Where to See Fall Foliage in Virginia, USA

Mabry Mill, on Viriginia's Blue Ridge Parkway, is especially picturesque in autumn
Mabry Mill, on Viriginia's Blue Ridge Parkway, is especially picturesque in autumn | © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mike Title
9 September 2021

Tick off all the colors of the rainbow on a leaf-peeping tour through this sylvan East Coast state.

Running from Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Mountains, leafy Virginia becomes a wonderland of color when fall arrives. The peak time to witness the autumn foliage is early October, while the best places to admire it range from national parks like Shenandoah to idyllic sites like Mabry Mill – an age-old watermill, trimmed by an ever-changing tree line. To make sure you don’t miss the spectacle, check out these prime viewing spots.

Natural Tunnel State Park

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A five-hour drive west out of Richmond, the Natural Tunnel State Park displays electric colors at this time of year. Better still, you can take a chair lift up above the trees to experience the fall colors in a fun way and at a gentle pace. For those who like to stay on foot, there are trails that take you to the lip of the Natural Tunnel, where you’ll get tremendous views. The cabins on site are a cozy way to extend your time beneath the trees.

Abingdon

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Abingdon is around 4.5 hours west of state capital Richmond and is part of a region of vineyards that produce some impressive new-world wines. Perhaps the best of the bunch is Abingdon Vineyards, set right next to some of the most popular trails in the region. You can spend the day kayaking on the lake, or walking on the Virginia Creeper Trail, a corridor of arresting beauty, where the changing colors and crunch of leaves underfoot will leave you feeling inspired.

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

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USA, Virginia, Jefferson National Forest
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Stretching out across the Appalachian Mountains, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests consist of an unbelievable 1.66 million acres (647,500ha) with over 2,000mi (3,220km) of trails to hike. Over 40 species of tree transform with spectacular fall colors as the seasonal pendulum swings, providing a backdrop for an array of outdoor activities. If you want to go off-grid for kayaking, boating and fishing, this is the region.

Kiptopeke State Park

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At Kiptopeke State Park on Virginia’s Atlantic coast, the forest meets the crashing waves, offering rare beauty that’s hard to find in other state parks. With the sylvan spectacle set against the sound of the ocean, your ears are in for as much of a treat as your eyes. The park’s camping spots, especially the yurts, are a great choice if you’re seeking a few days of rugged comfort.

Shenandoah National Park

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View over the Shenandoah National Park with beautiful foliage in the Indian summer, Virginia, United States of America
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
About two hours north of Richmond, Shenandoah National Park begins to develop the deep colors of the fall season from September onwards – especially if you chart a course down Skyline Drive, which runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are many viewpoints down into the valley, as well as treks you can take on foot or horseback. Expect to see some serious wildlife, including white-tailed deer and more elusive black bears and bobcats, plus your fair share of waterfalls. The restaurants in the park, such as Pollock Dining Room and the view-blessed outdoor terrace at Big Meadows, are worth checking out, too.

Mabry Mill

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If you drive west out of Richmond for four hours, you eventually get to Mabry Mill, a simple, idyllic gristmill that represents rural Virginian life from the 1900s. Mabry Mill stands in a leafy location, so colors surround it as fall arrives, and the reflection of the sky and the mill on the pond evokes an Impressionist landscape. There are also exhibits where you can learn about what life was like over a century ago, as well as a restaurant where you can try anything from pancakes to pot roast in an erstwhile environment.

These recommendations were updated on September 9, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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