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We'll start our tour at the town of Front Royal, located at the northern tip of the Shenandoah National Park. Catch the Festival of Leaves, held in early or mid-October at the Belle Boyd Cottage on Chester Street. The landmark art show features arts and crafts, a parade, exhibits, live entertainment, Civil War re-enactment, carriage rides and a quilt show. Or spend a relaxing afternoon on the Shenandoah River. Front Royal Canoe Company offers canoe, tube and boat rentals down this beautiful waterway. Skyline Caverns are home to the rare and beautiful anthodite flowers-crystal white formations which grow about one inch every thousand years. The caverns also feature a 37-foot waterfall and a miniature train that transports you for part of the tour. Continue south along Skyline Drive, through the heart of the Shenandoah National Park. Within the forest's 195,000 acres roam 5,000 deer, 600 black bear, 300-500 wild turkeys, opossum, red-tailed hawks, ruffled grouse, striped skunks and woodchucks. The visitor center distributes free maps of popular hiking trails (of which there are 500). All of the trails are well marked and many lead visitors through 100 species of trees (hence the fall color variations), and to jagged mountain peaks and beautiful waterfalls.
Our first interesting side-trip takes us west on US 211 into the town of Luray. Located about 10 minutes from Skyline Drive are the largest caverns on the east coast. Luray Caverns cover 64 acres and boast underground rooms with ceilings up to 140 feet high. Highlights of the one-hour tour include the Great Stalacpipe Organ, comprised of stalactites which play music when struck with magnetic plungers. Above ground attractions within Luray include the Luray Reptile Center and Dinosaur Park which features exotic reptiles, petting zoo, animals, birds, nature shop and dinosaur park. Shenandoah River Outfitters offers canoeing and tubing excursions. On Route 4 in Luray, there's a Shenandoah National Park Visitor Center which provides information on camping, fishing, hiking and special programs within the park.
Civil War buffs may want to continue west on US 211, into the town of New Market. A museum stands where the Battle of New Market began in the spring of 1864. It houses 1,500 artifacts and features a 30-minute film on the Battle of New Market. The New Market Battlefield Historical Park features the Hall of Valor Museum and a restored 19th century farm explaining the war years in the Shenandoah Valley. Caverns worth exploring within the New Market area include Endless Caverns and Shenandoah Caverns.
From New Market, you can either return to the Skyline Drive via US 211 heading east, or take a round-about way via I-81. Don't worry about missing any scenery-both I-81 and I-64 are designated scenic drives. If you opt for I-81, you'll travel south from New Market to Staunton. Historic walking tours of the city (there are five National Historic Districts) afford ample opportunity to stretch your legs. Free self-guided tour brochures are available at the city's office of tourism, 13 W. Beverly Street. The Museum of American Frontier Culture is a collection of 18th century working farms brought from England, Germany and Northern Ireland. Stroll through the Victorian garden at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace. The restored Greek Revival mansion houses the Woodrow Wilson museum. After taking in the Staunton sites, we'll hop on U.S. 250 and travel east into Waynesboro.
Excerpted from Woodall's Plan-It·Pack-It·Go...