Virginia’s Most Beloved Drives for Fall Foliage
by Casey | Posted on September 4th, 2013
About the Blue Ridge Parkway
Winding 469 miles from Afton to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway was born out of President Roosevelt’s desire to create jobs in the midst of the Great Depression. Construction of the Parkway was started on the Virginia/North Carolina border in 1935 and was completed in 1983, connecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park. This year is the 30th anniversary of the completion of the Parkway and the 78th anniversary of its start.
In Addition to the Foliage
Sure, you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the amazing fall foliage, but what else is there to see and do up there?
Milepost 5 & 6 – Humpback Rocks – See Appalachian farm buildings of the 19th century and visit the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center for additional exhibits, a gift shop and restroom. If you like to hike, two miles from the parking lot is Humpback Mountain, part of the Appalachian Trail. It’s a strenuous, but very popular hike. Map
Milepost 63.6 – The James River Visitor Center features an exhibit on the James River and Kanawha Canal, once a primary commercial route. A trail takes you to a restored 19th century lock, and if you like to fish, check out Otter Creek. It runs 10 miles down to the James, and Otter Lake is accessible from the Otter Creek Campground.
Milepost 83.1 – Fallingwater Cascades Trail is a National Recreation Trail, approximately 1.6 miles long and moderately strenuous.
Milepost 85.9 – Peaks of Otter are three peaks – Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill. In this area you’ll find a restaurant, a 63-room lodge, lake and campground. The entirety of Peaks of Otter is a premier fall destination on the Parkway.
Also at 85.9:
- Elk Run Trail is a self-guided nature loop = .8 mile; easy
- Johnson Farm Loop Trail = 2.1 miles; moderate
- Harkening Hill Trail = 3.3 miles; moderate
Milepost 154 – The Trail Cabin, circa 19th-century, represents the isolation of mountain residents. The location has been described as “spectacular!”
Milepost 167.1 – Rock Castle Gorge Trail is a long and strenuous 10.8 miles. Wear good shoes and carry water!
Milepost 176.2 – Mabry Mill is not to be missed. It’s one of the most – if not the most – photographed sites on the Parkway. Get a bite to eat at the famed Mabry Mill Restaurant before exploring the mill, blacksmith shop, wheelwright and whiskey still. Demonstrations and tours are available. Be sure to find a treasure in the gift shop, too!
About Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is 105.5 miles spanning the ridge of Shenandoah National Park. Ground was broken in July 1931 and the first 34-mile stretch from Swift Run Gap (Route 33) to Thornton Gap (Route 211) was completed in 1934. Thornton Gap to Front Royal (another 32 miles) was completed in 1936, and another 32.4 miles between Swift Run Gap and Jarman Gap was completed in 1939.
Of note is that Jarman Gap to Rockfish Gap was originally built as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those 8.5 miles were completed in 1939 and were deeded to Shenandoah National Park in 1961.
In Addition to the Foliage
The highlight of Skyline Drive is, of course, Shenandoah National Park. Interestingly enough, the Drive existed before the Park came to be. Shenandoah National Park was authorized in 1926, established in 1935 and dedicated by President Roosevelt in 1936.
Milepost 21.5 – Overall Run Falls – If you’re looking for a great waterfall to hike to, this might be the one. With a 93′ drop, it’s the highest in Shenandoah National Park. The hike is a moderate 6.4 miles ’round trip to the falls and back.
Milepost 41.7 or 42.5 – Skyland Resort – Dating to 1886 and originally called Stony Man Camp, Skyland was a summer retreat for the Pollock family. Skyland is the highest point of Skyline Drive at 3,680 feet, overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Stay here if you like, in one of the 178 accommodations. Enjoy the restaurant on site, too.
Milepost 42.6 – Whiteoak Canyon - Waterfalls ranging from 35 to 86 feet with swimming holes at the bottom of each are the reward for this 4.6-mile out-and-back hike to the upper falls. Want to see more? Add another 2.7 miles to your trip by descending further down the mountain. Map
Milepost 51.3 – Big Meadows Lodge – This lodge dates to 1939 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The stones were cut from Massanutten Mountain and the timber is native chestnut. Enjoy the Roosevelt Fried Chicken or New Deal Turkey Platter at the Spottswood Dining Room, if you find yourself hungry.
These two drives – two of “America’s Most Iconic Drives,” according to Travel + Leisure – are just the beginning of your Virginia drives for fall foliage, as we have more in store and coming soon. Be sure to subscribe to our blog to have the posts delivered directly to your inbox. We wouldn’t want you to miss a single thing about fall in Virginia.
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