Before you head off on a vacation trip to Washington D.C., take a few minutes to see how easy it would be to extend your travels outside the city for a road trip to Virginia's Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the rural countryside of the Shenandoah Valley.
A little more than an hour west of Washington D.C., depending on traffic around the city, the Skyline Drive is part of Shenandoah National Park spread along the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. According to the park Web site's Skyline Drive guide, it's just over 100 miles from end to end, but the speed limit is 35 mph and you'll need to budget time for stops at some of the 75 overlooks and yielding to occasional wildlife traffic. The drive is also listed by the National Scenic Byways organization which suggests allowing six to hours.
To really enjoy the park, you'll have to park the gas burner and go hiking; the park Web site says there are more than 500 miles of trails. Check out "Camping in Shenandoah" for spending nights in the woods, and "For Kids" for the Junior Ranger program. Not convinced? Visit "Photos & Multimedia" for historical and scenic pictures. Hiking maps and biking info are located in the "Plan Your Visit" section. And try the commercial Shenandoah National Park At A Glance for more details.
The northern entrance to the park is outside Front Royal which also proclaims itself the Canoe Capital of Virginia for its location by the Shenandoah River. Click on "Attractions" and look for "River Trips" to find canoe rental companies.
Southwest of Front Royal, the town of Luray provides another entrance to the Skyline Drive. At Luray's "Local Attractions" page, look for "Directory" way down at the bottom for links to fishing guides, more canoe rentals, shopping and more. If you can be there in late August, the local calendar shows the Page Valley Agricultural & Industrial Fair — think county fair — is set for Aug. 19-25. It's also the home of Luray Caverns where "Discover the Caverns" has a photo gallery.
If you enjoyed Luray Caverns, strike out west across the heart of the Shenandoah Valley to Shenandoah Caverns just north of New Market a town chartered in 1796. Click on "History" for the Battle of New Market, and hit "Links" for connections to local resources.
At the southern end of the Skyline Drive, where it turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Crossroads of the Shenandoah Valley covers the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, a convenient base of operations for exploring the area's art galleries and antique shops, Civil War sites, hiking trails and fishing. And east of those cities, Interstate 64 takes you to Charlottesville and the nearby Monticello home of Thomas Jefferson.
For more towns to visit and countryside to explore in the area, the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association has maps, more activities, a lodging directory and entries on destinations arranged by region from Winchester in the north to Roanoke in the south.
For history buffs, the area of Virginia had its share of battles during the War Between the States. Learn details by visiting Civil War Traveler and looking for "Valley & Mountains."
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