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The Skyline Drive – Virginia

The Skyline Drive in Virginia, runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. The drive offers incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

The drive begins at Milepost 0 in Front Royal, Virginia and ends at Milepost 105 near the end of the Shenandoah National Park.  At MP105, Skyline drive meets the Northern most portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap.

Big Meadows, the largest developed area on Skyline Drive is located about halfway, at Milepost 51.

Skyline Drive History

Skyline Drive Sunrays

In 1924, plans were put together for a national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.   The main feature was to be a "sky-line drive" that would provide views of the surrounding land.   

President Hoover, who owned a summer home in  the area, initiated the construction of the road.  Groundbreaking for the effort started in 1931.  The road was completed in sections, with the final section in 1939.  As with many mountain projects, the Civilian Conservation Corps was significantly involved with the road's construction.  

Access Points for Skyline Drive

There are 4 access points for Skyline Drive:

  • Near Rt. 66 and 340 Front Royal Entrance Station (Milepost 0)
  • Rt. 211 at Thornton Gap Entrance Station
  • Rt 33 Swift Run Gap Entrance Station
  • Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 Rockfish Gap Entrance Station (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway).

Facts about Skyline Drive

Here are some various facts about Skyline Drive:

  • The speed limit is 35MPH
  • There are 75 different overlooks that offer Stunning views of both the Shenandoah National Park or the piedmont in the east.
  • Skyline Drive has only one tunnel, Marys Rock Tunnel located at Milepost 33
  • 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park, alongside Skyline Drive
  • The highest point on Skyline Drive is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,050 feet
  • The park has an entrance fee

Travel Tips for Skyline Drive

We’ve been traveling Skyline drive for many years and we’ve learned a few things and offer these Skyline Drive Travel Tips to help you enjoy your visit:

  1. Take your time and don’t hurry.  The Skyline drive speed limit is 35 MPH.   Don’t speed!   Many people are there to enjoy the views and will suddenly pull off or be driving very slow.  If you speed, you could easily run into them or some of the wildlife around the Parkway.   Take your time, go slow, and enjoy the views and journey.  
  2. Weather – While traveling the parkway, you will often experience very thick fog and often rain.   Be extra careful in these conditions.  Turn on your headlights or even your flashers and slow down.  We‘ve often been in conditions where you couldn’t see more than 20-30 feet in front of your car!  If you feel uncomfortable driving, pull over at an overlook and wait for the fog to clear up or thin out.
  3. Fill’er Up!   Make sure you have plenty of gas before you get on the Skyline Drive.  There are areas where there are no gas stations for a bit.  
  4. Bring layers of clothing.  Due elevation changes, weather on the Skyline Drive can vary greatly by location and time of day.   It can also be sunny and warm one minute, then a few minutes later, cold and windy.   We suggest layering if you plan to be outside at all, and this includes even getting out at overlooks which can often be cool and windy.
  5. Pulling Over – Pulling over along the Skyline Drive is permitted unless signs say otherwise.   Some of the best and most unique views are available at locations other than the popular overlooks.   Just make sure you pull completely off the parkway and make sure you can get back out.   The sides of the parkway are often a bit muddy, so make sure you don’t get stuck.  If you have a 4-wheel drive, it’s always a good option.
  6. Be prepared for crowds – The Skyline Drive is very popular, and often full of cars and people, especially in the Fall Season.  Plan for extra time and be patient.   
  7. RVs – RVs are allowed and welcome on the entire Skyline Drive, including pull along trailers, BUT make sure your RV isn’t taller than Marys Rock Tunnel, at 12 ft 8 in.  Also, if you have traffic behind you, that wants to go faster, please pull over.
  8. Assume your cell phone will not work – Cell phone service along the Skyline Drive is spotty at best.   Plan for your phone not working in most locations.  If you require cell phone use, we would suggest getting off the Skyline Drive.
  9. Camping – Camping is permitted on the Skyline Drive and in the Shenendoah National Park at designated campgrounds.  You cannot, in most cases, just camp on the side of the road.  
  10. Picnics and Food – Packing a picnic lunch and eating at one of the many scenic overlooks or picnic areas on The Parkway is a real treat and highly recommended.  Just make sure you don’t leave any food or trash behind.   Make sure that food is packed in air tight containers if possible, especially if you plan to park and leave your car for any period of time.  There are bears, and they may break into your car to get to the food. 
  11. Bring some water – Even if you aren’t planning on hiking, you might be tempted to want to walk out to one of the remote overlooks or down one of the shorter trails.  Bring some water just in case.
  12. Bicycles/Motorcycles – Bicycles and of course Motorcycles are both allowed on the Skyline Drive.  On any given day, you will often see many of both.    Watch for them and when passing Bicycles, please stay far behind them until you get to a good straight area to pass.  Do not try to pass them in a turn.
  13. Camera – Make sure you bring a camera, I can guarantee you that you’ll want to take pictures and plenty of them.

Skyline Drive Wildlife

While traveling on Skyline Drive, you may run into many of the animals the live in the Shenandoah Valley and travel on or cross Skyline Drive.   

These animals include: Black Bear, Deer, turkey, raccoons, rabbits, opossum, skunk, birds, red and gray fox, beaver, river otter, mink, weasel, woodchuck, squirrel, chipmunks and more!  Be sure to keep an eye out for these animals, as they may dart out in front of you while driving.   To better see the animals, pull off to the side, and remain in your vehicle to be extra safe.

Things to do on the Skyline Drive, by Milepost

Not only is Skyline drive a beautiful and peaceful drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, it's also full of fun things to see and do.  Here are just a few highlights!

Milepost 0 - Front Royal

Front Royal is a beautiful mountain town, located at Milepost 0 on Skyline Drive.  Located in Front Royal is the popular and amazing, Skyline Caverns.   Skyline Caverns is the closest natural wonder to Washington, DC and makes for a great family destination that everyone will enjoy!

Milepost 4.6 - Dickey Ridge Visitor Center

Skyline Drive has four different visitor centers, each offers amenities such as restrooms, information desks, exhibits, orientation movies, bookstores, publications, maps, backcountry permits, and first aid.  Ranger led hikes are often done from these as well.

Milepost 22.2 - Matthews Arm Campground and Traces Trail

Traces Trail is a hike that follows around Mathews Arm Campground. Along the trail, you’ll discover historic traces left behind by former residents of the area.  This 1.7-mile trail takes you through an oak forest that feels like a step back in time.

Milepost 31.5 Thornton Gap Entrance Station - Luray Caverns

Thorton Gap Entrance at 211 (Lee Highway) provides access to the town of Luray, and the largest caverns on the east coast, Luray Caverns.  Luray Caverns is the most popular attraction in the Shenandoah Valley and Skyline Drive.

Milepost 42.7 - Stony Man parking area

This 1.6 mile roundtrip and easy hike, which starts from the parking area, takes you to the cliffs of Stony Man’s summit – the second highest peak in the park at 4,011 feet.

Milepost 42.7 - Skyland Resort

Shenandoah National Park's largest lodging facility is located at the highest point on Skyline Drive at 3,680 feet in elevation. Skyland Resort includes 178 units ranging from historic cabins to modern hotel rooms and suites. There is also a dining room, family-friendly entertainment, ranger guided programs, horseback riding and a conference hall.

Milepost 45.5 - Hawksbill Gap Parking Area and Hawksbill Loop Hike

The 2.9 mile roundtrip and moderate hiking trail, takes you on a loop hike and provides some fantastic vistas which are accessed via the Appalachian and Salamander trails.

Milepost 50.7 - Dark Hollow Falls

This is the shortest trail to a waterfall in Shenandoah National Forest.  Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a 1.4-mile roundtrip and moderate trail takes you down a pretty steep descent to Dark Hollow Falls.  The trail is steep, and very rocky.   

This is one of the most popular and well traveled trails.   The hike back up is challenging, so know your limits!

Milepost 51 - Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center

Milepost 51.2 - Big Meadows Lodge

Big Meadows Lodge is a smaller lodge in Shenandoah National Park compared to Skyland Resort, having just 25 rooms and 72 cabins, suites and traditional rooms. The lodge has a dining room, family-friendly entertainment, guided ranger programs and a Visitor Center nearby.

Lewis Falls Trail starts here at the amphitheater parking area.   The trail is a 3.3 mile and moderate hike down to Lewis Falls.

Milepost 56.4 - Bearfence Trail

This 1.4-mile roundtrip hike takes you on a rock scramble up to the top with 360 degree views.  If heights are not your thing, you'll want to skip this trail, and take the easier Bearfence Viewpoint hike.

Milepost 79.5 - Loft Mount Information Center

Milepost 105 - Waynesboro, VA

Appalachian Trail

The famous Appalachian Trail runs parallel to Skyline Drive with 500 miles of hiking trails, wildlife and outdoor adventure programs.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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