For nature lovers in Washington and the surrounding areas, heading to the mountains to take in the fall foliage is the must-go counterpart to the spring-time viewing of the Cherry Tree Blossoms. The numbers aren't as great as those that flock to the Tidal Basin, but lots of leaf peepers pile in their vehicles every autumn for the best place to see the colorful show, the scenic drive along Skyline Drive in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.
Roberta and I hadn't been in a while so we decided to go yesterday. To get to the Shenandoahs during the peak foliage season, you cross your fingers for good weekend weather luck, take one aspirin for the heavy traffic when it is sunny, and one of two routes from the D.C. area. There's the slower plod along Hiway 211 through Warrenton that leads to the midsection of the range and I-66 to Front Royal which is a faster way that puts you at the range's northern tip.
We've done both, so during the planning stage for this trip, I thought to myself, Wouldn't it be nice to have some sort of an alternative to driving on what will surely be a crowded Skyline Drive?
The answer came in a hiking guide I bought several months ago. Remembering that Paul Elliott's 60 Hikes within 60 Miles had paid dividends for our trip to Cacoctin Mountain Park, I pulled it off the shelf and started looking at his map of hiking spots. Three places - Shenandoah River State Park, Massanutten Mountain and Overall Run/Heiskell Hollow - clustered on the back side of the mountains and near the Shenandoah River caught my eye. Elliott praised two of them, calling Overall Run and Heiskell Hollow a "dream hike venue," and the state park "probably still one of the best-kept secrets."
Sounds like a plan.
We headed out yesterday morning, feeling good to have a sunny and mild day after the rainy and then cold weather this past week. The zip along I-66 was fine except for a 10- minute slowdown at that nasty four lanes down to two, bottleneck west of Manassas. An hour and twenty minutes after leaving the house, we pulled into Front Royal. I had a flashback to Thurmont, but the cars were moving ok.
On the web I had scouted out a lunch place, Apartment 2-G on Royal Street (Hiway 340). Major hat tip goes to the Washington Post's food critic Tom Sietsema for his recent review of their place. It's for the dinner place upstairs. We had lunch downstairs at The Element, part of the old two-story house turned into a wine shop, and the two serving areas. We love eating at these type places with the creaky wooden floors, Southern hospitality, reasonable portions and lower prices. I had their delicious tomato-crab-fennel soup, curry chicken salad and a lemonade. Roberta said her pastrami sandwich was excellent.
With the sun warming up the day just right, we hopped back in the car. 5 minutes later we passed by where the stream of cars were turning to head up to Skyline Drive. 10 minutes later we were turning into the state park. Just like the book said, very little traffic.
The park offers a riverside walk and a platform that looks down at the valley and the meandering pristine waters of the river.
Then it was the 10 minute drive to Overall Run. We pooped out before we saw anything except wilderness so that was a disappointment. Overall though, we had a great time. There's nothing like the experience of seeing the brilliant colors on the mountains, especially at an alternative site that offered a more peaceful approach.
Try that with the Cherry Trees…
Photos from Maryland's Sierra Club
Shenandoah Road Trip, Washington Post
Restaurant Reviews for Front Royal