Get outside! From daytrips to weekend escapes, your guide to fall in the great outdoors

Ravens Roost Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo: Visit VA. Ravens Roost Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo: Visit VA.

By Meg Irvin and Joe Bargmann

Okay, so the thermometer’s still hitting 90 with alarming regularity, but as we roll into October, those gorgeous, cool fall days are bound to arrive soon (right?). And when they do, we’ll be outside. Whether your favorite fall activity is mountain biking, trail running, or just taking in the autumn leaves with a good local beer in hand, we’ve got suggestions on where to go for a blissful few hours or a weekend escape. Get moving!

Mountain biking

Day trip: Located on 571 acres in Albemarle County, Preddy Creek Trail Park offers 10 miles to ride. A recent addition to the park is an advanced area developed with seasoned riders in mind. Walnut Creek Park is another popular local option for those looking to spend a few hours on the trail.

Overnighter: About 90 minutes west of Charlottesville, Douthat State Park has more than 40 miles of trails with beautiful scenery of the Allegheny Mountains. Cyclists who like a challenge will enjoy the three-mile Blue Suck Falls trail, where the reward of a waterfall awaits. • Where to stay: Rustic cabins and campsites—some with a view of the 50-acre Douthat Lake—are available within the state park. More luxe accommodations near Douthat include the Omni Homestead Resort and The Inn at Gristmill Square.

Weekend excursion: Shawn Tevendale, owner of Blue Ridge Cyclery, says Stokesville near Mount Solon, just an hour’s drive from Charlottesville, is “the place to be” for a weekend. Online reviewers call it “a dream come true” and “cyclist heaven.” Visitors love Stokesville for its access to hundreds of miles of trails and attractive scenery. • Where to stay: The Stokesville Campground has it all: cabins, RV hookups, and rustic wooded sites. A cushy option is the Fort Lewis Lodge, in Millboro, which draws outdoor-sports enthusiasts of all stripes, including the fly-fishing set.

Indian Summer Guide Service. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

Horseback riding

Day trip: Horseback riding along the vineyard vines—sounds pretty magical, right? Indian Summer Guide Service offers rides at local wineries including Veritas, King Family, Glass House, and Keswick, as well as custom country rides to other locations. Most of the guided tours last one to two hours and cost $125 to $200 per person.

Overnighter: In Bath County, the four-star Omni Homestead Resort has a stable with approximately 50 horses and an equestrian center that’s open from 10am to 4pm daily. Non-registered guests can make same-day reservations for guided rides of 30 minutes to two hours on Allegheny Mountains trails. If you’re going to splurge on a stay here, you might as well go all out with a stellar meal. Try Snead’s 1912 Steak on Main Street in Hot Springs for dinner, and the decadent brunch in the Omni’s main dining room.

Weekend excursion: What doesn’t Graves Mountain Lodge offer lovers of the outdoors? Horseback riding, biking, hiking, family-style meals, and the opportunity to unplug are all part of the allure. Guided horseback tours can be booked for an hour ($40 per person) or a full day, with lunch on the trail ($220 per person). With over 100 miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park and on private land through streams, woodlands, and open fields, there is no shortage of natural beauty to take in. Graves Mountain is only about 40 miles from Charlottesville, but worlds away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. • Where to stay: the Graves Mountain Lodge, of course!

Food & drink festivals

Day trip: Take the hour-long drive from Charlottesville to Raphine on October 19 for the Wade’s Mill Apple Butter Festival. Visitors can try their hand at making apple butter the old-fashioned way, with the stir of a paddle, and enjoy live music, fresh Wade’s Mill bread, BBQ, and warm fruit cobbler.

Overnighter: On the website for Urbanna—a charming town about a two-hour drive east of Charlottesville—you’ll see comments like “more boats than folks” and “laid back.” We’ve been there, and we concur, but it’s not necessarily a sleepy place. The area is well known for the annual Urbanna Oyster Festival (November 1-2), where goodness on the halfshell abounds. Not a festival-goer? Merroir: A Tasting Room overlooking the Rappahannock River in Topping, is open year-round, with a menu of oyster-centric small plates, craft brews, and wines. •  Where to stay: In nearby Irivington, The Hope and Glory Inn is a converted 1890 schoolhouse with 12 cozy rooms and cottages, and the classic, waterside Tides Inn resort is a favorite among families and couples.

Photo courtesy Fire, Flour & Fork.

Weekend excursion: Richmond’s Fire, Flour & Fork (October 31–November 3) was recognized as one of the top three food festivals in the nation last year. Event highlights include Smoke on the Water, a barbecue feast featuring 15 chefs on a site overlooking the James River at Tredegar Iron Works. The festival will keep you busy, but if you want some time away, stroll or cycle across the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, which provides a great view of the city. Head to Carytown for the vibrant food scene (we can vouch for The Industrial sandwich at Coppola’s Deli) and funky retail spots, like the Mongrel gift shop and Clementine, a consignment store. • Where to stay: The One Bed & Breakfast is convenient to the food festival, and the minimal, modern Quirk Hotel downtown is another very good option.

Road and trail running

Day trip: Albemarle County is home to some great running routes, made all the better in the fall by the colorful scenery. About 10 miles northwest of town, Ridge Road offers four miles of packed gravel, a serene setting, and a few hills to get your heart rate up. Head out Barracks Road (which becomes Garth Road) past the Foxfield steeplechase track, and you’ll soon reach Ridge Road (Route 678). Park alongside Garth. • Further from town, tranquil and historic Green Springs has about 20 miles of soft-surface roads that lead past 19th-century farmsteads and homes. To get there take I-64 to exit 136, follow US 15 north for about two miles to East Green Springs Road (Route 617), and head east for another two miles. Park at the beautiful chapel—and you’re off! • After your run, a pig out at the BBQ Exchange, in nearby Gordonsville, may be in order.

Overnighter: The flat terrain of the Outer Banks, a four- to five-hour drive from Charlottesville, makes for smooth running in the off season. In Avon, North Carolina, the packed sand at the water’s edge is an obvious choice to jog a few miles, but locals also hoof it on the streets of Kinnakeet, the neighborhood that bears Avon’s original name. That’s the site of the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation Positively Pink 5K, which starts at noon on October 12 and is followed by a small festival with food, drinks, and live music. ($30. Visit and search for “HICF 5K.”) • Where to stay: Beachy Airbnb cottages abound in Avon, while up the road in Nag’s Head you’ll find the upscale Oasis Suites Hotel.

Weekend excursion: Blacksburg is a serious runners town—and a seriously fun place to visit in the fall. The Huckleberry Trail follows a former railroad and was recently extended to 11 miles, with 12-foot-wide paved surfaces, new infrastructure including a 500-yard boardwalk over wetlands, and points of interest like Coal Mining Heritage Park. Locals also swear by the Gateway Trail to Jacob’s Ladder to Snakeroot Loop Trail, more than seven miles through wildflower-studded pastures. Craft beer fans can plan their trip to include the Blacksburg Brew Do (Saturday, October 26), with 50-plus labels on tap, music, food, and more. • Where to stay: We’ve heard good things about The Main Street Inn, a historic brick boutique hotel downtown, and the Inn at Virginia Tech, a 147-room luxury hotel on campus.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak


Day trip: Virginia’s 3,500 miles of streams include 2,900 with wild trout and 600 that are stocked. Fly-fishing anglers after native brook trout need look no further than the waterways of Shenandoah National Park, including North Fork Moormans River, a couple of miles north of Crozet. If spinning reels are more your speed, head to the 845-acre trophy fishery Briery Creek Lake, an hour-plus drive south of town near Farmville. Crappie and double-digit bass await in an idyllic setting. (For fishing-license information, see • Celebrate your catch in town with a down-home meal—barbecue, mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers, tacos, and fried stuff—at The Fishin’ Pig.

Overnighter: Our fishing insider says Lake Moomaw, in Covington, “is easily the most beautiful lake in Virginia and has great shoreline camping.” With 2,350 surface acres and a maximum depth of 150 feet, it has been stocked annually for decades. Brown and rainbow trout, small- and largemouth bass, catfish up to 20 pounds (!!!), and feisty chain pickerel are there for the taking. Camp if you like, or head 10 miles east to Clifton Forge’s Hillcrest Mansion Inn, a plush alternative to a tent.

Weekender: What’s better for a fishing fanatic than surf-casting in the fall? Not much, really. Hatteras Island, a barrier island on the Outer Banks, is comprised of seven villages with angler-friendly beaches and piers. Fishing competitions are a tradition here, and the 11th Annual Red Drum Tournament (October 23-26) is a doozy, with a top prize of $3,000. Visit the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association ( to register and plan your trip.

Leaf peeping

Google “leaf peeping” and you’ll find everything from maps forecasting the precise timeline for the changing colors to road-trip itineraries specific to the hobby. Around here, you
don’t have to go far to see orange, yellow, and red painting a beautiful landscape along the Blue Ridge. Here are a few of our favorite spots:

UVA’s Pratt ginkgo. Photo: Dan Addison

Overlooks and trails

Climb Humpback Rock, and get rewarded with a 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail near Lyndhurst is rated as moderate: The hike itself is just two miles out-and-back, but it is also steep, so you’ll have to work for your leaf-spotting. • Want the scenery without the effort? Ravens Roost Overlook, also in Lyndhurst, is
a quick car ride away. It’s just right for a picnic with a stunning vista.

Breweries, wineries, and cideries

Locals and out-of-towners alike flock to Afton’s Blue Mountain Brewery for the flights, pizza, and outdoor seating with a view of the mountains in a setting that is both Fido- and family-friendly. • A visit to Nellysford’s Bold Rock Hard Cider is a fall bucket list item. Outdoor space behind what the Bold Rock team calls the “chapel of apple” offers breathing room for groups and a sweet-looking backdrop.
• There’s a reason North Garden’s Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards photographs so well—the setting really is picture-perfect, a primo place to revel in the changing of the seasons while admiring the mountains and sipping some vino.

Around town

Carter Mountain Orchard can be a madhouse in the fall, as the masses flock there for apple picking and those delicious donuts. We suggest taking advantage of your local status and enjoy the orchard during the week for a more relaxing experience. Apples, cider, and one of the best views overlooking Charlottesville await.
• National rankings of the most beautiful college campuses often include UVA. One reason is the Lawn, the centerpiece of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village, which also happens to be a relaxing place to spend a
fall afternoon. You’ll be surrounded by students tossing footballs or reading beneath the reds and yellows of the ash and maple trees. Bring a blanket. Take a nap. • Situated above Piedmont Place in Crozet, The Rooftop restaurant was designed with views in mind. Thanks to the lofty vantage point, guests here
can take in nature and a delicious meal. Go at sunset when the light hits the mountains just right.

Family outings

For many families, autumn marks the return of regularly scheduled programming, with the long days of summer in the rearview mirror. Whether you have toddlers, tweens,
or teenagers, the outings below—half- or full-day commitments—are good options to get outside with the kids.

Photo: Ron Paris

Montpelier Hunt Races

Mark your calendar for the November 2 Montpelier Hunt Races at James Madison’s home. The gates open at 9am and tailgating is encouraged. Jack Russell Terrier races kick off the day at 10:30am; horse races typically run from 12:30-4:30pm. General admission tickets are $20 and parking $30, but kids 12 and under enter for free. • Why the kids will love it: Little ones from 2-11 years old can get in on the fun with stick-horse races on the big track. (540) 672-0014.

Massanutten Fall Festival

If you like the hurly-burly of a big crowd (5,000 people attended last year), the Massanutten Fall Festival is for you. On October 12, the scenic mountain resort one hour north of Charlottesville puts on a party featuring live music, craft brews, food trucks, and—for the kids—outdoor games and activities, including chairlift rides. (540) 289-4952.

Pumpkin picking and a corn maze  at Liberty Mills Farm

A 30-minute drive from Charlottesville will get you to Liberty Mills Farm in Somerset, the famed location of Virginia’s largest corn maze (33 acres!) and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Admission to the maze is $10 on weekdays or $12 on weekends, and free for kids 4 and under. It’s worth noting that children under 16 need to be accompanied by an adult who’s 21 or older. • Why the kids will love it: Because this whole thing, including the horse-drawn wagon rides, is designed for them. Pumpkin-spice ice cream, anyone? 882-6293,

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Visit VA

A walk on the beach

After Labor Day beach towns get quieter, hotel rates drop, and cool weather sweeps in. Activities abound, with festivals to attend and restaurants to try. But sometimes simple is best, and nothing beats a stroll along the water or a few hours of reading in a chair on the sand, especially if you can wear that cozy new sweater you just bought.

Virginia Beach has a population of over 400,000, and while it gets a little less crowded post-summer, it doesn’t exactly grind to a halt. Restaurants like Waterman’s Surfside Grille and Chick’s Oyster Bar, crowded during the summer months, often have less of a wait in the fall and winter. Spend a few hours at The Shack on Atlantic Avenue, with games, outdoor bars, and fire pits that all make the place feel like an outdoor retreat. Stay at the recently renovated Cavalier Hotel on the oceanfront or snag a beach rental on sites like VRBO or HomeAway. We recommend the North End, where there’s often more flexibility for shorter stays.

Cape Charles used to be a charming, sleepy beach town on the Eastern Shore, but the secret is out, and beachgoers have been descending on the small town in Northampton County to enjoy the bay, area restaurants, and the town’s friendly vibe. Beach weather can stretch well into November. Grab a bite at The Shanty seafood joint, or pizza at Dead Rise Pies. Room reservations at the Northampton Hotel or Hotel Cape Charles will guarantee you’re within walking distance of everything this charming town has to offer.

Chincoteague, on an island along the Eastern Shore, offers natural beauty unspoiled by high-rise hotels and big crowds. See the famed Chincoteague Wild Ponies at the 14,000-acre Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and sweeten up your day with a visit to Island Creamery, serving freshly churned ice cream since 1975. The town is known for its excellent local oysters; check out the annual Chincoteague Oyster Festival, on October 19.

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