Length: 105 miles.
When to go: Popular year-round, but best from mid-April through October.
Lodging: Available at Skyland and Big Meadows lodges and Lewis Mountain cabins.
Nearby attractions: Skyline Caverns, in Front Royal. Luray Caverns, in Luray. Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s home, Charlottesville.
Words to the wise: Since the drive is two lanes wide and the speed limit is 35 m.p.h., traffic may be slow in peak seasons. On trails, wear hiking shoes and avoid unprotected ledges. The drive may be closed after snow or ice storms.
Visitor centers: Dickey Ridge, Big Meadows.
Further information: Shenandoah National Park, 3655 U.S. Hwy. 211 East, Luray, VA 222835; tel. 540-999-3500, www.nps.gov/shen.
High in the misty mountains of Virginia is a highway to heaven, a gracefully winding road that reigns over a picturesque patchwork of lush valleys, rounded peaks, and gently rolling pastures. Best of all, this wonderful wilderness lies within a two-hour drive of Washington, D.C., and is a one-day trip from New York.
1. Shenandoah Valley Overlook
Winding 105 miles along the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Skyline Drive is truly a feast for the eyes: more than 75 overlooks and 500 miles of nearby trails treat visitors to some of the most splendid and serene scenery found anywhere. Shenandoah Valley Overlook, one of the first points of interest along the two-lane highway as you travel south from Front Royal, provides a sweeping view of the valley, the Shenandoah River, and 40-mile-long Massanutten Mountain, which rises between the river’s two forks.
History buffs will be intrigued to learn that Signal Knob, a peak at the right-hand side of the mountain, was used at various times during the protracted Civil War as a communications base by both the blue-coat Union and gray-uniformed Confederate troops.
2. Range View Overlook
Perched 2,800 feet above sea level, this overlook has perhaps the best vistas in the northern part of the drive. To the south, running as far as the eye can see, are the Blue Ridge Mountains, named for the haze that constantly hovers over their slopes.
3. Hogback Overlook
To get a full view from this overlook (the longest one in the park), you will have to stop near the middle or once at each end. Either way, the scenery is sensational. On a clear day, as many as six or more bends of the serpentine Shenandoah River can be seen.
4. Marys Rock Tunnel
At mile 32.2 you reach Marys Rock Tunnel, a 600-foot-long corridor carved through a granite ridge. No one knows for sure how Marys Rock got its name, but legend has it that when Francis Thornton, a local landowner, brought his new young bride to this summit to show her the vastness of his property, he christened it Marys Rock. At Meadow Spring parking area, a two-mile trail of moderate difficulty leads to the summit, which is one of the few places in the park that affords a 360-degree panorama.