Those who travel to see nature’s seasons in their full glory know that Virginia is an epic fall destination. Each autumn, the state’s panoply of trees — beech, dogwood, hickory, poplar, maple, and oak — explode in a color show that ranges in hue from a bright, gleaming yellow to the deepest of scarlets. Pair that chromatic scenery with unforgettable drives, countless outdoor recreation options in state and national parks, and memorable lodgings that span from the rustic to the presidential, and you’ve got the ultimate fall vacation.
Driving into Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive is a quintessentially American experience. The iconic route opens from the wooded park entrance into world-class views, especially in autumn, when these majestic hills are blanketed in fall’s warm, soothing tones. Skyline, the legendary 105-mile road cresting the Blue Ridge Mountains, links motorists to 75 scenic overlooks (three of the most beautiful views over the Shenandoah Valley are from Old Rag, Hawksbill, and Moorman River), 518 miles of hiking trails, and the chance to see misty, mossy waterfalls that pour into swimming holes and rolling rivers, including Dark Hollow Falls, South River Falls, 93-foot Overall Run Falls, and the clear pools of Whiteoak Canyon or Jeremy’s Run. Hikers scramble atop Little Stony Man Mountain for incredible views over the park, while other visitors watch white-tailed deer at Big Meadows and stop to appreciate the sensational sunsets — and the spectacularly starry nights.
WHERE TO EAT: Skyland Resort’s cozy Pollock Dining Room is popular for its expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley, while the resort’s family-friendly Mountain Taproom is great for beer and live music. Or head to the old-world dining room at theInn at Little Washington, or to casual Gathering Grounds, an inviting patisserie with fresh, seasonal menu offerings. Near the southern terminus of Skyline Drive, consider Staunton’s Zynodoa, which creates elegant and inspired New American cuisine with ingredients that are sources regionally, due to the owners’ close relationships with local farmers.
WHERE TO SLEEP: Luray’s Mimslyn Inn is lovely and historic, while hilltop Stonewall Jackson Hotel, in Staunton, is a Colonial Revival-style beauty. In Lexington, 18-room The Georges is a welcoming boutique inn done in fresh, modern style, though its Georgian-style buildings originally went up in the late 1700s. If your tent’s your abode, Big Meadows Campground is open through most of fall, and always has deer and other animals to see.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road (216 of which are in Virginia) that connects Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, on its north end, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park below. From start to finish, this wow-inducing road trip lets unfold some of the most glorious fall foliage you’ll see in America. Silhouetted mountains line up all the way to the horizon, connected to each other by old tunnels and memorable bridges. At great overlooks like Humpback Rocks, take the trail up for 360-degree views, then check out the visitors’ center and mountain-farm exhibit. Hiking trails abound, as do waterfalls: Apple Orchard Falls and Fallingwater Cascades are as pretty as their names. Roadside wineries worth touring include timber-frame Chateau Morrisette and Tuscan-style Villa Appalaccia. In historic Roanoke, there are plenty of inns and shops, plus cultural sites and a wonderful farmers’ market. In Floyd, a small mountain town, music is king, and you’re liable, at any given moment, to encounter its denizens fiddling, banjo-picking, or playing jazz or the blues — do not miss the Floyd Country Store’s foot-stompin’ “Friday Night Jamboree.”
WHERE TO EAT: Mabry Mill, in Meadows of Dan, is a photo stop with lots to see, including the eponymous mill, an old blacksmith shop and whiskey still, and a delightful gift shop — plus a small, unpretentious diner serving tasty down-home fare. The Red Hen, in Lexington, is a much-loved, nine-table restaurant whose farm-to-table entrees change daily, and come artistically plated and perfectly cooked.
WHERE TO SLEEP: For luxury accommodations along the parkway, book at Primland, a huge resort with many onsite activities — its “treehouses” provide wide views over Kibler Valley. At Roanoke’s stately King George Inn, furnishings are Victorian and an elaborate breakfast is included. In Bedford, 63-room Peaks of Otter Lodge is roadside with a view of Abbott Lake; an adjacent 141-site campground is available for those who’d rather sleep under the (very visible) stars.
Source: Story by Avital Andrews, for Virginia Tourism Corporation.