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Skyline Drive is the only public road in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, and it runs north-south for 105 miles (about 169 km) from Front Royal to Rockfish Gap. Construction of the road began in 1931 as a Works Progress Administration project, and took eight years to complete as the workers built and graded the road, built guardrails, and planted thousands of trees and shrubs. Skyline Drive is a popular tourist destination that attracts two million visitors per year, and was named as a National Historic Landmark in 2008.
The speed limit on Skyline Drive is only 35 miles per hour (56 kph), but fans say that is fast enough. The road runs along the upper reaches of the Blue Ridge mountains, and drivers tend to slow down to enjoy the scenery. The road is shared between cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, and wildlife tends to appear frequently, so the speed limit is strictly enforced by park officials.
Skyline Drive runs parallel to the Appalachian Trail, making it a popular hiking destination, and features numerous trails for hiking and horseback riding. The road is more of a destination than a transportation artery, so there is also a visitor's center, camping areas, rental cabins, and variety of restaurants that offer diners breathtaking views. Mile-marker posts help keep visitors oriented, and serve as directional landmarks.
Travelers during the early morning or late evening hours are likely to see wildlife approach the road. Deer, rabbits, wild turkey, and even black bears are frequently sighted, and Shenandoah National Park boasts the densest black bear population in the United States. Although many drivers pull to the side of the road to enjoy the wildlife, it is strictly forbidden to feed the animals.
The park also boasts a wide variety of plant life, and the sides of the road are purposely left un-mowed to allow the wildflowers to show all year long. Meadows are common, and the drive offers views of vast landscapes of trillium, azalea, black-eyed susans, and goldenrod, depending upon the season. Although best known for its fall foliage display, Skyline Drive puts on an impressive color show all year long.
Towards the south end of the road lies Grand Caverns, the oldest public cave system in the United States. The caves were visited by soldiers during the civil war, and today the signatures of both Union and Confederate soldiers remain visible on the walls of the largest cave room. The park offers guided tours of the cave, and the grounds feature several miles (kilometers) of hiking trails and picnic areas.
For anyone looking for a great motorcycle ride, this is the place. The traffic is uniformly smooth and slow, the views are incredible and the distance from Front Royal to Wayneboro, about 105 miles, is perfect for an afternoon trip. You'll likely see a lot of bikes stopped along the route, so there's always good company as well.
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