The Skyline Drive Scenic Highway stretches 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, situated in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
The road offers amazing views in all directions, but those views come in the form of several categorized climbs and, from north to south, an elevation gain of nearly 15,000 feet. So for experienced and advanced road cyclists, the road is one of the best places to ride on the east coast of the United States.
What Makes It Great
From north to south, there are 18 categorized climbs. Two are Cat. 2s, seven are Cat. 5s, and the others are Cat. 3s and 4s. From the south, the road climbs roughly 13,400 feet over 19 categorized climbs. Riding on this road is not for the average cyclist.
Starting from the north is a good spot if you live in or are staying near the Washington, D.C. area. Front Royal, Va. serves as the starting point, and from there you'll climb more than 1,500 feet over about six miles as you make your way to the ridgeline. After a 2-mile downhill, the road pitches up and down again three more times before a big downhill of almost five miles.
The next 80 miles follow a similar pattern, with short climbs, descents, and not much level road. There are 75 scenic overlooks dotting the road, so take some breaks and snap some pictures.
From the south, Skyline Drive starts at Rockfish Gap near Lyndhurst, Va., and has another jagged profile. It also starts 1,200 feet higher above sea level, so there's not as much climbing at the start. Still, your legs will feel every mile of this road.
Your best bet is to use a compact crank with a 50x34 chainring combination, or at least a mid-compact of 52x36. A standard crank (53x39) might leave your legs worn out halfway through the ride.
If you don't want to do the whole road and feel like branching off, there are crossing roads at miles 31.4 (from the north), Thornton Gap, and mile 65.6 (from the north), Swift Run Gap.
Who is Going to Love It
Advanced road cyclists looking for a challenge. This road is not for inexperienced riders or riders who don't have good climbing legs. Riding the entire length of Skyline Drive is a sufferfest, so come prepared with plenty of nutrition, hydration, and a properly equipped bike.
It might be a good idea to have a buddy or a family member in a car meet you at certain points to check in with you and to give you some fuel. Another good option is breaking the ride into two days and staying at one of the several lodges along the route.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To reach the north entrance of Skyline Drive, take Interstate 66 west to exit 6, Rte. 340 south toward Front Royal. Posted signs will guide you to the entrance. If you're starting at the south end, take Interstate 64 west to exit 99, and then follow the signs to the Shenandoah National Park entrance.
From March-November, bikes pay $8 to enter Shenandoah National Park. There are different fees for motor vehicles, depending on the type of vehicle and the length of the pass. Consult nps.gov/shen for more information.
Skyline Drive may close during inclement weather. Call the recorded information line if you are concerned: (540) 999-3500, 1, 1.