Skyland to Big Meadows
This brief 10-mile stretch has much scenic beauty with Hawksbill Mountain dominating as the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park at 4,051 feet. The Franklin Cliffs Overlook between Mileposts 49 and 50 has great rocky cliffs perfect for a siesta on a sunny day. If you have time for an hour's hike, Dark Hollow Falls is a good choice at Milepost 50.7, just north of Big Meadows.
When we think of Big Meadows, two things immediately come to mind: blueberries and deer. Deer sightings are possible at all times of day. At dawn and dusk, the meadow directly across from the Visitor Center attracts anywhere from ten to fifty grazing deer. Take note that the meadow is filled with blueberries ripe for picking in July and August.
Big Meadows is the most extensive facility on the Skyline Drive. Without a reservation, camping is out of the question at peak times. Big Meadows Lodge has a cozy, rustic charm. We spent two memorable days fogged and rained in here one September. The dining room and great room of the lodge have high ceilings with exposed beams and wrought iron ceiling fixtures. The massive stone fireplace in the great room has magnetic force on foul-weather days.
Big Meadows is a major stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The camp store here is superbly stocked. Food items have been selected in sizes and types suitable for campers. The camp store sells clothing and supplies, such as candles, Coleman fuel, parkas, jeans, and toiletries. Big Meadows is the halfway point on the Skyline Drive. As we said earlier, a strong rider could cover the Skyline Drive in two days with Big Meadows being the logical overnight stop.
Big Meadows to Lewis Mountain
If you plan on camping at the halfway point on the Skyline Drive, Lewis Mountain is a good alternative to Big Meadows. Lewis Mountain campground has fewer campsites, but the atmosphere is less hectic, without the constant flow of traffic the Big Meadows complex attracts. There are also a few housekeeping cabins here which require a reservation.
The elevation in this section remains fairly constant in the 3,000 to 3,500-foot range. Be on the lookout for deer.
A hike to Bearfence Mountain summit is great if you have the time. It is only an eight-tenths of a mile hike round-trip for a 360-degree view of the area. From this rocky summit you can see Massanutten Ridge, Shenandoah Valley, Grindstone, Green, Powell, and Smith Mountains to the west. To the east, there are a dozen peaks within view Hazeltop, Bush Mountain, Laurel Gap, and Buzzard Rocks are among them. Henry Heatwole's book, Guide To Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, contains sketches identifying the geologic features at each overlook along the Skyline Drive. At Milepost 56.4, this hike is only a mile from Lewis Mountain. You might want to drop your gear, set up camp, and cycle back for a hike.
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