed area in the park. In addition to some interesting views outside (who expects to see a huge meadow in a mountain range?), there are also exhibits located here in the visitor's center.  I did not expect to come across a museum the first time we traveled the full 105 miles and, being I dig that stuff, it was a nice surprise.

[ Related reading: Reviews: Big Meadows Lodge ]

Big Meadows - taken Oct. 2014

8.  The elevation various along Skyline Drive, you can be in the 2,000 range and a few minutes later rise to the 3,000-foot range. The highest point is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,050 feet. The second highest is Stony Man Mountain, which is 4,010 feet.

9. It takes approximately 3 hours to drive the full 105 mile road. You can drive any or all of Skyline Drive. If you like to stop and take photos and want to see the full route, plan for the day. 

It's fun to park and wander a bit further along trails found alongside Skyline Drive

Wildflowers spotted in October 2015 at one of the overlook points

10. When you pay your park entrance fee (or present your NPS pass), park rangers will offer to give you a map highlighting points and mile markers on Skyline Drive; I find this is a great resource, keep it handy when you are on your trip. You'll also receive a pamphlet with park information and schedule of daily events (i.e. ranger talks, presentations, hikes, etc.)

A starry morning, just before sunrise in fall 2017
Every year my family makes an effort to try and see at least a part of Skyline during October to get up close and personal with the magnificent fall foliage that can be seen in these mountains. We've done the entire 105-mile stretch several times.

Fall foliage along Skyline Drive (Oct. 2015)

Whether you do it all, or just in part, it truly is a great experience and one I highly recommend (aiming to do it in the spring one of these days too). For more fun facts and information about the park and accommodations, visit the Skyline Drive blog.

Update: We finally made this drive in the summer. What a fabulous day! If you're looking for a summer day or weekend trip from the District or Northern Virginia, we found it to be a fantastic late July outing. Spring is on next year's agenda!

Literally hundreds and hundreds of butterflies are to be seen in July on Skyline Drive
Taken July 29, 2016


  1. Just gorgeous, I hope the leaves aren't all gone when I get there in 2 weeks.

    1. There may still be some, especially if you do decide to head south a bit. Down in Charlottesville there was still tons of green on Saturday.

    2. Thanks also for the kind words!