One of the items on our family’s Fall bucket list was to view Fall foliage. The best place I know of in our area is to travel to Shenandoah National Park and travel down Skyline Drive along the Appalachian mountains. Alone the 35 mph road, there are multiple scenic overlooks and stopping points to look at the views, take a hike, or go camping. It is a busy place, especially during Fall weekends.
Before we went, of course, I had to scope things out. For my future reference and others who may consider a similar trip, here’s what worked for us.
- If you have the luxury of being flexible with the date you go, check the weather in advance. We wanted to work in a hike, so I didn’t want to be doing that in the pouring rain.
- Go early to avoid lines. Since we were going on a weekend, we got up EARLY and ended up at the park before 9am. We entered right away without waiting. As a bonus, we approached the mountains as the sun was ascending, which cast a beautiful glow among the yellow and golden leaves. We even caught sight of a vibrant rainbow in the early morning light as the fog was burning off.
- Buy a park pass in advance. You can shorten your time in line even further by buying a park pass in advance. Don’t forget that 4th graders get free admission to all National Parks! And, because of the pandemic, 5th graders can also get the pass that lasts until Aug 2021.
- Have snacks available. There are four entrances to Skyline Drive, and we came in from the North most entrance at Front Royal, VA. A few miles from the entrance is The Apple House, a restaurant famous for its apple butter donuts. These donuts are now a new family favorite (and we obtained another check on our Fall bucket list by trying a new food). These were a well-earned snack after our trail hike.
- Plan your must-see stops along the way. There are a number of great overlooks or places to stop and hike. The National Park Service website has a great list of hiking trails sorted by location that provides an easy-to-read key on important information about each hike. You’ll notice when you’re on Skyline Drive that there are mileposts along the road that note the location, so it will be easy to spot when your planned location is coming up. Front Royal, where we entered, is mile marker 0 and it continues South to mile marker 105. We hiked to the Fort Windham Rocks because we wanted an easy, short hike that didn’t have a high elevation. We had a great time, and now we can say we’ve hiked part of the Application Trail!
- Decide what you want to do for lunch or dinner. We knew we wanted to stop for food, but because of the pandemic, we didn’t want a sit-down restaurant. I scouted a few options that we ended up skipping this time around because the kids fell asleep, but I would certainly try Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen or Burgers N Things (currently closed Sundays).
One of these years, I’ll book a weekend away for us in the mountains to enjoy the sites for more than a couple of hours. But, this year, it was just what we needed. We had a great time out together and everyone seemed to enjoy the long-ish car ride, since it’s such a novelty these days to be out on the roads.