Best Places for Fall Colors in West Virginia & What to Do There
Fall is incredible in the Northeast, but the vibrant colors in West Virginia definitely give New England a run for its money! If you haven't been to West Virginia in the fall (or even at all), I'm here to put it on your bucket list. In 2022, I took a road trip all around Eastern West Virginia and witnessed the most vibrant foliage I've ever laid eyes on (and I've lived in the Eastern U.S. my entire life). Incredible, unreal, mesmerizing, are just a few words that come to mind when I think about how to describe it. Fall in West Virginia is magic when the already beautiful, rugged landscapes come alive with every shade of orange, red and yellow you can imagine. What's best is with most people flocking to New England, West Virginia remains relatively uncrowded. Between the charming mountain towns, untouched landscapes and quiet hiking trails, WV is an underrated fall destination you'll want to add to your bucket list asap! Here are my top spots in West Virginia for fall colors and what to do there for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Many of these are near each other, so you can combine several (or all) of these spots for the perfect fall road trip to West Virginia!
Fall Foliage Timing in West Virginia
At higher elevations (3,500 ft+) throughout the state, the leaves begin changing as soon as late September/early October. Spruce Knob (the highest point in the state) and surrounding areas around 4,000 feet will peak first (typically late September). Trees at mid to lower elevations gradually follow suit, with peak foliage hitting sometime near mid to late October. Of course, exact timing depends on several factors (like weather conditions), so be sure to check the WV Tourism live fall foliage map to help you plan the perfect adventure!
Best Places in West Virginia for Fall Colors
An outdoor lovers’ dream, Dolly Sods is the highest plateau east of the Mississippi River. It’s known for its remarkable variation in ecosystems and plant life reminiscent of what grows in eastern Canada. In the fall, this already incredible landscape puts on a magnificent display of reds, oranges and yellows. There are plenty of trails throughout Dolly Sods depending on what you're into. It's actually a popular place for backpacking, and there are a few common backpacking loops (e.g., Dolly Sods North Loop). If you do go that route, just be sure to do some research. Because it is so untouched and remote, the trails can be difficult to navigate. The Red Creek Campground is a great option if you want to camp. Also note that it gets VERY cold at night in the Sods due to the elevation. For those looking to do some day hiking, I love the Blackbird Knob Trail (mostly scenic- there is no view at the "Knob") and the Red Creek Trail, which is full of waterfalls. You can do a 14-ish mile loop by combining some other connecting trails. While I haven't been, I've heard great things about Lions Head Rock. I also highly recommend catching a sunrise at Bear Rocks Preserve (no hiking required)! It's said to be the best spot to see the sunrise in West Virginia!
Seneca Rocks and North Fork Mountain
Roughly 30 minutes drive from Bear Rocks Preserve (Northern Dolly Sods), you'll find North Fork Mountain. Due to the unique landscape, this is my favorite hike in all of WV! The exposed cliffs will have you wondering if you're really in West Virginia. It's an exceptional hike, but do be advised it is rated hard for a reason- mostly the elevation gain of nearly 2,000 feet. There is also a lot of scrambling over rocks to reach the summit (referred to as Chimney Top). My favorite place to go for post-hike food and drinks is Cheetah B's in Petersburg. It's a local hit, and their menu has everything you can think of- including the best quesadillas! Another popular (and more family-friendly) attraction in the area is Smokehole Caverns.
15 minutes down the road from North Fork Mountain, you’ll find the incredible rock formation that is Seneca Rocks. You will definitely want to add Seneca Rocks Trail to your fall hiking itinerary. The trail is a steep 1.5 miles up to a viewing platform at the top of the rocks, but it is so worth it. You can climb out onto the rocks at your own risk, just be careful. Even if you don’t hike to the top, the 900-ft jutting rock formation adorned with fall colors is a must-see. You can also explore the Discovery Center to learn about the fascinating history of Seneca Rocks. Make a stop at Yokum's Country Store!
About 40 minutes drive from Seneca Rocks is Spruce Knob- the highest point in the state at 4,863 feet. You can complete a long hike to the top via the Huckleberry Trail, or you can drive up and take the .5-mile Whispering Spruce Trail to the observation tower for sweeping fall views! Be advised, the road to Spruce Knob is a bit narrow and very windy.
Blackwater Falls State Park (Davis, WV)
Located in the Allegheny Mountains, Blackwater Falls State Park is home to many of the most photographed spots in WV…including the 57-foot Blackwater Falls! This park boasts some great family friendly hikes and viewpoints to experience fall colors. Some of my favorite trails here include the .4-mile overlook trail (or the .2-mile handicap accessible trail) to Blackwater Falls, the .5 mile out-and-back trail to Elakala Falls, and the .8 mile out-and-back trail to Lindy Point Observation deck. Lindy Point is a fantastic place to catch the sunset. You won't be alone, but there's room to spread out. If you're short on time, you can complete a series of short hikes, but you can connect many trails together for a longer jaunt.
There are also several waterfalls outside the park boundaries worth seeing. They are Albert Falls, Douglas Falls, and Kennedy Falls. If you have 4WD, you can take the dirt road most of the way with a very short hike to the falls. Douglas Falls is definitely my favorite! For those who aren't into hiking, a scenic drive through the park is worth your while. There are several overlooks you can drive right up to, including Pendleton Point. The views of the canyon and the Blackwater River are just incredible.
Right outside Blackwater Falls State Park are the charming Appalachian Mountain towns of Davis and Thomas. They both feature some unique local spots to cozy up and enjoy some fantastic Appalachian cuisine. There are breweries, distilleries, coffee shops, restaurants- everything you can think of! Stumptown Brewing in Davis is my personal favorite spot for brews, and I loved eating at Riverfront Wood Fired Pizza in Thomas. Just down the street is a the Purple Fiddle- a great spot for live music and drinks afterward! Milo's Cafe in Davis is a great breakfast option.
The most vibrant sea of fall colors I’ve ever laid eyes on was at Canaan Valley State Park! I opted for the scenic chair lift ride since I was short on time, and while I definitely needed a blanket on a cool fall day, it was such a great experience! Had I had time, I would have stopped at the bar for a beer after. There are also plenty of hiking trails (e.g., Table Rock) if you prefer a more active adventure. I stayed at the Canaan Valley Lodge for a few nights, as it’s centrally located to many of the places mentioned above, and I highly recommend it.
I could go on about Pocahontas County, WV forever. There are so many great places to enjoy the fall foliage, including some uniquely beautiful State Parks. A few favorites for gentle hikes (with big rewards) are Seneca State Forest, Beartown and Watoga. Seneca State Forest features Thorny Mountain Fire Tower, which can be viewed from the Fire Tower loop trail. I will note that the fire tower is actually an accommodation for overnight stays and is almost always booked, so you won't be able to go up to the top. If you ever get the chance to reserve a night there, I highly recommend it! Seneca Lake (also on the loop) is a small, but picturesque lake that you can kayak or canoe on. Beartown State Park is an absolute must-see in my opinion. The main attraction is a .5-mile boardwalk trail that winds through massive ancient rock formations. It's one of the coolest places I have ever been! I haven't actually set foot in Watoga State Park, but from what I can tell, the lake there is very scenic.
I have to recommend the Bog Trail in Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. With the elevation and acidic soil, cranberries and other unique plants can actually grow here. In the fall, the landscape turns the most gorgeous vibrant red! Just down the road is Falls of Hills Creek- it's a short (moderate hike) to a series of three beautiful waterfalls. Just note that to reach lower falls requires descending (and then climbing) a few hundred stairs. For something a little more relaxed, take in the fall colors by train along the Cass Scenic Railroad. This is also a cool state park that is absolutely packed with history!
What better place to take in the fall colors than America’s newest National Park!? This park offers everything from scenic drives to white water rafting, to hiking, rock climbing, to Ghost Towns, so there’s truly something for everyone! Whatever you do, don’t miss seeing the New River Gorge Bridge. One of the tallest bridges in the U.S., it is truly a spectacle, especially when it’s surrounded by fall colors. There are many great viewpoint of the bridge, including the Long Point and Endless Wall Trails (for the hikers) and Canyon Rim Visitors Center. Real thrill seekers can book a tour walk the catwalk under the bridge! Every October, there is an event called Bridge Day. It's a big festival where people gather and you can watch base jumpers jump off the bridge into the gorge! I haven't attended myself yet, but I will one day! The history buffs will enjoy visiting Thurmond- a once-thriving coal town that is now a ghost town.
There you have it! I hope you're ready to embark on an incredible fall road trip to West Virginia! As always, remember to follow all principles of Leave No Trace when exploring outdoors. Let’s help preserve these natural places for generations to come. Happy fall exploring!