Winding Southward: Shenandoah

A Journey Through Shenandoah National Park.

By: Jack Tumen
October 24, 2016

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As the Summer of '16 winded down, one thing from my to-do list had yet to be fulfilled - a road trip. To where, though? I had been north to Canada; I had been west to the mountains. However, one segment of America I had not yet explored - the South. I have family down in Atlanta and with some free time on my hands, the perfect opportunity lay before me to take a road trip.

I devised a plan to spend about four days and three nights along one of America's most scenic byways - The Shenandoah Skyline drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connect in central Virginia. The first day I spent driving about five hours to stay with a friend near Washington D.C., which was close enough to the real starting point of the journey that I could simply wake up the next morning and begin.

At dawn, I hopped on I-66 West, which was a quick hour ride to Front Royal, VA - the gateway to Shenandoah National Park's north entrance. After receiving a tip from someone familiar with the area, I grabbed a juicy burger at local sensation, Spelunker's. Finally, I was ready to begin.

The Skyline Drive is one of the most amazing roads one can experience. It gently winds back and forth through 105 miles of stunning Virginia wilderness with 75 pull-offs to take in the view (about 65 of which I stopped at.) The 35 MPH speed limit ensures that you're here to take it slow and be in the present. There's simply no rushing through such a beautiful place.

I spent the first day riding along, taking in the pull-out views and photographing the curves and stretches of road. It was pleasantly quiet in the park so I took my time soaking in everything. While there are plenty of hikes and outdoor activities to do in Shenandoah, the Skyline Drive is more or less the park itself. Many national parks are reserved spaces of land that have plenty of loops for circling and exploring. Shenandoah is unique in that the park is linear - only a few state routes intersect the park with options to exit. Otherwise, you're entering on one end and you're coming out on the other end, which encourages one to see its entirety.

I'm generally all for roughing it, but it was a particularly humid week and I desperately needed a shower after driving for so many hours. I made my way to Big Meadows campground, which is a beautiful campground and one of the few I've experienced that have a full range of facilities. The ranger at the registration booth gave me a short list of her favorite campsites at the Big Meadows loop and I took her up on the spacious, yet secluded, A103.

The weather was expected to deteriorate in the coming days, so I wanted to take advantage of what might be the last clear night on my trip. I made my way over to the Lodge to watch a spectacular Virginia sunset and converse with the travelers staying overnight.

When they sky finished its show, I went back to A103 to cook a ravioli dinner on the camp stove. Solo camping can get a bit lonely at times but a meal by a campfire was incredibly calming. Night fell and as the surrounding campers ended their day, mine was just getting started. I grabbed my camera and headed down to the entrance of the campgrounds where its namesake lies - literally a big meadow. I set up my tripod under a moonlit sky and just started shooting. Per usual, the end product was far beyond my initial intentions or expectations...

The next morning, the fog rolled in and I wouldn't see sunlight for days to come. However, that wasn't gonna stop me from continuing my journey and taking advantage of the photo op. I packed up camp, said goodbye to A103 and meandered my way down the rest of the Skyline Drive. I had many days to go and 500 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway to experience. The road trip was just beginning...


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.