Shenandoah National Park this Saturday will reopen Skyline Drive and the scenic roadway’s immediate access to over 480 miles of trials.
The world famous Skyline Drive has been closed to motorists since the night of April 4 due to the spread of COVID-19.
The park said the decision to reopen the highway was made following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local public health authorities.
That said, Old Rag Mountain and Whiteoak Canyon/Cedar Run circuit trails will remain closed, and all park boundary trailheads in Rappahannock County will remain inaccessible.
Rappahannock officials insisted on the closures more than a month ago due to extreme overcrowding and lack of social distancing amid the coronavirus crisis.
As a result of this afternoon’s announcement, the entire length of Skyline Drive will be open to all motorists from mile 0 at Front Royal to mile 105 at Waynesboro. The backcountry will be open to day-use only, consisting of more than 480 miles of trails “accessible from trailheads along Skyline Drive.”
The National Park Service says it is working with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access.
Skyline Drive will open beginning Saturday, May 23 at 8 a.m. However, the world-famous drive after Saturday will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will be closed nightly from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Vehicle parking along Skyline Drive at overlooks and trailhead parking areas will be in “designated areas” only. If a parking area is full, motorists are asked not to park outside of the designated area and “move on to a less crowded area.”
Entrance stations will be staffed by park rangers and entrance fees will be collected.
Limited restrooms will be open at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6), Panorama (mile 31.5), Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51) and Beagle Gap (mile 99.5).
With public health in mind, besides boundary trailheads, Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon/Cedar Run, the following facilities will also remain closed at this time:
Backcountry camping will not be authorized.
Visitor centers, picnic areas, campgrounds, lodges, cabins, Massanutten Lodge, and Rapidan Camp historic structures will remain closed.
Retail shops, food and beverage areas are closed at this time, but they may become accessible during this Phase 1 period of reopening provided they meet the mandatory requirements in the Forward Virginia Guidelines.
“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners continues to be paramount. At Shenandoah National Park, our operational approach will be to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored,” the park stated late Wednesday afternoon. “We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners, and volunteers.”
The park said “a return to full operations will continue to be phased,” and through that time all recreating visitors should follow Virginia and local health orders. In addition, the park asks that visitors practice its Leave No Trace principles, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic avoid crowding and avoid other high-risk outdoor activities associated with the transmission of the coronavirus.