We finally got to experience this National Scenic Byway on a recent summer road trip to the Shenandoah Valley; the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park being a highlight of a visit to this region in Virginia.
Where is the Skyline Drive?
The Skyline Drive catches the baton at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and runs through the entire 105-mile length of the Shenandoah Valley National Park on the crest of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.
It is the ONLY road in the Shenandoah National Park, which is exciting as it allows you to experience two incredible natural Virginian wonders in the one trip.
Be prepared for endless viewpoints over the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Massanutten Mountain Range. Plan your drive well to incorporate hikes, picnic spots, best viewpoints, and lodges.
There are viewpoints every couple of miles. Despite the beauty of each overlook, you can quickly catch fatigue, so plan your stops well on either side of the road as the views are different.
The East is more mountainous with lush forest, the West more mountains with expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley.
When is the best time to drive the Skyline Drive?
It really depends on what you want to experience. For me, I loved traveling during summer as everything is so lush and green – and I love hiking with a bit of humidity.
Fall is an especially popular time to travel along Skyline Drive, with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. Spring is also a great time to visit with spectacular views of wildflowers and mountain laurel.
Why not visit multiple times through the year and then choose your favorite!! (Be sure to share with us in the comments below!)
How long does the Skyline Drive take?
At 105 miles long with a maximum 35 mph speed limit, it will take 3-4 hours to drive from one end to the other including a few stops.
If you want to add in a few hikes, then you’re looking at a full day adventure at least.
Adventurers will want to plan for a couple of days exploring the Shenandoah National Park and enjoy the Skyline Drive. Because it is also a national park, with many other great things to experience we recommend at least two days.
Shenandoah has multiple campgrounds that offer both first come, first-served campsites and those you can reserve in advance.
To help you find features, facilities and services, concrete mile markets have been placed on the right-hand side of Skyline Drive as you head south. Mile references will be included in various guides you get.
As we were driving south to north, we didn’t see any mile markers – or they were just difficult to see. This is a problem we’ve had at other national parks before as well. However, overlook signs will be easy to see with adequate warning.
Entrances & Fees
The national park is divided into three regions:
- North District (Dickey Ridge, Mathews Arm)
- Central District (Skyland, Big Meadows) This is the most popular section.
- South District (Loft Mountain)
There are four entrances to the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park which will give you access to whatever region you want to explore most. (Do all three!)
- Front Royal (North)
- Thornton Gap (Mile 31.5)
- Swift Run (mile 65.7)
- Rockfish Gap (South)
As the Skyline Drive runs through the national park, there is an entrance fee. All passes are valid for 7 days and cost $30 for vehicles, $25 for motorcycles, and $15 per person arriving vehicle free.
Maps and Information
Be sure to grab a park map when you arrive to the Skyline Drive.
Truthfully, national park maps aren’t all that good sources of information on things to see and do in a national park. They’re good for providing a map and historical, geological, and cultural information about a park.
Research before you get into the park or visit one of the two Visitor Centers for more in-depth assistance. There are two in the park:
- Dickey Ridge Visitor Center located at Mile 4.6
- Harry F Byrd Sr Visitor Center located at mile 51
For families, be sure to grab your Junior Ranger activity booklet (visitor centers and gift stores) and look for Junior Ranger activities that may be in the park. These programs are brilliant for helping your children connect more deeply to the experience.
And they will love receiving the badge at the end of it as a memento and a reminder of the importance of taking care of Mother Nature.
Do the Drive in Stages
With 75 scenic overlooks, it won’t be long before you start feeling stunning mountain viewpoint fatigue. Yes. It does happen.
Crazy to think, you can just wave another incredible viewpoint away as you keep driving. They can start looking the same.
A way to overcome that is spread your Skyline Drive experience over multiple days. There is plenty to do in the nearby Shenandoah Valley to make this a wonderful extended trip with the national park as its focus.
We did the Southern part of the drive on our way to Massanutten Resort in the Shenandoah Valley Resort where we were staying.
The next morning, we did most of the rest of the drive north on our way to Luray. We still have the small northern section to do for next time.
Some notable Skyline Drive Viewpoints
As our time was short – and we experienced overlook fatigue – we did not visit every overlook. So, this is not a comprehensive guide to that. Here are a few that we enjoyed.
I’ve added some resources below to help you plan out other stops. Please leave a comment with some of your favorites for when we visit again, and for anyone reading this post looking for insider tips!
Mary’s Rock Tunnel at Mile 32
Everybody loves driving through tunnels, right? I was so busy taking a video of it (see our Reels) that I didn’t snap a photo.
This 600’ long tunnel was built in 1932 and considered a marvel at its time. It was a welcome change from the multiple viewpoints and is a unique Skyline Drive feature.
There is a parking lot near here so you can take your photo.
Moormans River Overlook
I loved this perspective over Moormans River winding through the gently sloping mountains blanketed in lush forest. It was so different to the other Skyline Drive overlooks and very peaceful. This is meant to be a good sunrise spot.
Stony Man Mountain Overlook at Mile 38.5
The Stony Man Mountain Overlook is a long, panoramic view of the valley floor with Massanutten Mountain in the distance.
Baldface Mountain Overlook
One of the most scenic overlooks on the Skyline Drive is the Baldface Mountain. Many people recommend taking a walk through any gaps in the stone walls you find as they lead to better views.
We didn’t have time for that but the cut at Baldface is meant to lead to a rocky outcropping with better views.
- Range View Overlook (one of the best views of the northern section of the park)
- South River Overlook (great for sunrise), and
Stop and Take a Hike
One of the best ways to experience Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive is to hike on one of the over 500 miles of trails that begin at Skyline Drive.
Stop in at the visitor center to find a trail that best suits your interest, style, and ability as they range from ambling strolls to challenging mountain scales. Some trails lead to a waterfall or spectacular viewpoints, others go deep into the forested wilderness.
We want to return to Shenandoah National Park to experience more of the hikes. It was a short trip, and we could only fit in one short hike.
If you want to say you have hiked the legendary Appalachian Trail, it crisscrosses the Shenandoah National Park, and it is said to have some of the most impressive sections of the trail.
It’s important to note that Shenandoah National Park is black bear country, so be bear aware!
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
Located at mile point 50.7 is one of the most popular hikes in the Shenandoah National Park, especially for families.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a 1.4-mile return hike down to the cascading Dark Hollow Falls. Allow for at least an hour and pack a picnic lunch if you want to spend more time enjoying the falls.
The first viewpoint is not the bottom of the Falls but is the best view of the Falls. You can walk a little further down the trail to the very bottom of the falls.
It’s not a spectacular waterfall, but I loved the perspective of the waterfall trickling down the moss-covered rocks.
It is a bit of a steep climb coming back out, the hardest part is from the bottom of the falls to the top. After that it is more of a gradual climb.
Visit the Lodges with a View
They also both offer accommodation and restaurants and gift stores.
You’ll love stopping in here for a bite to eat or a drink with magnificent views out over the Shenandoah Valley. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and take a break from the endless winding road and beautiful views.
Things to do near the Skyline Drive
As mentioned, we have an in-depth post on things to do in the Shenandoah Valley, which outlines these activities in more depth.
I suggest you plan for exploring the cute towns near the entrances to the national park and the cool activities that surround them.
Here were a few of our favorites:
- Luray Caverns
- Walking alpacas
- Wine tasting at Veritas Vineyards
- Horseback Riding at Jordan Hollow Stables
- White Oak Lavender Farm
- The town of Staunton
We stayed at the Massanutten Resort, which gave us easy access to all the attractions in the Shenandoah Valley and to the Shenandoah National Park. Plus, the resort offers more than just lovely condo accommodations.
They have a fantastic indoor and outdoor Water Park, Ziplining courses, mountain biking trails and several dining options. It’s a fantastic place for families to stay!