Classic Roads: Blue Ridge Byways

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

The Blue Ridge and Appalachians are often referred to as the “gentle mountains.” Over hundreds of millions of years geological forces have rounded their shoulders and smoothed out most of their hard edges. The area’s long geological history and high levels of annual rainfall have produced a rich patchwork of green fields in the valleys and heavily forested hardwoods on the mountain ridges. Unlike the expansive vistas found in the West, most curves are blind to riders and often spring surprises at the apex. Wildlife, in the form of deer and black bears, are often present on or near Skyline Drive, especially during early morning and evening hours.

This series of roads offers something for just about everyone: cruising along Skyline Drive at a sedate pace with frequent stops at scenic overlooks; fast sweepers along US 211, technical mountain riding on SR 675, and seemingly continuous curves along the serpentine meanderings of Passage Creek, flowing through historic Fort Valley. This route is appropriate for most experienced motorcyclists on virtually any street bike. Riders should plan to spend a whole day taking in the scenic splendor and historic sites along these Blue Ridge byways. 

Points of Interest:

  1. Front Royal, VA: Just 76 miles west of Washington, DC, Front Royal has been a busy crossroads since its settlement in 1754. During the Civil War, the Battle of Front Royal was fought here on May 23, 1862. Several historic sites and buildings turn the clock back. 
  2. Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive: Just south of Front Royal is the entrance to Skyline Drive, which winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Shenandoah National Park. An entrance fee of $ 20 is currently charged for motorcycles, but entrance is free for senior pass holders. ($ 20 per year or $ 80 for a lifetime pass). The entire route stretches for 105 miles, with a total of 75 stunning overlooks. But our path exits at Thornton Gap, where riders descend the mountain on US 211.
  3. Route US 211: Some of the most rider-challenging roads along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are the intersecting gap roads, which often have tight curves combined with significant elevation changes. US 211 has a particularly notorious reputation because many motorcyclists try riding its decreasing radius curves much too aggressively. Extreme caution is called for on the section leading up to Thornton Gap from the east. The descent on the western side is tamer, but still fun when ridden prudently.
  4. Luray, VA: This is another Shenandoah Valley town, with many structures and locations on the National Register of Historic Places. The Civil War Valley Campaign of 1864, under Union General Philip Sheridan, resulted in several engagements nearby. Visit the spectacular formations in Luray Caverns and listen to some compositions performed on its Great Stalacpipe Organ.
  5. Shenandoah Valley & River Overlook: Route 675 takes riders on a dizzying switchback climb up to a ridge-top parking area with a dramatic Shenandoah Valley and River panorama. Be sure to stop and take it all in.
  6. Fort Valley: According to history, Daniel Morgan built the first road into Fort Valley under orders from George Washington. This narrow, naturally fortified valley, lying within the Shenandoah Valley, was considered a possible last-stand fortification against the British during the American Revolution. Of course, victory at Yorktown made that unnecessary.