Shenandoah National Park
By Cliff Maurand
Skyline Drive is one of the best known scenic drives in the country, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia. The drive runs north & south for 105 miles as it winds it's way over an entire chain of mountain tops. The two lane roadway meanders along at various elevations, crossing the Appalachian trail at numerous points along the entire length.
- Location: Front Royal Va. to Waynesboro Va.
- Length: 105 Miles (North - South)
- Entrance Fee: $10.00 (US)
- Campgrounds: Four (4)
- Lodge: Two (2)
- Speed Limit: 35 mph
- Website: www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
This is not just a road through a National Park, it is a way to experience the Park. Visitors pass by rock cliffs, vistas, overlooks, and wildlif. You'll drive through tunnels of trees, past wildflowers and ferns, and (in late spring) by banks of mountain laurel in bloom. There are over 75 overlooks that offer you a place to enjoy the view. The 35 mph speed limit allows you the opportunity to truly enjoy the ride, and it helps to ensure the safety of the public and the wildlife along the road.
Starting at the northern most access point at Front Royal Virginia, the roadway first passes through the entrance station where they collect the required fee's. The cost is $10 for a vehicle (cost covers all passengers) and valid for 7 days, or $20 for an annual car pass. They also accept (and sell) National Park Pass ($50) and Golden Eagle Passport ($65). From the entrance station, the road ascends the ridge and heads south.
The roadway works it's way south up and down mountain tops and through the gaps between them. Elevations vary a great deal. The first item along the way is the Shenandoah Valley Overlook, at this point you will be 1,390 feet in elevation, and looking west down into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. The prominent ridge is the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, which bisects the Shenandoah Valley and extends south for about 40 miles. The South Fork of the Shenandoah River lies between the park and Massanutten Mountain; the North Fork of the Shenandoah River flows on the far side of the mountain. The two forks meet just north of Front Royal.
At mile post 4.6 you'll find the Dicky Ridge Visitor Center, complete with store for maps, books, postcards and other memorabilia. There is a picnic area, a 1.2 mile self guided nature trail, and access to several other trails.
As you continue south, you'll have an opportunity to stop and view the scene's east and west of the mountain ridge at any one of several overlooks. Along the way are the four campgrounds that are open to the public, two of which have cottage rentals, and there are two lodge's with cabins at Big Meadows and Skyland.
Overall, the 105 mile drive twist's and turns over some of the most spectacular mountain top scene's your likely to find along the east coast. In the fall, foliage draws plenty of attention as the colors are bright and vivid starting in early October. More than 500 miles of hiking trails abound throughout the park and access to the 101 miles of Appalachian Trail that runs through the park is available at numerous locations.
The southern entrance/exit to the park is located on top of Afton Mountain at Rockfish Gap, just east of Waynesboro Virginia. The road way continues south, as it turns into the 469 mile long Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mile post 22.2 You'll find the first National Park Service Campground, Mathews Arms (elevation 2,750 ft). The Campground contains two loops, and has 179 campsites. All sites are rustic, there are no hook-up's available, cost is $14 per night, open spring through October. Several hiking trails are available here, with some of those trails connecting with the Appalachian Trail. There is also a trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Note: this campground was closed the last couple of seasons for refurbishing, but is open now.
Mile post 51.3 The second campground heading from north to south is Big Meadows, one of the biggest of the four, and the only one they accept reservations at (actually, reservations are required at this particular campground - 1-800-365-CAMP). This campground has 217 Camp Sites, all of them rustic (no hook-up's), and the cost is $17 per night. There are several trails, including the Appalachian Trail which circles around to the west of the entire campground. There are 3 waterfalls within hiking distance from this campground. Open Mid-May through November.
Mile post 57.5 The third campground is right down the road from Big Meadows, and is the smallest of the four campgrounds. There are a total of 32 campsites and cost $14 per night. There are also "cabin rentals" available at this campground. Open spring through October.
Mile post 79.5 This is the southern most campground within the park, it has several camping loops, and a total of 219 campsites, cost is $14 per night, and no reservations are required (or accepted). Several hiking trails, two waterfalls, and the Appalachian Trail loops around to the east of this campground. Open spring through October.
General Camping Information...
Each of the four campgrounds listed above are equipped with up to date rest room facilities, including flush toilet's and heated bathrooms. However, shower facilities are limited, and available only at the campground stores (where available).
There are Black Bears abundant throughout the park, and camping with "Bear Rules" apply. All campgrounds are equipped with bear proof trash cans, and appropriate "Bear Rules" are posted at the campground ranger stations. Food should not be stored inside your tent or camper. Since these are black bears and not grizzly, the Park Service recommends storing food in the trunk of your car.
There is also an abundance of Deer present inside the park. These graceful creatures are generally considered to be harmless, but could prove to be otherwise when threatened. They are particularly abundant in the fall, and you can expect your campsite and adjoining spaces to be visited by Deer often, day and night.
Did you know?
Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park is the northern most connection to the longest scenic drive under the National Park Service domain. While Skyline Drive ends at Rockfish Gap, 105 miles from it's starting point, the road contiues on for several hundred more miles, under the names of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherokee Reservation, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
All of this is connected by this one single two lane mountain top roadway. This makes a combined scenic drive in excess of 600 miles. It is dotted with campgrounds throughout the system, most of them run by the National Park Service, though some State and Forest Service Parks are not far off the drive. There are even a few commercial campgrounds with direct access to the Parkway.
For more information, please check the Blue Ridge Parkway Scenic Drive.