When you think of breathtaking fall foliage, you probably think of the northeast portion of the country. However, the mid-Atlantic–Virginia, in particular–offers some of the top places to visit for beautiful fall colors without the tourist crowds you’ll find in New England!
Read on to learn about the top places to visit to experience the best fall foliage in Virginia!
Virginia’s Fall Foliage
Fall in Virginia offers some of the best weather in the country, with mild temperatures and relatively dry days. This makes it a wonderful place to view fall foliage!
The peak fall foliage season throughout Virginia ranges from early September to late November. Plan ahead, arrive early, and be prepared for crowds, especially on weekends. Additionally, check your destination’s website or contact the visitor center for up-to-date information on peak foliage conditions, trail closures, and any special events happening during your visit.
1. Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park, located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is known for its stunning fall foliage. Each autumn, this park transforms into a colorful wonderland, attracting visitors from all over the country who come to witness the breathtaking display of nature’s vibrant hues.
Shenandoah National Park is among the top places to visit for Virginia fall foliage because it is home to a diverse range of tree species, including oak, hickory, maple, and birch. Each species has its own unique color palette, contributing to the park’s vibrant display of reds, yellows, oranges, and purples.
One of the best ways to experience the fall foliage in Shenandoah is by taking a scenic drive along the park’s famous Skyline Drive. This 105-mile road offers numerous overlooks and vistas, providing panoramic views of the colorful valleys and mountainsides. Be prepared for traffic during peak foliage season.
Shenandoah National Park boasts over 500 miles of hiking trails, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking to immerse themselves in the fall foliage. Some popular trails for leaf peeping include the following:
- Old Rag Mountain: Known for its rocky terrain and panoramic views, this strenuous hike offers breathtaking vistas of the fall foliage.
- Hawksbill Summit Trail: A relatively short and easy hike that leads to the highest point in the park, offering spectacular vistas of the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains.
- Dark Hollow Falls Trail: A moderate hike that takes you to a picturesque waterfall surrounded by vibrant foliage.
Picnicking and Camping
Another great way to experience the fall foliage in Shenandoah National Park is at one of the park’s many picnic areas and campgrounds. The weather is generally mild during peak season in Shenandoah, making it one of the best times of the year to camp.
Campsites tend to fill up quickly during peak foliage season, so make reservations in advance.
You may hit the park on your fall foliage trip at the right time to catch a fall festival, too. Some years, the park hosts fall festivals and events, celebrating the autumn season with activities, live music, and educational programs. Be sure to check the park’s event calendar for any upcoming festivities.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is another popular and spectacular place to view Virginia fall foliage! The Parkway is a scenic highway that stretches for 469 miles through the Appalachian Highlands, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is renowned for its picturesque drives, and during the fall, it offers some of the most breathtaking views of autumn foliage. Some of the most scenic Virginia sections for viewing fall colors include the following:
- Mabry Mill: A picturesque spot with a historic gristmill, Mabry Mill is especially beautiful when surrounded by fall foliage.
- Peaks of Otter: This area offers serene lake views and hiking opportunities, all set against a backdrop of colorful foliage.
Hiking and Picnicking
The Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to numerous hiking trails and picnic areas that allow you to get up close and personal with the fall foliage. Some trails are easy, while others offer more challenging terrain and panoramic views. Check local area hiking guides when planning your visit.
Overlooks and Vistas
Along the parkway, there are numerous overlooks and pull-offs where you can stop to take in the stunning vistas. Many of these overlooks are strategically positioned to provide awe-inspiring views of the changing leaves against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In addition to the fall foliage, the Blue Ridge Parkway is home to diverse wildlife. Keep an eye out for deer, wild turkeys, and various bird species as you explore the area.
3. George Washington and Jefferson National Forests
Viewing fall foliage in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, which together form one of the largest public lands in the eastern United States, is a rewarding and picturesque experience. These forests cover vast areas in Virginia and West Virginia and provide numerous opportunities for enjoying the vibrant colors of autumn.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests can be experienced in myriad ways, including via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other scenic byways and routes that pass through or near the national forests also offer breathtaking views of the fall foliage. Another popular route is Route 39 (Mountain Valley Road), which takes you through the heart of the George Washington National Forest and offers stunning views of the Allegheny Mountains in the fall.
The national forests offer a plethora of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backpacking adventures. Some popular hiking trails for fall foliage include the following:
- Dragon’s Tooth Trail: Located in the Jefferson National Forest, this moderately challenging trail offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and colorful foliage.
- Cascades National Recreation Trail: This easy-to-moderate trail leads to the beautiful Cascades waterfall and provides opportunities to enjoy fall colors along the way.
Camping and Picnicking
The national forests have numerous campgrounds, both developed and primitive, as well as picnic areas where you can set up camp or enjoy a meal amid the fall foliage.
In addition to the fall foliage, keep an eye out for wildlife such as deer, black bears, and various bird species that are active in the forests during the autumn season.
The historic cobblestone pathways of Colonial Williamsburg and its colonial-era buildings take on a special charm when framed by the area’s fall foliage! Peak season is a bit later for this area–typically occurring in late October through early November.
The Williamsburg area is home to several historic plantations, including Shirley Plantation and Berkeley Plantation. Guided tours of these estates offer a glimpse into the region’s history while allowing you to appreciate the seasonal changes.
Several scenic drives near Williamsburg take you through areas with stunning fall foliage. The Colonial Parkway, which connects Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, is particularly picturesque during the autumn season. You can also explore the Route 5 scenic byway, which passes through historic plantations and offers scenic views.
Along those drives, check out any of the following sites for great history paired with your foliage views:
- Jamestown Island: A short drive from Williamsburg, the Jamestown Island historic site provides opportunities for enjoying fall foliage along its trails and waterfront areas.
- Freedom Park: Located near Williamsburg, Freedom Park features walking and biking trails through forests and wetlands.
- York River State Park: A short drive from Williamsburg, this state park offers hiking trails that wind through a diverse woodland ecosystem and along the York River.
- College of William & Mary: The campus of the College of William & Mary, located in Williamsburg, features old trees and green spaces that turn into a colorful spectacle during the fall.
Williamsburg and the surrounding area is a popular place for seasonal events all through the year! Check the city’s website to see what’s happening during peak foliage season.
5. Natural Tunnel State Park
Natural Tunnel State Park in Virginia is a hidden gem for enjoying fall foliage in a serene and picturesque setting. Located in the southwestern part of the state, near the town of Duffield, this state park offers a unique combination of natural beauty and geological wonder.
The park’s namesake and primary attraction is the Natural Tunnel, which is a massive, naturally carved limestone tunnel. This geological formation is approximately 850 feet long and ten stories high, making it one of the largest natural tunnels in the United States. The tunnel itself is surrounded by dense forests, making it a stunning focal point for fall foliage viewing.
Several overlooks and viewing platforms in the park provide stunning panoramic views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. During the fall, these overlooks become perfect vantage points for capturing the colorful foliage below and the expansive landscape beyond.
Hiking Trails and Picnicking
The park has a network of hiking trails that wind through the woods and offer opportunities for up-close encounters with fall foliage. The Lover’s Leap Trail, for example, takes you to an overlook where you can witness breathtaking views of the Natural Tunnel, framed by the brilliant colors of autumn.
Picnic areas scattered throughout the park make for ideal spots to enjoy a meal.
Virginia is for Fall Foliage Lovers
Regardless of where you go leaf-peeping in the great state of Virginia, you’re bound to find surprising and breathtaking vistas of fall foliage if you time it right! You can even experience some fall color changes in the seagrasses and marshlands of the Virginia coast (fall also happens to be peak seafood season on the coast!). Add to that the many historical places to visit throughout the state and the orchards, wineries, and breweries that pepper the countryside, and you’re looking at one magnificent fall vacation!
Learn more about other great places to visit in the fall on our website!
- About the Author
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Ronda Lindsay is a writer and editor who loves getting outside in her garden, whether that’s in the temperate climates of the Pacific Northwest or Mid-Atlantic or in the sweltering heat of south-central Texas.
Growing up, she was a regular at pick-your-own farms, where she and her siblings gathered anything that wasn’t already growing in her family’s backyard to eat, freeze, or can. As an adult, Ronda has taken the vast gardening knowledge bestowed upon her by her mother and used it to grow everything from strawberries to jalapeños, arrange beautiful container gardens, and nurse sick plants back to health.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda enjoys using her skills to share information and advice with Minneopa Orchards readers!