Fall in the Shenandoah Valley: How to Witness One of the Best Foliage Displays in the United States

A crisp morning at Price Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A crisp morning at Price Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Joe Flood
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From the flaming orange of beech and hickory trees to the deep scarlet of red maples and dogwoods, every autumn Virginia transforms with a vibrant display of color. One of state’s most spectacular seasonal shows takes place in the Shenandoah Valley. Cradled by North Mountain to the northwest and the Blue Ridge the southeast—and bisected for 50 miles by Massanutten Mountain—the valley offers one of the best vantage points for the fiery seasonal transition, as the colors of autumn spread from the high peaks to the leafy hollows of the region. For connoisseurs looking to soak up all the seasonal color in the Shenandoah Valley, here are a few ways to witness one of the best foliage displays in the United States.

Epic Drives

Skyline Drive is a perfect way to see the vast colors changing in Shenandoah Valley.
Skyline Drive is a perfect way to see the vast colors changing in Shenandoah Valley. Natraj Ramangupta

The eastern edge of the Shenandoah Valley is traced by two of the most iconic motorways in the country—Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway—also among America’s premier leaf-peeping thoroughfares. Bisecting the entire 200,000-acre Shenandoah National Park, 105-mile Skyline Drive is a portal to 75 scenic overlooks. In the northern section of the park, the first 20 miles of Skyline Drive is peppered with eye-popping panoramas, including the Shenandoah Valley Overlook (Milepost 2.8), which offers sweeping views of Massanutten Mountain. Further down the road, the 2,800-foot Range View Overlook (Milepost 17.1) offers an eyeful of the northern portion of the national park and beyond, including Massanutten Mountain and the far fringes of the Alleghenies.

Beginning just outside the national park’s southern entrance, Skyline Drive melts into the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap, near the town of Waynesboro. Running along the spine of the southern Appalachians, the 469-mile parkway links the Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, showcasing a seamless, mountain-rippled sea of seasonal color. The diversity of both elevation and Appalachian flora means the Blue Ridge Parkway also offers a glimpse of every stage of the autumnal transition, with the fiery colors of fall spreading slowly from the cloud-shrouded summits to the valleys below.

One of the premier views along the Virginia portion of the parkway is from atop the 3,080-foot rock outcropping dubbed Humpback Rocks—accessible courtesy of a one mile ascent on the Humpback Rocks Trail, beginning at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center (Milepost 5.8), just 10 miles from Waynesboro.

The Valley offers one of the best vantage points for the fiery seasonal transition.
The Valley offers one of the best vantage points for the fiery seasonal transition. Mark Levisay

Get a taste of the Shenandoah Valley’s picturesque byways, and revel in the abundance of autumn color, with a tour of Fort Valley. Cradled by Massanutten Mountain, the pastoral valley was proposed as a hideout for George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. Today, it remains one of the Shenandoah Valley’s most scenic corridors. Soak up vistas of the George Washington National Forest, Fort Valley, and the color-drenched ridges of Massanutten with the Shenandoah County foliage driving tour mapped by the Virginia Department of Forestry, beginning in Edinburg.

Panoramic Hike

Earn those foliage-filled fall views with a hike to one of the Shenandoah Valley’s panoramic pinnacles. The valley’s expansive portion of the massive George Washington National Forest is loaded with summits offering stunning seasonal views. In the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area, just outside Strasburg, the nearly 10-mile hike to 2,106-foot tall Signal Knob offers views of Buzzard Rock and Fort Valley, and the option to easily tack on a trip to 2,393-foot Meneka Peak.

Further south, the national forest’s Wolf Gap Recreation Area serves as a portal to two of the region’s best vantage points: Big Schloss, a sandstone outcropping boasting 360-degree vistas of West Virginia’s Trout Run Valley and Virginia’s Little Schloss Mountain; and the 2,932-foot Tibbet Knob, a stony summit offering 270-degree vistas of the forested peaks of George Washington National Forest, accessible courtesy of the view-laden Tibbet Knob Trail.

The Shenandoah Valley’s expansive portion of George Washington National Forest is loaded with stunning seasonal views.
The Shenandoah Valley’s expansive portion of George Washington National Forest is loaded with stunning seasonal views. Archie177

Aside from the smattering of peaks towering over the Shenandoah Valley, some of the area’s premier vistas are provided courtesy of the historic fire towers standing sentry over the George Washington National Forest. Just outside the town of Woodstock, the easily accessible Woodstock Tower offers a bird’s eye view of the stunning "seven bends" of the Shenandoah River and eastward vistas encompassing Woodstock Gap in the direction of Shenandoah National Park. Further south, the High Knob Fire Tower (4,107-feet)—declared a National Historic Lookout—is perched atop Shenandoah Mountain about 25 miles outside Harrisonburg, and is accessible after a 3-mile out-and-back hike.

Loaded with more than 500 miles of trails, the Shenandoah National Park boasts an abundance of options for soaking up the colors of fall (keep tabs with the park’s color watch). Head for panoramic high-points like the craggy summit of 3,620-foot Bearfence Mountain (Milepost 56.4), offering 360-degree views encompassing the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain to the west and Bluff Mountain and Fork Mountain to the east. Or opt for a tree-lined stroll and take in the seasonal display under the cover of a colorful canopy with a hike to Dark Hollow Falls (Milepost 50.7).

Scenic Sipping

Prefer to soak up some seasonal scenery while sipping a trademark Virginia wine? The Shenandoah Valley is one of the state’s 10 distinct winemaking regions, and it’s loaded with vista-blessed vineyards. Bask in colorful views with a balcony table at Shenandoah Vineyards, the oldest winery in the Shenandoah Valley. Gaze up at the slopes of North Mountain from the Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery in Edinburg, or head for the Winery at Kindred Pointe, the 58-acre property that features walking trails and games likes corn hole and disc golf. In addition to wine, the Winery at Kindred Pointe offers a selection of hard ciders, especially appropriate for fall.

The Bluestone Vineyard in Bridgewater and the Rockbridge Vineyard in Raphine both feature tasting rooms open seven days a week and feature excellent mountain views. The James Charles Winery and Vineyard and Veramar Vineyard are both located in northern Shenandoah Valley near Winchester, an historic town in the midst of apple orchard country.

Rather scope out the seasonal transformation while sipping one of the valley’s craft brews? In the northern corner of the Shenandoah Valley, head for the Swover Creek Farm Brewery, serving up a selection of autumn-inspired beers and wood-fired pizzas. The dog-friendly brewery even has an enclosed dog park for four-legged leaf-peepers. At the southern edge of the Shenandoah Valley in Natural Bridge, the Great Valley Farm Brewery boasts expansive views and features an outdoor patio, an open-air picnic area, and a rotating array of Belgian-style beers. Stable Craft Brewing in Waynesboro grows its own hops and dubs itself an "agri-pub," in which patrons can enjoy farm-fresh food served in a relaxed, beer-centric atmosphere.

Tour on Two Wheels

See the views of Shenandoah Valley from a bike.
See the views of Shenandoah Valley from a bike. kirybabe

Revel in spectacular seasonal views with a ride in the Shenandoah Valley, which offers everything from bucolic road routes to adrenaline-spiking singletrack. Opt for some of locally beloved rides meticulously mapped by Bike the Valley, like the 13-mile Staunton Perfect Loop, a pastoral tour of Augusta County, or the 12.5-mile Waynesboro Dooms Day Loop, skirting the edge of the Blue Ridge and offering views of the southernmost portion of the Shenandoah National Park.

There is also plenty of canopy-shaded singletrack lacing the Shenandoah Valley, like the extensive Rocktown Trails network at Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg. The stacked loop trail system was developed as a result of the combined efforts of the Shenandoah Valley Bike Coalition and the International Mountain Biking Association, and it offers 8.2 miles of singletrack suitable for a range of abilities.

The vibrant seasonal transition is also celebrated with several annual autumn cycling events. For road riders, there are options like the Shenandoah Valley Century in Harrisonburg, or the Tour de Valley, featuring century and metric century circuits, beginning in Waynesboro. Mountain riders can head to Stokesville for the Shenandoah Mountain 100 Backcountry Mountain Bike Race or the Shenandoah Mountain Bike Festival, a fundraiser for the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition.

No matter which means of transportation you choose, the fall colors in the Shenandoah Valley will not disappoint.

Originally written for Shenandoah Valley.

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