Advice needed: Blue Ridge Parkway / Skyline Drive
August 11, 2017 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Next Saturday my family and I will be driving from Boston to Roanoke, VA, continuing on to Nashville on Sunday. I'd like to get in a scenic drive if I can, but I have some questions.

Eclipse road trip. Boston to Roanoke to Nashville to Cleveland back to Boston. I'm excited. For a good chunk I'll be driving down Rt. 81 From Pennsylvania, though Virginia to Knoxville, TN. I see that the Blue Ridge Parkway roughly runs parallel to this section of my route.

At some point I would like to get off the highway and get in some scenic driving. I can either do this before I get to Roanoke on the first day of driving, or after I leave, on the second day.

My options are:

1) The most ideal choice seems to be the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah, NP. However, by the time I get there I'll have been on the road for 8+ hours and it will be later in the day. Is this a "OMG you can't miss this section!" deal or...

2) The second day my option would be driving the BRP from Roanoke to about Hillsville, VA before getting back on the highway to Nashville. Looks to be roughly 80 miles or so. I'd be doing this pretty early in the morning on the second day, which would delay my arrival in Nashville a bit. Is this section even worth it? How does it compare to Shenandoah?

In either option we'd mostly be staying in the car, maybe getting out at an overlook here and there. We wouldn't be stopping to see anything for very long. NP fees or tolls don't matter. Obviously I'd only take a scenic route if skies are clear.

I don't mind long drives and I enjoy scenic mountain driving, though I am certainly susceptible to fatigue. I know my limits and would not do any rough driving if I wasn't up for it, though honestly I think a winding mountain road would be better than more highway.

Hotels are already booked so unless we have a Situation, our destination each day is fixed.

So, folks who are familiar with the area... what would you do? Is Shenandoah that much greater than the other section? Should I just suck it up and go for it even if it's after a long day? Or will I get just as much doing the second option the second day. Should I do both?

Bonus: Any quick "must see / must eat" on any part of my route is welcome.
posted by bondcliff to Travel & Transportation around Virginia (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's a many years since I did a non-Shenandoah part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I haven't gone as far south of Roanoke as you're talking about, but I don't remember it being any less nice than the NP part. I think the drive in general is nicer at not-midday, but evening or morning are both pretty nice. It gets quite hazy so you might want to pay attention to the weather forecast to predict when you'll get better views.

I found the Skyline Drive to be slower going than the BRP (more traffic) but that might have been partly just when I happened to be there (but I think it does get significantly more tourists - it's closer to more population centers, and it's a National Park).

The country around Roanoke is lovely. I don't think you'll be selling yourself short by hitting that area instead of Shenandoah NP, unless you are on a national park-bagging mission.
posted by mskyle at 7:18 AM on August 11, 2017

I'm not super familiar with the various sections, but when I went we did the section starting just south of Harper's Ferry and it was amazing.

Sunset was phenomenal. One of the most amazing vistas I've experienced.

And then it got dark. Like, REALY dark. Like pitch black style dark. Really dark on windy mountain roads with tree covering up oncoming cars around the corner. That was one of the most terrifying (and exhilarating, but you might not enioy terror) drives of my live.

So just keep in mind that if you start the drive in the afternoon, you might finish it after sunset.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:21 AM on August 11, 2017

IMO, the Blue Ridge Parkway gets more and more scenic the farther south you go and is, overall, much more interesting than Skyline Drive.
posted by DrGail at 7:29 AM on August 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Personally, I prefer the BRP section. I live right in the middle and could do either drive, but find the views comparable and the traffic infinitely better, especially in Fall or on the weekend. You'd go by Rocky Knob, Smart View and Mabry Mill, all of which are nice spots. If you want to expand your time, you could head north a short way from Roanoke, maybe as far as Peaks of Otter which is another beautiful section. I don't think the differences between the sections are so great that I'd do it when the light is poor or you are too tired to appreciate it.
posted by Lame_username at 7:29 AM on August 11, 2017

The speed limit on Skyline Drive is 35 MPH. There are often deer in the road, and sometimes people stop their cars IN THE ROAD (which they are not supposed to do) because they see, or think they see, wildlife (read: bears) next to the road. In daylight you can probably count on an average speed of 30 MPH once you account for traffic and wildlife. In the dark you're lucky to average 25 MPH. We have twice arrived at Shenandoah after dark, and it's slow going.

It is all very pretty. I've driven all but the southern quarter. In the area I've driven there are four or five turnouts that are really worth pulling over (in my opinion) and many more where it's pretty but not OMG-wow-pretty.

If you have daylight, time, and energy, then sure, drive Skyline Drive. If you're running out of any of the three, it's not so breathtaking that you'd be missing out on the drive of a lifetime.
posted by fedward at 7:33 AM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I drive from NY to Roanoke (Blacksburg) on 81 fairly regularly. In my opinion, if you are not too pressed for time, any alternative to 81 is a good alternative.
posted by AugustWest at 7:40 AM on August 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I live in Roanoke* and am from DC so I know both parts of Skyline/BRP. You can't go wrong whatever you choose, but the farther south and west you go, the bigger the mountains get, so if it were me, I would just stay on 81 on your first day and then get on the Parkway starting here. Even the drive on 81 is lovely (as long as there isn't a tractor-trailer wreck) with the Blue Ridge at your left for several hours.

Virginia BRP highlights south of Roanoke include but are not limited to: Mabry Mill (picturesque), Fancy Gap (carsickness from the gorgeous but scary heights), Blue Ridge Music Center if you can stay on a bit past Hillsville (Galax is a Parkway destination).

*PM me if you want to have a mini-IRL!
posted by headnsouth at 8:01 AM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another option would be to skip the parkway and take VA 29 through Charlottesville. That's what I do when I drive from DC to Charlotte, NC. Almost as scenic as the parkway, but a lot faster.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:52 AM on August 11, 2017

I like your option 2, because you will be rested and refreshed the second day. Skip if foggy. Here's a guide on driving the BRP (speed limit mostly 45 but is 25 in some congested places).

U.S. Route 11 runs parallel to I-81; keep your Google Maps/Waze on, and check I-81 signboards to warn you of backups on I-81, because they are the worst due to lots of tractor-trailers and not enough lanes.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:02 AM on August 11, 2017

One other thing to consider. Next Saturday, there will be a lot of college traffic on 81. Kids are returning to JMU, VPI, and a whole bunch of other area (off of 81 colleges).* With no traffic, 81 moves (speed limit 70), but with traffic and the usual wreck, it can come to a standstill. I not sure how that affects things for you, but consider it.

*(My Va Tech student --painful for this UVa grad to say -- is driving back on Saturday the 19th, fwiw)
posted by AugustWest at 11:14 AM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

On an eclipse + back-to-school weekend, I'd keep Waze on and consider its advice. But I like VA 29 too, it's a divided highway and relatively little traffic, cool small towns. I-81 is big rig nightmare road.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2017

Another option would be to skip the parkway and take VA 29 through Charlottesville.

(The 29 through Charlottesville is US 29)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:38 PM on August 11, 2017

I know that area well, and I prefer the Blue Ridge Parkway to Shenandoah. Both are pretty, but the parkway tends to be less crowded and you have better views (Shenandoah being more tree'd). The suggestion of Rt 29 is a generally excellent one, but for your route it requires either backtracking about an hour east on I-66 in Northern Virginia, or taking I-95 from Boston to DC and then an hour west on I-66 to get to Rt 29.
posted by basalganglia at 3:23 PM on August 11, 2017

Thanks, Everyone. Lots to think about here.

It sounds like 81 is a terrible road. I'll probably get off it when I can and take the BRP and/or the Skyline. It looks like the Skyline is part of the BRP through Shenandoah, no?

Rt. 29 seems to be a better option than 81 as well, it might even be worth going a but out of the way for.

We're going to get a couple hours out of the way on Friday night, so I'll have a bit more time to do some scenic driving.
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 PM on August 12, 2017

Sorry to jump on bondcliff's thread here but I'm doing pretty much the same thing. Thanks for the info from everyone. Anyone know any good places for car camping (or small-RV-camping)?
posted by thefool at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2017

I can no longer sit idly while folks suggest 29 over 81. First, to get to 29 from Boston will require you to reroute from the NYC area down 95 NJTP through the tunnels in B'more to the DC beltway (NO!) to 66 to 29. I have taken this route literally 150 (or more) times in my life. At the right time, it is fine. I do not think this coming weekend is the right time. Again, college students returning to Charlottesville next weekend. 29 while a nice road through rolling hills at many points, can get really crowded. Charlottesville is in the news a lot these days. There is increased traffic bc of that too. To me, the options are 81 or BRP or SLD as interesting diversions. Besides the incredible amounts of traffic on the east coast 95 corridor the tolls will add $40 to your trip.

If I am coming from Boston, I would take 84 to the Beacon Bridge to the NYS Thruway to 287 to 78 to 81 or maybe 95 to 287 in Westchester across the Tappan Zee to 287S to 78 to 81. (Or 95 to the Merrit (15) to 287 to see above. I would avoid the George Washington Bridge, I would avoid the NJTP and the DC Beltway, I would even avoid the Garden State Pkwy because of shore traffic. YMMV
posted by AugustWest at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2017

Right now my route has me leaving New Haven on 95 to Rt. 287 over the TZ Bridge to Rt 78 though Penn and down to 81 through Virginia. I will hopefully have some time to divert off 81 onto the BRP or Rt. 29.

A *lot* of people are saying Rt. 81 is a hellscape of trucks and accidents. I'll play it by ear and divert around it if I can.

I looked into taking 95 though DC and Baltimore and it just doesn't look like the right route.
posted by bondcliff at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2017

Follow up:

We did the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Parkway from there most of the way to Roanake, and then the next day continued on the BRP about 50 miles from Roanoke.

People were right about the Skyline Drive. It was pretty, but very long, and kind of monotonous. The parts of the BRP we saw, however, were gorgeous and we want to go back and continue it into North Carolina some day.

81 wasn't too bad, but there were some very slow, long backups on it before Knoxville. When it was moving it was just fine though. We never ended up on 29.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by bondcliff at 9:51 AM on August 24, 2017

« Older question regarding a home generator purchase for...   |   Creating a continuum of care for a stroke survivor Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.