“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”
This line from the Emily Brontë poem “Fall, Leaves, Fall” perfectly captures the wistful beauty of Fall in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
The approach of Autumn stirs different expectations in everyone. I look forward to playing golf without intense Summer heat and tailgating with friends at James Madison University football games.
My wife Heather is a fan of a very different kind of Autumn event that draws thousands of visitors to the Valley– the spectacular Shenandoah Fall foliage.
October’s kaleidoscope of red, orange, and yellow colors transforms the Valley, providing as a perfectly picturesque backdrop to Fall’s outdoor adventures.
Shenandoah’s peak Fall foliage starts in early October and continues throughout the month. But the Valley has a longer season, with colored leaves often lasting from mid-September through mid-November!
Native hickory trees turn yellow and gold, while dogwoods turn from red to maroon, red maples display a range of burnt orange to brilliant scarlet hues, and oak leaves become a deep red.
Read on for our in-depth guide to 10 gorgeous places to see Shenandoah Fall foliage, including personal favorites such as Skyline Drive, Peaks of Otter, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Fall in Shenandoah Valley Guide
- The Blue Ridge Parkway
- Falling Spring Waterfall
- Fall Foliage Chairlift Ride at Massanutten Resort
- Harpers Ferry
- Natural Chimneys
- Old Rag Mountain
- The Peaks of Otter
- Ride The Shenandoah Valley Limited
- Skyland Luray
- Skyline Drive
1. The Blue Ridge Parkway
If you’re looking for a way to view the majesty of the Fall foliage in the Shenandoah Valley from the comfort of your vehicle, steer towards the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway.
This National Park is America’s longest linear park, providing an incomparable Fall foliage driving experience with no entrance fees.
The Blue Ridge Parkway links Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, allowing motorists a relaxing drive with long-range vistas.
Our favorite Fall foliage hike, Humpback Rocks, is just 5 miles away. This moderate 4.3-mile loop trail rewards hikers with a 360º summit view of the George Washington National Forest in all its Autumn splendor.
2. Falling Spring Waterfall
Located at the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley, about an hour west of Lexington VA, you’ll find the Virginia natural treasure known as Falling Spring Falls.
This breathtaking 80-foot Virginia waterfall is a photographer’s delight, and a must see for leaf-peepers.
Located five miles north of Covington VA, this scenic waterfall has been inspiring nature lovers for centuries. Upon viewing its beauty, Thomas Jefferson described Falling Spring Falls as a “remarkable cascade.”
Park into the small pull-off area on US 220, then take a short hike to a majestic view of the waterfall.
Be sure to note all signs, since not all parts of the falls are open to the public. Bring your camera and a picnic, but resist the temptation to take a dip, as swimming is not allowed here for safety reasons.
While you’re in the area, you’ll have endless opportunities to view Shenandoah foliage in the nearby George Washington & Jefferson National Forests.
One of our favorite hiking trails in the area is the Jackson River Scenic Trail. This serene rail-trail, which is rich with vibrant Fall colors and wildlife, takes hikers alongside the picturesque Jackson River.
3. Fall Foliage Chairlift Ride at Massanutten Resort
September and October bring one of our favorite activities– scenic chairlift rides on Massanutten’s signature Creekside Lift. Rides are available from Sept 1 though Oct 29: Check their website for hours and rates.
The chairlift rises through the crisp Fall air to the Massanutten Peak. At the top, you’ll view the beauty of Fall colors in Shenandoah, with a panoramic bird’s eye view of the valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Like all outdoor activities, the scenic chair lift rides are weather-dependent, so we recommend calling the Massanutten General Store before you come.
Tickets can be purchased online in advance, or you can purchase tickets the day you visit starting a 9:30AM at the General Store. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children ages five to 12, and children under five ride for free.
4. Harpers Ferry WV
Avid leaf-peepers can take in the beauty of the lower Shenandoah Valley Fall colors while also taking advantage of the comforts of a historic town.
You’ll be romanced by the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains while listening to the rushing waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park offers opportunities for hiking, kayaking, fishing, and white water rafting. The C & O Canal National Historic Towpath is popular with cyclists, and can be accessed via a bridge over the Potomac River.
The Light Horse Inn has been voted the best place to stay in Harpers Ferry. It’s our first choice for a touch of history and luxury within walking distance of all the attractions in this Fall wonderland.
READ MORE: The 10 Best National Parks in Virginia
5. Natural Chimneys
When you’re exploring the Shenandoah Valley in the Fall, be sure to visit Mount Solon in Augusta County VA, where you’ll discover a natural landmark every bit as stunning as the colorful Autumn foliage.
There’s a junior Olympic-size pool and a pool for little kids. Their 145-site campground has water and electrical hook-ups, and there’s no charge for day visitors.
While the Natural Chimneys are just steps from the parking lot, you can also take the Natural Chimneys Loop Trail for awe-inspiring views of the rock formations, the flowing North River, wildlife, and the colorful Fall foliage.
The trail is 2.2 miles and rated as a relatively easy hike. We think Natural Chimneys is a perfect place to enjoy the cool Shenandoah Valley Autumn air and natural scenery.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Staunton VA
6. Old Rag Mountain Loop Trail
Measuring 3,284 feet to its peak, Old Rag Mountain is one of the most popular hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park.
Countless hikers each year are attracted to “Old Rag” by the multiple challenging trails, jaw-dropping 360º views, and some seriously fun rock scrambles.
Note that the Old Rag Mountain Loop trail is 9.3 miles round-trip, and will challenge even experienced hikers with the rocks and switchbacks you’ll encounter on the way to the summit.
From March through November 30, a day-use ticket is required to access this hiking trail. There’s a limit of 800 hikers per day, so it’s best to plan your trip at least 30 days in advance.
Accolades for Old Rag Mountain include Outside ranking this hike among their Top 25 in the World, while Insider gave Old Rag top honors as the most scenic hike in Virginia.
7. The Peaks of Otter
The Peaks of Otter are three Blue Ridge Mountains– Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill– that overlook Abbot Lake and the town of Bedford VA.
Located just 25 miles from larger cities like Roanoke and Lynchburg VA, this valley has been a popular travel destination for centuries because of the cool air and incredible views.
For the best views, tackle the Sharp Top Mountain Trail. This strenuous 1.5-mile hike leads to the Sharp Top summit (3,875 feet), offering memorable panoramic views of the Peaks of Otter ablaze in Autumn glory.
If you want the stellar views without the challenging hike, you can catch the Sharp Top Mountain Shuttle. It provides transportation to the summit as well as daily loops to the different trailheads at the Peaks of Otter.
8. Ride The Shenandoah Valley Limited
All aboard the Virginia Scenic Railway’s famed Norfolk & Western J-Class No. 611!
Visitors can view the stunning Shenandoah Valley Fall colors while riding in comfort on a railroad excursion through the beautiful region.
This 3-hour steam-powered train ride leaves from the Victoria Station in Goshen VA and journeys through the Fall foliage of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
It pauses (without disembarking) at the halfway point, the historic Downtown Staunton VA train station. Snack foods and drinks are available for purchase in the dining car.
The Shenandoah Valley Limited has multiple seating options, including Coach, Premium Coach, First Class, and Dome Class, with prices ranging from $99 to $249 per seat.
Trains depart at 9:00 AM and 2:30 on the following weekends – October 6-8 through November 3-5. This new Fall excursion by the Virginia Scenic Railway will be in high demand, so check online for available dates and seats.
9. Skyland Resort
Skyland Resort has been a popular weekend getaway for city-weary vacationers ever since it opened as Stony Man Camp in 1888.Now known as Skyland, it’s a standout lodging option in Shenandoah National Park.
Nestled along miles 41.7-42.5 at Skyline Drive’s highest elevation (3,680 feet), the mountain resort provides astounding vistas of the Shenandoah Valley in Autumn.
After your daytime excursions, you can catch a beautiful Blue Ridge sunset and a delicious meal in the Skyland Resort dining room, which overlooks the Shenandoah Valley.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Caves and Caverns in Virginia
10. Skyline Drive
In homage to the Virginia Tourism Board’s declaration that “Virginia is for lovers,” we declare that Skyline Drive is for Shenandoah foliage lovers!
Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It starts in the north at Front Royal and goes south to Waynesboro, where it becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The entrance fee is $30 for a vehicle, $25 for a motorcycle, or $15 per person on foot. An annual unlimited pass allows a vehicle a year of Skyline Drive access for just $55.
In Autumn, Skyline Drive delivers wildlife and views of Fall in Shenandoah National Park. We usually make a point to stop at some of the park’s 75 scenic overlooks, and often eat lunch at one of the many picnic areas.
Located at MP 51, the Big Meadows Lodge is an October favorite for locals. Their Spotswood Dining Room has seasonal specialties and incredible scenic views.
Visit the New Market Taproom for an after-dinner drink. For a delightful flat walk, simply cross the road to Big Meadows, a large mountaintop meadow.
This unique ecosystem is an ideal vantage point for viewing Skyline Drive’s Fall foliage, wildlife, and the stellar night sky. –by Heather Taylor & Jon Weaver; featured photo of Shenandoah in Fall via Canva