Imagine someone on a game show being asked the question, “Name two scenic roadways in America.” The two most popular answers would be Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. All or part of those two picturesque roads — managed as national parks — wind through Virginia, and are excellent choices for an eye-pleasing auto getaway, whether it be to see fall’s colorful foliage, a distant view on a crisp winter day, a spring drive to experience the season of rebirth or a cool escape from summer’s heat. What other route do we recommend for scenery? Read on to find out!
Significant Stops Along Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is the linear backbone of Shenandoah National Park. The 105-mile touring road runs atop the Blue Ridge and links the majority of Shenandoah’s trails, attractions and park facilities together. Therefore, you not only get the views from the Drive’s 75 overlooks but you can also connect to visitor centers, trailhead, campgrounds, camp stores, lodges, cabins and more, building your Shenandoah National Park experience as you see fit.
Drivers pick up Skyline Drive at its northern terminus near Front Royal, climbing from the lowlands to the crested beauty of the Blue Ridge. The air cools and the views open. Once up here, relax and get into scenic drive mode, leaving the worries and hassle of everyday life behind. Instead, focus on the national park level scenery before you, stopping at overlooks of the Shenandoah Valley or seeing the clear pools of Jeremys Run, or maybe 93-foot Overall Run Falls.
Old Rag Overlook is another good stop, where you can peer on one of Virginia’s contributions to great mountains of America. Get as high as possible along the Drive by walking to Hawksbill, rising over 4,000 above sea level. Stop and stroll down to Dark Hollow Falls or South River Falls. Look for deer at Big Meadows, then stop at the visitor center for information.
Heading south, walk among the talus slopes of Blackrock, or gaze down upon the Piedmont from Moorman River Overlook. Sometimes it doesn’t matter exactly where you stop, adding spontaneity to the adventure, as long as you are going along Skyline Drive, the paved ribbon of Shenandoah National Park.
Driving The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is perhaps the granddaddy of them all when it comes to auto friendly national parks. The motor route connects Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. After driving the Parkway you might agree that the roadside scenery is as good – or better – than the two national parks it links together! A total of 216 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway run through Virginia, traversing 12 counties as it delivers a picturesque driving experience worthy of a national park.
Each overlook adds to the mosaic of vistas along the Parkway, especially since most of them include information about what you are looking at and any significant human or natural history, enhancing the panorama. Hiking trails ranging from 100 feet to 10 miles draw you from your vehicle, to waterfalls, vistas or cultural sites. Campgrounds avail overnighting possibilities, as does a roadside lodge with a view – Peaks of Otter Lodge. Numerous picnic areas make a roadside meal an easy treat.
Visitors can pick up the parkway near Waynesboro, at Rockfish Gap atop the Blue Ridge, where it meets Virginia’s other famous national park motorway – Skyline Drive. The two motorways could be driven together for a 320 mile national park driving experience stretching from Front Royal to the North Carolina state line … Can you say road trip? Here’s a parting fact to consider while you tool atop the Blue Ridge: The parkway as a whole took 52 years to complete, and was finished in 1987.
A Northern Route for Beautiful Scenery
Did you know there’s yet another Virginia national park ideal for scenic driving? Lesser known, George Washington Memorial Parkway was created specifically for scenic driving. The Memorial Parkway stretches for 25 miles from Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, along the Virginia side of the Potomac past an array of scenic and historical sites, packing a lot into its relatively short distance. It ends at I-475 near the Maryland state line.
George Washington Memorial Parkway was designed in the 1930s as a scenic drive accessible for northern Virginia and nearby D.C. In addition to having adjacent hiking trails, the drive also has overlooks and of course those stops at cultural and historical sites. Beyond Mount Vernon, scenic drivers can visit Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Jones Point Lighthouse and sobering Arlington Cemetery, highlighted with a visit to Arlington House and the Robert E. Lee Memorial (closed for reconstruction until Fall 2020).
Stop for a walk on Theodore Roosevelt Island, smack dab in the middle of the Potomac River. A longer trek can be made on the multi-use trail that parallels the parkway for 18 miles – the Mount Vernon Trail.
Find one of the four parkway picnic areas and have a shady meal. Stop at the Claude Moore Farm and experience agrarian life back during the Revolutionary War period. Nearing the north end of the parkway you can explore Turkey Run Park, a fitting capstone to this lesser known Virginia national park scenic drive known as George Washington Parkway.