NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

The Big Meadows on the Mountaintop – Skyline Drive, Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

Big MeadowsOne of the top locations that receives requests for is Skyline Drive. This 105-mile stretch of road along the Blue Ridge Mountains is world renowned to bikers as one of the best scenic rides on the east coast, especially during the autumn “leaf peeping” season. However, it’s a great ride any time. On a personal level, it is our favorite location to rejuvenate our spirits when the hectic pace of our northern Virginia lifestyle gets to be too much. Our destination of choice along Skyline Drive is Big Meadow. In fact we liked the location so much we decided to get married there.

Lodge at Big MeadowsIt is not by accident that Big Meadows received its name. This oasis for wildflowers and other flora and fauna usually located on lower lying meadowland is only achieved through carefully planned manual intervention. Otherwise, the natural cycle would allow the forest to take over. The reward for this carefully maintained area is well worth the effort.

Centrally located along the drive on mile marker #51, Big Meadow is a natural stopping point along Skyline drive that offers all the amenities of Shenandoah National Park from a camp store, souvenir shop, restaurant, Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center, picnicking and camping areas. It is also the only point along the drive where you can fill up your gas tank.

Just a bit further down the drive is Big Meadows Lodge, a Nationally Registered Historic Landmark where you will find fine dining, lodging, cabins and even the Taproom, a pub that offers live entertainment. Guests can just pull up a rocking chair on the back porch and enjoy the gorgeous views or in colder months, sit next to the fireplace and just enjoy the cozy atmosphere.

Tunnel on Skyline DriveGetting to Big Meadow is worth the trip in itself. Route 211 either from the west in Luray, or the east in Sperryville, offers spectacular views of the Blue Ridge with a lot of local small town flavor. Please check your speed along this winding mountain road as many motorcyclists have learned the hard way that the hairpin turns must be navigated carefully to avoid wipe-outs.

From Route 211, you will enter Shenandoah National Park at the Thornton Gap Entrance. Park admission is $10.00 and is good for 7 days. Once you are inside the park, Big Meadows is approximately 20 – 25 miles away. Within a few miles of the Thornton Gap entrance, you will have the opportunity to literally “get into” the mountain as you enter a tunnel carved out of the mountainside.

Visitor Center at Big MeadowsSkyline Drive offers breathtaking overlooks every few miles where you can conveniently pull over and enjoy the view or even have a picnic lunch. For those who would like to hike, there are over 500 miles of trails inside the park. At the beginning of each trail is information regarding the length and difficulty level. If you choose to hike, please be prepared with adequate clothing and water. The trails offer varying skill levels, be sure to hike on a trail that is appropriate to you. Experience has taught us that the length of time is not exaggerated. The rewards are great if you are prepared. If you aren’t - your hike can quickly turn into a march from hell.

Hiker's Advisory for Blackrock trailThe speed limit along Skyline drive is 35mph. It is highly recommended that you observe this as you never know when a deer may cross your path or you more commonly you may come upon an automobile stopped in the middle of the road so its occupants can take a picture. You also are competing with bicyclists, backpackers, campers and other motorcycles. Many visitors take the idea of a scenic route very literally. Traffic gets quite heavy along the drive at peak times (the park hosts 1.5 million visitors annually) so plan on taking your time and enjoying the scenery.

I am not sure if it is the fact that the air is thinner or that the sky is so close, you feel as if you can reach out and touch the clouds, but whatever it is, you begin to feel very uplifted and optimistic as you travel along the drive. Here you forget about your daily grind and begin to look toward the future. As you physically climb higher, you begin to set your sights on higher things as well.

Bear sign on Skyline DriveThere is always something going on in the park from educational workshops and interpretive programs to live entertainment and festivals. Everyone seems to come here with a purpose, whether it is to get away from it all or to observe nature up close. My husband Kent’s goal is to actually see one of the elusive black bears that reside in the park. So far, we haven’t seen one but we have seen evidence that they are around. Though we have made bear-sighting a mission on each of our trips, I am not sure exactly what we will do should we ever come upon one. Rangers have told us that the bears are not harmful and they actually don’t see very well so if we actually see one we are supposed to make a lot of noise and wave our arms and legs and the bears will just lumber off. So, should you see a man with long blonde hair thrashing about and looking like he is having some sort of spastic fit, don’t worry - it’s just my hubby fulfilling his dream. So why no take a ride to Big Meadow and make your own dreams come true.

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