Shenandoah National Park is located in Virginia and it’s one of the best places in the eastern half of the United States to see fall foliage. (Some would even argue it’s one of the best places in the country for leaf peeping.) Unlike many outdoor activities, leaf peeping is suitable for all ages and abilities (including kids). So grab your camera, map, compass … and let’s go. Here are five of our favorite ways to experience the gorgeous colors this time of year.
Skyline Drive is one of the main attractions for adventurers who are visiting Shenandoah National Park. The line it takes through the park is scenic enough that you don’t even have to get out of the car to see a lot.
The road is 105-miles long and has numerous pull-offs and overlooks with long-range views. Though the park is open year-round, sometimes weather means that certain sections are closed, so check the park’s website before you go. Want to do more than ride in the car for several hours? There are also 500 miles of trails in the park for you to explore.
If you can’t stand the thought of visiting a national park without doing some hiking, we hear you. Enter Old Rag. This day hike is an iconic place for leaf peeping. It’s a popular destination for hikers because of the 360-degree views – from the summit you can see over 200,000 acres of the park – and because of the challenging 1.5-mile section of the trail that involves rock scrambling. This hike is considered strenuous and will take most people several hours to complete. Make sure you’ve got the ability to do Old Rag before setting out and be sure to carry enough food and water.
One of the most beautiful overlooks on Skyline Drive is the Doyles River Overlook. It’s located in the southern section of the park just south of Loft Mountain. You can visit this spot via car (it’s just south of mile marker 80) or on foot.
If you opt to hike you’ll end up walking on the Appalachian Trail which runs north-south through the park.
For those looking to do some hiking but don’t want to necessarily spend all day on the trail, consider hiking the Upper Hawksbill to Hawksbill Summit Trail. The trail is fairly easy (it’s about 2.1 miles round-trip and not super technical).
The views at the top are excellent for leaf-peeping with plenty of long-range views. There’s also a day-use picnic shelter up there in case you want to spend a little extra time at the summit.
Just when you think the leaf peeping in Shenandoah National Park can’t get any better, add water. (In this case, the South River.) The South River Overlook is just before mile marker 63 (when traveling from the north) and it’s got a picnic area, a trail to a waterfall (the South River Falls) and even a jumping-on spot for the Appalachian Trail. If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all kind of spot for leaf peeping, this is it.
Know Before You Go
• The leaves will start to turn colors first at higher elevations. The best time to visit varies from year to year. Your best bet is to check the webcams on Shenandoah National Park’s website. It should help you make a decision as to when to visit.
• The speed limit is 35 mph in most sections. Go slow and watch for wildlife, hikers, and cyclists.
• Be “bear aware” and make sure to store all of your food and waste properly.
• If you’re planning on camping during your visit, be sure to reserve a site ahead of time. The fall, especially October, is a super busy time of year.
Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are based in Asheville, North Carolina, but are currently traveling the country in their van. You can follow along with their adventures at Authentic Asheville.
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