The Beauty of the Daughter of the Stars
Stretching for 200 miles between the Allegheny Mountains to the northwest and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the southeast, the Shenandoah Valley has long inspired. Washington Irving found it “equal to the promised land in fertility, and far superior to it in beauty,” while Herbert Hoover, riding horseback along the crest of the Blue Ridge, was said to have remarked, “These mountains are made for a road.”
That finally came to pass in 1939 with the completion of the 105-mile Skyline Drive, which bisects long, skinny Shenandoah National Park’s wild backcountry, offering views that the appreciative Hoover called “the greatest in the world.”
Devastated by the Civil War and scarred by early settlers, the land was reclaimed by the government in the 1930s and today is a haven for bird watchers and hikers, as well as motorists.
Like the hardwood forests of New England, the Blue Ridge Mountains are home to sycamores, hickories, oaks, and maples that in autumn put on a breathtaking display of color – peaking later than almost all foliage on the East Coast.
Autumn weekends on the two- lane Skyline Drive mean bottleneck traffic, but you can escape by parking at any of the seventy-five balcony-like scenic overlooks, many of which act as trailheads. The 2,100-mile Maine-to-Georgia Appalachian Trail roughly parallels the drive for 101 miles, and hikers can pick up short segments of it among the park’s 500-mile network of trails. Skyland Resort, Shenandoah’s oldest resort (founded in 1894), sits at the drive’s highest point, offering stunning views and an unfussy restaurant serving “mountain cooking” staples such as fresh trout and country ham.
Can’t get enough? Where Skyline Drive ends at Waynesboro, the equally spectacular (some say more so) Blue Ridge Parkway picks up, following the dips and curves of the mountain crest south through Virginia to Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains.