Fort Valley: The Alternative Scenic Drive


posted by Neil Myers

Fort Valley, and the George Washington National Forest that completely surrounds it, offer a beautiful alternative to the Shenandoah National Park and its Skyline Drive.  We often send our guests at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring to nearby Fort Valley when they are looking for “the road less travelled”.

Fort Valley is a proverbial “hidden valley”, cradled between the two ridges that make up the northern two-thirds of the Massanutten Range, which is located entirely within Virginia’s northern Shenandoah Valley.  There are only two main roads.  Route 678 (Fort Valley Road) runs roughly north/south the length of the valley.  Route 675 runs roughly east/west, crossing the Valley on the southern end.  You can leave the Valley by following 675 west through Edinburg Gap down into the town of Edinburg or follow 675 southeast into Luray.

Our recommendation is to enter Fort Valley from the north.  From route 55 midway between Strasburg and Front Royal, turn south at Waterlick onto route 678 (Fort Valley Road).  This road winds along Passage Creek between the bases of Signal Knob on the west and Buzzard Rock on the east.  Signal Knob offers great hiking.  Follow the link above to Hiking Upward’s description.  The orange blazed section of the Signal Knob trail is part of the Massanutten trail, a 71-mile loop that circles the valley along the ridge lines, not unlike the way the Appalachian Trail follows the crest of the Blue Ridge through the National Park.  Not exactly a day-hike!

While visiting Fort Valley, we definitely recommend visiting the Woodstock Tower.  At Detrick, about 15 miles into the valley, turn right onto route 758 (Woodstock Tower Road).  After a couple of miles, this will become a gravel road.  After another couple of miles on the gravel road you come to an unmarked T – turn left (you will still be on 758).  About a mile after the T you will come to the parking area for Woodstock Tower which is just a short hike away along the ridgeline.  For those of us used to hiking in the Shenandoah National Park on trails meticulously maintained by the PATC, this little trail may be a shock of trash and graffiti.  Get over it and do it anyway!  You won’t be sorry.

Looking west from Woodstock Tower

The views from the tower are outstanding.  To the west you will “overlook” the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River where it lazily winds back and forth on itself.  Disclaimer:  with the leaves still on the trees, you will be doing good if you see more than one bend, but on a clear day I’m sure you can see West Virginia.  The trucks on I-81 look like teeny-tiny toys.  Looking to the east, you will see the Blue Ridge (and the national park) through a gap in the Massanutten Mountain.  So close and yet so far!

Looking east from Woodstock Tower

From the tower, we recommend you continue west on route 758 down the western face of the mountain into the town of Woodstock.  There will be a series of switch-backs, no guard rails, so just take your time.  Woodstock is a bustling little town with shops to explore and places to eat.  From there you can head back north to the inn along route 11, exploring the little towns on the way.

Alternatively, you can come retrace your route back down into Fort Valley from the tower and continue south on 678 to Fort Valley Ranch to go horseback riding (advance reservations recommended).  Or, continue on 678 to 758 on out of the valley to Luray to visit the Caverns.  In any event, you will have visited an unspoiled slice of Virginia that you would be happy to return to whether or not the national park is open.  Enjoy!

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