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  • Writer's pictureKris Maria Wanders

Best Fall Hikes in Virginia to See Foliage

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Fall always has a tendency to arrive before we know it. One minute, we’re soaking up the last bit of summer, and the next thing we know, the leaves are changing! That glorious fall color doesn’t stick around for long, so make sure you have your leaf-peeping plan ready!

Not sure where to go for the best Virginia foliage viewing? I’ve got you! I’m sharing all of my favorite fall hikes in Virginia to catch that glorious fall color. There’s no place quite like the Blue Ridge Mountains to witness the leaves change. With such a variety of trees turning shades of yellow, orange and red, it’s a magical display you have to experience!


A few things first before you head out…

While it’s hard to predict peak color, there are a few general rules of thumb. At higher elevations (3,500 ft+) throughout the state, the leaves begin changing as soon as late September/early October. Trees at mid to lower elevations gradually follow suit, with peak foliage hitting sometime near late October/early November. You can find a fall foliage prediction map for the state from Virginia Tourism. You can also find maps online for areas like the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. Click HERE for my in-depth fall guide to Shenandoah National Park! Many places provide a weekly foliage report to show how things are looking in different parts of the state. Shenandoah even has live footage to monitor the foliage!


Fall color in Shenandoah National Park


It’s no surprise that Virginia’s incredible fall beauty draws many spectators, so it’s important to remember your patience! Expect popular parks and roadways like the Blue Ridge Parkway to be busy and potentially have wait times or slow traffic. To avoid being in a rush, plan out your hikes and road trip stops in advance and give yourself enough time to really enjoy them! More importantly, remember to be kind and respectful to fellow visitors wherever you end up.


Ok, let’s get to it! Here are the best fall hikes in Virginia for fall color, including my favorite routes and other nearby activities! (Get the exact routes and locations by searching these on AllTrails)


1. Best Fall Hikes in Roanoke, VA

In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and right off the Appalachian Trail, Roanoke is a great place to experience fall in Virginia. The Virginia Triple Crown (McAfee Knob, Dragon's Tooth and Tinker Cliffs) is spectacular during this time! You can either backpack the entire 35 mile loop or Rachel each hole individually.


If you aren’t as into hiking, or you need to throw in a rest day, take a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway! There are so many incredible overlooks to stop and enjoy the colors from.

Other great spots in and near Roanoke include Natural Bridge State Park, Sharp Top and Flat Top Mountains (2 of 3 Peaks of Otter), Apple Orchard Falls and Carvins Cove.


McAfee Knob

-7.8 miles out and back

-1,811 ft

-Rated moderate


McAfee Knob

Dragon's Tooth

-4.5 miles out and back

-1,256 ft

-Rated hard


Dragon's Tooth

2. Best Fall Hikes in Shenandoah National Park, VA

Shenandoah is one of my favorites places in VA to hike in the fall! There are literally SO MANY options. Luckily, I’ve spent many years hiking Shenandoah in all different seasons, so I’m going to share my favorite trails for fall foliage. Check out this post for all the best hikes and things to do on your fall trip to Shenandoah National Park!

Mary’s Rock

Via the Appalachian Trail (Northern Approach)

-3.4 miles out and back

-1,2010 ft

-Rated moderate


Via Pinnacle Picnic Grounds (my favorite)

-6.6 miles out and back

-1,391 ft

-Rated moderate


Mary's Rock

Stony Man Mountain

Little Stony Man Loop Via the Appalachian Trail (my favorite)

-3.3 mile loop

-807 feet

-Rated moderate


Stony Man (summit) Via Appalachian Trail

-1.5 miles out and back

-318 ft

-Rated easy


Stony Man Mountain

Dark Hollow Falls

-1.4 miles out and back

-564 ft

-Rated moderate


Dark Hollow Falls

Little Devils Stairs

-5.6 miles

-1,492 ft

-Rated hard


Little Devils Stairs

Cedar Run Falls

White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop

-9 miles

-2,372 ft

-Rated hard


Via Lower White Oak Parking area

-About 4 miles out and back

-roughly 1,000 ft

-Hard


Cedar Run Falls

Compton Peak

(Via the AT)

-2.3 miles out and back

-705 ft

-Rated moderate


Compton Peak

Hawksbill Mountain

(Loop Trail)

-2.7 mile loop

-748 ft

-Rated moderate


Hawksbill Mountain

Lewis Falls

(via Lewis Spring)

-1.8 miles out and back

-639 ft

-Rated moderate


Lewis Falls

Hightop Peak

-3 miles out and back

-912 ft

-Rated moderate


Hightop Peak

Bearfence Mountain

-1 mile loop

-242 ft (with a rock scramble)

-Rated moderate


Bearfence Mountain

Be sure to stop at Skyland after you hike for a piece of blackberry pie! You can also check out the Taproom at Big Meadows Lodge!


Not feeling a hike? You can also view the colors from any of the overlooks along Skyline Drive. There are at least 70 different ones, so I recommend researching which ones you plan to stop at if you’re short on time!

3. Best Fall Hikes in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Parallel to Shenandoah National Park is a 1.8 million acre National Forest that affords just as great of views with a fraction of the crowds. Some of the hikes in the North like Big Schloss, Little Schloss and Tibbet Knob have gotten more popular over the years (for good reason!), but there are plenty of less traveled trails to choose from too. Two of my favorites are Strickler Knob (which has a fun rock scramble- hence the “hard” rating), and Halfmoon Mountain. We've rarely seen more than a few people on these trails.


Some other cool hikes I love here, but don’t have fall photos of, include Kennedy Peak and Duncan Knob.


Big Schloss

(via Wolf Gap Trail)

-4.3 miles out and back

-1,046 ft

-Rated moderate


Big Schloss

Strickler Knob

-5.4 miles out and back

-980 ft

-Rated hard (due to rock scrambling)

Strickler Knob

Halfmoon Mountain

-6.6 miles out and back

-1,236 ft

-Rated moderate


Halfmoon Mountain

4. Best Fall Hikes in Bluemont, VA

This area may not have quite the mountains vistas that Roanoke or Shenandoah do, but don’t count it out for a fall visit! Bluemont happens to be Virginia’s wine region and also hosts part of the Appalachian Trail. There are some great AT hikes here that range in difficulty, so there’s something for everyone! Then, you can stop at one of many wineries afterward. If you like beer, definitely check out Bear Chase Brewing. Perched on a hill overlooking the valley, the beer and the views are great!

Have the whole family or new to hiking? Opt for Bear’s Den- a short, easy, 1.5 mile out and back hike (300 ft elevation gain) on the AT. It leads to a beautiful overlook of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. It’s West-facing, so sunset is excellent here!


Bear's Den

Need something a little more challenging? Check out Buzzard Hill. This forested hike is a hidden gem. It often gets overlooked for other trails nearby, but it boasts a waterfall (slight detour) in addition to an overlook (though it's difficult to see the views when the trees are full).

-3.5 miles out and back

-730 ft elevation

Buzzard Hill

Last, but not least- Raven Rocks. At 6 miles (round trip) and 1,500 ft elevation gain, this is the most challenging of the three hikes mentioned. The view at the top is insane in the fall, so it’s well worth the effort. Plus, the beer will taste better after!

Raven Rocks

5. Best Fall Hikes in Shenandoah River State Park

This state park in Bentonville, VA is near the Northern entrance of Shenandoah National Park, and a great alternative if the National Park entry lines are long. The trails are less intense, but the views are still great! At least 5 miles of trail goes right along the river, and you can’t miss Everett Cullers Overlook! If the weather is still decent, another great activity to experience the foliage is from the river. Grab a kayak to paddle the day away, and snag a camping spot if you’d like to stay a while!

After you’re done exploring, the Apple House in Front Royal is a MUST! They have delicious BBQ, beer on tap, and the home made apple cider donuts are to die for!


Everett Cullers Overlook

Apple cider donuts from The Apple House

6. Best Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia

There are plenty of great places just outside of Washington DC to catch the fall foliage. NOVA is the perfect option for those who don’t want to drive very far. One of the closest options is Great Falls Park in Mclean, VA. I like to wander the River Trail and then loop back on Difficult Run for a 4ish mile jaunt. Nearby Great Falls Park are plenty of other gems like Scott's Run and Turkey Run that feature small, but beautiful waterfalls. Just off of 95 near the Quantico area are several beautiful state parks. Mason Neck State Park and Prince William Forest Park are two of my favorites close to DC, but there are several more to explore!


When I’m running low on time, or I just want a gentle stroll, I love heading to Reston to walk one of the lakes. Lake Thoreau loop has some incredible fall views, especially in the morning!


Lake Thoreau

Great Falls Park from Difficult Run

-4.1 mile loop

-393 ft

-Rated moderate

River Trail at Great Falls Park

Scott's Run River Trail

-1.4 miles out and back

-147 ft

-Rated easy

Scott's Run

Turkey Run and Potomac Heritage Trail

-3.8 mile loop

-403 ft

-Rated hard (not sure why)

Turkey Run

I hope this has been helpful! As always, let me know if you have any questions. Come find me on Instagram for more outdoor adventures in Virginia, and happy exploring!

-Kris



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