Skyline Drive’s Winter Wonders

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A tour down Skyline Drive is one of the most popular trips in the Shenandoah Valley—for three seasons.

But have you tried it in winter?

A winter tour of Skyline Drive? Isn’t it full of snow and ice?

Well, sometimes, yes. And Skyline Drive can be fully or partially closed because of the weather conditions, with little notice. You can check by calling 540-999-3500, press 1, then press 1 again. But when conditions allow, and they often do, a winter ride down the 105-mile Skyline Drive can present a starkly beautiful view of Shenandoah National Park. 

Waterfalls may be fully frozen. Spectacular mountain views are extended with the leaves down. Crowds are nonexistent. Treetops sparkling with fresh snow and ice make for breathtaking photo opportunities.

And while storms can close the road, the National Park Service usually gets them cleared quickly, and of course there are many days with no snow or ice at all. A study of snowfall over a 12-year period in the Park showed an average of just 8.2 inches in the month of December, with temperatures ranging between 23 and 39F.  If you keep an eye on the weather and drive cautiously, a winter tour of Skyline Drive is a unique getaway at a hectic time of year.

Moreover, there are several Valley towns easily accessible from the Drive’s four entry/exit points. While most facilities and accommodations on the Drive are closed in December lodging, dining, Christmas shopping and more are easily found just off the Drive. Many suggestions may be found here.

Easily accessible from Skyline Drive are:

Front Royal –The northern entrance to Skyline Drive, Front Royal is about 70 miles west of Washington, DC, easily reached from I-66. Eat well at the Apple House, a longtime favorite with locals and travelers, and stay at any of several major chain hotels. Be sure to visit Skyline Caverns as well, almost nextdoor to the Drive’s entrance.

Luray— From the Thornton Gap entrance to the Drive, take Route 211 into Luray and choose from the Hotel Laurance or the Mimslyn Inn with its Manor House and Cottage Collection.

Contact All Star Lodging to learn about hundreds of cabin rental options. (Cabin amenities vary widely and the staff at All Star Lodging are experts at finding you the exact kind of hideaway you need.) Be sure to ask if you need 4WD, as some cabins in the area are remote.

Harrisonburg— Exit the Drive at Swift Run Gap and travel Route 33 into the thriving Valley city of Harrisonburg. Lodging options include:

By the Side of the Road Inn and Cottages
Comfort Inn
Country Inn and Suites by Carlson
DoubleTree by Hilton
Hampton Inn Harrisonburg-University
Holiday Inn Express
Massanutten Resort
The Village Inn

Waynesboro–Leave the southern end of the Drive at Rockfish Gap (Routes 64 and 250) and motor into Waynesboro. Stay at any of several major chains and take in a performance at the Wayne Theatre, or visit the nearby Frontier Culture Museum.

Photo courtesy the National Park Service

Note: The current fee for a private vehicle to enter Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park is $25. The Shenandoah Valley Travel Association is vigorously opposing a proposal to raise that fee to $70.

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