Virginia’s Chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains are arguably one of Virginia’s most memorable natural landmarks, providing a panoramic background for most road-trips in the central part of the state. Clearly visible throughout many parts of Orange County, they’re every bit as much a part of “who we are” as farmer’s markets, local wineries, and Montpelier. They’re also easily accessible (Shenandoah National Park is only a little over an hour away) which is why I’m ashamed to admit that it took me 23 years to visit. However, that situation has been rectified, and I can now say: a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains needs to be on your vacation bucket-list.
My “Mission Statement”
In this post and an upcoming follow-up, I’ll be talking about my personal adventure to Shenandoah National Park. Part One will focus on an overview of Skyline Drive, while Part Two will delve a little deeper into our experiences on one of SNP’s most popular waterfall hiking trails, White Oak Canyon. The posts do overlap somewhat chronologically, so you’ll need to read both to get a comprehensive view of the trip.
Along the way I’ll try to share with you a few tips I found useful and a few places I found memorable, to help you in planning your own visit.
Your Journey to Skyline Drive
The best way to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains is to drive (or cycle!) at least part of the 105 miles of roadway that meanders up through the rocky ranges. Skyline Drive is best known for its annual display of crimson-and-gold foliage in the fall, but you won’t be disappointed any time of the year.
Here’s a link to the National Park Service site, which provides directions to the 4 entrances, ticket information, and other “rules of the road” you’ll need to know.
Speeding Through Sperryville (And Stopping, Too)
If you travel to Skyline Drive from the Holladay House, my recommendation is to take Route 211 up through Madison (a beautiful drive in and of itself) and enter through the Thornton Gap entrance. If you do take this route, you’ll pass through quaint downtown Madison and, later, Sperryville. When my husband and I went we encountered this little gift-shop in Sperryville, which fell on the spectrum somewhere between organic and groovy and made us wish we weren’t penniless newlyweds. The inventory was hugely varied, stocking everything from a treasure trove of Beech honey and jams to handmade jewelry and quilts, to Polish pottery and knickknacks. There was even a collection of bar soaps that were touted as being edible. If, you know, edible soap is your thing.
You’ll want to stop for a pint of their delicious apple cider, and a locally-made snack or two.
On Skyline Drive
Once on Skyline Drive (which will cost you $15 per vehicle) you’ll want to pull off into a few of the overlook lanes to take photos of the valley, which drops off sharply beyond the wall and stretches like a rumpled blanket to the mountain ridges in the distance.
Houses are strewn across the green expanse, spattered here and there like flecks of white paint from the brush of an Impressionist. This is how Monet might have painted the Shenandoah: at once both vague and vivid, shrouded in a hazy fog that softens the outlines and bleeds one color into the next.
There are over one hundred miles of such scenery to browse through, ranging from the domestic view described above to stretches of pristine wilderness. Each overlook lane provides a different panorama, so you’ll want to take in at least a few.
Why You’ll Want To Go
You haven’t fully experienced Virginia until you’ve seen what it looks like from the top. If you’re looking for a place to pop the question, folks—I can’t think of a more memorable backdrop than this. It’s also perfect for a picnic, or (if you’re in serious shape) taking a cycling tour. If you’re looking to hike, Shenandoah National Park is also home to a medley of popular trails of different lengths and difficulties, for every skill level. (I’ll talk more about that in the next post.) There’s a something for everyone–you’re not going to find better drive-through tourism than this.