Fall foliage in Virginia is simply amazing! Just 1 to 3 hours drive from Washington DC and you’ll feel like you are in another world surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, and even alpacas!
We just took a road trip from Washington DC all the way down to Lexington, VA. Although it was not quite peak fall foliage yet in Virginia, we still had an amazing time visiting these hidden gems in VA!
PEAK FALL FOLIAGE IN VIRGINIA
I usually use the fall foliage map from SmokeyMountains to determine when peak foliage is going to be. But unfortunately, this map led me astray this year. It predicted peak fall foliage in the areas of Virginia we visited to be the week of October 12.
But it was wrong!
We were about 1 to 2 weeks too early. I think I figured out the problem though. The SmokeyMountain Map determines peak foliage based on when the highest elevations will hit their peak color.
When you visit mountains you want a beautiful valley of color BELOW your elevation. So I would say peak color for the places we visited like Shenandoah and Blue Ridge are about 1-2 weeks AFTER the prediction on SmokeyMountains’ map. Map available here.
The map from the Virginia Department of Forestry also predicted the peak to be from October 15 to 25. I would say If you are planning a trip through Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia for fall foliage I would plan for later rather than earlier, so around the 3rd or 4th week of October would be your best bet.
Access the map here.
WHERE TO SEE FALL COLOR IN VIRGINIA
Though I specifically planned out these activities for fall foliage in Virginia, I knew I might be wrong about peak color timing, and I was!! LOL
So I planned activities that would be amazing at any time of year! From stunning waterfalls to hugging alpacas our 4-day weekend trip to Virginia from Washington DC was epic!
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK SKYLINE DRIVE
We started our fall road trip with a drive through Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive.
Skyline Drive is 105 miles long with 75 overlooks along the way that do not require any hiking! Yup enjoy all the beauty with very little hiking.
The best part is if you happen to live in Washington DC the most northern entrance to Skyline Drive is just about 1.5 hours from the city. If you live in Northern Virginia it’s even closer, just hop on 66 and drive toward Front Royal.
For Maryland Residents, it’s also about a 1.5-hour drive to the first entrance to Skyline Drive in Virginia.
I still remember coming doing Skyline Drive as a kid and going to Luray Caverns! Because we live so close we just did a day trip.
Originally I planned to do all of the Skyline Drive, but we started late and only made it to the Swift Run Gap Entrance from Front Royal.
Honestly, that was quite enough for us. After a bit, all the overlooks start to look the same!
Skyline Drive Entrance Fees, Hours & Location
Skyline Drive in Virginia is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. We actually drove here at night once to watch the comets during summer.
There are 4 entrances to Skyline Drive:
- Front Royal Entrance Station near Rt. 66 and 340
- Thornton Gap Entrance Station at Rt. 211
- Swift Run Gap Entrance Station at Rt. 33
- Rockfish Gap Entrance Station at Rt. 64 and Rt. 250 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway).
It’s $30 per vehicle to enter the park via any of the entrances above. Once you’ve paid your pass is good for 7 consecutive days.
We entered at night once though and all the gates were open with no fees.
My favorite viewpoints?
Definitely Mary’s Tunnel and Hazel Mountain!
NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK
We checked out Natural Bridge State Park on our first full day in Lexington Virginia, it was only 20 minutes away.
This hidden gem is amazing! The 215-foot tall Natural Bridge is a limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Creek after a billion years!
On google maps the bridge is about a ¼ mile walk, but it really felt much shorter. You enter behind the visitor center, walk down a pretty steep set of stairs, and pay at the booth to enter.
Right past the entrance you will see the huge bridge!
Originally I had not intended on hiking the Cedar Creek trail all the way to Lace Falls since we had young children with us, but we decided to do the whole hike which is about 2 miles round trip. It’s a really easy hike mostly flat on gravel so it’s very family-friendly.
You will also pass Monacan Village on the way, but it’s closed at the moment because of the pandemic.
As much as skyline drive was a disappointment for fall color in Virginia, we managed to find some pretty fall color in Natural Bridge State Park.
We went Friday about mid-morning and the park was not crowded at all. By the time we left there were maybe just a few more people.
WALK AN ALPACA AT AN ALPACA FARM
So while researching the trip, I found that there are a bunch of alpaca farms in Virginia! Apparently, there’s over 100!
The most popular farm for visiting seems to be Smith Mountain Lake Farm according to the google reviews. But of course, I usually dig deeper to find the MOST UNIQUE EXPERIENCE!
Which was Point of View Alpacas where you can walk your own alpaca!
Yes, you get your very own alpaca to walk!!
The entire experience is so intimate and the husband and wife team that run this operation is amazing! Dave and Teri are so knowledgeable about the alpacas and offer the best experience.
This is also an amazing family-friendly activity! We had 4 kids with us and they all loved it. We had mostly young kids with us so while they didn’t get to walk their own alpaca they walked alongside the grown-ups.
We had 2 families and each family got an alpaca.
Honestly, this might have been the highlight of our trip since we had not seen that many fall leaves so far.
It’s $30 to walk an alpaca and $10 for anyone walking without an alpaca. Kids under 10 are free.
This whole experience was so personalized because we were the only ones in our group, with Dave being our guide.
So instead of a crowded farm at Smith Mountain Lake Farm where we would only be feeding and taking a picture with alpacas, we had so much more time with the alpacas at Point of View.
More info here if you want to book a walk with an alpaca at Point of View Alpacas.
FALLING SPRING FALLS IN VIRGINIA
After our alpaca adventure, we headed to another attraction in Virginia high on my bucket list, Falling Spring Falls.
Falling Springs Falls is an 80′ waterfall that is one of the most visited and photographed spots in the Alleghany Highland in Virginia. There’s no hiking required for the viewpoint and parking is right next to the waterfall and across from it.
I actually find the waterfall a bit disappointing. Having been to Iceland I was expecting it to be bigger and more impressive, especially since it took us 1.5 hours to drive here from Point of View Alpacas.
The highlight though, we did get to see some pretty fall foliage on the drive into George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. There’s actually a nice viewpoint just south of the waterfall on Hot Springs Road, Rt 220.
GREAT VALLEY FARM BREWERY & WINERY
The Lexington Virginia area is full of vineyards, wineries, and breweries!
We actually found one just 15 minutes north of where we were staying, but unfortunately, it closed at 4:30pm.
But fortunately, we found Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery. This vineyard is amazing and open until 8 pm on weekends.
It is the best spot for sunset! And a great way to end a day of hiking and exploring around Virginia.
The wines and beer were all really good! Much better than what we had a Springfield Manor.
There’s lots of outdoor seating, but you can also bring your own blanket and set it out on their lawn overlooking mountains and the vineyard.
Parking was a bit difficult here because it’s quite busy on the weekend, but we managed to find a spot on the hill.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY IN VIRGINIA FOR FALL FOLIAGE
After living in Washington DC I’ve never driven through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. This mountain extends all the way into North Carolina, but STARTS in Virginia!
On the drive back from our fall foliage adventure in Virginia, we took the Blue Ridge Parkway northward and finally found the most amazing fall foliage!
Though the valleys below were mostly still green, the Parkway itself had beautiful fall color! This was also 4 days after we started the trip.
There are a few points in the drive where I was just floored by the views! And at one point I was a bit scared because there were huge drop-offs on both sides of us!
From Lexington, we entered Blue Ridge Parkway through Humpfrey’s Gap and headed north.
There were several stops we missed because there were no signs. And they may not have been real stops because the overlook was just a grassy patch with no railing or designated parking.
Our favorite views where there was parking were 21 Mile Overlook and Ravens Roost. Both were absolutely stunning and 100 times BETTER than the Shenandoah viewpoints on Skyline Drive!!
I had planned to drive through the lower part of Shenandoah on the way back, but after Raven’s Roost, I didn’t feel the need to see more!
SHENANDOAH RIVER STATE PARK IN VIRGINIA
We did however make one more stop after Blue Ridge Parkway. And that was at Shenandoah River State Park!
This park is not Shenandoah National Park, it’s a Virginia State Park and about 1.5 miles outside of DC. It boasts amazing views of the Shenandoah River.
The park is open from 8 am to dusk, so you can catch a great sunset here. There’s normally a $7 fee for weekdays and $10 fee for weekends for each vehicle, but we got here around 5:30 pm and there was no one at the gate.
We didn’t hike here but just went to Culler’s Overlook to see the river. The parking is right at the overlook and it has the best view of the river.