By Erin Gifford
The Ridge Trail on Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park
Photo Courtesy of NPS/Katy Cain
Autumn is beautiful in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As Mother Nature puts on a dramatic foliage display, many travelers flock to the 105-mile Skyline Drive that runs through Shenandoah National Park from Front Royal to Waynesboro.
This popular two-lane road offers 75 overlooks, each more picturesque than the last and all boasting Instagram-worthy red, orange and yellow foliage splashed across the landscape. While cruising along Skyline Drive is itself a worthy activity, there are also plenty of other things to see and do near this colorful route.
Inside the National Park
Make it a weekend with a stay in a guest room or rustic cabin at Skyland Resort, the largest accommodations inside Shenandoah National Park. Situated at 3,680 feet, Skyland sits at the highest point on Skyline Drive. From there, you have easy access to the park’s 4,000-foot peaks as well as the exposed summit of Old Rag Mountain.
The 1.6-mile Stony Man Trail is a half-mile from the lodge, offering a leisurely climb to one of the park’s most scenic points. For lunch, meander over to Big Meadows Wayside. Fill up on staples, including made-to-order sandwiches and salads. For a more relaxed meal, dine at one of the restaurants at either Skyland or Big Meadow Lodge. Save room for a slice of the restaurants’ signature blackberry ice cream pie.
While at Skyland Resort, book a one-hour or two-and-a-half-hour guided horseback trail ride at Skyland Stables for a different way to see the foliage-filled surroundings. Pony rides are available for small children.
Photo Courtesy of Luray Caverns
Go underground at Luray Caverns, the largest caverns in the Eastern U.S., where you’ll see such geological wonders as 100-foot-tall caverns, towering stone columns, mud flows, stalactites and stalagmites. Ponder limestone formations with depictive names such as Fried Eggs, Totem Pole and Frozen Fountain, and check out the famous Great Stalacpipe Organ.
Back at ground level, try to find your way out of the Garden Maze at Luray Caverns. This one-acre family-friendly maze consists of eight-foot-tall hedges complemented by fountains, tunnels and a lookout tower. Across the street, the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum features more than 140 vintage cars, including an 1892 Mercedes-Benz and a 1908 Baker Electric.
Virginia Canopy Tours
Photo Courtesy of Virginia Canopy Tours
A stone’s throw from the Shenandoah River, Front Royal is an ideal base for outdoor activities, including canoeing and kayaking. Rent a watercraft or book a half-day trip with a local outfitter such as Front Royal Outdoors, which shuttles visitors upriver for a scenic paddle on crystal-clear waters back to Front Royal.
Take to the sky on a high-flying ride with Virginia Canopy Tours. The exhilaration is palpable as you race along eight separate zip lines at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
Make your last stop in Front Royal a history lesson—about beer, that is. Tap into the Virginia Beer Museum for an education on the history of suds from Colonial times to today’s era of microbreweries and craft beer. Settle in at the museum’s Hell Town Saloon to sample from a rotating tap of 18 beers brewed across the state.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of AAA World.
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