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Seneca Rocks

Total Distance :: 224 miles

Ride Summary :

Highlights of this ride include Seneca Rocks, VA, Germany Valley, ridges, passes, river runs, and did I mention curves, curves, and even more curves?

Ride Description

You've got to promise you'll keep this one a secret. Well, okay, you can share it with your riding friends, but please don't tell any four-wheelers about this route. Of all the roads I've traveled throughout the Appalachians, this route covers two of my all-time favorites. This is the one route I would recommend to even the most jaded I've-ridden-'em-all rider as a showcase of the best riding the Appalachians have to offer. Let's get to it.

From Front Royal, pick up Route 55 west and make your way through Strasburg and over the Interstate. From this point, Route 55 becomes a pleasure to navigate, with virtually no traffic and perfectly-banked curves that come rapid-fire, over and around the contours of the Shenandoah and Allegheny Mountains. Just before you enter Wardensville, there's a sign along the road indicating the point which was at one time during the mid-1800s the geographic population center of the United States.

Out of Wardensville you'll find another 25 to 30 miles of even better riding, crossing numerous mountain ridges and following rivers. If you ever held the notion as I once did that nothing good ever came out of West Virginia, you'll find it to be true; they're keeping it all to themselves and this route is the proof. Route 55 joins U.S. Route 220 at Moorefield and follows it south for a few miles before returning on its westerly course at Petersburg. Route 220 is a good road itself, following narrow valleys through West Virginia and well into Virginia. It is often named by motorcycle magazines as one of the best unknown roads in America (obviously they haven't ridden Route 55 and I hope they don't).

Starting somewhere before Petersburg and with increasing frequency you'll notice signs for the Smoke Hole Caverns, Crystal Grottoes, Seneca Caverns, etc., etc. There are probably more attractions of this type in this region than any other because many of the ridges in this area bear limestone caves. Spelunking is a popular pastime. It's not unusual to see a couple of parties of cavers parked by the roadside, headlamps in position, ready to venture into the subterranean passages of the Appalachians.

After Petersburg, Route 55 spends its remaining time chasing a series of rivers before intersecting with US Route 33 at Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. This is a popular destination for day-trippers who come to climb the rocks. Seneca Rocks' ragged edges stand out from the smooth ridge lines of the hills that surround them. Often in cases like this, the rock that remains was molten rock that was pushed to the surface by geologic forces below. The heat and pressure made it harder than the surface it pushed through and when that surface wore away, the harder rock was exposed.

Next is a great section of Route 33 between Seneca Rocks and Harrisonburg, Virginia. The first ascent you'll make is long by East Coast standards. It will bring you to a fantastic panorama of the Germany Valley. If you're tempted to pull off for a picture, wait until you get to a spot along the road that has a "Germany Valley" marker. It's near the top and offers the best view. This view is a good candidate for your widest lens or a recyclable panoramic camera. To the left and right are the high, imposing ridges of the Alleghenies, while in the valley below, a series of small, uniform ridges punctuate the valley floor.

From Franklin, the route settles for a minute and then makes another ascent before dropping into Brandywine. Brandywine is home to a popular recreation area that offers secluded primitive campsites and a lake for swimming and fishing. From here, the last great ascent is soon upon you as you trek up the Shenandoah Mountains. After a few miles of switchbacks you can pull off to the side of the road and retrace your path, finding Brandywine in the valley below. Once over the hills, it's another 20 miles or so to Harrisonburg. To avoid the traffic, make a left on Route 42 and head out of town.

Route 11 crosses paths with Route 55 in Strasburg. If you're inclined, Strasburg is a good place to hop off and walk around for browsing. There are dozens of small shops willing to accept your credit card and to ship. (No space on your bike? Not a problem!) Return to Front Royal on Route 55 east to complete the Seneca Rocks tour.

Interactive Map

To use the interactive map, you can click on any of the waypoints for more information (see key below map for details on the different waypoint icon types). You can also click on the route segments for detailed directions. Since we use the Google Maps interface, you can pan and zoom easily. Also, you can drag the "Person Icon" above the zoom bar to the route for a 360° tour using Google Maps Streetview system.

Map Key: Start of Ride Start of Ride Intersection Marker Intersection Marker Scenic Point Scenic Point End of Ride End of Ride

Elevation Profile

Key numbers correspond to mile points as listed in the Mile by Mile Directions below.

Elevation Information

  • Lowest Point: 517
  • Highest Point: 3564
  • Average Elevation: 1353

Grade Information

  • Max Uphill Grade: 11.4
  • Max Downhill Grade: 11.2
  • Avg Grade: 1.9

Mile by Mile Directions

  • Mile 0: Begin at point where VA 55 departs US 340/522 north of Front Royal toward Strasburg. Follow VA 55/WV 55 to US 33 at Seneca Rocks
  • Mile 94.1: Left on US 33 East at Seneca Rocks
  • Mile 158.2: Left on VA 42 in Harrisonburg
  • Mile 201.7: Left on US 11 in Woodstock
  • Mile 214.3: In Strasburg, continue straight to rejoin VA 55 east toward Front Royal
  • Mile 224.4: Arrive Front Royal at US 340/US 522 via VA 55


Motorcycle Journeys Through The AppalachiansThis ride was provided by Dale Coyner, author of Motorcycle Journeys Through The Appalachians. You can find this ride along with many others in his book available for purchase at the Virtual Blue Ridge Bookstore.