For a weekend trip away from D.C. it is hard to top the aptly named Skyline Drive, a 100-mile roadway running along the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Skyline Drive boasts breathtaking views, dozens of diverse hiking trails, plenty of exciting excursions only a short drive away, and the charming, centrallylocated Skyland Resort. My girlfriend, Liz, and I set off for a weekend exploring Skyline Drive on a Friday afternoon in November. While we had been to interesting locations around the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, we’d not experienced Skyline Drive–despite frequent and passionate recommendations from friends and coworkers. I usually relish planning a vacation agenda and researching great opportunities, but for this trip we decided to just set off west from the District and enjoy a relaxing weekend without the need to stick to a schedule. The trip to Skyline Drive’s Thornton Gap Entrance Station takes a couple of hours and the National Park Service’s $15 entrance fee is good for a whole week exploring Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. The car trip through Virginia’s farms and fields served as the perfect prelude to the magnificent scenes that awaited us on Skyline Drive. Rolling hills, harvested cornfields, proud vineyards, and Civil War historic sites abruptly gave way to the craggy cliffs and winding ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Turning onto Skyline Drive from the Ranger station, we were immediately treated to a drive through spectacular fall colors splashed across the maple, ash, and birch trees. The roadway itself is limited to 35 mph and winds up and along the ridgeline, affording extraordinary views of the mountains, dense, brambly woods, and the watercolor-painted Shenandoah Valley. It was hard to drive right on by several enticing overlooks, but rumbling stomachs and our excitement to check in at Skyland Resort caused us to push on, leaving camera-happy visitors, vivid poplar groves, and panoramic views behind to enjoy another day. We arrived at Skyland Resort at mile marker 41 just as the sun was setting below the ridge. Originally built in 1895, with numerous updates and expansions since then, Skyland Resort provides a commanding view of the Shenandoah Valley west 78
of the ridgeline. The Pollock Dining Room and Lodge dominates the resort grounds, situated at the highest point along Skyline Drive (3,600 feet above sea level). The lodge is rustic and cozy, with a grandiose dining room featuring 20-foot floor-toceiling windows taking advantage of every terrific view the resort offers. After dinner we sat on the patio outside the lodge, chatting and relishing the opportunity to stargaze (a novel activity for those living near D.C.!). We luckily had a flashlight in our car from a previous camping trip; I would highly recommend bringing along a couple for wandering around the resort grounds at night. While the Skyland Resort offers amenities similar to any good hotel (if you’re interested in that), I would recommend packing as if going on a weekend camping trip. We awoke early on Saturday, grabbed our park and trail map, laced up our hiking boots, and grabbed a light buffet breakfast before setting off on a couple of easy hikes. Forgoing the tempting full breakfast we decided to pursue what’s widely touted to be the best view in the area: Stony Man. Two trails lead up to and down from Stony Man, and both are accessible from Skyland with a short walk along the Appalachian Trail to the trailhead. We chose the Stony Man Trail, which is a 1.6 mile roundtrip trail that lazily ascends up to a spectacular overlook among steep, craggy cliffs. The trails were wellmarked, easy to hike, relaxing, and abundantly scenic. Despite visiting the park on the last weekend of the resort’s season, the trails were not crowded. We reached the Stony Man summit (named for the natural profile of a man’s face set in stone viewable from the summit) in a little over an hour and sat down to eat some of the snacks we’d brought along. The view from the summit was simply incredible at 4,000 feet above the valley floor below. The vivid red, yellow, and oranges of the fall leaves seemed to be swirled together like an impressionist landscape all the way down the mountain, before abruptly giving way to green fields and pastures stretching westward. The clear weather allowed us to see all the way across the valley to the opposite Appalachian ridge, an incredible distance to take in. Although we could have easily rested on the jutting ridge and enjoyed the view for hours, we were excited to descend not only from Stony Man but all the way down the Blue Ridge Mountains to the town of Luray, Virginia–home of the spectacular
Published on Sep 1, 2014
Published on Sep 1, 2014
The Fall 2014 Issue highlights the Logan Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C. and shows off the perfect way to enjoy the season with thin...