Another summer has come and gone and the fall season is finally upon us. This means a return to crisp, cool days, chilly and refreshing nights, plus one of the best things of all – vibrant and dazzling fall foliage!
Charlottesville & Albemarle County is a treasure trove for fall color a bit later in the season, once those aforementioned chilly nights have had some time to work their magic. Once that magic has been worked, get ready for an annual treat that draws people to the region from miles around. The lush, leafy greens will start to transform and eventually cloak the landscape in a breathtaking display of oranges, reds, and yellows. Read more to discover ten of the best places to view fall foliage in the Charlottesville area.
1.) Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall
While the Downtown Mall is lovely any time of year, it is especially beautiful during the autumn months. The large, mature oak trees that line this pedestrian walkway explode with colors beginning in mid-October, much to the delight of all who come to this historic avenue to take a stroll, go shopping, or grab a bite to eat. Sip on some warm hot chocolate from Splendora’s or grab a hot cup of coffee at Mudhouse and leisurely walk up and down this historic street, while taking in Mother Nature’s fall splendor!
Downtown Mall in Autumn, Photo Credit: Brantley Ussery
2.) Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, & the Blue Ridge Parkway
Located a short and scenic 30-minute drive from the Downtown Mall is an entrance to Shenandoah National Park, one of the country’s most splendid spots for viewing fall colors. Drive the twists and turns of Skyline Drive, while soaking up the fall colors on Central Virginia’s rolling Blue Ridge Mountains. Pull off at one of the many overlooks for picture-perfect photo opportunities. Or head south along the Blue Ridge Parkway where you will also be greeted with plenty of opportunities to pull over and gawk at color, hike to the top of the highest hills, or just simply bring a picnic lunch and let yourself be mesmerized by the beauty below. Colors here change a bit faster due to the higher elevation, so be sure to plan accordingly, so you don’t miss the peak colors!
View from Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Photo Credit: Brantley Ussery
3.) University of Virginia
This prestigious university was founded by Thomas Jefferson nearly 200 years ago and is one of the top-ranked public universities in the country. During the fall months, get ready for tremendous pops of color all along The Lawn, the Academical Village, and everywhere else on Grounds! Really get into the fall spirit by heading to a University of Virginia home football game. Here, you can tailgate, sip something warm to drink, and of course, head into Scott Stadium to cheer on the Hoos!
Fall Color at the University of Virginia, Photo Credit: Brantley Ussery
4.) Wineries & Vineyards
Did you know the Charlottesville area has more than 30 wineries? Did you know that Wine Enthusiast also named the Charlottesville region as one of the top wine destinations in the world? Finally, did you know that these picturesque vineyards are even more beautiful when the leaves start to change colors? Come visit one of these beautiful properties while you sip your favorite Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Merlot (many of which have national and global accolades) while staring off into the distance and admiring the fantastic fall foliage in the heart of Central Virginia’s wine country.
5.) Presidential Homes
Three former U.S. presidents have called the Charlottesville area home, including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. You can visit their respective homes of Monticello, Highland, and Montpelier year round, but they are especially lovely during the autumn months. Explore these three homes and their grounds for a trip back in time! Monticello and Highland are located only a mile or two apart, with Montpelier located a scenic half-hour drive to the northeast. Meander the grounds and explore the walking trails that several of these presidential homes offer, all while enjoying the vibrant colors on the trees that surround you.
6.) Albemarle County Country Roads
A quick trip outside of the city limits of Charlottesville will place you in the gorgeous landscape of Albemarle County. With countless back roads and scenic byways, this is the perfect place for a leisurely drive to see the annual show put on by Mother Nature. Take a trip to eastern Albemarle County and view fall foliage surrounded by gently rolling hills and majestic horses dotting the landscape. Or head west toward the charming town of Crozet for more displays of oranges, reds and yellows. Finally, head south, toward the quaint town of Scottsville, which also comes bursting on to the fall foliage scene, nestled against the banks of the mighty James River. Follow the winding roads and see what beautiful sights and towns you can discover along the way!
7.) Hot Air Balloon Ride
So far, all of the fall foliage viewing spots mentioned have been down on the ground. However, sometimes it’s good to change your perspective, so why not see things from up above in a hot air balloon? It’s amazing how different things look when viewed from above and the views of colorful trees from way up high are sure to take your breath away. There are several hot air balloon companies that provide these types of services, including Blue Ridge Ballooning and Monticello Country Ballooning, and you can even do a ride at sunrise or sunset as the golden hour light shines down on the gorgeous colors below. This is sure to be an unforgettable experience and a completely different and unique way of taking in the Charlottesville area colors!
8.) Sugar Hollow
Located in the western part of Albemarle County, a scenic 30-40 minute drive from downtown Charlottesville, is Sugar Hollow. The drive alone will be gorgeous enough, but wait until you have arrived at this beautiful place, complete with plenty of hiking trails and a spectacular reservoir that will perfectly mirror the vibrant colors on the trees that line its banks. You can easily spend the better part of a day here, so grab your hiking shoes and get ready for some time out in nature as you watch colorful leaves slowly waft from the trees, eventually landing by your feet. What a perfect Instagram opportunity!
9.) Rooftop Bars & Restaurants
Over the last few years, several rooftop bars and restaurants have come bursting on to the scene in the Charlottesville area. In addition to featuring delicious food and drink, they also serve up some of the best views of the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Try the Trophy Room, a rooftop bar and restaurant located within the Graduate Hotel near the Grounds of the University of Virginia, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Charlottesville and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
10.) Carter Mountain Orchard
Last, but certainly not least, Carter Mountain Orchard is extremely popular among visitors and locals alike during the fall months – and for good reason! Not only can you pick apples straight from the tree, but you can enjoy scrumptious apple cider donuts, sip freshly-pressed cider, sample wines and hard cider, go for a hay ride, pick a pumpkin, AND enjoy some of the most awesome views of the Charlottesville area! During the fall season you’ll be treated to stunning views in every direction, whether you look west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, or east toward the gradually flattening Piedmont region. This location is a must for anybody wanting to see some truly remarkable color from a vantage point like no other!
View from Carter Mountain Orchard, Photo Credit: Brantley Ussery
Of course the Charlottesville area offers much more than brilliant fall foliage during the autumn months – there’s a plethora of festivals, events, and many other things to see and do. Be sure to peruse our website for more ideas and inspiration. Of course, you can always stop by one of our two visitor centers (one located on the Downtown Mall and the other in Crozet) to speak with someone in person for recommendations of things to do during your stay. We look forward to welcoming you to Charlottesville & Albemarle County this fall!
Apple Cider Donut at Carter Mountain Orchard, Photo credit: sanjay suchak
Written by Brantley Ussery for Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Featured image provided by Courtesy of Charlottesville and Albemarle County