7 Tips for Visiting the Skyline Drive in the Fall

a person standing on a mountain

An hour or so west of DC is the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile mountaintop road running the length of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It’s a scenic drive offering great hikes and views all the way from Front Royal to Rockfish Gap. And if you’re thinking fall is the perfect time to go, you’re not alone. October is one of their busiest months and traffic on the Skyline Drive, not to mention the entrance booth, can back up for hours.

A few things to consider when planning your trip:

  1. Pick Another Time of Year or a Different Year
    This tip is specific to 2017 which is one of the most disappointing years for fall foliage in recent memory. If you’re going with gorgeous autumnal colors in mind, you’re not going to see them. Most of the leaves are still green or have just turned brown and fallen. If you have flexibility with your schedule, go next October or later this year. You probably still won’t get see much color but you’ll miss the crowds.

    a landscape with hills and trees
    View of the Skyline Drive from Front Royal this week
  2. Approach the Front Royal Entrance from the South
    Traffic from cars waiting to enter the park from the Front Royal Entrance (the park’s northernmost entrance) on 340 South (Stonewall Jackson Highway) can get backed up all the way to downtown Front Royal. Use Google Maps to find alternate routes through town and then, if you’re approaching the entrance from 340S/Stonewall Jackson Highway, go past the left turn to the entrance to the next traffic light. You’ll be able to do a U-turn and enter on the right, which typically has a much shorter line.
  3. Drive South to North
    Speaking of traffic, most people start in Front Royal and drive south, exiting in Luray. During peak times that means you’ll crawl along the parkway, taking in the fumes of the car in front rather than the fresh mountain air. Plan your trip to jump on the Skyline Drive near Elkton and Luray, ending up in Front Royal and you’ll avoid some of the crowds.
  4. Going During the Week
    If you have the flexibility, go during the week when everyone else is at work or in school.
  5. Pack a Picnic and Snacks
    There are food stops every 25 miles in the park and dining rooms open April-November at Big Meadows and Skyland, but with so many beautiful overlooks and picnic areas, it’s both cheaper and more peaceful to bring your own.
  6. Dress for Both Hot and Cold Temperatures
    Weather on the mountain can vary wildly from the temperatures below. And even when it’s a hot day on top the mornings can be delightfully crisp. Storms can happen quickly. Check the weather and plan to wear layers to be prepared for whatever nature brings.
  7. Consider Alternate Scenic Views
    If traffic is really bad or the mountain top is foggy, consider taking in views of the Skyline Drive vs view from the Skyline Drive. There are many great hiking trails near the Front Royal entrance and several wineries like Glen Manor Vineyards and Chester Gap Cellars offer beautiful views of the mountains.

And a bonus tip: the entrance fee is $25 per vehicle, but the fee is waived November 11-12 for Veterans Day.

Full Disclosure: I may receive affiliate credit from links in this post or on this site which will help fund my travels. Thank you for your support!

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