Scenic Driving Overview: Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia Scenic Drives Travel Tips

  • For some of the East's best auto excursions, sample vista-rich Skyline Drive, which runs the length of Shenandoah National Park for 105 miles along the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Rockfish Gap. Make your trips unforgettable: don't hurry.
  • Linger en route at some of Skyline's 75 overlooks for views east to the Piedmont and west to Shenandoah Valley (especially at sunset). Don't-miss overlooks (north to south): Hogback, Crescent Rock, Spitler Knoll, Big Run, Crimora Lake, and Calf Mountain.
  • Return to Skyline in the fall, when the celebrated Blue Ridge mountainscape is ablaze with color. Pause at Big Meadows to admire the browsing deer, birds, and burnished bushes. Reminder: Humans will be plentiful everywhere, especially on weekend afternoons.
  • See the park in unusual cross-section by using US 211 and Thornton Gap (at Skyline Drive milepost 31) to drive west 16 miles from Sperryville to Luray—and then maybe back. Buy local apples and peaches at Sperryville, and explore Luray's caverns.
  • Caution: Although Skyline is patrolled, be prepared for its remoteness and tricky winter weather. Carry emergency supplies, warm clothes, maps, sufficient gasoline, and a cell phone. Observe the 35 mph speed limit year-round. Expect fall closings at dusk (to thwart poachers).

Skyline Drive is a granddaddy of scenic drives. Built between 1931 and 1939, it's a long, slow glide through enthralling scenery. The drive runs the full length of the park and connects at the south end directly with the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, another all-American scenic standout.

Nonstop drivers can cruise all of Skyline Drive in three hours, but they won't get anything but a glance from their cars. There are many overlooks, picnic areas, and waysides, so stop, look, and listen. Skyline Drive is marked by posts giving the exact mileage of where you are. Use these posts to find overlooks, which are also signed.

Picking the five best overlooks along the parkway is challenging and sure to spark spirited discussions of each person's favorites. Here are the five I believe to be the best. Take Skyline Drive for yourself and see if you agree.

Range View Overlook
This overlook, at mile 17.1, offers a view down the length of the Blue Ridge to Stony Man Mountain. Looking south from 2,810 feet, the viewpoint stretches from Jenkins Mountains to Gimlet Ridge, Massanutten Mountain, and the Alleghenies beyond.

Hogback Overlook
I like this overlook because it is the longest in the park. You can't take it all in without getting out of your car or driving a bit to the other end of the vista. From here, at milepost 20.8, you can see the Shenandoah River below, the two ridges of Massanutten Mountain, and the Alleghenies. In the foreground is the valley of Overall Run, Mathews Arm, and Gimlet Ridge.

Spitler Knoll Overlook
Here, Skyline Drive curves, and the overlook, at milepost 48.1, curves along with it. Page Valley and the Shenandoah River lie below. The small town in the Page Valley is Stanley. Blackrock Mountain is near to the left. Massanutten is the long, nearly level ridge across Page Valley.

Big Run Overlook
The valley of Big Run is one of the park's most scenic. From here, at milepost 81.2, the vista opens into the depths of the park's largest stream. On one side of Big Run is Rockytop Ridge; on the other side stands Rocky Mountain and Brown Mountain. On a clear day the quartz outcrops on Rocky Mountain are visible. Brown Mountain Overlook is visible in the foreground.

Crimora Lake Overlook
Crimora Lake forms the centerpiece of this expansive view. It is framed by Turk Mountain to the left and Rocks Mountain to the right. From 2,985 feet, here at milepost 92.6, you can see the strewn rock slopes of Rocks Mountain. Also in the picture is Wildcat Mountain. Crimora Lake is on the eastern edge of the Shenandoah Valley. The lake is a mining relic. This area had more manganese extracted from it than any other mine in America.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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