The Skyline Drive is a scenic highway that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park for a total of 105 miles. Not only is there a scenic highway dissecting the Park, but 95 miles of the Appalachian Trail are within Park boundaries. As you cycle along the Skyline Drive, the Shenandoah Valley runs parallel to the west while the Piedmont extends eastward toward the coast.
Small details in the construction of the Skyline Drive give it a slightly different atmosphere from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stone and mortar walls grace the edge of the road as it winds along the Blue Ridge Mountains. These structures and the tendency of the trees to form a canopy over the road, give the Drive a secluded feeling.
As you drive through the Park, you are almost guaranteed to spot deer at dawn or dusk. Black bear also inhabit the Park. Although bear sightings are uncommon, Matthews Arm and Loft Mountain campgrounds have bearproof trash cans and bear poles for hoisting food. A bear census taken by the National Park Service and the Virginia State Wildlife Commission estimates the bear population to be around 300 during the summer. Other wildlife include the red fox, gray fox, striped skunk, spotted skunk, bobcat, racoon, beaver, groundhog, and chipmunk. There are about 200 species of birds in the Park. Among the larger birds in the Park you will find the wild turkey, the raven, and the ruffled grouse.
The trees that make up the George Washington National Forest are primarily young second growth as a result of heavy timbering practiced before the Park was established. The primary species are oak and hickory. You will also find black locust, hemlock, yellow birch, black birch, basswood, tulip poplar, red maple, and sugar maple.
If bicycle touring in the mountains is a new experience for you, the Skyline Drive is a good place to start. Facilities abound with the largest gap between a source of food being 25 miles. There are two lodges, six restaurants, four camp stores, and four campgrounds all in the space of 105 miles. In addition, all but one of the campgrounds have showers.
With basic needs provided for, you are free to concentrate on some very pleasant bicycling. The grades on the Skyline Drive tend not to be severe. The longest climbs are at either entrance. The elevation drops to 1390 feet at the Front Royal entrance and 1900 feet at the Rockfish Gap entrance near Waynesboro.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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