While fall brings cooler temperatures to Virginia, it also brings warmer colors like amber, crimson, and auburn. Most people think of Shenandoah National Park for the best fall foliage in Virginia, but the Commonwealth has an abundance of other places to see the glory of the season. Here are ten spectacular places to see amazing fall foliage outside of the Shenandoah Valley.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
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If you haven’t taken a trip to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, fall is an ideal time to go. Known for its three mountain peaks—Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill—the Peaks of Otter is an excellent place to witness cascading copper-colored hills extend to the horizon. Hike up Sharp Top for marvelous panoramic views, and take a stroll around Abbott Lake to catch the beautiful backdrop of lush foliage framing the lake.
About 30 miles southwest of the Peaks of Otter, the challenging summit at Buzzard Rock in Read Mountain Preserve is where you can watch a beautiful golden sunset over the foliage. For a more fun-filled foliage activity, head to Explore Park, an 1,100-acre wooded park home to bike paths, hiking trails, and Treetop Quest—a family-friendly, aerial obstacle course. Explore Park is also a great place to go kayaking and fishing in the Roanoke River.
Other noteworthy foliage destinations in Virginia’s Blue Ridge include Lake Moomaw, Carvins Cove Natural Reserve, and Potts Mountain.
Unlike other ski resorts, which are located at the base of a mountain, Wintergreen Resort is nestled within the mountains, which makes it a fantastic place to watch the seasonal changes that fall brings. Adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway—often called “America’s Favorite Drive”—a simple ride through the resort during fall is a wondrous experience in its own right. While hiking on the resort’s 30 miles of trails is an easy way to get up close and personal with the greenery, one unique way to observe the fall colors is to take a scenic chairlift ride aboard the Blue Ridge Express on Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day weekend for unobstructed aerial leaf-peeping with views of the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys.
Aside from being a great place to view fall foliage in Virginia, the resort is a spa, tennis, and golf destination and offers numerous other activities and events, such as live outdoor musicals and festivals. It’s also in close proximity to the Nelson 151 Craft Beverage Trail, which is home to 11 wineries, cideries, and breweries.
Southern Virginia Wild Blueway
For a less expected fall foliage destination, head to the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway. With 80 miles of undeveloped shoreline designated as Virginia Scenic River, you can easily immerse yourself in the serenity of Southern Virginia through a flatwater paddling adventure in Buggs Island Lake or a fishing excursion in Bannister Lake. It’s also not uncommon to see more birds than people—the area has a large population of bald eagles, herons, and hawks.
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Two outstanding Virginia state parks in the area are Staunton River State Park, an International Dark Sky Park, and Occoneechee State Park, which contains an equestrian campground and a visitor center and museum showcasing the history of the indigenous Occoneechee people. Both parks also offer tent and RV sites as well as cabins for rent.
Just north of Abingdon sits Hidden Valley Lake, a high-elevation lake tucked inside the crest of Brumley Mountain. The lake is known for its smooth, glass-like appearance and is a great place for fishing, hiking, and rope climbing. Take the 14.6-mile Brumley Mountain Trail from the northern edge of the lake to the Great Channels of Virginia. Reminiscent of a slot canyon in the American Southwest, the 20-acre labyrinth of sandstone channels provides an adventurous hike through one of the most unique trails in Virginia.
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For the most memorable foliage bike ride of your life, travel the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail from Abingdon to Damascus. The trail allows you to enjoy the brilliance of fall while riding through some of Virginia’s most breathtaking natural landscapes.
Smith Mountain Lake
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Fall at Smith Mountain Lake is filled with foliage and fun, and the vivid colors can be seen along the numerous family-friendly trails at Smith Mountain Lake State Park and Smith Mountain Lake Community Park. During the fall season, the area is also full of exciting festivals, such as the Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival, which boasts a variety of local wines. The Fall Chili and Craft Festival at Bridgewater Plaza is the place to go for delicious chili tastings, live music, and local arts and crafts.
Related post: The 5 Best Scenic Hikes in Virginia for Families
Located in the heart of Richmond, the Maymont estate is a treat to visit during fall. The 100-acre estate has several key places of interest, including the gardens, lakes, and arboretum—which has a variety of native and non-native plant species from golden raintree to blue atlas cedars. This means that you’ll see a dazzling collection of foliage you won’t find in other parts of the state. During fall, Maymont’s signature event, Garden Glow, transforms the Japanese Garden into an enchanting display of colors.
High Knob Trailhead
Straddling the Virginia-West Virginia state line, a 5.75-mile hike on the Shenandoah Mountain Trail and High Knob Trail leads to an old stone fire tower sitting atop a high peak. The 360-degree views from the observation deck of the High Knob Fire Tower are impressive and showcase the many variations of colors in the landscapes of both Virginia and West Virginia.
photo credit: Blue Ridge GeoGraphics
Sites that can be seen from the tower include Switzer Lake, Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area, Spruce Knob, and Brandywine Lake Recreation Area. For a moderate hike, begin at the trailhead’s parking lot. For a more rigorous hike, start at the National Forest Service’s Brandywine Campground.
Great Falls Park
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While you should visit Great Falls National Park in every season, fall just might be the best time to go. That’s because the expansive views of the constantly changing rapids backed by the changing colors of fall are an unforgettable sight. Take pictures at any of the park’s three scenic overlooks, and hike the River Trail to the cliffs above Mather Gorge for more incredible views. Due to the park’s popularity during the fall, it’s best to purchase a National Park Service pass in advance and visit during morning hours.
Lake Anna State Park
photo credit: Scott K. Brown
Formerly called “Gold Hill,” gold was first discovered in the area of Lake Anna State Park in 1829. Today, it’s not gold mines but gold leaves that draw visitors to the area during autumn. The 2,810-acre park provides a remarkable leaf-peeping adventure with more than 15 miles of trails nestled among the mixed hardwoods and pine forests. Other activities include hiking, canoeing, fishing, and horseback riding, as well as special activities such as gold mine and gold panning tours on select dates during the year.
Whether you visit for a day or rent a cabin, campsite, or lodge for the weekend, enjoy a sunset dinner on the boardwalk at Tim’s at Lake Anna, a waterfront seafood restaurant serving delicious crab dishes, seafood platters, and spiced and stuffed shrimp. Wine lovers will want to visit one of the four wineries in the area, such as Lake Anna Winery.
Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge
If you’re an avid birdwatcher, visit the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, an important stopover for millions of migratory birds and butterflies. Located at the end of the Delmarva Peninsula, the refuge contains more than 1,200 acres of marsh, brackish ponds, barrier islands, and nearly 300 species of birds. It also has a wonderful visitor center with interactive exhibits and a wildlife viewing area.
Since boating is a major activity in the refuge, take a seasonal guided tour—reservable via phone during October and February—to Fisherman’s Island National Wildlife Refuge, the southernmost barrier island in Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The tour educates visitors on wildlife management, the local habitat, and the role that Fisherman’s Island played during World War II.
Though peak fall foliage in Virginia is typically in mid-October, visit Virginia Tourism Corporation’s fall foliage report for foliage forecasts across the state.
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