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Travel: Skyline Overdrive [The Washington Post]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Travel / The Washington Post
Oct. 5, 1997

WERE YOU ONE OF THE 310,204 car that took Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park last October? Was that you, waiting for a parking space in a scenic overlook drumming your fingers on the dashboard your best view being the window sticker of the car in front of you? You swore you’d never again attempt a Sunday drive in-the autumn.

But what if you could see the fall foliage without the rest of the work force? Your best choice is to stick with Skyline Drive. Nothing beats the views and easy hiking from the magnificent ridge-top road-but take it on a weekday. Second choice is to stick with Skyline Drive but leave home at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds.

If neither of those choices suits you, we recommend a 270-mile loop that provides a fine day of country driving, front-row seats to nature’s kaleidoscope and little chance of gridlock. The route actually crosses Skyline Drive twice but won’t stick you in a queue. Instead, it sweeps down the winding roads of the George Washington National Forest toward Luray.

Along the way, you can wave to the cows, stop by roadside apple stands, visit country stores and tour a winery. We’ve also suggested four other less-traveled country drives, two in Maryland and two in Virginia.

Now don’t get us wrong. We love Skyline Drive. It’s just that road-surface-wise, supply and demand tend to fall out of whack during the month of October. According to park officials, things slow down quite a bit in November, with 81,927 visitors last year. You’ll have the place to yourself in January—only 21,233 visitors last winter.

And of course, there’s always the chance that so many people will read this story and follow our alternate route that well simply relocate the gridlock, leaving Skyline Drive open and free and under visited. In which case you should turnaround, get on Skyline Drive, and enjoy the view.


1. From the Washington metropolitan area, get on Interstate 66 west and travel for about 25 miles toward Route 29.

2. The scenery begins in Gainesville. You’re working your way toward Route 55, the scenic road that will take you west. To get there, take exit 1-66 onto Route 29 at Gainesville. You’ll only be on 29 for about 100 feet though. Take the first exit on the right (between the Texaco station and the 7-Eleven) and you’ll be on Route 55. The road meanders through country towns, past ancient cemeteries, old churches and grandmas knitting on the porch. Plus, there are a dozen spots where you can pull over and pick apples or sample cider. Can’t do that along 1-66.

3. Lunch time. You’ve been on the road for about 90 minutes when you hit the town of Marshall, named for Chief Justice John Marshall. Just as you enter town, on your right is Glascock’s Grocery and Middle Eastern Deli. The small country store, owned by Nick Sarsour, is stocked with the makings of a great picnic—homemade sandwiches, moderately priced bottles of wine, candy, and even pickled eggs. Nick is usually at the cash register, chaffing with customers. His store is open for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and he will let you use his bathroom. Marshall’s main street is about four blocks long and is home to a couple of antiques stores, a vintage bookshop, a restaurant and a chiropractor. Other attractions include Justice Marshall’s Oak Hill estate and three churches that date to the late 1700s.

4. Back on the road: Driving again, keep your eyes peeled for signs for Route 55 west you’ll need to turn left at the Emanuel Church, about two miles past Nick’s, to get back on it. (If you keep going straight you’ll end up on Route 17, which will take you north toward Winchester.) Staying on Route 55 for about 20 miles leads you toward Front Royal and the George Washington National Forest.

5. Front Royal. You’ll know you’ve hit Front Royal when you see signs for
KFC, Denny’s, Quality Inn, and the entrance to Skyline Drive. Pass it (unless traffic is clear, in which case you may as well go for it), and stay on Route 55 until you see a sign on the right for Route 619. Turn tight on Route 619. (If you get to Strasburg, you’ve gone too far.)

6. George Washington National Forest On 619, you’ll wind down miles of two-lane roads; in about 10 minutes you’ll come to an intersection. Turn let still on 619, and there will be a sign for the 1.8 million-acre forest (which also includes the Jefferson National Forest). The already skinny two-lane road narrows even more as it winds and rolls past rivers, cows, a few churches and some tiny, very old looking homes. Here’s where your begin to climb. The higher you go, the more lush the trees. It is breathtaking, but those prone to carsickness will feel it along this road. Open the window and let in the cool mountain air.

7. Route 619 to Route 678 to Route 675—the names of the roads change, but it appears to be one road as you pass more cows and churches. At Kings Crossing, an intersection marked by a large brown barn, the road becomes 675. Keep to the left. Pass Camp Roosevelt, and follow signs to Luray.

8. Get out at 3,700 feet. Like nearby Skyline, Route 675 is close to the Pinnacle, a mountain peak 3,730 feet high that offers a great view.

9. Entering Luray. Famous for its cavern, Luray is a classic small town with lots of quaint shops. As you head toward Main Street follow signs toward Rouse 211 east because you need to make a left turn mm at a dead end just before getting into town. At the first traffic light is Elaine’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, a good place to stop for a scoop or two. Or: Turn left at the light and toward Route 211 toward Luray Caverns.

10. Yogi. Yes, that really is a 40-foot statue of the namesake mascot of Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp Resort and Store. No need to stop. A little further down the road you’ll pass Skyline Drive headquarters and the entrance at Thornton Gap. This gate, one of four, tends to be less traveled and may be a good place to enter the park for those so inclined. The price of entering is $10 per car.

11. Baskets, apples, peaches, sweet corn (repeat). About 2 miles to Sperryville, along Route 211 east, is a mass of roadside stands filled with all the goodies country farms and farmers have to offer. It’s hard to resist a pretty cloth-covered jar filled with pear jam. Don’t.

12. Sperryville Emporium. This roadside stand, unlike its dozens of smaller precursors, features a pottery outlet, country hams, bacon, aisles of jam jars and ciders-and a bathroom. Unfortunately, the bathroom is not very tidy. But the warehouse of jam options makes up for it. There are also a few picnic tables outside where you can sit and relax as you gaze up at the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

13. Prince Michel. Even a trip like this needs a destination; ours is Prince Michel Vineyards near Culpeper. From the Emporium, turn left onto Route 231 south for about 10 miles. Pick up Route 29 and travel for eight miles. The winery is on the let just follow the grape signs.

14. Pick a designated driver. Prince Michel may look like a well-groomed truck stop, but it offers more than the Maryland House. Behind the oak doors is a mini wine museum and information center; take a self-guided tour of the vats, or head out to an upscale boutique filled with everything from fine crystal glasses to corduroy baseball caps with the 150-acre vineyard’s logo. In the rear of the shop is a wine bar where you can sample some of the vineyard’s 14 selections. Bottles range from $10 to $70, but for $2 you can taste four wines, and for $3 you can try all 14. If your timing is right you can also sample the French fare at the on-site restaurant (1-84800-9463). Prix-fixed starts at $25 per person for a four-course lunch; $35 for five courses Thursdays through Saturdays; $70 per person for dinner Thursdays and Fridays; $80 on Saturdays. On Sundays, lunch is $40.

15. Heading home. After nearly eight hours on long and winding roads, you’ll probably want to take a straight shot home on Route 29. Take it to Route 66, then head east to D.C. Total round-trip mileage, 275 miles. Time elapsed: around 9-1/2 hours.

_(Those who want to continue how along scenic roads can take Route 522 in Culpeper. It winds back to Sperryville and then up toward Front Royal. You will reconnect with Route 55, which leads back to Route 66. 7his route adds about 40 miles to the trip.) _


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.