Take Your Leaf Peeping Escape to New Heights in West Virginia

Fall foliage with gorge running through
Blackwater Falls is an absolute masterpiece in autumn. Courtesy Image

This article was produced in partnership with West Virginia Department of Tourism.

Whether you’re desperately clinging on to the last glimmer of summer or eagerly counting down to the first day of fall, one thing’s for certain—autumn is coming. It’s time to grab your gear, pack your bags, and load up the car for that leaf peeping road trip you’ve been talking about.

The crisp autumn air starts working its magic in late September, transforming summer’s lush canopies into sepia-tinted masterpieces across the country. But Mother Nature saves one of her most spectacular seasonal performances for West Virginia, where things are (quite literally) taken to new heights.

The Mountain State is, not surprisingly, blessed with an awesome range of elevation. This rich and diverse topography allows the fall foliage to gradually reveal itself in waves for weeks on end. Depending on what part of Almost Heaven you’re exploring, you could either be a couple hundred or a few thousand feet above sea level, with nothing but stunning vistas and jaw-dropping panoramas as far as the eye can see. Trust us…it’s a show you won’t want to miss.

Beech and birch trees erupt in brilliant explosions of gold. Scarlet oak and sumac trees become blanketed in crimson. And some species like witch hazel, hornbeam, and white oak trees dish out technicolored palettes that combine shades of copper, ochre, and burnt sienna.

So whether you’re gazing out from a mountain overlook, wandering the winding trails, or enjoying the views during a statewide road trip, there’s an entire season of leaf peeping just waiting to be discovered this fall in West Virginia. Don’t miss the chance to see the majestic scenery for yourself—here’s how to plan an unforgettable leaf peeping adventure in Almost Heaven.

Road with fall foliage
Courtesy Image

When to Go

The cooler temperatures typically start hitting West Virginia’s higher elevations in late September. Regions like the Potomac Highlands become painted in bursts of burgundy, chestnut, and marigold. As the vibrant hues start washing over the treetops, in-the-know visitors head to iconic sites like Snowshoe Mountain and Canaan Valley Resort State Park to catch an early glimpse. Be sure to visit Monongahela National Forest. The national recreation area contains Seneca Rocks (paradise for rock climbers) and Spruce Knob, West Virginia’s highest peak, clocking in at 4,863 feet above sea level.

Soon after, the flood of fall colors makes its way to Mountaineer Country and the Greenbrier Valley, dazzling onlookers in Historic Lewisburg and Stonewall Resort State Park. By late-October, the Northern Panhandle is usually in full swing. The region’s Tomlinson Run State Park converts into a spellbinding autumnal oasis, drawing hikers and campers in search of the changing leaves. It’s also the perfect time to visit the Mid-Ohio Valley, flaunting hot spots like Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park and the North Bend Rail Trail.

Toward the end of the month, the dazzling display prepares for its final act. This is when you’ll want to explore regions like the Eastern Panhandle, Metro Valley, and New River-Greenbrier Valley. You can also choose to witness Mother Nature’s mesmerizing exhibition at other popular sites close by, like Babcock State Park and Hawks Nest State Park.

Glade Creek Mill in fall
Glade Creek Mill in fall Courtesy Image

Can’t-Miss Leaf Peeping Destinations

Babcock State Park: Babcock State Park is a fan favorite all year long, but it’s a real showstopper in the fall. Located in Clifftop, the beloved park boasts 4,127 acres of striking scenery that lures daredevils of all disciplines, from mountain bikers to whitewater rafters. It also happens to be one of the most photographed spots in the entire state, thanks to its iconic Glade Creek Grist Mill (above). The fully functional structure is a replica of the original Cooper’s Mill, which formerly operated on the grounds. The rustic campsite is an idyllic haven to use as a basecamp during your visit, complete with 28 electrical hook-up sites, 24 non-electric sites, and fully stocked cabins available to guests.

Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park Courtesy Image

Blackwater Falls State Park: Don’t be misled by the name…Blackwater Falls comes alive in the fall with one of the most vibrant foliage displays in the state. Tucked away in the Potomac Highlands and surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains, Blackwater Falls actually draws its name from the amber-colored waters that rush from its namesake 62-foot cascade, darkened by the tannic acid released from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. The park offers plenty of picture-perfect moments, from the waterfall viewing platforms to Pendleton Point Overlook and Lindy Point Overlook, which peers across the Blackwater River Canyon. Table Rock is another can’t-miss spot within the park. The famed rock climbing site offers spectacular mountain vistas and can be found toward the far western end of Canaan Loop Road. There are also 75 primitive campsites strung along the 18-mile road, which make for a magical getaway.

Overview of trees with fall foliage
Fall foliage in the Mountain State. Courtesy Image

Dolly Sods Wilderness: Part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, Dolly Sods Wilderness sprawls across more than 17,000 acres within the Monongahela National Forest. Here, elevations range from 2,500 to over 4,700 feet, lending to drastic demonstrations of fall foliage that cover the spectrum from butterscotch to rich mahogany. Fishing, hunting, and camping are all desired activities at Dolly Sods, but the best leaf peeping experiences exist along its 47 miles of trails, most of which follow weathered railroad grades and old logging pathways. In the 1940s, the military used this region for World War II maneuvers and mountain training. Though the area has been swept, hikers are encouraged to stay on designated paths as there may still be live mortar shells.

Fall foliage
Coopers Rock State Forest comes to life in the fall. Courtesy Image

Coopers Rock State Forest: Ask any West Virginian to rattle off their favorite spots to watch the autumn leaves change, and chances are Coopers Rock State Forest will rank high up on their list. Located in Bruceton Mills, this iconic forest covers more than 12,700 acres—so there’s no shortage of foliage to see. The main overlook gives way to sweeping views of the Cheat River Gorge that stretch on for miles and miles. Immerse yourself in the action by exploring the forest’s 50-plus miles of zigzagging hiking and biking trails. There’s also a six-acre, trout-filled pond on the north side of the forest, providing a quiet retreat to appreciate the autumn scenery in all its glory.

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park: If you’re on the hunt for an Instagram-worthy, autumn-themed escape, look no further than Harpers Ferry. This cozy little town serves up all the quintessential fall vibes you can imagine. The historic community sits at the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. It’s chock-full of waterfront views, beautiful brick buildings, and charming storefronts, restaurants, and museums. It’s the perfect place to stroll the quiet tree-lined streets with a hot apple cider in hand. Visitors can also trek to serene overlooks, hike along skirmish lines from the Civil War, or join a ranger-guided wilderness tour. A visit to Harpers Ferry feels like you’re turning back the hands of time to a picturesque, bygone era.

Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park Courtesy Image

Where to Stay to Take Advantage of Fall Foliage

Blackwater Falls State Park: Tucked away in the mountains of Tucker County, Blackwater Falls State Park offers an extensive range of outdoor excursions for visitors. The park was officially established in the 1930s, but the area had been attracting adventure enthusiasts since the early 1800s. Its key features include the namesake Blackwater Falls, as well as Elakala Falls, Lindy Point, and Pendleton Point Overlook. Within the park, overnight guests can immerse themselves in nature by taking advantage of their range of lodging options. The park has 39 fully furnished cabins, a 65-unit tent and trailer campground, a spacious 54-room mountain lodge, and a Tentrr campsite with additional standalone canvas platform tents.

Lafayette Flats: Planning to explore the New River Gorge? Find your home away from home at Lafayette Flats. Located in charming Fayetteville, this boutique property blends historic appeal with all the modern-day comforts you’d expect. The grand brick building boasts four open and airy flats for visitors to choose from: the Nuttall, Corten, Quinnimont, and Eddy. After checking in, spend the day discovering local hidden gems downtown or working up a sweat in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Comfortable, clean, and conveniently located—what more could you ask for?

Hotel Morgan: Nestled deep in the heart of Mountaineer Country, Morgantown is a quaint town known for its rapidly growing multicultural heritage. Home to West Virginia University, the destination has an always-on energy, thanks to its youthful collegiate population (which also comes with a frenetic nightlife scene, exceptional restaurants, and an eclectic arts community). Here, visitors will find the polished Hotel Morgan, a Wyndham Hotel. Sleek and sophisticated, this refurbished hotel is perfectly positioned on Main Street, and just a 15-minute drive to Coopers Rock State Forest.

Bavarian Inn: Looking for more international flair? Consider booking an escape to the Bavarian Inn, perched on a striking bluff that overlooks the Potomac River Bend (just minutes from Harpers Ferry). A stay at this 11-acre, European-inspired boutique resort will feel like you’ve traveled worlds away (but luckily, you can leave the passport at home). Steeped in Alpine heritage, the luxurious property offers 72 spacious state rooms (where you can cozy up next to a gas fireplace) or live large in one of its four classical old-world chalets. And in true Bavarian tradition, make sure to stop by its on-site Brew Pub, Brew Lounge, and outdoor Beer Garden. This is the perfect place to splurge on a romantic autumnal retreat.

The Billy Motel: Sure, the idea of bunking at a motel might not be your first choice, but The Billy Motel is anything but typical. This boutique motel is equal parts retro and edgy, with a dash of (what they call) “hillbilly fabulous.” Positioned off Route 32, the 10-room property was recently renovated and oozes personality. This mountaintop getaway is only minutes from the nearby towns of Thomas and Davis, teeming with funky shops, cool coffee bars, art galleries, and music venues. Outdoor adventure hubs like Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, Canaan Valley State Park, and Monongahela National Forest are also just a short drive away.

Canaan Valley Cabins: For a more private escape, check out the inventory listed by Canaan Valley Cabins. The company offers a diverse assortment of rentals and vacation homes sprinkled throughout the Canaan Valley. From isolated log cabins deep in the woods to bucolic estates that can sleep the whole crew, they offer something to fit every taste and budget. Plus, you can find your perfect retreat by filtering options with criteria such as pet-friendly listings, waterfront locations, and more. No matter where you wind up booking, you’ll be right in the heart of the region’s brilliant fall foliage and heart-racing outdoor exploits.

Oglebay Resort: The stately Oglebay Resort can be found in Wheeling, just an hour from Pittsburgh, two hours from Columbus, and three hours from Cleveland. It’s perched on 1,700 rolling acres and offers tons of activities fit for the whole family. The recently updated Wilson Lodge sports first-class accommodations with top-notch amenities, while their collection of cottage rentals and estate homes come in three tiers: rustic, deluxe, and premium. Play a round on one of their four golf courses, spend the day exploring Schenk Lake (outfitted with pedal boats, mini golf, and an aerial challenge course), or get up close and personal with the wildlife of The Good Zoo.

Ready to Go?

It’s the prime time to discover firsthand why fall fanatics have fallen in love with West Virginia. Tried and true, Almost Heaven is an enchanting wonderland for visitors of every age. For an even deeper dive, sign up for a free vacation guide, or check out their fall adventure hub. It’s full of tips and tricks for first-time or returning visitors. Their Fall Color Map even shows how the changing colors sweep across the state throughout the season! You can also sign up to receive their weekly updates straight to your inbox so you never miss a beat. Time is of the essence—don’t miss your shot at the fall adventure of a lifetime.

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