STRASBURG, FRONT ROYAL, AND SKYLINE DRIVE
This trip starts with an exit. Exit 298 to be precise, where you’ll leave the hurried traffic of 50,000 travelers on Interstate 81 in your rearview mirror. You’re headed to the charming downtown of Strasburg where friendly residents are ready to welcome you to the Shenandoah Valley. Historically known as “Pot Town” for the popular styles of pottery manufactured there, Strasburg has a growing art culture. Take a self-guided tour of the town’s contemporary murals or pop into the Strasburg Emporium for a plethora of unique antiques. Grab your liquid fuel from Nancy’s Coffee Bar then head down VA 55 to Front Royal.
Front Royal’s walkable downtown boasts a plethora of eateries, drinking spots, and shops, and the town’s devotion to history is robust, including a museum dedicated to the history of beer. Grab a souvenir six-pack for later and swing by Mountain Mystic Trading Company before eating lunch at Spelunker’s Frozen Custard and Cavern Burgers. Use that spelunking knowledge from lunch at your next destination, Skyline Caverns, the first of many underground wonderlands down Skyline Drive.
As dusk draws nearer, head into the wild. Campsites and cabins are in abundance in this northern neck of Skyline Drive, and Shenandoah’s wilderness is actually that- 79,579 acres designated by the National Wilderness Preservation System as the most pristine and untouched wilderness in Virginia. No-trace policies are adhered to strictly in this area, leaving behind what the National Park Service calls “extraordinary opportunities for solitude.” For backcountry camping, refer to NPS’s website for helpful rules and regulations before you go, as some sites require a permit to settle in for the night.
SKYLINE TO THORNTON GAP
In the morning, take a deep breath of fresh mountain air and make your way south to your next destination: Thornton Gap. Use those healthy lungs as you hike one or more of the many trails along Skyline drive including Fox Hollow Interpretive Trail, where old homesites dot your path. Check “hike the Appalachian Trail” off your bucket list by climbing the moderate 2.4-mile Compton Peak hike from the Compton Gap Parking Area. For a challenging but rewarding hike, gear up for Overall Run Falls to catch remarkable waterfall views on this 6.3-mile loop. Back on Skyline, stop for some snacks or lunch at Elkwallow Wayside, then get your camera ready for one or all of the overlook spots on this span of the drive. Rangeview Overlook and Hogback provide excellent mountain views, and Thornton Hollow Overlook is not to be missed. Stop for the night in Page Valley, the cabin capital of Virginia. There’s no shortage of cozy accommodations hugged by Mother Nature, and yesterday’s six-pack will go down quickly as you gaze at the stars from your porch.
SPERRYVILLE TO LINDEN
After the peace and solitude of The Wilderness, ease your way back to civilization by heading to Sperryville’s Before & After for coffee alongside the Thornton River. The road from Sperryville to Washington is a taster’s delight. Sperryville is home to Copper Fox Distillery and Pen Druid Brewery. Head up 522 towards Washington to find Little Washington Winery, Quièvremont Winery, and Gadino Cellars but bring your own lunch if you want to do more than nosh.
Further up 522 near Huntly, horses wait to show you the sites at Marriot Ranch Trail Rides. Finish your trip with a visit to The Apple House Restaurant & Gift Shop in Linden. This family business is the perfect place to grab a bite and stock up on Virginia souvenirs like apple butter and sparkling cider.
As you take merge onto the crowded interstate remember that the stillness and beauty of the Shenandoah Valley are always there, waiting for your return.