With a bright blue sky and white puffy clouds, it promised to be a perfect day for the sightseeing drive we had planned in the Shenandoah area! To start off, we stopped in historic Front Royal at Wynn’s Restaurant on Main Street where we had a decent breakfast.
After breakfast, we walked around the town for a bit. Rich in history, Front Royal, is not only known as the northern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah National Park, it is also known as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia”. But besides its outdoor recreational activities, it has a lot more to offer – antique shops, boutique shops, breweries and tasty, unique dining establishments.
For history buffs, a walking tour is available that explores the many historical sites in town. Or drive the 16 mile (10 stop) Battle of Front Royal Driving Tour. It was during this battle in 1862 that “Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson surprised and destroyed an isolated Union garrison, unhinging the Federal defenses in the Valley – and forcing the Union force at Strasburg to race north to avoid being cut off.” With only 56 casualties for the Confederacy and 903 for the Union troops, it was a clear victory for Jackson!
But exploring Front Royal wasn’t our main focus for a visit to the area, instead it was to take a spin on Skyline Drive. Back in 2000 when we were still working we had traveled to the area on a road trip to the Smoky Mountains, but Skyline Drive was closed due to inclement weather. We were eager to try again! There are four entrances to Skyline Drive but we would enter at the closest one, the Front Royal North Entrance near Route 66 and Route 340.
Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and is the only public road through the park.
This site, Skyline Drive Overlooks, has a wealth of information including a map of the entire drive showing all of the overlooks, a list of overlooks by mile marker (with photos and videos), the history of the park, interesting facts about Shenandoah, regulations, fees, highlights, resort lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, hiking trails and so much more.
Entrance fee to the park is $30 per vehicle (including all passengers) for 7 days; $25 per motorcycle; $15 per individual on a bus or tour. National Park Passes (i.e. America the Beautiful Pass) are honored here which waived the entrance fee for us.
You might be wondering if RV’s or campers are allowed? Here’s the answer we found:
Can a large motor home, RV, or tour bus drive on Skyline Drive?
Motor homes, RVs, camping trailers, and horse trailers are welcome, but be prepared to shift into low gear. Also, if you plan on driving the entire 105 miles of the Skyline Drive, be sure you will clear Marys Rock Tunnel at mile 32.2 (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) at 12’8″. You can visit the park without traveling through the tunnel by visiting the northern or southern sections of the park.
Note there are two NPS campgrounds that are big rig friendly (at least according to rvparkreviews) but with no hookups: Matthews Arm Campground and Big Meadows. Private campgrounds are available in Luray or other nearby towns.
Traveling the entire length supposedly takes approximately 3 hours one way but that would depend on how many stops you make and how long you stay at each. Since we would have to return later that day to the campground, there wasn’t enough time for us to do the drive in its entirety but we could do a portion of it, perhaps about 30 miles or more depending on how many stops we made.
With all the stops at the overlooks, it definitely slow going but the panoramic scenic vistas were spectacular! Hard to put the beauty into words – the photos below will have to do the talking!
Here are a few of the photos we took at each of the overlooks! Not to worry, we didn’t do all 75 of them! What a gorgeous (but very crowded) drive this must be in the fall!
Shenandoah Valley Overlook, Milepost 2.8, elevation 1390′
Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and Overlook, Milepost 4.5, elevation 1940′
The Visitor Center here has exhibits, an orientation movie, bookstore, etc. Unfortunately it is closed on Tuesdays (the day we were there) and Wednesdays. Wish it had been open. Most of us take a road like this one for granted with no understanding of what it took to design or build it. Perhaps the movie or the exhibits would have provided us with that information. While doing research for this post, however, I found this document written by Walter Mallonee, one of the members of the original surveying crew who was employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Public Roads. Really makes one appreciate the hardships that these men had to endure to build this beautiful road back in the 1930’s!
Signal Knob Overlook, Milepost 5.5, elevation 2085′
This sign talks about how much the landscape has changed in the past 50 years – today there are a lot more houses dotting the landscape. Park resources can make decisions on how to protect the park but it is up to the surrounding communities to help protect the views. It is a delicate balance between development and preservation.
Gooney Run Overlook, Milepost 6.8, elevation 2085′
Hogwallow Flats Overlook, Milepost 13.6, elevation 2665′
Range View Overlook, Milepost 17.0, elevation 2810′
Little Devil’s Stairs Overlook, Milepost 20.0, elevation 3120′
Hogback Overlook, Milepost 20.7, elevation 3385′
Pass Mountain Overlook, Milepost 30.0, elevation 2460′
Just a little past milepost 30 (just before Marys Rock Tunnel), sadly we left the Skyline Drive, turning onto US-211 west, heading to the town of Luray.
By the way, Luray is home to the famous Luray Caverns which we visited in 2000 on our way to the Smoky Mountains. The $28 ($15 for children 6-12, free under 6) admission includes not only a tour of the caverns but also the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Toy Town Junction and the Luray Valley Museum. There’s also a Rope Adventure Park for an additional $11. If you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth a visit!
On that same trip, we also visited Skyline Caverns located in Front Royal. Admission here: adults (ages 14+) $22.00, child (ages 7-13) $11.00 and children 6 and under – free. Not sure how these caverns are today but back 2000 we found the formations inside Luray Caverns to be more impressive and the Car Museum was pretty interesting. Luray was and perhaps still is a lot more commercialized than Skyline.
In the town of Luray, we turned onto US Hwy 340 to head north back to Shenandoah River State Park.
And still more gorgeous scenery of where we had just been up in those mountains viewed from US-340 heading back to the campground.
Well our time in the Shenandoah Valley was drawing to a close, we’ll let you know about the rest of our journey back to RI in the next post.