May 21, 2016

Shenandoah National Park - Skyline Drive (Apr. 2016, VA)


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Skyline Drive is the artery of Shenandoah National Park. All car visitors must seek their destination with its guidance. Luckily for visitors, the Drive gives views from auto-drivers' windows that are unique to Shenandoah...that is as long as you're not toooooo afraid of heights.

This post is a part of a larger series about my 2016 trip to Shenandoah National Park. See the overview writeup here

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To get on the Drive, you need to pay the park admission fee. Skyline Drive is 105 miles north to south, with a visitor center at the north end (Dickey Ridge) and in the middle (Big Meadows). There are a few smaller wayside shops and convenience stores along the route as well. On the southern end of the drive, the road connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the northern end, it easily connects from I-66 via Front Royal, VA.

We traveled Skyline Drive up the peaks and down valleys of the hills that run along Shenandoah's backbone. With walls of trees and stone on either side, driving the Drive gives a very intimate forest experience. However, the truly defining feature of Skyline Drive are the viewpoints over the valleys at the high points, looking both east and west, as far as the eye can see.

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Many of the trees had yet to bloom. Wooden skeletons waved us on with their branch arms as we drove our little car through the big land.

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Skyline Drive has over 50 viewpoint turnoffs for motorists to stop for a bit and take in the scenery. Large expanses open up at each lookout giving a unique view. Interpretive boards often helped visitors know where they were and what was close by. I found myself reflecting on size and distance, as town after town was so far away, yet seemingly so close.

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Perhaps the most shocking aspect to my perception was the panoramic punch that every outlook gave me. Each view required me to often look more than 180 degrees, which was certainly different. Only at the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon in the high logging roads and wilderness had I previously encountered views like these. But, as with many of the adventure spots in the U.S., each experience has its own unique aspects, Shenandoah included. It only makes you appreciate each place more for both their unique features and similarities.

Skyline Drive Panorama View

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Rock walls line most of the drive, especially at points where a significant drop just lie on the other side of the wall. According to a guidebook I read, the stonework is original from the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps made their mark on the Shenandoah Park area. The CCC-built wall looks amazing for being over 80 years old across the entire 105-mile stretch of the Drive.

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The road gives you incredible views of the defining terrain features of the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge area. Gaps, peaks, and wrinkles in the land stunned me with vivid dimensionality and color as I observed from each viewpoint.

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There is one tunnel on the Drive with the name Mary's Rock. This rock carving is rustic (and long), although a light always remained at the end of the tunnel.

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Another key landmark is the Stony Man Mountain, which resembles an old man looking onto the valley below. If you look just right from the lookout, you can see his ancient visage gazing on the faraway towns.

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Trailheads appeared every several hundred feet. With Shenandoah having hundreds of miles of trails, visitors can access the network from many of the overlooks, which double as parking spaces. Some trailheads also have parking spaces available for path walkers.

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One of these trailheads was for Jeremy's Run, for which we had to stop at the same-named lookout for a photo-op.

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This road is certainly one all people who enjoy driving should take. It would be a required pilgrimage for motorcyclists as well. I'm not sure if bicycling is allowed, but that too would be a challenge I would enjoy to try some day.

Enjoy scenic Skyline Drive! We certainly did.

BONUS!

There were so many deer on the drive we lost count. However, we saw a bear on the drive and turned into 8 year old boys. Super exciting.

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Extras

Photo Album


Hover over or tap on the photo below to activate slideshow controls. You can also view the whole album on Flickr.
Skyline Drive Vistas - Shenandoah National Park (VA)

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