Read Now, Travel Later
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“Have you driven the Skyline Drive yet?” I don’t know how many times the grandmother asked me that question before I could finally say, “Yes, I have driven it end to end.” Since that first whirlwind trip through Shenandoah National Park, driving the Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Waynesboro, I have since returned twice and spent five days on the scenic highway.
My first visit was in 2016, just as the fall colors were beginning to peak. I was on a road trip from Syracuse, New York to Chattanooga, Tennessee along the Appalachian Mountains. It was actually my first big road trip, so naturally I made all the best mistakes. One of those mistakes: I only spent one day on the Skyline Drive. What the what?!
It would be another two years before I returned. In 2018, I spent three nights sleeping in my camper van at different campgrounds. Each day I would drive a different section of the Skyline Drive, hike a few trails, and visit the destinations in the park. By the time I left, I had visited all 75 scenic overlooks in the national park.
Shenandoah National Park 3655 U.S. Highway 211 East, Luray, VA | 540-999-3500 | www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
- Skyline Drive Road Trip Itinerary
- Brief History
- Park Entrance Fees
- Driving the Skyline Drive
- What is a Milepost?
- Front Royal, VA
- Front Royal Entrance Station at Mile 0.6
- Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at Mile 4.6
- Signal Knob Overlook at Mile 5.7
- Range View Overlook at Mile 17.1
- Little Devils Stairs Overlook at Mile 20
- Hogback Overlook at Mile 20.7
- Mathews Arm Campground at Mile 22.1
- Elkwallow Wayside at Mile 24.1
- Elkwallow Picnic Area at Mile 24.2
- Thornton Gap Entrance Station at Mile 31.3
- Luray, VA
- Thornton Gap Convenience Station at Mile 31.4
- Mary’s Rock Tunnel at Mile 32
- Mary’s Rock Tunnel Parking at Mile 32.5
- Hazel Mountain Overlook at Mile 33
- Pinnacles Overlook at Mile 35
- Stony Man Mountain Overlook at Mile 38.5
- Little Stony Man Parking Area at Mile 39
- Skyland Resort at Mile 41.7
- Limberlost Trail Parking Area at Mile 43
- Crescent Rock Overlook at Mile 44
- Hawksbill Gap Parking Area at Mile 45.6
- Old Rag View Overlook at Mile 46.5
- Spitler Knoll Overlook at Mile 48.1
- Franklin Cliffs Overlook at Mile 49
- Dark Hollow Falls Parking Area at Mile 50.7
- Big Meadows at Mile 51
- Big Meadows Lodge at Mile 51
- Big Meadows Campground at Mile 51
- Lewis Falls Parking Area at Mile 51.4
- Bearfence Mountain Trail Parking Area at Mile 56.4
- Lewis Mountain Picnic Area at Mile 57.5
- Lewis Mountain Campground at Mile 57.5
- Baldface Mountain Overlook at Mile 61
- Swift Run Gap Entrance Station at Mile 65.5
- Bacon Hollow Overlook at Mile 69
- Loft Mountain Overlook at Mile 74.5
- Two Mile Run Overlook at Mile 76
- Rockytop Overlook at Mile 78
- Loft Mountain Wayside at Mile 79.5
- Loft Mountain Campground at Mile 79.5
- Doyles River Falls Parking Area at Mile 80.8
- Big Run Overlook at Mile 81
- Dundo Overlook at Mile 83.7
- Blackrock Summit Parking Area at Mile 84.4
- Moormans River Overlook at Mile 92
- Turk Mountain Overlook at Mile 93.5
- McCormick Gap Overlook at Mile 102.5
- Rockfish Gap Entrance Station at Mile 105
- Waynesboro, VA
- Blueridge Parkway Northern Terminus
Skyline Drive Road Trip Itinerary
The Skyline Drive is the only road through Shenandoah National Park. That actually made the task of writing a road trip itinerary more difficult. I walked a fine line between writing a road trip itinerary and a full travel guide to the national park. How could I differentiate between a road trip itinerary and guide to a national park when they were the same thing?
I approached writing this road trip itinerary from the position of someone passing through. Start here, go there, and here are all the fantastic things to do along the way. While it is possible to drive the entire Skyline Drive in a single day, I recommend making this a weekend road trip. Take two days, stay somewhere near the middle, and you’ll leave with a fantastic introduction to the national park.
While reading this road trip itinerary, please keep in mind, I have only included things you could do while driving through. You won’t see any mentions of hiking to Old Rag Mountain, visiting Rapidan Camp, or backpacking the Appalachian Trail. I’ll just have to write those later.
By the early 1900s, residents of Washington, D.C. were looking for a place to escape the growing city and enjoy the great outdoors. In 1925, Congress authorized the National Park Service to acquire between 250,000-521,000 acres in Virginia for the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. However, Congress also stipulated no federal funds be used to build the park, requiring the state of Virginia instead to privately raise funds.
In 1929, William Gregg, a member of the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee, suggested building a “sky-line drive” along the crest of the mountains through Shenandoah National Park. Work began in 1931 on what was initially called Hoover Highway but was renamed Skyline Drive. The Civilian Conservation Corps graded the slopes, built retaining walls and scenic overlooks, and planted thousands of trees while private contractors built the road.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally opened Shenandoah National Park on July 3, 1936, the Skyline Drive between Front Royal and Thornton Gap was still under construction, and none of the rest even existed yet. By August 1939, the rest of the road from Thornton Gap to Rockfish Gap was completed, but it wouldn’t be until 1961 when the 105-mile Skyline Drive was officially created.
Park Entrance Fees
All visitors at Shenandoah National Park must pay a park entrance fee. This includes all visitors arriving via vehicle at one of the four entrance stations, backcountry hikers who enter from outside the park, and hikers dropped off by a friend or family member.
The single-vehicle entrance fee is $20 and covers all passengers in the vehicle for 7 consecutive days. A per person fee of $10 is charged for anyone entering the park without a vehicle and is also good for 7 consecutive days.
Driving the Skyline Drive
The Skyline Drive is the only route through Shenandoah National Park. At 105 miles long with a maximum 35 mph speed limit, it takes a good 3-4 hours to drive from one end to the other on a good day. But what fun would that be?
Shenandoah National Park is divided into three sections:
- North District (Dickey Ridge, Mathews Arm)
- Central District (Skyland, Big Meadows)
- South District (Loft Mountain)
My recommendation for driving the Skyline Drive is to take two or three days. For a two-day itinerary, stay at Big Meadows near the middle of Skyline Drive; for a three-day itinerary stay at Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain.
What is a Milepost?
Beginning with Mile 0 at the north end of the Skyline Drive in Front Royal, each mile heading south is marked with a milepost on the side of the road. These mileposts, referred to as “Mile,” are a way of marking the overlooks, parking lots, and attractions along the Skyline Drive.
Front Royal, VA
Front Royal is a beautiful small town where the Shenandoah River splits into the North Fork and South Fork. At Exit 6 on I-66, you’ll find all the supplies you need for a great road trip on the Skyline Drive, but there are better places to eat in town than the standard chain joints.
Spelunker’s Drive-Thru was an interesting place for a meal in Front Royal. The locally-owned restaurant specializes in burgers and frozen custard, an intriguing combination. Their Cavern Burgers are made from fresh meat never frozen, and the homemade custard is the perfect dessert. Po Green’s Southern Food & BBQ is the kind of place where the meats are smoked in the parking lot and everything is delicious. The Blue Wing Frog, with an extensive menu of salads, sandwiches, and entrees, makes as much as possible in house every day for the best quality.
Skyline Caverns offers one-hour tours deep inside a cavern system discovered in 1937. The tours are kept to small groups for the most enjoyment and include a look at the underground 37’ Rainbow Falls. The folks at Virginia Canopy Tours know how to have a good time. The three-hour tour includes 8 zip lines, a UTV trail ride, walk across the Sky Bridge, and the finale is a 1,035’ zip line to a rappelling station at the end. Shenandoah River State Park is located along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The park features 24 miles of hiking trails, floating down the river, and the park works directly with Virginia Canopy Tours.
Discover Front Royal 414 East Main Street, Front Royal, VA | 540-635-5788 | www.discoverfrontroyal.com
Where to Stay in Front Royal
There are only a few hotels in Front Royal and only two I would recommend for this road trip adventure.
The Hampton Inn is the closest to the national park and always one of my top recommendations. The hotel features rooms with either a king bed or two full beds, a rather nice indoor swimming pool, and a fantastic breakfast.
The Holiday Inn & Suites is a great place to stay, but it’s a bit further out of town in front of the Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club. Although more expensive, the benefit of this hotel is the King Suite that includes a king bed and a sleeper sofa that is perfect for traveling families.
Point of Interest
Front Royal Entrance Station at Mile 0.6
The Front Royal Entrance is the main entrance at the north end of Shenandoah National Park. Front Royal is just a mile away from this entrance station where you’ll find gas, food, and lodging.
Washington, D.C. is about 70 miles from the Front Royal Entrance Station.
Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at Mile 4.6
The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is a great place to begin a Shenandoah National Park adventure. The biggest reason I recommend first-time visitors to use the Front Royal Entrance Station is that this visitor center is just five miles inside the park; if you enter from the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station, the nearest visitor center is 35 miles away.
The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center has a lovely gift shop, information desk with rangers on duty during standard business hours, restrooms, and a stunning view of the local landscape. That view has always captivated my attention and kept me rooted to a chair for hours at a time.
The 1.2-mile Fox Hollow Trail is a wonderful first hike during a road trip along the Skyline Drive. The moderate trail includes about a 200’ total elevation change as it crosses a field of wildflowers.
Signal Knob Overlook at Mile 5.7
The Signal Knob Overlook offers one of the most stunning views from an overlook along the Skyline Drive. The long pull-off on the west side of Skyline Drive offers a panorama view of the Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah River. You can also see the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, a 40-mile long mountain range parallel to the national park.
Range View Overlook at Mile 17.1
The Range View Overlook offers another sweeping panorama view of the landscape, this one facing to the south. It’s a gorgeous view of the mountains as they just seem to roll across the horizon into forever.
Little Devils Stairs Overlook at Mile 20
I don’t know how long the dead tree has been there, but it has become an icon of the Little Devils Stairs Overlook. Beyond the tree looking to the south, the landscape flattens as it trails away from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hogback Overlook at Mile 20.7
The Hogback Overlook offers the longest, broadest panorama view of any scenic overlook along the Skyline Drive. The pull-off overlook extends around a bend in the Skyline Drive with mostly a view to the north. On a clear day, you can just make out the south fork of the Shenandoah Driver snaking across the landscape.
Mathews Arm Campground at Mile 22.1
The Mathews Arm Campground is the closest campground to the north end of Skyline Drive and closest to Washington, D.C. Only about 25% of the campground’s 164 campsites can be reserved in advance; the remaining campsites are first-come, first-serve.
The campground has potable water sources throughout the three loops and several restroom facilities. However, this campground does not have any shower facilities. There are also no hookups at any of the campsites, but there is an R.V. dump station.
There are no hookups for R.V.s at any campsite in Shenandoah National Park; however, each campground does include a dump station and potable water access. Generators are allowed at most campsites but are restricted to 60 decibels and can only be used from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The 3.2-mile Overall Run Trail leads to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah National Park at 93’. The trail includes a nearly 800’ descent from the edge of the campground to the waterfall, making this a strenuous trail to hike. This is the easiest way to hike to the waterfall. However, you must be a guest of the campground to park anywhere near this trailhead.
The 1.6-mile loop Trace Trail is a wonderful hiking experience around Mathews Arm Campground. Begin the trail near the overflow parking lot at the entrance to the campground and enjoy the leisure hike with very little elevation change.
Elkwallow Wayside at Mile 24.1
The Elkwallow Wayside is one of three stores on the “wayside” along Skyline Drive. Elkwallow has a small selection of grocery items and camping gear, including some refrigerated items. There is also a deli featuring made to order sandwiches, soups, and baked goods for lunch and dinner.
When you get some food to go, you can enjoy it at one of the picnic tables outside and head next door to the picnic area. There are restrooms in front of the store.
Elkwallow Picnic Area at Mile 24.2
After grabbing some food and snacks from the Elkwallow Wayside head over to the Elkwallow Picnic Area for a break from driving, hiking, and funning. The picnic area is somewhat secluded from the Skyline Drive in a thickly forested area.
Point of Interest
Thornton Gap Entrance Station at Mile 31.3
The Thornton Gap Entrance Station provides access to the Skyline Drive from U.S. Highway 211. Luray is just 10 miles from this entrance station, where you’ll find gas, food, and lodging.
This is an alternate option for accessing the Skyline Drive from Washington, D.C., about 80 miles away, and for traffic along Interstate 81, about 25 miles away.
Most popularly known as home to Luray Caverns, the small mountain town of Luray, Virginia, is a wonderful weekend getaway and destination to visit while road tripping the Skyline Drive. Located in a lush valley between Shenandoah National Park and Massanutten Mountain, the small town is like a secluded outdoor haven just waiting for your arrival!
Luray Caverns is one of the largest caverns in the country. The towering 10-story caverns feel unreal during the guided tours. One of the best features of this local attraction is the step-free paved paths through the cavern system, making it one of the most accessible caves in the country.
Triple Crown BBQ is a food stand on the side of the road with an amazing view of the mountains from the outdoor seating and savory Virginia-style barbecue. West Main Market is located inside a gorgeous building in the Downtown Historic District, serving up gourmet sandwiches, soups, and salads. Gathering Grounds is a great place for breakfast or lunch. For breakfast, they serve eggs, bagels, and croissants, and then for lunch, it’s salads, sandwiches, and burgers. But what you really need is one of their delicious homemade pies.
Luray & Page County 18 Campbell Street, Luray, VA | 540-743-3915 | https://www.visitluraypage.com/
Where to Stay in Luray
There are only a few places to spend the night in Luray. This is more of an off-Skyline Drive destination than a place to spend the night, but here are a few options just in case.
Hotel Laurance is a boutique hotel with twelve unique, fully equipped rooms. A few of the rooms have a single bed and sleeper sofa, making it a good choice for traveling families.
The Mimslyn Inn is an intriguing hotel with a full-service restaurant and outdoor swimming pool. The hotel features rooms with a single bed (double, queen, or king), two double beds, and suites with a king bed and sleeper sofa.
Peabody’s “Hip Little Stay” B&B is a bed and breakfast inside a quaint home. The gorgeous décor adds to the charm of spending a night in Luray. Most of the rooms have a single queen bed, but they also have a Deluxe Queen Suite with queen bed and sleeper sofa.
Point of Interest
Thornton Gap Convenience Station at Mile 31.4
Although there are plenty of restrooms along the Skyline Drive, this convenience station is the only one solely dedicated to restrooms. It’s a great place to make the first stop if you have just entered the national park.
Mary’s Rock Tunnel at Mile 32
When the 600’ long tunnel was completed in 1932, it was considered a modern marvel. It took a little more than three months for the contractors to drill, blast, and clear the route through Mary’s Rock Mountain. In the 1970s, a concrete lining was added to the tunnel to reduce water seepage and icicles, but otherwise, the tunnel remains precisely as it was carved almost a century ago.
The clearance height for Mary’s Rock Tunnel is 12’8”. Know the height of your R.V. or travel trailer before entering the tunnel, or you just might lose your air conditioner!
Mary’s Rock Tunnel Parking at Mile 32.5
There is a large parking area just south of Mary’s Rock Tunnel. You can actually see the tunnel from the end of the parking lot. The parking lot is just large enough for an R.V. to pull over. The view of the mountains from that overlook isn’t all that bad, either.
Hazel Mountain Overlook at Mile 33
The Hazel Mountain Overlook is one of my favorites on the Skyline Drive. That’s because of the interesting rock features at the edge of the overlook. A well-worn footpath has been created around the rocks to the other side, where there is a perfect outcropping for sitting. I have sat there is a collapsible chair for hours without anyone knowing I was there!
Pinnacles Overlook at Mile 35
The Pinnacles Overlook offers a spectacular view of Pinnacle Ridge extending south from the Skyline Drive. The large overlook has plenty of room for personal vehicles and R.V.s, making it a convenient place for anyone to stop and enjoy the beautiful view.
Stony Man Mountain Overlook at Mile 38.5
The Stony Man Mountain Overlook offers another sweeping panorama view of the flat valley floor between the Skyline Drive and Massanutten Mountain in the distance. The overlook is uniquely long, with a large parking area at the south end perfect for R.V.s.
Little Stony Man Parking Area at Mile 39
There are two ways to reach the summit of Stony Man Mountain. The 3.1-mile Stony Man Loop via Appalachian Trail begins at this parking area. It is a longer hike than the alternative at Skyland but includes more of the AT.
The adventure begins with a 1.2-mile hike on the AT to a loop trail that leads to the mountain’s summit. The 0.75-mile loop leads to the Stony Man Lookout on the northwest edge of the mountain. That overlook features a stunning view of the landscape from a rocky outcropping. The entire 3.1-mile hike includes an 800’ elevation change, which is relatively easy for summit hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
Shenandoah National Park has one of the densest populations of black bear recorded in the country. Black bears, however, are usually not aggressive as long as visitors follow standard practices of the National Park Service. Stay at least 100 feet away from the wildlife at all times, do not feed wildlife, and use proper bear canisters to store anything with a scent.
Skyland Resort at Mile 41.7
The Skyland Resort is a sprawling campus with 179 rooms spread throughout several buildings. It’s a great place to spend a night or two while exploring the North and Central Districts of Shenandoah National Park.
The main building at Skyland Resort has the registration desk, Skyland Gift Shop, Pollock Dining Room, and Mountain Taproom. The Pollock Dining Room still serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times throughout the day, just as it did when the resort first opened.
Skyland Resorts has the most varied accommodations of any lodging at Shenandoah National Park. Hotel-type rooms with one king bed or two queen beds include a rather gorgeous view of Massanutten Mountain and all the amenities of a standard hotel room. The one-bedroom suites include a double bed and twin bed with exterior access and standard amenities. Four of the rustic cabins have a living room and kitchenette while the other eight cabins have 2-4 bedrooms and rented individually.
Did You Know?
In 1866, Stephen Allen and George Pollock purchased this land and formed the Miners Lode Copper Company. However, by 1889 the copper mining company had failed commercially and forced the owners to seek a $52,000 mortgage on the land to pay off their debts.
That same year George Pollock’s son, George Freeman Pollock, Jr., pitched an idea about building a private resort on the land. The mining company was reorganized as the Stoneyman Park Preserve Lands, and the family business began selling mortgage bonds guaranteed by buildings lots at the resort.
Pollock, Jr. began building dining halls, ballrooms, and rustic cabins on the properties purchased. He initially named it Stoney Man Camp, although at some point, Skyland became the more common name for the resort. Pollock, Jr. was more of an entertainer than a businessman, though. He was much better at organizing special events like bonfires, musicals, and costume parties than he was at running a private resort.
In 1896 Albemarle County courts ordered the property sold at auction to satisfy the 1889 mortgage. Pollock, Jr. did not want to give up on the property. In 1900, 1902, and 1904 he appeared at the county courthouse to arrange selling various assets to pay off the mortgage. By 1906 the 1889 mortgage was settled, but that still wasn’t the end of his financial troubles.
By the time Shenandoah National Park was created in 1926, Pollock, Jr. had nearly $70,000 in liens against the property that was only valued at $30,000. The state of Virginia purchased the property, donated it to the National Park Service, and in 1937 a private concessionaire was awarded a contract to operate the Skyland Resort.
In 1911 Addie Nairn Hunter hired architect Victor Mindeleff to design a grand mountain bungalow for the property she had purchased at Skyland Resort. The gorgeous home featured two bedrooms on the main floor with a living room stretching from the front to the back of the house. Interestingly, the home did not include a kitchen because all guests at Skyland Resort were expected to eat at the communal dining hall.
Two years later, Addie married George Freeman Pollock, Jr. It was a strange marriage between a wealthy, independent woman and the financially struggling resort owner.
Massanutten Lodge is frequently open to the public for guided ranger tours. Once used as housing for NPS personnel, the house has been meticulously restored to its original condition. Inside the house are photos and information on Pollock’s mother, novelist Mary Johnston, and life at Skyland Resort in the early 1900s.
The Appalachian Trail crosses the entrance road in front of the Skyland Resort. Hiking north on the AT leads to the summit of Stony Man Mountain while hiking south leads to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. There is an easier and shorter trail leading to Hawksbill Mountain.
The 1.5-mile out and back hike on the Appalachian Trail to Stony Man Mountain is one of the easiest mountains to summit in the national park. With just a little over a 300’ elevation change the trail is moderately easy and takes about two hours to enjoy.
Limberlost Trail Parking Area at Mile 43
The 1.3-mile Limberlost Trail is the only accessible trail in Shenandoah National Park, and one of the very few accessible trails I have ever come across in a national park. The loop trail has a very mild 100’ total elevation change, but it’s gradual along a wide gravel path. Parts of the trail get a little busy with hikers heading to Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon, but the far end of the loop trail is quite often very peaceful.
Crescent Rock Overlook at Mile 44
The Crescent Rock Overlook offers a particularly gorgeous view along a hollow in the mountain range. Trace the hollow along the landscape to cross the valley to Massanutten Mountain in the distance.
Hawksbill Gap Parking Area at Mile 45.6
There are a few ways to reach the summit of Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Despite the fact it’s the highest point in the national park, it is actually not as busy as many of the other trails. Give one of these options a try to enjoy stunning views from the summit.
The 1.5-mile Hawksbill Summit Trail is the shortest, but also the most strenuous with a nearly 700’ elevation change. It’s basically a hike straight up the mountain from the Hawksbill Gap Parking Area at Mile 45.6.
A longer but less strenuous option from this parking area is to create a loop along the Appalachian Trail. The 2.6-mile Hawksbill Gap Loop begins with a 1.1-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail from the Hawksbill Gap Parking Area at Mile 45.6. This basically skirts around the edge of the mountain to the other side. From there, the loop ascends the summit of the mountain and returns along the same route as the Hawksbill Summit Trail.
The final option is the least strenuous of the three. The 2.2-mile Upper Hawksbill Trail begins at the Upper Hawksbill Parking Area at Mile 46.6. Hiking from this direction involves a 500’ ascent, making it less strenuous.
Did You Know?
At 4,049’ elevation Hawksbill Mountain is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. The lowest point is the Front Royal Entrance Station at just 600’ elevation.
Old Rag View Overlook at Mile 46.5
The Old Rag View Overlook features exactly that: a view of Old Rag Mountain. At 3,284’ in elevation, Old Rag is the most popular hiking destination in Shenandoah National Park, but it is also the most dangerous. The 10-mile roundtrip hike includes a 2,500’ ascent to the top of the exposed mountain.
I think the better way to enjoy Old Rag is this scenic overlook with a large field leading toward the mountain in the distance.
Spitler Knoll Overlook at Mile 48.1
The Spitler Knoll Overlook offers another long, wide panorama view similar to that found at Hogback Overlook. The pull-off stretches around the bend in the Skyline Drive, offering views to the northeast. The unique feature of this scenic overlook is the ginormous grassy field perfect for tossing a frisbee or enjoying a classic picnic.
Franklin Cliffs Overlook at Mile 49
The Franklin Cliffs Overlook is another favorite of mine along the Skyline Drive. A rocky outcropping at the edge of the overlook leads down the mountains to the valley far below. It’s a beautiful spot for a break while driving through the national park.
Dark Hollow Falls Parking Area at Mile 50.7
The 1-mile Dark Hollow Falls Trail leads to the closest waterfall to the Skyline Drive, making it one of the most hiked trails in the park. The trail begins with a fairly steady descent of nearly 400’ to the waterfall; the last quarter mile is pretty steep.
Big Meadows at Mile 51
The Big Meadows is an interesting area of Shenandoah National Park pretty much right in the middle of the Skyline Drive. When the national park was first created, much of the wooded areas had either been logged or destroyed by blight. One of the chief purposes of creating the park was to allow nature to reclaim the Blue Ridge Mountains, but Big Meadows has always been kept as exactly that: a big grassy meadow.
The Byrd Visitor Center is the heart of the Big Meadows area. Inside, visitors can watch a film about the national park, browse through the gift shop, and get information from park rangers and volunteers on duty. The restrooms are some of the best in the park, and there is plenty of parking for people driving personal vehicles or R.V.s.
Walk through the Byrd Visitor Center to exterior doors leading to a balcony overlooking Big Meadows. Ironically, despite the throng of visitors inside and near-constant traffic on the Skyline Drive, I found that balcony to be one of the most peaceful places in the national park.
The Big Meadows Wayside has recently been renovated. The shop still offers limited grocery items and camping gear, but the deli portion has been completely redesigned. Visitors can still get meals to enjoy on site or to go.
Big Meadows has the only gas station located in Shenandoah National Park. Prices are usually a little higher than what you’ll find outside the park, so it works in a pinch but not on a budget.
Big Meadows Lodge at Mile 51
The Big Meadows Lodge is one of two lodges in the national park. The Main Lodge was built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and included 25 rooms and a rustic dining room. There are an additional 71 rooms in rustic cabins, suites, and units. The Spottswood Dining Room offers a gorgeous view of the mountains from almost every chair in the dining room. The dining room offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner during specific times throughout the day.
Big Meadows Campground at Mile 51
The Big Meadows Campground is tucked away near the Main Lodge and includes over 200 campsites. The campground has plenty of potable water spigots throughout the various loops and restroom facilities with walking distance of all the sites. The only showers are located at the entrance to the campground and require an additional fee.
The Appalachian Trail passes around the Main Lodge and campground at Big Meadows. Hike north on the AT about 6 miles one way to reach Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park.
The 2.5-mile out and back Lewis Spring Trail descends about 800’ in elevation to the Lewis Waterfall. The trail begins near the Main Lodge. However, the easiest way to hike to this waterfall is from the Lewis Falls Parking Area at Mile 51.4.
The 2-mile out and back Story of the Forest Trail is one of my favorite hiking trails in the national park. The easy trail passes through a section of the forest populated with wildflowers that bloom throughout the spring and summer. The trail connects the parking area to the Byrd Visitor Center with the Big Meadows Campground.
One of the more interesting destinations for a hike in the national park is to Rapidan Camp. Shortly after winning his election, President Herbert Hoover chose the upper Rapidan River as a site for a retreat during his time in office. Hoover used his personal finances to buy the land and building materials while the Marine Corps provided the labor as a “military exercise.” The 6.2-mile out and back Rapidan Camp via Millprong Trail descends nearly 1,000’ to the location of the historic structures where visitors can learn about the retreat and explore the buildings.
The Contributions of Harry F. Byrd
In May 1925, Congress authorized the creation of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia but required that no federal funds be used in purchasing the land. That task fell to Virginia Governor Harry F. Byrd, an avid outdoorsman and hiker.
With an initial budget of just $1 million, Byrd began surveying the land, identifying landowners, and using eminent domain to acquire the land for the park. With each new parcel purchased, the state of Virginia donated it to the National Park Service.
In May 1925, Congress authorized the creation of two national parks on the East Coast: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. But one of the requirements of both parks was that no federal funds be used in purchasing the land. For Shenandoah National Park, that task fell to Virginia Governor Harry F. Byrd.
Harry Byrd was born in 1887 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and later that same year, his family moved to Winchester, Virginia. In 1916 Byrd was elected to the Virginia Senate, where he would serve for ten years. In 1926 he was elected the governor of Virginia and would serve a single term. In 1933 he became a United States senator from Virginia, a position he would hold until 1965.
Byrd was an avid outdoorsman and thrived on spending time in the great outdoors. When Byrd ran for governor in 1925, he campaigned on the promise to build a state park system to protect the state’s natural areas and open them for recreation. That would become a reality in 1936 when six parks opened on the same day.
As a freshman governor for Virginia, the task of purchasing land for Shenandoah National Park was daunting. With an initial budget of just $1 million, Byrd assigned his lifelong friend William Carson the task of surveying the location for the park and identifying landowners. As the Virginia government slowly purchased the land, they donated it to the National Park Service.
In 1933 Byrd was appointed as the United States senator from Virginia to fill a vacant seat. Shortly after that, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Shenandoah National Park. During that visit, Senator Byrd made an incredible suggestion: what if the NPS built a national scenic byway connecting Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Harry F. Byrd, an avid outdoorsman, was instrumental in the creation of the Virginia State Parks system, purchasing land for Shenandoah National Park, and pitched the idea that led to the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Lewis Falls Parking Area at Mile 51.4
The 1.8-mile Lewis Spring Trail leads across the Appalachian Trail to Lewis Falls. With a nearly 700’ descent to the waterfall, it’s a fairly strenuous hike back up to the parking area.
Bearfence Mountain Trail Parking Area at Mile 56.4
The 1-mile Bearfence Mountain Trail is one of my favorites in Shenandoah National Park because it’s relatively easy and leads to a gorgeous overlook on the mountain summit. For those same reasons, it is one of the most-hiked trails in the park.
The trail begins across the Skyline Drive from the parking area and crosses the Appalachian Trail. From there, it is a gentle 250’ ascent to the summit of Bearfence Mountain. Along the way are several gorgeous vistas looking to the east from the national park.
Lewis Mountain Picnic Area at Mile 57.5
Located directly beside the campground on a loop road, the Lewis Mountain Picnic Area is a great place to take a break from driving. It was one of my favorite places for a walk while staying at the campground for a night.
Lewis Mountain Campground at Mile 57.5
The Lewis Mountain Campground is my favorite campground at Shenandoah National Park. With only 31 sites, it’s the smallest campground in the national park, so even at full capacity, it’s never really crowded. The camp store is fantastic, with a small selection of groceries, camping supplies, and firewood.
The campsites are all first-come, first-served throughout the year. There are no hookups, but there is an R.V. dump station. Potable water is accessible throughout the campground, and there is one restroom facility kinda in the middle. There are also 15 rustic cabins that are fully furnished, include a full kitchen and bathroom, and are absolutely charming.
The Appalachian Trail passes by the southern end of the campground and around the picnic area nearby. There isn’t really anything spectacular to see in this section of the trail. However, hiking northbound on the trail is relatively easy and leads to the summit of Bearfence Mountain.
Baldface Mountain Overlook at Mile 61
The Baldface Mountain Overlook is one of the most scenic overlooks along the Skyline Drive. A cut in the stone wall around the overlook leads to a rocky outcropping just a few feet away. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the view for a while and snap a photo to remember this beautiful view.
Point of Interest
Swift Run Gap Entrance Station at Mile 65.5
The Swift Run Gap Entrance Station connects U.S. Highway 33 to the Skyline Drive. It’s one of the lesser-used entrance stations into the national park, making it a better choice for entrance on busy days. You’ll find gas, food, and lodging in Elkton about 8 miles from the entrance station.
This is a good entrance station for reaching Harrisonburg, about 20 miles away, and Charlottesville, about 30 miles away.
Bacon Hollow Overlook at Mile 69
The Bacon Hollow Overlook provides a beautiful view of the mountains to the south of the Skyline Drive. It’s an interesting view with a nice secluded cove at the bottom and a single house. I’ve always wondered who lives there.
Loft Mountain Overlook at Mile 74.5
The Loft Mountain Overlook is an intriguing panorama view with Flat Top Mountain on the left, Loft Mountain on the right, straddling a hollow right in the middle. It’s a gorgeous view to the south of the Skyline Drive and one of my favorites in the national park.
Two Mile Run Overlook at Mile 76
The Two Mile Run Overlook is my favorite scenic overlook along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The long pull-off features a sweeping panorama view of several mountains. The most interesting part of that view is the southern end of Massanutten Mountain, a 40-mile long mountain range parallel to the national park. You can see the north end of the mountain range at the Signal Knob Overlook at Mile 5.7.
Rockytop Overlook at Mile 78
The Rockytop Overlook is another of my favorites because of the gorgeous mountain views near the overlook. If you look between the slopes of the mountains, you can see the vast Shenandoah Valley beyond.
Loft Mountain Wayside at Mile 79.5
The Loft Mountain Wayside is the southernmost wayside in the national park. The store has a selection of grocery items, camping gear, and souvenirs in the gift shop. There is a deli offering made to order sandwiches, soups, and assorted snacks.
Loft Mountain Campground at Mile 79.5
The Loft Mountain Campground is the southernmost campground in Shenandoah National Park, located about 25 miles from the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station in Waynesboro. With over 200 campsites, it is the largest campground in the national park. Ironically although it’s called the Loft Mountain Campground, the campground is actually located on top of Big Flat Mountain. Campsites along the edge of the campground have pretty good views.
There are plenty of potable water spigots throughout the campground and several restrooms facilities. A shower facility is available at the camp store at the entrance to the campground. There are no hookups in the campground, but there is an R.V. dump station.
The Appalachian Trail passes around the perimeter of Loft Mountain Campground. There are a few spur trails leading from points in the campground to the AT. Take the AT southbound about 1 mile to reach the Doyles River Falls Trail.
Doyles River Falls Parking Area at Mile 80.8
Doyles River Falls is another of the spectacular waterfalls located inside Shenandoah National Park. The 3.4-mile out and back Doyles River Falls Trail leads to a spectacular waterfall. But with a total 1,100’ elevation change, it is a strenuous trail to hike back from the waterfall.
Big Run Overlook at Mile 81
Because of the way the Skyline Drive twists and turns across the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Big Run Overlook gives you one last look at Massanutten Mountain. This gorgeous scenic overlook features lots of mountains nearby, but in the distance, you can see the southern end of the 40-mile long mountain range and the Shenandoah Valley beyond.
Dundo Overlook at Mile 83.7
The Dundo Overlook offers a pretty nice view across the landscape toward the Shenandoah Valley. The interesting feature of this overlook is the explanation of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign during the Civil War.
Blackrock Summit Parking Area at Mile 84.4
The 1.1-mile Blackrock Summit Trail is another easy hiking trail in Shenandoah National Park, leading to the summit of a mountain. Hiking along the Appalachian Trail includes just short of a 200’ ascent to the summit of Blackrock Mountain.
Did You Know?
The Appalachian Trail is the most popular national scenic trail in the country. The roughly 2,200-mile trail crosses the mountains from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail passes through Shenandoah National Park, crossing the Skyline Drive several times.
Moormans River Overlook at Mile 92
The sweeping panorama vista at Moormans River Overlook is one of my favorites in the national park because it’s just so gentle. Gently sloping mountains are cut with the winding river far below the overlook. With a southeastern view, it’s also a great place to catch the sunrise!
Turk Mountain Overlook at Mile 93.5
The Turk Mountain Overlook offers one of the best views of the Shenandoah Valley along the Skyline Drive. Massanutten Mountain, a 40-mile long mountain range parallel to the national park, blocks the view for nearly 60 miles along the Skyline Drive. But this scenic overlook is far to the south of that mountain range, offering a gorgeous panorama view.
McCormick Gap Overlook at Mile 102.5
The McCormick Gap Overlook isn’t entirely spectacular, but it is the last view you’ll get of Shenandoah National Park before leaving it all behind. Heading north on the Skyline Drive, this is always my first stop just to soak in the mountain views and contain my giddiness at being back in the national park again and heading south this is always my last stop.
Point of Interest
Rockfish Gap Entrance Station at Mile 105
The Rockfish Gap Entrance Station is the southernmost entrance station on the Skyline Drive. Because of its proximity to the interstate and several large Virginia cities, this is a popular entrance station. Arrive early to avoid long lines to get into the national park.
Waynesboro is just five miles away and has plenty of options for gas, food, and lodging. Staunton is about 15 miles away on Interstate 81. Charlottesville is 20 miles away with Richmond about 90 miles from this entrance station.
Waynesboro is a great place to spend the night at the end of this road trip along the Skyline Drive, especially if you plan to continue the adventure onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Waynesboro Heritage Museum is a good place to learn the deep history of the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. If you’d rather stay outside on a gorgeous day, Waynesboro has three different historic districts to walk and enjoy.
This small town is starting to really grow big on the craft brewery scene. Stable Craft Brewery began in 2016 with a large tasting room inside an old converted barn. Basic City Beer Company is another great place to visit inside a renovated iron foundry. If you really want to check out some craft beers, try the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail with about a dozen locations between Lexington, Waynesboro, Staunton, and Harrisburg.
Any day started at Farmhaus Coffee Company will be a good day in Waynesboro. They have a great selection of coffee, along with scones, muffins, and croissants. The Fishin’ Pig is the best place in town to find savory barbecue and seafood with a ginormous menu with plenty of great options. Seven Arrows Brewing Company is one of my favorite places in town because you can enjoy their craft beer while also chowing down on wings, wraps, and sandwiches from Nobos Kitchen.
Visit Waynesboro 301 West Main Street, Waynesboro, VA | 540-942-6512 | http://www.visitwaynesboro.net/
Where to Stay in Waynesboro
Exit 94 off Interstate 64 is a great place to spend a night while traveling through Waynesboro. There are a few good hotels here, and it’s just ten minutes from downtown in one direction and the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway in another.
The Residence Inn is my top recommendation for families in town. The hotel has a King Studio room with a king bed and sleeper sofa, and a 2 Room Suite with a king bed and sleeper sofa. Each room includes a kitchenette and everything you would need to prepare some meals.
Holiday Inn Express is always a sure bet. This hotel has quite a few rooms to choose from and includes a rather nice breakfast in the morning.
The Best Western Plus is my top recommendation for general travelers. The hotel includes a really nice indoor swimming pool, rooms with king and queen beds, and a free breakfast.
Point of Interest
Blueridge Parkway Northern Terminus
After passing through the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station and cross the bridge over Interstate 64, you are officially on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Construction on the 469-mile national scenic parkway began in 1935 when United States Senator Harry F. Byrd from Virginia pitched an idea to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to build a scenic road connecting Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
READ MORE: Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway