Weekend Wheeling in Washington, D.C.
The town of Front Royal, 60 miles west of the Capital Beltway, is the gateway to Shenandoah National Park, the Shenandoah Valley, and a vast complex of national forests that spill into West Virginia. Most services are available in Front Royal, and the town itself is an interesting destination.
One of the most spectacular skinny-tire destinations west of Washington is the Skyline Drive. This 105-mile road, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, is a breathtaking, hilly ride along the Blue Ridge ridgeline.
It's difficult to make a circuit route that includes Skyline Drive, so plan an out-and-back ride. Spotting a car might add to the ride's enjoyment. To reach the northern end of Skyline Drive near Front Royal, take I-66 west to Exit 13, then follow signs to Shenandoah National Park. Don't forget to bring cash for the entrance fee.
George Washington National Forest
A short distance west of Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, which encompasses the Massanutten Range, offers one of the best camping and biking opportunities you'll find anywhere. You'll also find fewer people than along Skyline Drive, but don't expect solitude on weekends.
The mountain ridges at the north end of the Massanutten Range are shaped like the letter "Y." The stream between the ridges is Passage Creek and the corresponding valley is Fort Valley. They both run north-south through the open end of the "Y" between two ridgelines. To enter Fort Valley, go west from D.C. on I-66 to Exit 6. Take US 340 south about one mile toward Front Royal, then turn west on State Route 55 after crossing the North Branch of the Shenandoah River. Go five miles west on Route 55, then five miles south on County Route 678 (marked on a small, white rectangle) to Catherine Furnace Recreation Area, which includes a national forest campground.
From the campground, fat-tire enthusiasts can fashion a fire road circuit or one that incorporates challenging single-track to visit Signal Knob, a spectacular overlook used by Confederate troops during the Civil War to monitor Union troop movements in the Shenandoah Valley. This is Stonewall Jackson country!
If you want to stay on pavement, ride Route 678 south about 20 miles from Catherine Furnace to Route 675. From this intersection, ride Route 675 east toward Luray or west toward Edinburg. Both directions include a steep climb and descent. Go as far as suits you before reversing direction. If you ride as far as Luray, consider visiting Luray Caverns, a breathtaking underground experience.
You'll increase your enjoyment of this area by buying a good map. DeLorme's Virginia map book is one obvious choice. For added detail, especially for trail rides, buy Map G from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (see their Web site). For a circuit ride that incorporates Fort Valley and the area west of Massanutten, see the Strasburg ride in Bicycling Through Civil War History by Kurt Detwiler. This book includes several other Civil War cycling destinations in the D.C. area, including Antietam and Gettysburg.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication