Virginia is for Autumn Lovers
Coast along these Virginia roadways for some of the country’s most spectacular views.
With more than 15 million acres of forestland, Virginia is a widely popular destination to view fall foliage. This multi-hued display is particularly spectacular around the Charlottesville area, which is situated in the central part of the state in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Leaves typically begin to turn yellow, orange and red in October, and the vibrant, natural tapestry often lasts until mid-November. Here are four scenic Charlottesville drives that showcase fall’s colorful brilliance:
Monticello Wine Trail
Not only is the bucolic countryside and mountainous landscape around Charlottesville prime territory for leaf peeping, it’s also one of the state’s most prolific regions for wine production. You can experience both fall foliage and viticulture delights along the Monticello Wine Trail, which consists of more than 30 wineries, all within easy access from Charlottesville. As you travel to select wineries, most of which are located on wooded, pastoral acreage off I-64 and U.S. Highway 29, soak in the natural beauty of the scenic country roads and foothills, which are canopied with fall colors. Don’t miss Monticello, the mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Monticello provides dramatic views of the area’s gorgeous foliage and is just a short drive from Carter Mountain Orchard, another great spot to take in the captivating scenery.
Stretching for 105 twisting miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains, Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway in Shenandoah National Park and one of the most scenic drives in the country. From Charlottesville, the closest entrance into the 200,000-acre park is near Waynesboro at Rockfish Gap, via I-64 and Route 250, at the southernmost point of Skyline Drive. Heading north, it takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park. There are 75 overlooks along the way that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the rolling Piedmont to the east. If you need to make a pit stop, there are several visitor centers with restrooms, exhibits, bookstores, maps and backcountry permits. In addition to the remarkable scenery, other highlights in the park include nearby Luray Caverns, the largest caverns in the eastern United States, with towering stone columns and crystal-clear pools. As you drive along Skyline Drive, keep an eye out for the local wildlife, including black bear, wild turkey and deer, which often come out at dusk to graze in roadside meadows.
Greene County Fall Foliage Tour
About 25 miles north of Charlottesville in Greene County is the small town of Stanardsville. Founded in 1794, its historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the starting point of another popular fall drive that runs along the eastern edge of Shenandoah National Park for about 60 rural, unspoiled miles. From Stanardsville, which has a revitalized downtown streetscape, you drive north on Route 230. You’ll then turn left on Route 29/231 into Madison County, which contains 327 square miles of land mass, about one-sixth of which is in the Shenandoah National Park. Head to the charming town of Madison, the county seat, and travel along Main Street until you turn left onto the Blue Ridge Turnpike. Follow this scenic road into Sperryville, which is about eight miles east of the Thornton Gap entrance of Shenandoah National Park. There, you’ll find the beautiful Pinnacles overlook area. Also nearby is Old Rag Mountain, which is noted for its rocky, 3,284-foot summit.
Blue Ridge Parkway
A fall driving tour of Virginia isn’t complete without a stretch along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The northern terminus of the parkway is about 25 miles west of Charlottesville near Afton via I-64 and Route 250. The parkway runs southwest for nearly 500 miles, connecting with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. With fantastic vistas and overlooks, the parkway is the National Park System’s most visited attraction. From Charlottesville, enter the parkway from Afton Mountain and Rockfish Gap (Milepost 0). This is the Ridge District, and the route provides sweeping views of Appalachian hardwood forests and the Great Valley of Virginia. As you head south, there are several popular stops along the way, including the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, which has exhibits about pioneer life. For exceptional views, stop at Yankee Horse Ridge, where there’s also a beautiful stream and waterfall. Continuing south, Thunder Ridge is a great place to stretch your legs and take in the scenery, including Arnold’s Valley and the Allegheny Mountains. Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86) is a convenient place to end your tour, although the beguiling beauty of the surrounding wilderness may tempt you to keep driving.