October may just be my favorite season. There might be nothing more beautiful that Fall in Virginia. Earlier this year the husband and I decided that we wanted to make sure we never took where we live for granted. With plenty of great day trips to gorgeous places around us, like Charlottesville which we did in June, we knew Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park was one place we wanted to see. Despite the fact that we are both born and raised Virginians, we've never done Skyline. It was magical, as you'll see from these shots, but I'm begging each of you to go see Skyline Drive at some point wherever you live!
We went at the start of 'leaf peeping' season to beat the crowds and started super early in the morning to catch the fog and 'cloud oceans' that occur in the valleys as you increase your elevation. If you're looking for a day trip, GO NOW, go during the week and go very early in the morning so you can stand in the middle of the road like this.
We jumped on Skyline at the northern most point in Front Royal, Virginia. Beyond the overlooks and hiking, the entire drive is edged by beautiful stone walls instead of ugly metal guardrails. It's the little things like this, and no cell phone service that make the drive great.
At the lowest elevations towards the start of the drive (under 500 ft elevation), it was so densely foggy you could barely see more than 20 yards in front of you, let alone the mountain range beyond a few trees. In the shot right above, you can see a line of trees and then a faint ridge but what you can't see is it goes WAY beyond that...it's just covered in clouds. As you climb the mountains (summit of around 4,000 feet), your view gets absolutely amazing. Some of the fog and the mountains peeking through were just impossible to capture in a picture, but the moment was perfect.
While there are plenty of trails to hike throughout Skyline Drive (It is part of the Appalachian Trail after all), we knew we wanted to do Hawksbill trail to climb to the highest point on Skyline. It's not an easy hike. It's incredibly steep (starting at Upper Hawksbill which is the straight shot but tougher route) but only a two mile round trip. You keep wondering when you're close and then all of a sudden, the trees clear and you have a total panoramic view of the Shenandoah Valley from 4,000 feet.
This view alone is worth the trip. It's absolutely mind blowing. The mountains go off seemingly forever in each direction. With no buildings on the mountain sides it's just beautiful fall foliage. Pretty right?
This shot doesn't make it seem that high....so let's back up the frame and put it in perspective.
There we go. Let's talk about how high this really is for a moment. While 4,000 feet is nothing to you Westerners, 4,000 is bananas for Virginia. For those who like to hike, Bear's Den Trail, part of the Appalachian Trail in Bluemont, VA is less than half the elevation and you can see three counties over. See how I'm leaning back and death gripping the rock? That's because I'm having a minor panic attack waiting to make this picture happen. This is a sheer-freaking-drop over the edge. I am petrified of heights and it took a lot to even put this itty bitty part of my leg over the edge. Growing up in the DC area which is a very flat city, even being in a 20 story building in another city is really uncomfortable to me. But this was worth it. I'll never forget this view.
Mr. Excitement on the other hand was more than happy to dangle both legs over the edge.
We had one more hike we wanted to do before hopping off Skyline and onto our other adventures (the trail goes all the way down South to meet the Blue Ridge Parkway so we went just past the halfway marker). We had heard good things about Dark Hollow Falls which is 1.5 mile round trip hike to the closest waterfalls to the drive.
So...these were the falls. Great quick hike but don't think you're seeing any more than a puddle stream. Not a great hike but a great opportunity for more exercise.
Intrigued about Skyline Drive? DO IT! One of the reasons we bit the bullet and put it on the calendar was because Saveur magazine had an entire feature on eating your way down the drive in the latest issue. We hit The Apple House and Red Truck Bakery for some delicious baked goods. Worth it. Happy hiking, happy eating!
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