Skyline Drive: Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

The Central District of Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive, including Mary's Rock Tunnel, Skyland Resort, and Big Meadows Campground.

Road Biking Moderate

Distance
55 km
Ascent
1.4 km
Descent
1.3 km
Low Point
701 m
High Point
1.1 km
Gradient
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Skyline Drive: Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap Map

Description

Skyline Drive is one of America's most scenic roadways and a close-second to the Blue Ridge Parkway. With a maximum speed limit of 35 miles per hour and 75 stunning overlooks, the scenic road is every cyclist's dream. Whether you're planning a multi-day trip or thinking of riding it all in one day, this is what you need to know about the Central District of Shenandoah National Park's bicycle-friendly, 105-mile road.

The north end of this section is Thornton Gap, located along US-221. You can find a parking area on the south side of the overpass, or begin a ride from of the many overlooks along the way. If you prefer not to ride with a head or tail light, consider driving south through Mary's Rock Tunnel and beginning from the next closest overlook. Take note, however — front and rear reflectors are the minimum requirement to ride on the road, even with sunny skies and great visibility.

Mary's Rock Tunnel is one of the highlights of this section, just one mile south from the entrance station. In contrast to the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is the only tunnel along Skyline Drive. According to Wikipedia, it "was constructed by workers employed with the Civilian Conservation Corps," and "took three months to drill and blast through the east slopes of Mary's Rock." It's also only 12 feet and 8 inches tall, limiting the overall size of vehicles on this stretch.

The Pinnacle, Little Stony Man, Stony Man, and Hawksbill are all excellent short hikes in this area, as well. That is, if you have the time to spare and a pair of hiking boots with you.

If you're looking for an overnight stay, this portion of Skyline Drive includes Skyland Resort (milepost 41.7), a hotel and resort within the Shenandoah National Park. It also happens to be the highest point along the entire 105-mile roadway! Built in 1985, it was originally named Stony Man Camp and "was even advertised as a dude ranch" in its early years, according to Wikipedia.

If you continue riding south, you will reach Big Meadows Campground and the adjacent Visitor Center at milepost 51.2. This is your last opportunity for overnight camping before reaching the end of this segment at Swift Run Gap. This is where Skyline Drive passes over US-33, and you can find a small pull-off along the road to park just beyond the entrance station. If you're staying in Harrisonburg, this is the closest place to begin a ride.

Assembled by the Blue Ridge Parkway these bicycling regulations are all excellent practices and should equally apply to Skyline Drive.

Sources: Skyline Drive Wikipedia NPS Marys Rock Tunnel Wikipedia Skyland Resort Wikipedia

Difficulty

Moderate

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Guidebooks in this area