The Franklin Cliffs are the namesake of an overlook on Skyline Drive that draws tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of visitors a year. The overlook perches atop the Franklin Cliffs and provides a sweeping view to the west of the Shenandoah Valley and its rolling farmland (and festering exuburban development).
Before going further, I must say that this page is not about the views from an overlook but about the scrambling and climbing opportunities on the cliffs at the overlook. Please do not "sign" the climber's log if your experience here is limited to stepping out of the car to take a picture or clambering up the boulder near the northern end of the parking area.
The cliffs here rise above the Appalachian Trail and are from 30 to almost 100 feet high; they tend to be shortest at the overlook itself, and the taller cliffs are a short distance north of the parking area and are accessible via an easy hiking trail. Many people stop here. Many of those people get out to take a picture or sit on the clifftops. Relatively few of them bother to take the very short trail to the higher and more interesting cliffs.
The cliffs are mostly made of an ancient greenstone that is usually quite solid but can be slick due to mosses and lichens growing on it. Although some greenstone cliffs in the park are sheer enough to offer challenging technical climbing, those here tend to be more broken in nature. This is to the advantage of those who enjoy scrambling in the range of Class 3 to easy Class 5, but it will probably disappoint true rock climbers, as there are few apparent lines suitable for lead climbs and toproping for easy Class 5 conditions may be unappealing. There are bouldering opportunities on the shorter cliffs, but there are not too many good spots to set up a crash pad. Bottom line, this is a good roadside spot for scramblers and for people with young children (there are numerous small outcrops that can provide a lot of fun for kids).
These cliffs face west and can be very unpleasant places to be on a summer afternoon. On the other hand, they can be nice on sunny winter afternoons, provided a cold wind isn't blowing from the west (and there usually is).
Franklin Cliffs Overlook is in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park and is about 0.2 mi north of Fishers Gap Overlook, between Mileposts 48 and 49. There is a large parking area at the overlook. To reach the better cliffs and escape the bustle, look for the trail at the north end of the overlook and follow it; keep an eye out for any of a number of ways to scramble down to the base of the cliffs. Maps show a spur trail at the south end of the parking area leading down to the Appalachian Trail, which follows the base of the cliffs, but I have not personally used or looked for that trail and cannot vouch for its condition.
Camping and Lodging
Big Meadows, where the park's largest campground is, is just two miles away (south). It is usually open from early April through Thanksgiving weekend. For specific dates, please see the park's website
. Half the sites can be reserved at Recreation.gov
Lodging is also available at Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain (about 10 miles south), and Skyland (about 10 miles north). Dates, rates, and availability information are available at this site
Backcountry camping requires a free permit.
December through February, the entrance fee is $10 per vehicle. Other months, it is $15. The fee is good for a week of access. Annual and interagency passes are available.
During hunting season, Skyline Drive is closed from 5 P.M. until 8 A.M. to deter poachers. Contact the park at (540) 999-3500 for exact dates and restrictions.