Sunday, October 27: This morning we have an early breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn in Staunton, where we spent the night; we’re on the road by 8 a.m. Our goal is to drive around the little town of Staunton and then head north, getting on the Skyline Drive from Route 211 at the Thornton Gap Entrance Station. Mike reasons that if we get an early start and we head from south to north, we won’t hit the crowds that come in droves at this time of year from northern Virginia.
First we drive around Staunton which is a very cute town indeed, but I don’t take many pictures because we want beat the hordes of visitors to the mountains. After all, it does seem to be close to the peak for leaf color, if not slightly past peak. The weather is fabulous: though it’s cloudy this morning, sunshine and a cool and breezy 63 degrees are promised. That means everyone in the state of Virginia will be heading to Shenandoah National Park.
I love the old houses and hilly neighborhoods in the town, many of which are all decked out for Halloween. Staunton is a significantly larger town than Lexington (where we had dinner last night) with its nearly 25,000 people, compared to Lexington’s nearly 7,000. Staunton is known for being the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, and the home of Mary Baldwin College, historically a women’s college. The city is also home to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (Wikipedia: Staunton, Virginia).
We drive through a number of small towns on our way to the entrance to the park, and then we pay the $15/car entrance fee. Luckily, from this entrance and at this time of morning, there is barely a line, so we get right on the Skyline Drive and head north.
According to the National Park Service, the Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and is the only public road through the park. You can enter Shenandoah at four places: Front Royal near Rt. 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Rt. 211 (where we enter), Swift Run Gap at Rt. 33, and Rockfish Gap at Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway). It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day.
There are 75 overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park purposely leaves the roadsides unmowed so wildflowers put on a show all year long. In early spring you can see trillium peeking through the grass. June’s display of azaleas is spectacular, and cardinal-flower, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod keep the color coming right into fall.
Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.
We come across a magical yellow and green forest, where people have pulled off along the side of the road and are wandering under the tall canopy of trees as if in a dream. The forest is mesmerizing because of the very sparse undergrowth, the canopy of gold reaching to the heavens, and the sunlight streaming through the trees.
I’m so happy to be in the mountains for my birthday weekend. After two years of being in Oman, where fall is basically nonexistent, this breathtaking foliage and amazing views are the best birthday gift of all. 🙂
Finally, as we leave the park at the northern Front Royal entrance, we see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park: the northern Virginia contingent. Thank goodness we were already staying in the south and heading north so we were able to avoid these long lines! A perfect ending to a perfect birthday. 🙂