east coast National Parks road trip travel washington dc

Weekend Road Trip: Gettysburg, Mountains, and DC, OH MY!!!

Like so many of us, I am itching to get away. I am used to taking weekend adventures at least once a month but haven’t really been able to. With everything either closed near me or having limited capacity. I’ve opted to stay home and plan my next great outing.

I recently took a five day trip to Vegas and had a pretty good time. We visited many locations on the strip and even took a day to go out and see the Grand Canyon. Well Grand Canyon West, not the National Park. It was still amazing and I think anyone that ventures out that way should take the detour from Vegas to Grand Canyon West. The views are still breathtaking.

Now, while that trip was a good time. I hate flying and would much rather be in a car. I don’t care if it takes longer. To me a road trip is much more enjoyable and can leave plenty of things up in the air. This trip was supposed to be starting on a Friday night and going until Sunday afternoon or night. Plans changed and we went places I otherwise wasn’t thinking about even going.

That’s the beauty of taking a road trip. You can be more flexible. You can change plans on the fly and go wherever your mind takes you. This trip ended up taking us from Philadelphia to Gettysburg, to the Skyline Drive in Virginia, and then finishing it off in Washington, DC. Originally the trip was only to the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway from Front Royal, VA to Roanoke, VA.

We were going to leave Friday afternoon after my daughter finished school and arrive sometime after 8 in Front Royal. Well, we left before 6am on Friday and had a completely different weekend than I originally planned but we still had a lot of fun and saw a lot more than we were expecting. 

The Start

This road trip started like so many others. An early wake up and hitting the road before 6 am. Since I live outside of Philadelphia the traffic can be horrible at any time during the week after 6. The last thing I wanted to do was start off my mini road trip sitting in traffic. Plus we wanted to hit up Shady Maple in East Earl, PA for breakfast. We haven’t been able to visit since the Pandemic started last March. 

Shady Maple, Lancaster PA, Covid-19 Action Plan, Buffet

I must say I was very pleased with how Shady Maple handed everything to do with the breakfast buffet. It was still available you just had to have your mask on while at the buffet line and put on a pair of gloves each time you went up. There were employees walking around the buffet area making sure everyone had their mask on correctly and had the gloves on too. Plus the utensils were being replaced at least every 15 minutes or so. 

It was a good meal that filled us up for most of the rest of the day. You can’t beat starting your day off with bacon, eggs, sausage, french toast, hash, potatoes, and more. This is one of the best places, if not the BEST place to grab food at. It is always hot, fresh, and delicious. Plus you can’t beat the price. One big bonus…. If you visit on your birthday, your meal is FREE. Sadly, I missed out on my free meal by a day. But hey, next year my birthday is on a Friday so I can go then.  

First Stop

Since I took my daughter out of school on Friday. I had to make the trip a little educational. We made our first stop at Gettysburg. Gettysburg is the Civil War Battlefield that helped change the tide of the war and was the bloodiest battle of the war. 

Gettysburg, History, Civil War, Little Round Top,

My daughters two favorite spots are Devils Den and Little Round Top. I know it is just because you can climb around the rocks and get a good view of the surrounding area. I never really have here read the signs in the area but today I did. I wanted her to understand the history of the area and since she was not in school today, It would be a good lesson for her. 

She was a little surprised after she read what happened in the area we were in. She asked me if there were ghosts here. I told her that Gettysburg is considered by many to be one of the best places to see a ghost. I have, however, never witnessed any ghost in or around Gettysburg. So who knows but it is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the US.

From Devil’s Den we did a little driving tour around the battlefield till we ended up at Little Round Top. I do love the view from here. I also couldn’t even begin to imagine what must have gone through their minds trying to attack up those hills. It would have been insane. Not only would you be attacking uphill but having to climb over huge rocks. 

After we spent a little time on Little Round Top, we headed off towards the visitor center. We wanted to stop in the gift shop and get our “passport” cancellation stamp. If you don’t have a National Parks Passport, you should consider getting one. It’s a nice little book to have and keep track of all the National Parks you have visited. There is a big book and a little one. The big book can be a pain to carry around but the little one is great to stick in your pocket. 

Once we visited the Visitor Center we headed off to the nearby outlets. I remember this place being much better a few years ago. Today it was pretty much run down with not many stores. There was an Adidas store that we did stop into. We both ended up getting a new pair of sneakers so our trip to the outlets wasn’t completely for nothing. 

Front Royal/Strasburg, VA

After the outlets we started on our journey towards Front Royal, VA. The drive from Gettysburg to our hotel was only a short hour and forty-five minute drive. I booked our hotel on the way and ended up staying in Strasburg, Va at the Ramada. Out of all the budget hotels in the area this one had the best reviews for the Wyndham hotels. 

Catoctin Mountain Park, Scenic route, Maryland, National Park Service

Getting back to the drive, it was a nice relaxing drive taking us out of PA, thorough Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. The route we took, ended up taking us on one of Maryland scenic highways through Catoctin Mountain Park. The first couple of miles you have the Big Hunting Creek following alongside you. It was very scenic and helped make this the best section of my drive to Strasburg and the hotel. One thing to note: Cell service going through the park was pretty bad. Maybe that’s the point though. You can’t pay attention to your phone and you should be enjoying your surroundings. 

Once we made it through Catoctin Mountain Park, it was a short drive to I-81. From there we just cruised on the highway through West Virginia into Virginia. It was all highway driving until we reached the Ramada by Wyndham in Strasburg. 

Ramada Inn, Wyndham Hotels, Strasburg, Virginia, Hotel, Budget Hotel,

The hotel was currently being remodelled but it was overall still pretty nice, all things considered. I just wish the price was a little cheaper since they were remodelling the hotel. However, even though they were remodelling, it didn’t impact our stay.

The room was clean and much bigger than I was expecting. I was very pleased to see that they had at least two USB charging ports on the lamps. 

I am still amazed at the amount of hotels that still don’t have them. It really should be standard in all of them. 

So like I was saying this room was a great size. The beds were nice and firm (just how I like them). You had a nice little table that sat two and you could look out and see the mountains in the distance. I am pretty sure that those mountains were the beginning of the Skyline Drive. We would soon be heading off to explore what that road had to offer. 

It was still early in the day and I was a little mad at myself. If I would have realized how early I would have gotten to the area I probably would have not booked a hotel here. I would have driven the Skyline Drive and gotten a hotel near the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

However, it turns out it was the right thing to do. Even though, I was thinking at the time that it was a mistake. 

Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway

It was still early in the day on Friday afternoon and I didn’t want to stay in the hotel all day. I ended up taking the drive over to the Skyline Drive Front Royal entrance. From Strasburg, the Skyline Drive is around 20 to 30 minutes away depending on traffic. Whatever you do, make sure you have a full tank of gas when you enter the park. There is a gas station about half way (Mile 51) but the price is much higher than if you got it before you entered.

Dicky Ridge Visitor Center, Mile Post 4.6, Skyline Drive,

On our first day we just stopped by the Dicky Ridge Visitor Center (Mile 4.6) and checked out about the first 20 miles of the drive. There were plenty of pull offs along those 20 miles. The Point Overlook was perhaps my favorite of the ones we stopped at. We stopped at most of them along this route. 

We still had about 2 or 3 hours till sunset and since we both were up early we decided to head back to the hotel and just relax for the rest of the day. Lucky the sunset was a little lackluster so we didn’t miss a good one. 

One thing to note: When driving south on the Skyline Drive, in most areas the overlooks on your right will be good spots for the sunset and the ones on the left would let you catch the sunrise. Of course, that’s just a simple rule to follow but some overlooks are much better than others. 

The next morning started off really early for us. I was up at 3:15am. Not by choice. I just couldn’t sleep. I got ready and woke up my daughter a short time later and we were on the road before 4am. Before 4:30 we were driving along the Skyline Drive. I ended up stopping at one of the first couple of overlooks and got out of my car and looked up.

To me there’s just something about the night sky. I love looking up at the stars and looking up along the Skyline Drive is something else. It wasn’t the darkest skies I’ve ever seen. For that I have to go back to Cherry Springs State Park in PA. However, it was still pretty dark with so many stars shining bright. I was able to get some really great pictures. I can’t wait till I get the right equipment for night time astrophotography. 

For the next hour or two I was just driving south looking for overlooks to get out at and take my photos while I tried to find the perfect spot for the sunrise. I was also on the lookout for wildlife. For some reason I wanted to see a bear off in the distance. I never did see any bears but I did see plenty of other wildlife like racoons, rabbits, and plenty of deer. I saw the most amount of deer after the sun came up. Lucky, none of them tried running in front of me but they were plenty close to the side of the road. 

Sunrise this morning was around 06:40 in the morning if I remember correctly and it was around 6:15 when I went through the tunnel and stopped at the tunnel parking overlook. At this point the Skyline Drive was starting to come alive with a couple of cars. More cars than I’ve seen all morning, so I guess a lot of people had the same idea as me. 

Now we still had plenty of time till the sun would come up so I decided to go a little further and try to find a better spot. I kept driving, looking to my left, looking at the clock. I was just looking for that perfect spot. As it was getting close to sunrise I was running out of time. I stopped at a couple of different overlooks but didn’t really like what I was seeing so I continued on. 

That was a bit of a mistake since I missed the moment the sun peaked up over the horizon. The sun had a beautiful orange glow to it as it was just waking up for the morning. I was able to catch this while I was driving up the mountain. While I didn’t catch it on camera, I still have that image in my head. We did end up finding a random overlook and got out to get a photo. 

Sunrise over the Skyline Drive

Boy was it cold. I believe it was in the upper 30’s that morning and it was a bit windy. I am gonna try my luck again in the summer when I take my road trip to Florida. 

For the rest of the morning we continued along the Skyline Driving stopping at many of the overlooks. One thing that I do not like about the Skyline Drive is you don’t know what overlook you are at. There is a sign (small sign) before the overlook but none at the overlook. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, there’s a sign right at the overlook. 

I took many pictures along the Skyline Drive but most of them I am unsure which overlook they were taken at. There were plenty of good views and a few “bad” views. However, I would say I didn’t find one view that looked epic. Another thing I wanted to point out was the numerous trails along the way. So many different ones for you to hike with different difficulties. The Appalachian Trail also runs along the Skyline Drive. We saw plenty of hikers on our many stops. 

Afton Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, Road Trip

We finally made it to the end of the Skyline Drive and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Now my plan was to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway to Roanoke, VA but my daughter wasn’t feeling it. She’s been wanting to go to DC and so have I. We stopped at the first two overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, got out over the valleys and turned around and headed towards Washington, DC. 

I have a big trip planning this summer and I think we will spend a day driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I now have a better idea of what to expect and can plan a little better. Plus I know I will want to visit when it is completely dark outside.

Washington, DC

From the northern entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Washington, DC is usually under 3 hours. Of course, traffic around the capital can be horrible depending on the day, time of day, and time of year. We got stuck in a lot of traffic outside of DC. It was bumper to bumper about 30 miles outside of Washington. 

We did finally make it and parked off of 6th street near the Air and Space Museum. We have been planning a trip to DC for weeks. We wanted to hit up the Cherry Blossom Festival but missed out. Currently none of the Smithsonian Museums are open but we just love walking around the District. We walked along the national mall stopping along the way for some food at one of the many food trucks.. 

DC Food Trucks, Washington,

The cheesesteak I got was pretty good. It’s no Philly Cheesesteak but it was still pretty good. It was really messy and we had to walk a little ways to find a bench to sit on. It had a decent amount of meat and cheese on it. It also had lettuce, onions, and tomatoes on it. Other than that it wasn’t bad. Now the chicken tenders on the other hand were not very good. They were very bland with no flavor at all. 

After we ate, we started to walk towards the Washington Monument. My daughter wanted to ride her scooter while I walked and the path is much smoother down that way. DC this weekend was pretty busy. It was a nice day out so I am not too surprised. Even with none of the Museums open there were plenty of other sights to see around the city.

We were finally able to find a bathroom that didn’t have a line over by the WWII Memorial. Like I said it was very busy on the day we visited. I was a little surprised by the amount of people, since nothing is really open right now. However, DC is a wonderful place to just walk about and look at all the monuments and memorials. Plus you have the White House and Capitol. 

We ended up just walking around a little and enjoying the nice weather. I miss just getting out and exploring. Even if it is places I’ve been to a bunch of times. It’s great to get out and explore. While this trip didn’t turn out like I was expecting we still covered a lot of ground and had a blast doing it.

Overall, we had a blast on our mini road trip through the mountains and DC. What took us 36 hours to complete would have taken a lot longer during the Civil War and I tried to explain that to my daughter along the way. I wanted her to get a little education out of this trip. I think I did accomplish that a little bit and we had fun doing it.

While my plans changed completely, it was still a lot of fun and shows the importance of being flexible while going on a road trip. No matter if it is a week or 36 hours. Like we would say in the Marine Corps…. Semper Gumby (Always Flexible).

Want to continue on the journey with us? Be sure to follow us on social media by clicking the icons below. We post content weekly and are always looking for fun and exciting places to visit. Just drop us a line on where we should go next or what we should do.

Have you taken a road trip recently? Did it go as planned? Let us know in the comments below.

Thank You everyone who has commented and followed us. It means a lot and helps us continue making post, photos, and guides for you. Till our next post….. Have a great day!

Want to continue on the journey with us? Be sure to follow us on social media by clicking the icons below. We post content weekly and are always looking for fun and exciting places to visit. Just drop us a line on where we should go next or what we should do.

Thank You everyone who has commented and followed us. It means a lot and helps us continue making post, photos, and guides for you. Till our next post….. Have a great day!

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