In October, Shenandoah National Park is practically bursting with vibrant Fall colors!
This natural attraction welcomes Fall foliage pilgrims every Autumn with towering summits, excellent hiking trails, flowing streams, and magical waterfalls.
Our favorite National Park in Virginia offers opportunities for adults and children alike to frolic in the leaves amidst the brilliant Fall colors.
And the $30 per vehicle entry fee is a small price to pay for the fond memories you’ll create there.
October is the best time to see Fall colors in Shenandoah National Park, although the specific week can vary slightly depending on weather conditions.
Read on for our in-depth guide to Fall in Shenandoah National Park, including the best overlooks, amenities, hikes, and waterfalls. They’re all arranged by milepost, heading from north to south on Skyline Drive.
Fall in Shenandoah National Park Guide
(Arranged by Skyline Drive Milepost)
- Skyline Drive, MP 0-105
- Mary’s Rock Trail, MP 32.2
- Stony Man, MP 41.7
- Limberlost, MP 43
- Hawksbill Mountain, MP 45.5
- Rose River Falls, MP 49.5
- Big Meadows, MP 51
- Hazeltop Ridge, MP 52.5
- Rapidan Camp, MP 52.8
- Frazier Discovery Trail, MP 79.5
1. Skyline Drive (MP 0-105)
Skyline Drive is your gateway for adventures in Shenandoah National Park. Our favorite route leads from north to south, entering at the mountain town of Front Royal and traveling as far south as time allows.
Driving 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia takes almost 3 hours, but the scenic road is only part of the fun.
Thankfully, Skyline Drive has multiple lodging and dining options for Fall foliage seekers who want to take their time.
You can experience an evening in the park with colorful foliage views and autumn sunsets at one of the various Virginia campgrounds, rustic cabins, or charming lodges perched atop the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Read on to discover some of our favorite hikes, waterfalls, overlooks, and amenities along Skyline Drive…
2. Mary’s Rock Trail (MP 32.2)
Every Blue Ridge Mountain peak seems to have a story, and Mary’s Rock boasts one of the most endearing tales.
Local legend has it that landowner Francis Thornton’s daughter, Mary, climbed to the mountain’s rocky peak and returned with a little bear cub under her arm.
Tunnel lovers will have fun just getting to Mary’s Rock via Skyline Drive through the Mary’s Rock Tunnel, which was constructed in 1932. This 610-foot-long engineering wonder is a testament to the power of dynamite.
We usually choose the Mary’s Rock Trail, which approaches the summit from the south. This 2.7-mile hike is fairly steep and includes plenty of rocks (both loose and fixed), so be sure to wear adequate hiking shoes.
Once you reach the overlook, you’ll witness one of the more awe-inspiring views that bring photographers and outdoor lovers alike to Shenandoah National Park in the Fall.
3. Stony Man Mountain (MP 41.7)
Stony Man Mountain is the second highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. At its summit, you’ll see an endless view of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.
We love this hike all year round, but in Fall the views and the crisp air set our sensations alive with Autumn bliss.
Stony Man is named for a rock formation you can see from the north– a profile of a man with a large nose and a long beard. The summit is popular with hikers and photographers, and often used by couples for awesome engagement photos.
For a romantic October night in Shenandoah National Park, hike to the summit and have a little picnic as you watch Mother Nature paint the sky with colors as dynamic as the Autumn leaves.
4. Limberlost Trail (MP 43)
If you’re looking for a beautiful walk in the forest, check out the Limberlost Trail in Shenandoah National Park in the Fall.
For me it brings back a favorite childhood memory of reading Winnie-the-Pooh and imagining the enchanting adventures to be found in the “Hundred Acre Woods.”
This 1.3-mile hike over a crushed greenstone surface is wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, but dogs are not allowed.
As you wind your way through tall oak trees, benches provide a shady respite for mobility-limited adults and tired toddlers.
Shenandoah National Park encourages visitors to explore while using self-guided brochures and signs that make hiking trails a fun, educational experience.
More than just a beautiful walk in the woods, Limberlost is also popular with Virginia birders and leaf-peepers.
5. Hawksbill Mountain (MP 45.5)
Located at an elevation of 4,050 feet, Hawksbill Mountain is the highest point in the national park. So naturally it’s a top destination for viewing Shenandoah National Park’s Fall foliage.
We personally love the Hawksbill Summit Trail, a moderately difficult 1.7-mile hike. The Hawksbill Mountain Loop trail is similar in difficulty to the summit trail, but adds an additional mile in length.
Hawksbill is home to some rare animals, including the Shenandoah Salamander and the Peregrine Falcon. The Balsam Fir, a popular Christmas Tree typically found in northern New England, thrives on the lofty peak.
With its stunning views and abundant Fall colors, hikers and naturalists gather at the viewing platform every Autumn, hoping to catch a rare bird on the wing above the sprawling valley below.
6. Rose River Falls (MP 49.5)
The highlight of the Rose River Loop Hike,Rose River Falls is an oasis near the middle of Skyline Drive.
Allow plenty of time on this moderately difficult, 4.5-hour hike to take photos of the colorful leaves and dazzling water sprays from the waterfalls.
You’ll also pass by the Cave Cemetery, an old cemetery for families that lived in what is now Shenandoah National Park.
Like any trail that involves water features, hikers should be mindful of wet rocks and roots. The hike to Rose River Falls can be challenging at times, but the majestic 67-foot cascade makes it worth every step.
Parking for the Rose River Falls trailhead can be found at the Fishers Gap parking area, just over a mile from the Big Meadows Wayside store.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Virginia Waterfalls for Hiking
7. Big Meadows (MP 51)
Near the halfway point of Skyline Drive, you’ll find a unique attraction that stands out from the overlooks and summits.
Big Meadows is a sprawling, open meadow perched atop a mountain. It provides a serene habitat for plants and animals, (including White-tailed Deer), and a perfect place to enjoy Fall in Shenandoah National Park.
If you’re planning to immerse yourself in Shenandoah National Park’s Fall foliage this Autumn, Big Meadows has colorful leaves aplenty, as well as services and hiking trails to explore.
Start your day at the Byrd Visitor Center (MP 51) for ranger programs, a helpful info desk, maps, and a bookstore. You’ll also find convenient food and fuel options if you’re traveling the length of Skyline Drive in one day.
Big Meadows Campground has sites for tents and RVs, a fire ring and picnic tables. This campground is close to Big Meadows, Dark Hollow Falls, and the Byrd Center.
Less than a mile away is Big Meadows Lodge, with accommodations ranging from small cabins to traditional rooms and suites. Here you can dine with the Fall colors in Shenandoah National Park on display right outside!
8. Hazeltop Ridge MP (52.5)
As longtime residents of the Shenandoah Valley, we regularly join the estimated 1.5 million annual Shenandoah National Park visitors for picnics, hikes, and relaxation in nature.
When we’re choosing a hike to see the most colorful Shenandoah Fall foliage, we consider the diversity of trails, views, and length of hikes each trail offers.
The Hazeltop Prong Trail-Laurel Gap loop has everything we desire, including breathtaking summit views, wildlife, and vibrant Fall colors.
This loop measures 7.4 miles, with some of shorter, peak-focused trails along the way. Trailhead parking is located at Skyline Drive MP 52.5, where you can also access the Appalachian Trail in VA.
On the way to the summit, you may spy Wild Turkeys, Deer, and the occasional Black Bear. The loop trail also has some streams to cross, so wear waterproof hiking boots!
In addition to wildlife, the trail passes Camp Hoover, which was used by President Herbert Hoover as a retreat until 1933. But the Hazeltop Mountain summit also has the Blue Ridge Mountains Fall magic that makes the effort so worth it.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Pumpkin Patches in VA to Visit
9. Rapidan Camp (MP 52.8)
If you’re visiting Shenandoah National Park in the Fall, this National Historic Landmark is an awesome place to tour a historic site surrounded by lush forest land.
The 4-mile Mill Prong Trail to Rapidan Camp, a 3-hour hike, can be accessed from the Milam Gap parking area.
As you walk in Herbert Hoover’s steps, you’ll rock-hop across the gently flowing Mill Prong stream 3 times, pass by the lovely Big Rock Falls, then arrive at President Hoover’s summer retreat.
You can also access the camp by horseback. But if there’s no time for a hike or ride in your itinerary, consider a Ranger-guided program with a shuttle to the camp, which are available Thursdays through Sundays in the Fall.
These programs are an informative way to learn about the President and his First Lady via a guided tour that includes the President’s Cabin, the Prime Minister’s Cabin, and the enchanting gardens of the retreat.
10. Frazier Discovery Trail (MP 79.5)
Located about an hour southeast of our home in Harrisonburg VA, the Frazier Discovery Trail is a lesser known 1.3-mile loop trail that delivers multiple vistas on Loft Mountain.
This easy hiking trail is a great choice for young kids who might struggle on longer, more difficult hikes.
It’s also ideal for trail runners seeking some cardio while enjoying Shenandoah National Park decorated in October foliage.
Try to arrive at the Frazier Discovery Trail near sunset with your camera. The Loft Mountain summit is renowned among Skyline Drive regulars as a stellar location for viewing unforgettable sunsets.
If you’re looking for a longer (but still easy) hike, check out the Loft Mountain Loop, which connects with the Appalachian Trail and the Frazier Discovery Trail.
This scenic 2.7-mile trail displays one of the best Shenandoah National Park views. Easy access to Fall colors, amazing scenic views, and the cool welcoming forest keep us coming back to the Frazier Discovery Trail over and over again. -by Heather Taylor & Jon Weaver