Every year, don’t you say to yourself THIS is the year I’m going to get out and enjoy the incomparable beauty that is autumn in Virginia? And well you should. After all, who better than you deserves an enjoyable scenic drive through the foliage, the opportunity to splurge on local food and beverage, and a chance to reconnect with your family.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Because many of these locations are seasonal, be sure to check their websites to make sure they’re still open on the weekend you intend to visit.
If you’re looking for photogenic foliage, then “ride the sky” along Skyline Drive—a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Over two million people visit the Skyline Drive each year. Since fall is the most popular time to travel, expect quite a bit of company on the highway. If you’re in a hurry, the Skyline Drive is not for you as the speed limit is only 35mph and is strictly enforced. Expect a non-stop drive to last at least three hours on a clear day. Traveling from one of the four entrances to the next exit takes about an hour, so plan on doing as many as your schedule allows.
If you plan on taking photos or just want to get out and stretch your legs, there are 75 overlooks on to the Blue Ridge where you can take in the beauty of colorful forests, farmlands and orchards on either side. Here’s a suggested 48-hour fall getaway!
Day One:Travel into Shenandoah Valley arriving at world famous Luray Caverns, a US Natural Landmark noted for the profuse variety of formation and unsurpassed natural color. Experience the history of America in the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum with over 140 original items dating from 1725. Children of all ages will have fun winding their way through the Garden Maze and visiting the rescue animals at the Luray Zoo.
Day Two: Take in the fall colors on a one-hour guided horseback ride departing from the Skyland Resort Stables or join a park ranger for a guided hike or interpretative program.
Travel the Blue Ridge Parkway
The entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at Rockfish Gap and follows a similar path as Skyline Drive along ridge tops. The Parkway was conceived and designed as a scenic motor road and conservator of the natural and historical treasures of the Blue Ridge. Today, it is the most visited site in the National Park system.
Known as “America’s Favorite Drive” the Blue Ridge Parkway winds through 29 counties and 469 miles of mountain meadows with endless vistas of mountains and valleys.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is very much a “drive awhile and stop awhile” experience. The Parkway was designed for leisurely motoring, so speed limits do not exceed 45mph. At the entrance to each of the recreational areas along the Parkway, you will find a large sign bearing the Parkway emblem. These areas have visitor centers, campgrounds, picnic areas, trails and, in many instances, concessionaire-operated lodges, restaurants, and other facilities. Unless otherwise posted, parking is permitted along road shoulders.
Short trails offer the chance to get away from the road and see the Blue Ridge without the hindrance of an automobile window. This can be very rewarding, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Longer trails are also available for the more adventurous.
Interpretive signs carrying the squirrel gun and powder horn symbol are at many overlooks and historic sites along the parkway, as are numbered mileposts. The zero milepost marker is at Rockfish Gap, immediately south of Shenandoah National Park, and each mile is numbered progressively southward on the Parkway.
Rangers and volunteers present a variety of interpretive programs through October. These are given on weekends and occasionally on weekdays. Activities include campfire talks, music and history demonstrations, nature walks and slide presentations. Schedules are posted at visitor centers, campground entrances and Parkway concessions.
Virginia is the only state through which both national bicycle routes, U.S. 1 and U.S. 76, pass. There are 838 miles of the two routes in Virginia, making it one of the favorite destinations of bicyclists.
Here’s another suggested 48-hour fall getaway!
- Day One:Head over to Afton where you will find Veritas Vineyard and Winery to see how they grow grapes and make wine, and then sit back on their sun-drenched deck and enjoy the vistas and wondrous beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The owners say their winery is “easy to find but hard to leave” but we suggest you find the strength to tear yourself away and go west over the mountains and to the beautiful town of Staunton. Known for its magnificently preserved architecture, Staunton is best explored by foot. Its compact downtown features over 100 unique shops, art galleries and restaurants. Stay overnight at one of Staunton’s nine Bed and Breakfasts housed within beautifully restored buildings, or at the 1929 Stonewall Jackson Hotel, recognized by The National Trust for Historic Preservation as Virginia’s first winner of the Great American Main Street Award.
- Day Two:After breakfast, drive I-64 east and pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway at Exit 99. Drive south, stopping where you wish for scenic overlooks and quick woodland hikes. Near Milepost 27 exit the Parkway and drive east on Rt. 56 to Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. This is one of Virginia’s most beautiful places and features a series of five major cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. Resume your drive eastward on Rt. 26 and northward on Rt. 151 to Wintergreen for lunch and then return to Staunton. You can unwind for a bit or visit the Frontier Culture Museum where you can see Europe and America’s past at four different historic farms moved from their country or origin and reconstructed at the museum site. Have a good dinner downtown and then take in a classic play at the American Shakespeare Center performing year round in the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s own indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Playhouse.
Fall Family Getaways
From parks to education, from mountains to main streets, your children will experience an autumn escape they’ll not soon forget. Got two days? Here’s a suggestion.
Day One: Stay at Massanutten Resort, a four-season mountain resort where you can enjoy, golf, an Indoor WaterPark, luxurious spa, mountain biking, fishing, hiking, and numerous other recreational opportunities. Take the day and explore the streets of Waynesboro that now cover the grounds of the Battle of Waynesborough Civil War trail sites. A highlight is the Plumb House Museum that was between the battle lines and is now home to many Civil War artifacts. As an option, you can always enjoy the many local hiking trails in this neck of the woods.
Day Two: Enjoy golf or horseback riding at Massanutten as you plan your excursion to nearby Harrisonburg. The endless trails in and around Harrisonburg provide breathtaking views, allowing you to soak in the fall foliage.
Visit the Harrisonburg Downtown Farmers Market; have a picnic at the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at James Madison University; or through November 7th take the family to Back Home on the Farm, featuring family adventures on the farm with corn maze in the fall, animal exhibits, 60 ft. slide, cow train and more
- Take a leisurely stroll down Main Street for shopping, museum visiting, and gallery hopping amidst the crisp autumn air. On your way out of town, make a stop at Showalter’s Orchard & Greenhouse where you can pick from over 20 varieties of apples to take home with you, grab a few other local gifts at the gift shop and then sneak into the Old Hill Cider tasting room, where you can taste freshly pressed sweet cider.
- Oh and if you’re football fans, score a few tickets to see the James Madison University Dukes play at the Bridgeforth Stadium. If you’re more into the arts, enjoy a live performance at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.
Wine and Dine Your Way Through Shenandoah County
Ideal for couples looking to spend a romantic weekend, Shenandoah County is home to breathtaking scenery, a vast array of outdoor recreation, rich history, unique shopping, diverse restaurants, and fabulous vineyards.
The fall is the optimum time to visit Virginia’s vineyards. Wine lovers will enjoy following Virginia’s numerous wine trails through quaint small towns and the picturesque countryside. Each trail has a unique theme, from history to music to regional interests, complete with wineries, local restaurants and overnight accommodations.
Many wine and harvest celebrations take place this time of year throughout the state. Some of them include The Fall Harvest and Leaf Peep Festival at DuCard Vineyards on Saturday, October 25 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Harvest Wine Dinner at DeFosse Vineyards and Winery in Faber is on November 1 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Celebrate the fall harvest at an elegantly prepared six-course dinner paired with six generous samplings of award winning wines. Cardinal Point Vineyard & Winery in Afton hosts its annual Oyster Roast on November 15-16 from noon to 5:00 p.m. The Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival at Poplar Forest in Forest will be held on Saturday, November 15 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This year’s festival will feature 15+ Virginia wineries, and Bill Barker will portray his alter ego, Thomas Jefferson. Enjoy a little history with your wine!
You can pack a lot into 48 hours in Shenandoah County.
Day One: Take a pleasant drive down the historical Old Valley Pike to Shenandoah Vineyards, located just outside of Edinburg. Housed in a red barn dating to the Civil War, the winery sits atop an old stone foundation that serves as the aging cellar. An upper story deck adjoining the barn offers a sweeping view of the mountains.
Day Two: Begin venturing down the county to a remote getaway where you can experience 58 acres of beautiful rolling land, covered with grapevines as they begin their annual bud break. You’re at The Winery at Kindred Pointe, located in Mount Jackson, with its tasting room in a converted modern horse barn that gives visitors a quaint experience you can’t receive anywhere else.
Fall travel is easy, with so many ready-made fall travel packages that include lodging, meals, activities and special extras. Break free for a weekend trip built around wine trails, historic downtowns, luxury resorts, national parks, or favorite fall festivals. For an endless supply of ideas for fall adventure, visit www.Virginia.org.
By Joanne DiMaggio