Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

As August heat starts to blister city asphalt, Americans already starved for travel begin to look harder for safe and satisfying family adventures.  In the Shenandoah Valley, one answer is the classic scenic road trip—and that can mean either Skyline Drive  or the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In general on these two roads, many features and facilities like trails, lodging, campgrounds, concessions and picnic areas have re-opened, although others like visitor centers may still be closed.  But the epic roads themselves– both Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway–are reassuringly open.

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park    
The entire 105-mile length of Skyline Drive re-opened May 23rd.  To travel this road is to be immersed in Blue Ridge beauty. Pull over to any of 75+ overlooks and take in views that will make you wonder, “Is there any way I could live out here?”

Take the 35- mph speed limit seriously, both to avoid abundant wildlife such as deer, bears, and turkeys, but mostly to let you enjoy the scenery. Even in August, wildflowers like wild onion, oxeye daisy, yarrow, and columbine may be evident in Shenandoah National Park.

The trails in the Park—more than 500 miles of them—are open as well. At this time of year, it’s hard to resist a waterfall hike. See several described here.

The entry fee is $30 per vehicle, good for seven consecutive days; other fees for motorcycles, buses, etc. may apply.  The Drive starts in Front Royal and ends near Waynesboro. There are four entrances/exits:

Front Royal, (mp* 0) accessible via I-66 and Route 340

Thornton Gap, (mp 31.5) accessible via Route 211

Swift Run Gap, (mp 62.7) accessible via Route 33

Rockfish Gap, (mp 105) accessible via I-64 and Route 250 (Rockfish Gap is also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway)

(These entry points also proved quick access to Valley towns like Luray, Elkton,  and Waynesboro and others, where shops and attractions have generally re-opened. Restaurants are open for takeout and dine-in with restrictions. Hotels may operate but may not be offering all amenities and events are subject to gathering ban limitations.)

What’s Open in the Park?
On July 13, campgrounds in the Park opened at full capacity. Make reservations at Recreation.gov.

The backcountry, including shelters and huts, is open for overnight camping.

Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon/Cedar Run circuit trails are open from both Skyline Drive and the boundary. Entrance fees will be collected at the boundary trailheads, unless you have a current pass, and parking will be limited to available parking spots in designated parking areas only.

Lodging, waysides and food services are re-opening in Shenandoah National Park. Get the latest updates here.

Safety remains everyone’s first priority and the Park has a number of guidelines in place. Check them here before you leave.

The Blue Ridge Parkway
Begun in 1935, the Parkway was originally call the Appalachian Scenic Highway. Since 1946, it has been the most-visited unit in the National Park System almost every year. Split-rail fences, old farmsteads and historic structures complement spectacular views of distant mountains and neighboring valleys. The Parkway also incorporates several recreation areas– some exceeding 6,000 acres.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles from Rockfish Gap in Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina,” said Tubby Kubik, Executive Director the of Blue Ridge Parkway Association.

“Across the miles of the Blue Ridge, visitors can experience diverse geological features, wide open spaces with spectacular views, access to North Carolina’s highest point (Mount Mitchell), hundreds of miles of scenic hiking trails, and numerous waterfalls.

Kubik added, “Revised hours and new protocols (such as requiring mask usage in compliance with both North Carolina and Virginia requirements) are in place at many locations in order to keep visitors and staff safe.  But many attractions, historic sites and lodging options are available along or near the Parkway, such as Explore Park and Mabry Mill. While traveling in August, we recommend visiting sites or hiking early in the day.”

Just a few of the diverse attractions accessible from the Parkway:

The most up to date information on what’s open along the Parkway may be found here

Note: Gas cannot be purchased on the Parkway but nearby stations are listed here

The Blue Ridge Parkway Association has produced the information-packed Blue Ridge Parkway Directory & Travel Planner in partnership with NPS – Blue Ridge Parkway since 1949. Or you can download the Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner app for Android and iPhone.

Banner photo of Skyline Drive courtesy Sarah Hauser, Virginia Tourism Corporation

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*Visitors to Skyline Drive will see concrete milepost (mp) markers along the west side.