The air is getting cooler and pumpkin spice lattes have made their triumphant return, which means that Fall is upon us! Since the green leaves of summer will very soon be turning to their autumn hues, I thought i’d make a short post of one of my favorite places to experience the season while still remaining in the DC area. I’m talking about Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and if you haven’t already been there, the next couple months are gonna be just the right time to do so!

Note: Iv’e linked most of the images here to my website where you can see them fullscreen. 

Beginning at the foot of Front Royal where the two branches of the Shenandoah River meet, Skyline Drive is one of the most majestic roads that there is in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. Built by the WPA in the 1930’s, Skyline Drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge for over 100 miles South to Waynesboro and Charlottesville, offering stunning views of the Shenandoah valley and beyond from its 75 overlooks.

Autumn in Shenandoah National Park. As Seen from Skyline Drive in the Early Morning.
Autumn in Shenandoah National Park. As Seen from near the Pinnacles Overlook along Skyline Drive in the Early Morning.
Blue Ridge Mountains at Dusk. Shenandoah National Park.
Blue Ridge Mountains at Dusk. Shenandoah National Park.
Moonlit Night over Skyline Drive. Shenandoah National Park.
Moonlit Night over Skyline Drive. Just South of Big Meadows. Shenandoah National Park.

Starry Sky over Shenandoah National Park

Sunset from Skyline Drive in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.
Sunset from Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
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Autumn Leaves along Skyline Drive.
Looking into the valley from the Northern area of Skyline Drive.
Looking into the valley from the Northern area of Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive is a part of Shenandoah National Park, with trailheads from the drive  leading to waterfalls and mountain crests like Old Rag, and wildlife such as white-tailed deer and black bears abound. While the drive is wonderful at any time of the year, I truly believe it is at its best when the sun rises and sets, the former especially in the autumn months when the forests covering the blue ridge turn into a vast sea of crimson, yellow, purple and orange, with the air itself being refreshingly crisp and smelling of the season. Little Devil’s Stair, Hogback, Pinnacles, Rattlesnake Point and Big Run are just a few of the overlooks that offer great vantage points for sunrise and sunset, with sweeping views of the series of crests that make up the blue ridge and the many small valleys they create and the towns that line them; lighting up the valley as the sunset gives way to dusk.

Dusk along Skyline Drive in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.
Dusk along Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
Sunrise from Little Devil's Stair overlook. Shenandoah National Park Sunrise.
Sunrise from Little Devil’s Stair overlook. Shenandoah National Park Sunrise.

Leafers.

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In the autumn months you will see cars dotting the overlooks facing towards the setting sun like a drive in movie theater, while surprisingly enough you’ll find even in the autumn months the drive almost deserted at dawn, allowing you your own private show of a brilliant sunrise. It’s also a good way to avoid the crowds of leafers, as they’ll be choking up the road going one way as you go the other. When autumn is at its peak, the forests lining the road turn vibrant hues of yellow, with tourists parked along both sides of the road to get out and take a look.

And for those who love stargazing…

There are few places more magical at night than Big Meadows, true to its name lying almost at the midway point of skyline drive and offering an unobstructed view of the night sky from one end of the horizon to the other. Big Meadows is one of the more popular areas to watch meteor showers, and on a clear night one can easily make out the milky way. While it is most visible in the summer months, the milky way can still be seen any time of year.

Milky Way Galaxy over Big Meadows. Shenandoah National Park.
Milky Way Galaxy over Big Meadows. Shenandoah National Park.
Sunrise over Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park. Virginia.
Sunrise over Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park. Virginia.

A crescent moon is seen in the early morning sky at dawn, as seen from Big Meadows along Skyline Drive.

The sun begins to rise over Shenandoah National Park, as seen from Big Meadows along Skyline Drive.

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Big Meadows is also a wonderful place to experience the dawn, as one end of the horizon may still have stars dotting the darkened sky as the first hues of sunrise begin on the other.

Note: Check for weather updates if you happen to be up there at night. Sometimes heavy fog will inundate the ridge, making driving a little difficult…

Not fun.
Not fun.

To get there: The Northern Entrance to Skyline Drive is located just outside of Front Royal, a small town 75 miles West of D.C. directly off of I-66, the drive itself there averaging around an hour and a half. 

Entry Fee: $25.00 for a 7 day unlimited pass. However, their payment booths close at night while the road remains open. So if you’re trying to be cheap, or just want to leave a donation of your choosing, you can do that too.

-Craig H

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