Currently, there are 76 overlooks on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. On our trip in July, we entered the park at the Thornton Gap Entrance (at mile marker 31.5) and exited at Swift Run Gap Entrance (at mile marker 65.5). This would essentially be considered the middle of the park. Here are the best Skyline Drive overlooks in the center of Shenandoah National Park.
Regardless of the time you visit, Shenandoah National Park is beautiful! Anyone traveling to and from Washington DC from the south or west should try to dedicate at least one day of their trip to experiencing the spectacular views and hiking trails at Shenandoah. (It had to be in our Chicago to DC Road Trip Idea List!)
Want to know what it’s like to drive Skyline Drive and where the best overlooks in the middle of the park are? This post is for you!
Let’s get into it!
What Is It Like Driving on Skyline Drive?
When we visited, we found the drive smooth and easy to navigate. It also helped that there are very few roads crossing Skyline Drive. Hopping on and off the road was simple.
And in late July the views were beautiful but the crowds were minimal. We were the only ones at most of the lookout spots! Fortunately, the heat was not bad either!
What are the Best Skyline Drive Overlooks in the Middle of Shenandoah National Park?
We live in Indiana and love finding the best scenic views! Indiana’s pretty flat, but southern Indiana still boasts some great views. (Here are a few great viewing spots in Indiana!)
During our recent trip to Shenandoah National Park, after visiting Washington DC and Luray Caverns (an amazing cave tour and family fun park just west of the national park!), we entered the park at Thornton Gap Entrance and headed south to Swift Run Gap Entrance. We took a second or two to view every lookout point, at least 30 total.
So which are the best lookout spots?!
Here is a list of the best lookout points we found.
1. Pinnacles Overlook: Close to Thornton Gap Entrance
Located just a few miles south of the Thornton Gap Entrance to the park, Pinnacles Overlook is one of the first overlooks you’ll have the opportunity to view.
Pinnacles Overlook is the only one on our list that is located on the east side of the road. However, it looks south.
It still boasts some great views though! I bet it’s even more breathtaking with fall foliage!
2. Jewell Hollow Overlook: One of the Best Skyline Drive Overlooks Just South of Thornton Gap Entrance
If you and your kids love climbing on huge rocks, this is the overlook for you! From the parking lot the view is pretty amazing. But, once you climb on the huge rock to the left, the view is absolutely spectacular!
Jewel Hollow looks north-northwest, and has a pretty breathtaking view!
3. Stony Man Overlook: Can See Far, But a Flatter View
This overlook was one of our top lookout points because of how far away we could see. This overlook looks toward Luray, VA, famous for its beautiful views and Luray Caverns. I even took time to look at all of the farms and communities in the view. We could see so far at Stony Man Overlook!
However, it was pretty flat. Do not expect much variation in altitude at this viewing spot.
But it’s still very worth the stop!
4. Spitler Knoll Overlook: Hike the Appalachian Trail Past a Few Overlooks
This is a great stop if you’d also like to hike some of the Appalachian Trail! The parking area is just a few hundred feet from the Appalachian Trail. In fact, you could continue south on the trail to Franklin Cliffs Overlook (mentioned below) or even Fishers Gap Overlook.
We had fun taking some time to enjoy the Appalachian Trail. And everything was clearly marked.
The lookout spot is a few feet up from the trailhead. You will likely want to jump in the car so you’re not walking on the side of the road. But the view is worth it! It hosts another beautiful view!
Spitler Knoll Overlook looks west-northwest.
5. Franklin Cliffs Overlook: Beautiful View, Even from a Lower Elevation
Franklin Cliffs Overlook is actually the lowest in elevation of all of the overlooks mentioned here at 3140ft (957m). But the views are still breathtaking.
It is definitely one of the best overlooks in the park! You can see so far!
6. The Point Overlook: Our Absolute Favorite… One of the Very Best Skyline Drive Overlooks… Once You Know the Secret!
The Point Overlook was definitely our favorite overlook on Skyline Drive. At first, we weren’t a huge fan of the view. There was just too much vegetation and a grove of trees in the way.
However, we learned a secret!
Take the narrow trail just to the left of the grove of trees in the center of your view. It will take you maybe 100 feet downhill. The trail ends in front of the tree with a huge rock you can climb on. Climb up on that rock, and the view will make your day! (The video above shows you want we mean).
We were absolutely amazed at that view!
What Else is There to Do in the Middle of Shenandoah National Park Other than View the Best Skyline Drive Overlooks?
Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center (Across from Big Meadows)
Want to learn more about Shenandoah National Park? The visitor center is a great place to learn about the geography, trails, and animals around the park. Plus, there are public bathrooms available! Plan at least a half hour (hopefully longer!) to enjoy all the visitor’s center has to offer.
The Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center is actually the southernmost visitor center, even though it’s located in the middle of the park. Please keep this in mind if you plan to travel to the south.
Campgrounds in Central Shenandoah National Park
If you enjoy camping, consider camping at Shenandoah National Park! When we visited, we would have LOVED to have added this to our trip. But there just wasn’t enough time.
Luray Caverns is not actually in the national park. However, it is less than a 20-minute drive from the Thornton Gap Entrance and extremely worth the drive!
In addition to the cave tour (which is phenomenal!), Luray Caverns also offers several family-friendly activities. There is a car and carriage museum, a garden maze, and even a ropes course!
You will definitely want to check out Luray Caverns!
Any Advice for Those (Like Me!) Who Are Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free?
We ate lunch at Spelunkers Cavern Burgers in Front Royal (on the north side of the national park) when coming from DC. (You can also check out our post on Allergy-Friendly Restaurants in Washington DC!)
Spelunkers fries their sides (including french fries) in 100% peanut oil, which is great for those like me that avoid soy. I ate the burger without a bun and enjoyed my soy-free fries. We were really impressed by the food! (Note: While I now worry about dedicated gluten-free fryers, I did not when this post was written. If you are highly sensitive to gluten, you will need to ask).
The place was packed! Actually, it seems Spelunkers is well known, not only by locals but by people all over the East coast! We found several articles written on the place!
And we ate dinner at O’Charley’s in Harrisonburg, VA. The town is just a 30-minute drive from Swift Run Gap Entrance on Skyline Drive. I usually get their cedar plank salmon which is free of most allergens. There is also a Panera Bread next to the O’Charley’s where you could order a salad or dairy-free smoothie.
Enjoy the Best Skyline Drive Overlooks!
If you plan to drive the 30+ miles down Skyline Drive between Thornton Gap Entrance and Swift Run Gap Entrance, these six overlooks are worth the stops! Hope you enjoy them and all Shenandoah National Park has to offer!