In October, the beauty of the park will take your breath away. Searing reds, oranges, and brilliant golds combine with evergreens to put on a dazzling display of natural wonder.
“When will the fall color peak?” is the most common question park officials and tourism offices get at this time of year. Of course, a precise answer is impossible. But – speaking cautiously—the third week in October is generally considered a good bet to see brilliant autumn displays. No, it may not be the exact, actual peak.
Fall color is influenced by a number of factors, but soil moisture, brought on by a rainy summer like the Shenandoah Valley had this year, is an important one. “So it may be that with all this rain we could see a really pretty fall this year,” Patti Nylander, a senior area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, told WHSV. Warm fall days and cool fall nights also contribute.
Even those only casually aware of the Park know it has miles of hiking trails (more than 500, actually), many waterfalls, scenic overlooks and a wealth of historic sites such as stone foundations and fences, old chimneys, and restored cabins. (Find 10 rewarding hikes here.)
But park visitors are becoming a lot more aware of many contemporary pleasures that are now available. Here’s a list of October delights you may not have known about:
Oct. 3: Craft Beer Tastings at Big Meadows Lodge (MP 51), serving brews from Basic City Beer Co., and Oct. 31 from the Deschutes Brewery.
Oct. 17: Wine Tasting at Big Meadows Lodge, featuring Rappahannock Cellars, and November 7 at Skyland (MP 41.7) offering a variety of Virginia wines.
Oct 21: Let’s Talk About Space in Shenandoah, at Skyland, 8:00 p.m. “The Universe and You” – Learn about the fascinating universe in which you live, are made from, and are part of. (Oct. 25, same program and time, at Big Meadows.)
Oct. 23 and 30: at Skyland—the Shenandoah Valley Cloggers…..An energetic, all-female traditional dance group with Blue Ridge roots.
Nov. 11: Fee Free Day!
Lodging in Shenandoah National Park
The current fee to enter Shenandoah National Park is $30 per vehicle. That’s good for seven days. Several lodging options are available, but when making reservations, keep in mind that October is the busiest time of year. (For reservations call 877-247-9261 or visit the park’s lodging page. )
Skyland (MP 41.7 and 42.5), originally called Stony Man Camp and actually opened before the area became a national park, combines Shenandoah history with modern amenities, fine dining and comfort. With splendid views a glance in any direction, Skyland’s rooms have suites and fireplaces, and recent renovations both interior and exterior have updated the lodge’s appearance. A full service restaurant (wheelchair-accessible) offers spectacular views of the Shenandoah Valley.
Big Meadows (MP 51.2) is a complex that comprises a lodge, mountain cabins, an amphitheater (for Park Ranger programs), camp store, Wayside and Restaurant, the Spottswood Dining Room, New Market Taproom, a Craft Shop, and the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center. The Visitor Center houses displays, photos and exhibits central to the region’s culture both before and after the establishment of the park. Directly across Skyline Drive from the Visitor Center is the “Big Meadow” for which the lodge complex is named. Its picturesque fields are often visited by whitetail deer, affording great opportunities for wildlife photography.
The Lewis Mountain Cabins (MP 57.5) provide a rare opportunity to disconnect electronically. There are no phones and no Internet access. While the cabins have bathrooms, electric lighting, ceiling fans and heat, their rustic authenticity is in keeping with the area’s Appalachian roots. Visitors should bring their own food, cooking utensils, ice and coolers, and plan to cook on the outdoor grill at each cabin. Some of the cabins allow pets—inquire when making a reservation.
If you prefer to pitch a tent and camp out, you have several options–Matthews Arm (MP 22), Big Meadows (MP 51), Lewis Mountain Campgrounds (MP 57.5) and Loft Mountain (79.5). For reservations—advisable at this time of year—call 877-444-6777, or visit Recreation.gov. Backcountry camping (with a permit and after a thorough review of its rules and regulations) is the best way to find seclusion in the most remote areas of the park.
Note: Hurricane Florence may have affected certain trails and access points to the park. For updates and alerts go here.
Photo courtesy National Park Service