Virginia Fall Foliage: The 15 Best Places to See Fall Colors in VA

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Fall is finally here!

In the state of Virginia, where we live, we’re already pulling out our flannel shirts and stepping out for a pumpkin spice latte.

That’s a sure sign that the explosion of Virginia Fall colors won’t be far behind.

In Virginia, Fall foliage typically begins to change colors at higher elevations in mid-September, peaks in the latter half of October and, in the Shenandoah Valley, can last into early November.

We love the scenic parkways and national forests of our home state. But we’re also urban explorers who look forward to the Autumn leaves that transform our favorite small towns and cities in Virginia.

With 41 state and 22 national parks in Virginia, it’s fairly easy to find the Fall leaves in Virginia in or near our metropolitan areas.

Read on for our in-depth guide to the 15 best places to see Fall colors in Virginia, including our favorite mountain towns, majestic waterfalls, and the romance of Fall in Shenandoah National Park.

READ MORE:  20 Incredible Places To See the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fall

Virginia Fall Foliage: Fall Colors in VA Guide

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway/Mabry Mill
  2. Charlottesville VA
  3. Crabtree Falls
  4. Front Royal VA
  5. Grayson Highlands State Park
  6. Great Falls Park
  7. Lexington VA
  8. Little Washington
  9. McAfee Knob
  10. Natural Bridge State Park
  11. Peaks of Otter/Sharp Top Mountain
  12. Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
  13. Shenandoah National Park
  14. Smith Mountain Lake
  15. Williamsburg VA

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide

fall foliage in Virginia -Mabry Mill with Fall Colors in Meadows of Dan VA
Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

1. Blue Ridge Parkway/Mabry Mill

The Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors for leaf-peeping and stunning scenic views. At MP 176, you’ll find the most photographed BRP attraction, Mabry Mill.

Ed B. Mabry and his wife, Lizzy, began operating their grist and saw mill in 1905, sawing lumber, blacksmithing, and grinding corn for locals for 30+ years.

In addition to the colorful forest and the tranquil water of the mill pond, travelers can sample Mabry Mill Gift shop offerings, including Virginia crafts, locally ground cornmeal, and buckwheat flour.

Work up an appetite on the short Mabry Mill Trail, where you’ll learn about rugged life in the Appalachian Mountains via displays that include antique farm equipment and a whiskey still.

Visit their Appalachian-themed restaurant for some tasty pancakes. Whether you choose traditional, cornmeal, buckwheat, or sweet potato pancakes, you’ll be partaking in a true Blue Ridge delicacy.

READ MORE: 30 Fun Facts About Appalachian Scots-Irish History & Culture

fall foliage in Virginia - UVA campus Charlottesville
UVA Campus, photo courtesy of Charlottesville VA

2. Charlottesville VA

Charlottesville VA is one of our favorite places to explore, and is regarded as one of America’s best small cities. But during Autumn in Virginia, this is a stellar place to see the Blue Ridge Mountains Fall foliage at its finest.

The town is like a walkable history buff’s open-air museum, with historic properties and architecture by the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

“C’ville,” as it’s known to locals, dazzles in the Fall with home football games at the University of Virginia, exciting concert venues, theaters, and many farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, and wineries.

Begin at the University of Virginia Rotunda, then visit the Colonial home known as Monticello. Both were designed by our third U.S. President, and both are great places to see stunning Fall foliage in Virginia.

Take time to visit Pro Re Nata, a brewery and music venue in nearby Crozet VA where you can enjoy a local craft beer or cider by a roaring fire while surrounded by colorful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

READ MORE: 10 Great Romantic Getaways in Virginia for Couples

fall colors in Virginia - Crabtree Falls in Virginia
Crabtree Falls, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

3. Crabtree Falls

Very few natural wonders arouse our senses quite like a waterfall. When combined with Virginia’s Fall foliage, waterfalls are truly magical, with cascades of water surrounded by lush vegetation.

Crabtree Falls is located 30 miles south of Staunton in an area known for pristine fishing streams, historic farms, and hiking trails. It’s 6 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and features a total drop of around 1,200 feet!

Waterfall access is open from dawn to dusk, with a $3 parking fee. The first waterfall overlook is just a short walk on a paved trail, but if there’s a more challenging 2.7-mile loop for those who bring their hiking shoes.

It’s a 1.5- to 2.5-hour excursion, with scenic overlooks of the cascades and the Fall colors of the Tye River Valley along the way. Stay on designated paths, as algae on the rocks around the waterfall can create slippery conditions.

Pets are allowed, but must remain on a leash. This stunning waterfall hiking trail is well worth a Fall visit.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Virginia Waterfalls for Hiking

Skyline Drive fall foliage via Canva
Skyline Drive fall foliage

4. Front Royal

Located an hour west of our nation’s capital, Front Royal VA has 3 keys to success: “Location! Location! Location!”

As a gateway to the Skyline Drive Fall foliage of Shenandoah National Park, this cozy community is an excellent starting point for to appreciating Shenandoah in the Fall.

Front Royal is recognized as the Canoe Capitol of Virginia. It’s a great place for paddling down the Shenandoah River through the Shenandoah Valley, with the colorful Blue Ridge Mountains Fall foliage as a backdrop.

Visit Front Royal in mid-October for the 51st Annual Festival of Leaves. The Historic Front Royal Downtown District is alive with live music, food trucks, a kids’ area, and craft brews, wine, and mead in the beer garden.

Come for the festival and stay some of the best Fall foliage in Virginia!

READ MORE: What is Bluegrass? The History & Evolution of Appalachian Music

Virginia foliage - Wild Pony in Grayson Highlands State Park in SWVA. Photo by Dawson Tozier
Wild Pony in Grayson Highlands State Park, photo by Dawson Tozier

5. Grayson Highlands State Park

Located in Southwest VA in the shadows of the state’s tallest mountains, Grayson Highlands State Park is best known for its wild ponies, which descend from 50 Assateague ponies introduced in 1975.

This ever-popular Virginia State Park is about an hour west of Bristol VA, offering a fun combination of family-friendly pony sightings and some serious hiking trails.

Park amenities include a visitor center, campgrounds, hiking and horseback riding trails, and even a horse camping area with stables and parking for trailers.

Hikers who plan to tackle Mount Rogers, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in VA, should be prepared for a challenging climb and always check weather conditions first.

But for the best Fall foliage views of the area, the Grayson Highlands themselves will deliver better scenic views than the looming mountain summits. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in Virginia

autumn in Virginia - Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park via Canva

6. Great Falls Park

Located just 15 miles west of DC, this National Park encompasses 800 acres on the Potomac River, with 3 waterfall viewpoints within a 5- to 10-minute walk from the visitor center.

Great Falls Park has miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails to choose from. Along the way, you may see white-tail deer, foxes, and over 150 species of birds surrounded by glorious VA Fall foliage.

The park offers plenty of things to do in Fall, with relaxing views of the waterfalls and the rolling water of the mighty Potomac River. For the best Fall foliage, hike along Mather Gorge’s dramatic clifftops.

Experienced boaters can kayak, paddleboard, or canoe down the Potomac River’s rapids. But there is no swimming or wading allowed due to the strong underwater currents.

Great Falls Park is a nature escape just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and a fairytale setting for a trip to see the stunning colors of Virginia’s Fall foliage.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for River Tubing in Virginia

Downtown Lexington VA
Downtown Lexington, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

7. Lexington VA

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, historic downtown Lexington VA is a dream Hollywood movie location (including the Civil War-era romance Somersby, starring Jodie Foster and Richard Gere).

Lexington is an easy day trip from Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, and Roanoke VA, and the walkable downtown area has lots of fun shops and local farm-to-table restaurants.

When October comes around, the historic downtown area (which includes the Washington & Lee campus and the Virginia Military Institute campus) comes alive with bright colors of red, gold and orange.

For additional Fall photo opps in the Rockbridge County VA area, take Route 39– the Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway– which meanders along the Maury River west of Lexington.

This scenic road has ample pull-offs for hiking or kayaking, and it’s our preferred route when visiting one of our favorite Virginia mountain resorts, the Homestead Resort in Warm Springs VA.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lexington VA & Natural Bridge VA

when do the leaves change in Virginia - Avon Hall Washington VA
Avon Hall, photo courtesy Town of Little Washington

 8. Washington VA/The Inn at Little Washington

While driving home from a Northern Virginia getaway, we stumbled upon the lovely town of Washington VA.

Known as Little Washington (to distinguish it from Washington DC), the town is comprised of the original 5-block by 2-block grid that was surveyed by George Washington circa 1748!

Little Washington is a hidden gem nestled in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just south of Front Royal near the entrance to the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park.

The small town is home to the Inn at Little Washington, an opulent inn with a 3-star Michelin restaurant. The restaurant takes reservations a year in advance, so plan ahead if you want to visit. 

We truly fell in love with Little Washington, with its spectacular views of the Fall foliage in Virginia, verdant fields, and mountains stretching as far as the eye could see.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Pumpkin Patches in VA to Visit

Mcafee Knob from above on the Appalachian Trail in Fall
Mcafee Knob viewed from the Appalachian Trail in Fall

9. McAfee Knob

Part of the Appalachian Trail, the 7.5-mile McAfee Knob hike in Roanoke VA offers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Catawba Valley, Tinker Cliffs, and the Roanoke Valley.

The best time to visit the Roanoke area is in Autumn, when the Fall colors in the mountains really shine. 

Note that all hikers should come prepared with the necessary hiking essentials, including water, snacks, a map, extra clothes, and a compass.

To avoid the crowded parking lot, take the Trailhead Shuttle that loops from the I-81 Exit 140 Park & Ride during McAfee Knob’s busiest times on weekend days from March through November.

After hiking the McAfee Knob trail, you can explore Virginia’s Blue Ridge Cheers Trail, which celebrates local craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Virginia Wineries for Wine Tastings & Tours

Shenandoah fall foliage - Natural Bridge State Park VA Fall
Natural Bridge State Park in Fall, photo courtesy Virginia State Parks

10. Natural Bridge State Park

Located 15 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway via MP 62, Natural Bridge State Park is a National Historic Landmark with connections to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

Measuring 215-feet tall and 90-feet wide, the limestone arch was created by the flowing waters of Cedar Creek. The Cedar Creek Trail (which passes under the bridge) is always on our list for seeing Shenandoah Fall foliage. 

Look closely and you’ll see George Washington’s initials carved into the stone back in 1750. The trail ends at Lace Falls, a 30-foot waterfall surrounded by the colorful Blue Ridge Autumn leaves.

Park admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children under age 6. The park is open daily from 8AM to dusk, and is a great place for astrophotography.

Families will enjoy the nearby Caverns at Natural Bridge, where cave tours typically last an hour. This attraction is open daily from March through November, and weekends only in December, January, and February.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Caves and Caverns in Virginia

Peaks of Otter VA Fall Colors
Abbott Lake with Fall Colors, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

11. Peaks of Otter/Sharp Top Mountain

The Peaks of Otter– Sharp Top Mountain, Flat Top Mountain, and Harkening Hill– is a hotspot for leaf-peepers taking Blue Ridge Parkway Fall road trips.

Located 32 miles north of Roanoke VA, the area is home to the Peaks of Otter Lodge, a visitor center, campgrounds, and the tranquil Abbott Lake.

Once thought to be the tallest mountain in Virginia, Sharp Top’s 3,875-foot summit offers 360º views of fall foliage on the BRP.

Most visitors take a shuttle to the summit, but the Sharp Top Trail is also popular. Measuring 3.3 miles, this hike is considered strenuous, with dirt and rock trails and stone steps.

Allow at least 3 to 4 hours for the hike if you want time to savor the crisp October air and Fall colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

READ MORE: Apple Picking in Virginia: The 20 Best VA Apple Orchards to Visit

best fall foliage in Virginia - Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Richmond
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, photo by Tom Hennessy

12. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Fall in Richmond VA doesn’t get much better than exploring the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, which is located about 9 miles north of Downtown Richmond.

This historic 50-acre property features over a dozen themed gardens, including a children’s garden, a classical domed Conservatory, a library, and a café.

In October, the garden highlights include brilliantly colored trees, winterberry, beautyberry, camellias, autumn crocuses, fall-blooming azaleas, and the last blush of orange and yellow roses.

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden always has a full calendar of events.

Our favorite Autumn events including the harvest-themed Fall Flair, Sips Under the Stars, Wednesday Alfresco, and Family Friday Nights. If you visit, be sure to spend some time in their VA Butterfly Garden!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Virginia Music Festivals to Visit

Shenandoah National Park Fall Foliage
Shenandoah National Park in Fall

13. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park Fall foliage has been attracting leaf-peepers since it was created in 1936. The 105-mile Skyline Drive starts in Front Royal VA, goes by Luray VA, and stretches south to Waynesboro VA.

The park is teeming with wildlife, from white-tail deer to Virginia black bears, and you’ll marvel at the Skyline Drive Fall foliage from elevated Blue Ridge Mountain vistas.

From vantage points like the 4,049-foot Hawksbill Summit, Shenandoah National Park visitors are treated to panoramic Autumn views of the Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Mountains, and Virginia Piedmont.

Near the park, we like to explore the mountain towns and countryside, finding Shenandoah Valley Fall festivals and exploring pumpkin patches.

Plan a visit to Woodstock, Elkton, Harrisonburg, or Dayton, just a few of the many Blue Ridge Mountain towns eager to welcome travelers seeking Fall colors in Shenandoah.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Harrisonburg VA & Rockingham County

VA Things to Do - Sunrise on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia
Sunrise on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

14. Smith Mountain Lake

Considered a jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Smith Mountain Lake is a freshwater playground in Bedford County, about 40 miles from Roanoke and Lynchburg.

The second largest of all lakes in Virginia, Smith Mountain Lake is encircled by the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the Fall, it’s magically transformed by the bright colors of the leaves reflected in the clear water.

With 500 miles of shoreline, this massive resort offers myriad lodging and dining options, with lake houses, condos, hotels, and restaurants.

If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, Smith Mountain State Park has 1,500 acres with hiking trails, picnic areas, campsites, and cabins, as well as boat rentals for water sports and fishing.

For the ultimate Blue Ridge Mountains Fall family adventure, rent a houseboat on Smith Mountain Lake. A fully equipped home on the water is a wonderfully unique way to enjoy October in Virginia’s Blue Ridge!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in the Virginia Mountains to Visit

The James River, Williamsburg
The James River in Williamsburg, photo by Jon Weaver & Heather Taylor

15. Williamsburg VA

We love the mountains of Virginia, but we also have a fondness for Williamsburg VA for a weekend getaway. It’s a wonderful Fall destination with cooler days and fewer visitors than it has in the summer high season.

For us, the main attraction is Colonial Williamsburg, the USA’s largest living history museum.

In Fall, the historic village is adorned with wreaths decorated with apples, pumpkins, and leaves. Heather loves a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Colonial area, while I’m content to walk the Bassett Trace Nature Trail.

In terms of active pursuits, we usually kayak the 300+ acre lake at Waller Mill Park or hike the paths that surround the lake, relishing the trees all decked out in their Fall colors.

We usually stay at the Kingsmill Resort, with its peaceful James River views. From the deck of our riverfront condo, we’re entertained by the small sailboats and the coastal birds and eagles that call this river home.

Surrounded by brilliant Fall colors, the city of Williamsburg VA rivals any small New England village for coastal Autumn beauty. -by Jon Weaver & Heather Taylor; featured photo of Packsaddle Ridge in Keezletown VA by Jon Weaver & Heather Taylor


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

The universities brought Jon and Heather to Harrisonburg Virginia in the 1980s and the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley has kept them there to this day. Heather has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and 10 years of experience as an editor and technical writer for online training sites. After college, Jon worked several years at a weekly newspaper before joining his family business which he ran until retirement. Jon and Heather enjoy traveling and sharing their stories with others. Locally, they love exploring the towns and mountains of the Blue Ridge near their hometown of Harrisonburg VA.