SHENANDOAH VALLEY, Va. — Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are two of America’s most iconic mountain drives. Skyline Drive is a national scenic byway that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park and connects with the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends south into North Carolina. Together, these mountain drives crest the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offer some of the best places to see fall foliage in the USA.
Numerous overlooks provide opportunities to see the annual fall color show as it makes its descent down the mountains. The first hints of fall start off at the highest elevations, then week after week, the color change sweeps down to the lower elevations and into the Valley below.
Foliage conditions can vary dramatically from area to area, so plan to spend a few days driving through the region to appreciate shifts in color during any particular week. As for the annual peak color, everyone asks, but there is no single date. Each year, peak color is a response to environmental factors, as well as the genetic makeup of the trees themselves. Experts suggest the most intense colors occur during mid-late October when the shortening days of autumn when days are bright and warm, and the nights are cool but not below freezing — and when there has been ideal rainfall. When there has been adequate rainfall, it tends to keep the leaves on the trees longer and enhance the color shift.
Golden hour, priceless views
From the heights of these roads (and/or the ancient summit peaks nearby) gaze westward across the Shenandoah Valley and the Shenandoah River below. If you can time it right, watch the sun set from on high. Photographers and Instagrammers know that some of the best light is at golden hour, just before the sun dips below the horizon. Early evening light is magical — filled with all the warm golds, reds, oranges, and yellows that are echoed in the landscape all around.
Tips For Visiting
A few tips for visiting Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway during the busy fall season. Campgrounds and lodges typically book early for weekends in September/October. There are some first-come, first-served sites at campgrounds, but those tend to fill quickly — usually by Thursday evening. Outside the park boundaries, there are a wide variety of lodging accommodations from hotels, to inns, to private cabin rentals. Visit during midweek, if you can for the best choice.
Stop along the way to take advantage of the Shenandoah Valley’s hundreds of miles of spectacular hiking, cycling, and paddling. Check out all there is to see and do. When you’ve worked up an appetite, refuel in one of the Valley’s gorgeous small cities, and know that orchards, vineyards, and breweries delight at nearly every bend of the road. Additional itineraries are available here.
Whichever road you take, go slow, enjoy the ride, and luxuriate in the stunning fall foliage and the historic landscapes that surround you.