While the warm weather isn’t ideal for releasing the vivid foliage we all look forward to seeing, there are still places in Northern Virginia that will satisfy your leaf peeping adventure.

Pretty much, anywhere that’s heavily forested can provide delight, but the trick is timing. You don’t want to be surrounded by hundreds of cars sharing the same roads on the weekends and you want to see it before the wind or rains take hold. The ideal solution… if you can work it, take a day off during the week and head up to Shenandoah via Skyline Drive, or Harpers Ferry. If you can’t, don’t stress, I have some suggestions that are nearly as lovely, you can do on the weekend, and should keep you away from the crowds.

Photo by Christina Chee – Skyline Drive in Shenandoah

Timing is everything for the best fall colors

When it comes to timing, we can do our best to plan, but working with the effects of rapidly changing weather patterns can prove challenging. There are still tools that can be incredibly useful. The SmokyMountains.com website has a rockin’ interactive map projecting peak times throughout the country. According to their projections, we should be at peak in the North Western region of Virginia around October 26th. Once your plans are set, check traffic cams and weather before heading out. And don’t let a little drizzle scare you off. I’ve taken some of my best fall photos in conditions that many would find unfavorable.

Recommended drives and hikes to avoid the crowds:

Fall Hiking in Prince William and Fauquier

Prince William Forest Park:  Located in Triangle, VA. The ideal location for those of us in Northern Virginia who can’t turn leaf peeping explorations into an entire weekend away. Trails include the Piedmont Forest Trail (easy rubberized .2 mile loop) and Little Run Loop Trail (moderate .6 mile trail).

Roosevelt Island: Close to home, on the Potomac, and just outside of DC. Catch it early for a foggy morning and some dramatic effects. The easiest way to access is to come from DC (at the beginning of the 66). Cross over the bridge, but stay in the far right lane towards George Washington Parkway. Just as you are nearing the bottom of the transition ramp, slow down to turn right into the parking lot. If you’re on GW Pkwy, you’ve missed it.


Best Northern Virginia Drives

Feel like taking a carload of stir crazy kids? Opt for the shorter drive mixed with some get out and run around. Scenic Drive in the Prince William Forest Park fits the bill nicely. It’s located in Northern Virginia and it’s just the right amount of time together in the car.

Northern Virginia Countryside: This is a special route that my husband and I take when we want to test drive a car in various conditions. It just so happens to also be one of my favorite autumn countryside drives. This route generally takes us 2-3 hours, depending on how pokey we’re feeling and how often we stop. It’s a little tricky, but here goes…

Starting from Gilbert’s Corner on the 50, head towards Middleburg. Just at the end of Aldie, turn right on to Snickersville Pike towards Bluemont. Follow it all the way through and then take the 7 north, just a bit, up to Snickers Gap and get off at the 601. Turn left on Blue Ridge Mountain Rd towards Markham. Catch the 50 back down towards Paris for a short stretch then take the 17 towards Delaplane (again, just a short stretch) until you hit the 688. Turn right onto Leeds Manor Rd. Follow the 688 all the way through to Lee Highway in Warrenton. Turn left to take Lee Highway all the way back in to Gainsville. Now, grab something to eat and call it a day!

Interstate 81: Journey down Interstate 81 stopping in any number of quaint, historic towns along the way. Staunton, Harrisonburg, Lexington, and Natural Bridge, just to name a few. You just have to decide how far down you want to go. If you think Harrisonburg is far enough, take a drive into the George Washington National Forest and stop at Dan Ingalls Overlook just before the town of Hot Springs. Stop for some hiking or just take in the breathtaking views. When returning, scenic routes like the 11 to the 211 cut through Luray into Sperryville and give various vantage points of color for miles and never ending farms.

Late to the party? There is a patch of aspens a couple of miles in from the Front Royal entrance on Skyline Drive. They tend be the last ones out, providing a spectacle of dancing gold flakes swirling though the air as they sprinkle down. (List of species in Shenandoah)

For those of you who really like to geek out on data and trends, you can get your fill from what the Department of Forestry. They have put together a mind blowing array of everything you could ever want to know about this wondrous season on their site. Between this article, their data, and the Shenandoah web cam, you’ve got this!


Webcam view from Skyline Drive into the Shenandoah Valley.


Christina Chee

Christina Chee is a lifestyle and real estate consultant who loves to share insights that help others to live happy and empowered lives in Northern Virginia. Learn more about how you can make your Northern Virginia experience a great adventure — whether you’re new to the region or a life-long resident. Contact her here or visit www.virginialifestyles.com.