WanderLove is calling—and a fall road trip through the back roads of the Shenandoah Valley is an idyllic (and easy-to-reach) destination.
The search for fall color is an annual rite pursued and enjoyed by millions. In the Shenandoah Valley, vantage points from Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway draw a huge percentage of foliage followers, with good reason. As splendid as the autumn views are from high elevations, they are equally breathtaking from the Valley floor, and a lot less crowded. Below we suggest four beautiful road trip routes to meander. You’ll be able to stop and explore many small towns, all the while immersed in fall splendor.
Route 11 (Wilderness Road)
The Wilderness Road, Route 11 is the original main route through the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Created by migrating bison and the Native Americans who followed them, the path expanded as European settlers poured into the Valley. In the 18th century, it became known as the Wilderness Road. Today it connects numerous classic Shenandoah Valley towns from Martinsburg, WV down into Roanoke.
Access to this route is easy throughout the Valley. Eat breakfast and stroll Old Town in Winchester for a bit, then head south and tour Cedar Creek/Belle Grove National Historical Park in Middletown. Continue south to discover enticing small towns like Strasburg, Edinburg, and New Market.
A scenic longer option is the 50-mile trip from Staunton to Natural Bridge State Park. Staunton is brewery-intensive, with several stops along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail (so plan to have a designated driver). If you have time, overnight at Steeles Tavern Manor, a 1916 Virginia manor house located between Staunton and Lexington. Once at the state park, hike to the 215-foot Natural Bridge carved out by Cedar Creek, or linger to hike seven miles of other trails. The 30-foot Lace Falls is a popular photo-op.
Route 340 Between Front Royal and Luray
Route 340 runs from Harpers Ferry to Waynesboro, and fall color can be found almost anywhere along it. But Front Royal is the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park and all its classic autumn foliage. Route 340 roughly parallels it. About eight miles south of Front Royal you’ll pass the Shenandoah River State Park, with wonderful views as well as miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails and canoe access. Continue south, with the massive Massanutten Mountain in full all display on your right, until you reach Luray and all its downtown delights.
Route 39 Lexington to Goshen (Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway)
Also known as the Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway, this route starts at historic Lexington, and if you want you can take it all the way to West Virginia (about 170 miles in all). The 23 miles from Lexington to Goshen are resplendent with the wild beauty of the Maury River. Stop at Goshen Pass, a dramatic four-mile gorge of river power. Or take some time to explore the Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve –937 acres of hiking trails and natural swimming holes. And don’t rush to exit Lexington, either. If your time is limited, at least stroll the Downtown area’s brick sidewalks past historic buildings, farm-to-table restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. Plan on returning for a long weekend to explore this vibrant city more fully. (See their new video here.)
Route 608—Grottoes to Vesuvius
This route has a backroads, “get away from it all” feel full of farmsteads and mountain views. Explore Grand Caverns in Grottoes, then tool onto Route 608 and drive about 40 miles to Vesuvius. Stop and look around at Stuarts Draft. (John Colter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was born here.) Or pause at New Hope, where the Battle of Piedmont was waged on June 5, 1864.
The Shenandoah Valley is blessed with options that will satisfy your urge to wander. While the peak of fall color is always hard to predict, live views of various areas in Shenandoah National Park are a good indicator. See webcams here, and make sure the car is gassed up and ready to roll for a fall road trip.
Banner photo: Meems Bridge by Eric Michael Photography/Shenandoah County Tourism