Colors take over the landscape this time of year when Mother Nature paints a beautiful canvas of red, orange, yellow, and green. October is the usual peak month but this year the change is late. Colors continue to be mainly yellows and golds, with some red and orange sprinkled in. Not near as much reds and oranges this years as in the past, most likely due to the drought conditions. Still lots of pretty color to be seen, even though it is disappearing pretty quickly now.
The Shenandoah Valley and northern section of the Blue Ridge Mountains have a wealth of scenic drives to soak in the hues of fall before they fade into the gray of winter. Drivers can travel a few miles or hundreds of miles, depending on preference, time, and budget. Experts report that the dry conditions will not affect the vibrant colors of the season.
The following choices will help make the decision whether taking a day trip, weekend jaunt, or longer vacation. Check web sites for directions and fees.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park provides vistas of unbelievable magnitude. It encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and has overlooks that give drivers and riders an opportunity to take in the best of the best views. The scenic road, Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, begins in Front Royal and continues for 105 miles through the park, a historic national treasure. The mountain top highway winds north-south through nearly 200,000 acres.
The park varies in width from less than one mile to about 13 miles so that the views from the 75 scenic overlooks are amazing. Also wildlife abounds throughout the area so keep a look out for natives of the park. There is lodging and dining in the park. Check out Big Meadows Lodge.
The rugged eastern section of the Appalachian Mountains running through the state of Virginia and into North Carolina and Tennessee is the Blue Ridge. The hazy purplish-blue hue of these peaks is visible in the distance on Interstate 81. Drivers and passengers will find the beauty of these mountains breathtaking.
In Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains run from Winchester through the Southwest region and 45 counties. Mount Rogers, at 5,729 feet, is the highest Blue Ridge peak in the state. The ancient mountains have rocks determined to be more than a billion years old.
A great way to take in the beauty this time of year is to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, running for 469 miles into North Carolina and Tennessee with many recreational areas throughout the parkway.
Virginia has about 3,000 miles of roads that offer beautiful landscapes along the way. Many of these are officially designated as Virginia Byways, such as Route 5, or national scenic parkways, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don’t be in a hurry because most of these are curvy and hilly but worth the time to see the countryside.
A Virginia Byway offers travelers a side of the Commonwealth that is uncommon and revealing. Each byway leads to scenes of natural beauty and places of historical and social significance as well as unique and varied culture and geographic regions. There are both national and state-sponsored scenic road programs. The Virginia Byways program is managed by Virginia Department of Transportation in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Virginia Highlands and Scenic Routes
Alleghany Highlands provides scenic roads, such as Route 39 which climbs up steep mountains and along deep gorges. Attractions such as the Virginia Horse Center and Goshen Pass are along the route, which enters the George Washington National Forest and then the town of Warm Springs. Continuing on Route 39 there are other attractions as well as amazing views.
Before heading to the highlands, check out Route 42, another scenic trail that affords many amazing views. It runs parallel to Interstate 81 and through many gorgeous fields and mountains in Shenandoah, Rockbridge, Augusta, and Rockingham counties. It consists of three sections with gaps filled by secondary routes in between. Some of the road lies along the old Fincastle and Cumberland Gap Turnpike. Another major piece, from near Clifton Forge to Buffalo Gap, parallels the old Virginia Central Railroad.
Harpers Ferry National Park
Other options include some beautiful mountains and driving in West Virginia. The rivers and valleys provide spectacular views so picking a canoe or kayak ride is lots of fun and showcases a different view of the foliage change. Check out HF Adventure Center.
One spot is Jefferson Rock, a prominent outcropping of the stone known as Harpers shale, on the southern hillside of Harpers Ferry, W.Va. It provides a prime view of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in the gap between Maryland and Virginia. In Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the rock is made up of several large masses, piled on top of the other. The rock was named for Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his 1785 book, Notes that the view was ‘‘worth a voyage across the Atlantic.’’
Another option for walking instead of driving is Maryland Heights, a trail in the park in Maryland near the border of Virginia and West Virginia. This area gives a great view of the Shenandoah River, Potomac River, and the historic town of Harpers Ferry across the bridge in West Virginia. The view will provide a panorama of color as the leaves turn for the season.
The Ginkgo Grove at Blandy Experimental Farm at the State Arboretum of Virginia in Clark County covers the area in shades of yellow that are hard to believe. The Blandy Ginkgo Grove is one of the largest collections of ginkgos (300 trees) outside the tree’s native China. The site explains that “Given their autumnal glory, a visitor might assume that Blandy’s ginkgos were planted solely for their beauty. But this grove is the happy result of a scientiﬁc experiment.” It is open year-round and there is no fee.