Mid-October is prime time for fall color in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, best soaked up along its hiking trails and on a leisurely drive along the 105-mile Skyline Drive between Front Royal and Waynesboro. Fall is the finale for the national park, as visitor facilities shut down for the winter as the last of the leaves drop, and access to Skyline Drive diminishes as winter weather settles in.
With blue skies and brightly painted leaves beckoning on Columbus Day, John and I took a leisurely drive atop the Shenandoahs, delighted that the road wasn’t too crowded and parking was only tricky at Skylands Lodge. It was a first for him, and my third trip along this meandering, 35 mph scenic parkway.
There are dozens of overlooks along Skyline Drive, and after a while you won’t stop for every one. When you reach the entrance station, ask for a map and circle the stops you make so you’ll remember them. This kiosk at Shenandoah Valley Overlook is the first posted map you’ll see after entering the park at Front Royal.
Well before either Skyline Drive or Shenandoah National Park existed, Skyland was a destination for middle-class travelers in the 1890s, providing a dramatic vista from the privately owned cabins and dining hall. Once the park was established, Skyland became a hub of activity, offering lodging for visitors.
Visiting Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through Shenandoah National Park, providing access to recreation areas, campgrounds, lodging, and restaurants. At the north end, you access it from Front Royal, Virginia. At the south end, it ends at Rockfish Gap, where the Blue Ridge Parkway takes over.
Entrance fees for Shenandoah National Park are now $30 per car, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 for people on bicycles. The permit is good for seven consecutive days. An annual pass is available for $55. Fall is always a very busy time for Skyline Drive, so we recommend planning your visit for a weekday, and booking any lodging, whether in the park or at one end or the other, in advance.
At their discretion, the park may close Skyline Drive due to weather conditions that make driving unsafe.