The first motorway in the country designed purely for recreational purposes, the parkway weaves through six different mountain ranges and four massive national forests first following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and then snaking through the Black Mountains, the Great Craggy Mountains, the Pisgahs, and the Balsam Mountains before arriving at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains.
Stringing together some of the wildest spaces in the East, the 469-mile motorway also showcases some of the most spectacular fall colors in the country as the richly biodiverse forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains blush with autumn color.
How to catch peak fall color
In terms of flora and fauna, the southern Appalachian Mountains are incredibly rich. More than 100 different species of trees can be found in the forested peaks flanking the parkway meaning the fall colors are guaranteed to be spectacular. The seasonal transition typically begins in October but several factors can delay or extend the autumn display. And with elevations topping out above 6,000 feet along the Blue Ridge Parkway seasonal color varies by location with the transition beginning at higher elevations and spreading downslope.
For road-trippers, the parkway has eight developed campgrounds offering both tent sites and RV sites with fire rings and picnic tables. For campers, amenities include potable water and bathroom facilities at the Julian Price Campground and the Mount Pisgah Campground also offers hot showers. All eight of the parkway’s campgrounds are open seasonally from early May through the end of October. For backpackers, there are also three hike-in backcountry campgrounds scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway—Rock Castle Gorge, Basin Cove, and Johns River Road.
There are also two year-round lodges situated along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In Virginia, the Peaks of Otter Lodge is situated along the parkway in southwest Virginia (MP 86). Named for the trio of peaks overlooking the town of Bedford all of the lodge’s rooms have views of Abbott Lake and Sharp Top (and dog-friendly rooms are available, too). The lakeside lodge also offers an attached restaurant and bar along with a gift shop stocked with trail snacks, guidebooks, and locally sourced artisanal products.
In North Carolina, the Pisgah Inn (MP 408) is open from the beginning of April through the end of October. Perched on the flanks of Mount Pisgah at an elevation of 5,000 feet the alpine inn presides over the massive Pisgah National Forest. To help guests savor the sweeping vista each room features attached porches complete with lounge-worthy rocking chairs. The inn also offers a formal dining room (open to the public for lunch) and a café with easy-to-grab meals and snacks.
For late fall and winter travelers, the parkway also provides access to a handful of state parks with year-round accommodation options. In Virginia, just west of Buena Vista, Douthat State Park has cabins for rent and a campground open year-round along with more than 40 miles of hiking trails. Further south in North Carolina, the campground at Stone Mountain State Park is open year-round and offers sites for both tents and RVs. And for hardy backpackers, North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain State Park has 13 hike-in backcountry campsites.
For hikers, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 360 miles of trails offering everything from leisurely nature walks to lengthy rambles through parcels of roadless wilderness. And for leaf-peepers, there are several superb foliage hikes. In Virginia, the 2,193-mile Appalachian Trail traces the path of the parkway for just over 100 miles beginning at Rockfish Gap (MP 0). In North Carolina, the state’s 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail also crisscrosses the parkway between the Folk Art Center (MP 382) and Mount Pisgah (MP 408).
At the northern end of the parkway in Virginia, Humpback Rocks (MP 5.8) is among the scenic highlights. Perched at 3,080 feet, the craggy outcrop presides over the northern section of the parkway providing expansive views encompassing the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys to the west and the pastoral Virginia Piedmont to the east—although the mile climb to the craggy pinnacle includes 700 feet of elevation gain.
Further south, the three-mile out-and-back hike to the 3,875-foot summit of Sharp Top (MP 85.9) serves up 360-degree views of the Peaks of Otter portion of the parkway with the Shenandoah Valley to the east and the Allegheny Mountains silhouetted against the horizon to the west.
In North Carolina, Mount Pisgah is supremely positioned for fall foliage views. After the 1.3-mile climb to Mount Pisgah’s 5,721-foot summit, hikers are rewarded with an eyeful of the Black Mountains to the north and the rugged Shining Rock Wilderness to the west.
Closer to the parkway’s southern terminus at the eastern edge of the Great Balsam Range, the grassy summit of Black Balsam Knob also treats trekkers to a jaw-dropping panorama. The 6,214-foot peak is a prototypical southern Appalachian bald meaning Black Balsam Knob’s treeless summit dishes up 360-degree views extending to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Fall is also an ideal time to spot wildlife along the parkway. Along the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina resident, elk are particularly active. Once prevalent throughout the Appalachian Mountains elk disappeared from the southeastern United States in the mid-1800s after populations dwindled due to overhunting and loss of habitat.
Elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park between 2001 and 2002 and now the brawny ungulates roam the southernmost section of the parkway in Western North Carolina typically gathering in the Cataloochee Valley. And during the fall, the region’s resident elk begin their mating season also called the rut with males bugling, sparring, and strutting ostentatiously to attract females.
Black bears are also active along the parkway during the fall. While the bruins do hunker down for portions of the winter in the Southeast they don’t entirely hibernate and if seasonal temperatures are mild the black bears will remain active year-round. However, fall is a strategic time to spot the opportunistic eaters gorging on calorie-dense nuts and berries along the parkway in preparation for the leaner days of winter.
Autumn is also a spectacular time for birders along the Blue Ridge Parkway. From early September through the end of November the lofty ridgelines of the southern Appalachian Mountains become a superhighway for birds migrating south to warmer climes for the winter especially birds of prey including a diversity of hawks, eagles, kestrels, and falcons.
There are a number of hawk-watching spots scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway designated by the Hawk Migration Association of America including Rockfish Gap (milepost 0) and Harvey’s Knob (MP 95.3) in Virginia and Grandfather Mountain (MP 305) in North Carolina.
I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.
The Park encompasses more than 1,600 acres of Blue Ridge beauty
Virginia Route 340 between Front Royal and Luray is perhaps one of the more underrated scenic drives in the state. And as more and more RVers and outdoor adventurers are discovering one of the best places to get out of the car and adventure in that scenery is Shenandoah River State Park (also known as Andy Guest State Park).
As many great outdoor spots are, it can be a bit easy to miss. Driving south on 340 from Front Royal, go about eight miles and the park entrance is on your right. Admission for a vehicle is $10.
The Park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. The park opened in June 1999. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east.
A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Twelve riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure. Expansive views of the river and valley can be seen from high points along the trails.
The visitor center features native wildlife and has touch-screens on display to educate about park history and local birds. There is also an aquarium. Outside the visitor center, there are several picnic tables, an overlook, a koi pond, and a nature garden. The center’s gift shop sells snacks and souvenirs.
Wildlife watching opportunities in the park are diverse and range from the herons, waterfowl, and otter on the river to the white-tailed deer, black bear, scarlet tanager, and other neotropical migrants of the forest. Overhead, almost anything might appear from osprey and bald eagle fishing the river to broad-winged hawk and American kestrel. While moving from the river into the forest, search blooming wildflowers for butterflies such as eastern tiger and spicebush swallowtails, hackberry emperor, and a variety of skippers, sulfurs, and whites.
The park offers car-top access in the day-use area located 3.2 miles downstream from the Bentonville access area. The “fish trap” access area near Shelter 3 is suitable for wade fishing. Freshwater fishing is available for those with a Virginia freshwater fishing license. The park does not rent boats. There are three car-top launches and two outfitters within five minutes of the park.
Smallmouth bass fishing especially in spring will give anglers all the action they want. While popular tales of catching “100 fish in a day” are probably a thing of the past, the Shenandoah River is still a very good bass fishery.
Some of the trails lead into deep woods and sightings of wildlife such as deer, turkeys, and the occasional black bear are not at all uncommon. Ask for the trail map where you pay your entry fee to choose from various trail lengths and degrees of difficulty.
Adventure races—such as the Shenandoah Strong where competitors have 12 hours to traverse 50 miles of terrain by foot, bike, and kayak/canoe—lie partially within the park as well as George Washington National Forest.
There are over 24 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails that criss-cross Shenandoah River State Park. You can enjoy both river and mountain views. The trail network offers a wide range of fun, easy and family-friendly trails as well as more moderately difficult routes.
Nearly 20 named hiking trails allow visitors to traipse all across the park. At 5.4 miles, the teal-blazed Bear Bottom Loop Trail is the longest park trail.
It’s a cinch to cobble together a few trails to create a fantastic day hike. It’s also easy to return again and again and not complete the same hike twice.
Camping is available year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and 20/30/50-amp electric hookups suitable for tents, popups, and RVs up to 60 feet in length. More than half of the sites have shade. The shaded camp sites are 1-18 while sites 19-31 are in full sun. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers and a coin-operated laundry. Sites have steel fire-rings for cooking and campfires, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in, and five are pull-through. Firewood can be purchased on-site for $6 per bundle. The family campground is a short walk from two river access points (for fishing, not for swimming or paddling), as well as the Campground Trail.
In addition to the family campground, there is a primitive campground for tents-only on the north side of the park that has 12 canoe-in or walk-in sites. All camp sites offer shade and require a walk on gravel path from the parking lot. There are wagons at the entrance to help transport gear to your site.
At the back of the Right, River Campground is a group campground that can accommodate up to 30 people.
Reservations can be made on line or by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275). All sites are specifically reserved.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, numerous ranger-led interpretive programs are offered for park visitors. Topics vary widely but include outdoor photography, fishing, butterflies, astronomy, birding, and wetland walks. Shenandoah River State Park also offers a variety of kid-friendly programs including Feeding Time, as well as Skulls, Tracks and Scats. Both ranger-led programs educate about animals found in the park. Most programs are offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Shenandoah River State Park is a good central location for the area’s many activities. Caverns and caves such as Shenandoah Caverns and Luray Caverns make good activities for rainy days. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive are a short distance away making for a great day trip. The area is also famous for its many vineyards.
Colonial Williamsburg is the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous settlement in the New World
The restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s dominant outpost in the New World, Colonial Williamsburg interprets the cultural establishment of America in the years before and during the American Revolution. The story of Colonial Williamsburg’s revolutionary city tells how diverse peoples evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality.
The world’s largest living history museum—with more than 40 sites and trades and two world-class art museums—is full of participatory experiences. Stop by Raleigh Tavern and see the “Revealing the Priceless” exhibition highlighting efforts to tell the story of Williamsburg’s 18th-century enslaved children, women, and men. Take part in a dig into the past. Tour the laboratories in The Wallace Collections and Conservation Building that examine and restore colonial artifacts. For the adventurous, sign up for axe throwing or learn how to fire a flintlock musket.
As someone who grew up attending services with my family every Sunday, I’ve always enjoyed visiting historic churches—especially when they represent a piece of history. The Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg is one of the country’s earliest African American congregations. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke here in 1962 inspiring the congregation’s participation in the civil rights movement.
Quench your thirst
Greater Williamsburg is home to a tasty mix of breweries, distilleries, and a winery. It offers a journey through the old and the new—and the exciting—ways of making beer, wine, and spirits. Check out the fun at relative newcomers like The Virginia Beer Co. or the Precarious Beer Project and old standards like The Williamsburg Winery and Alewerks Brewing Company. Leave the driving to others by taking a Drink Williamsburg tour. Cheers!
Find your outlet
You can’t return home empty-handed. Go shopping. Browse the more than 120 stores of Williamsburg Premium Outlets. Pick up bargains at Burberry, Calvin Klein, Nike, the Coach Outlet, Oakley, Ralph Lauren, L’Occitane, Swarovski, Waterford, and many others.
Williamsburg may be known for its colonial history but it’s also a fabulous spot for nature lovers. There are quiet waterways to explore, large parks to wander about in, and pastoral beauty all around.
If you’re interested in getting outside to experience the wildlife, Waller Mill Park is where birders can find everything from warblers to woodpeckers and osprey. It’s only $2 to park and several wonderful trails take you through stands of pine and hardwood including one that takes you to a fine lookout spot.
The park also features two closed-in dog runs, a disc golf course, a children’s playground, a playing field, and several types of boats to rent including pedal boats, canoes, kayaks, and row boats. Fishing fans can toss a line for largemouth bass, blue gill, white perch, catfish, and other species.
A trip along Island Loop Drive on Jamestown Island provides numerous opportunities to get up close and personal with nature. It’s a short drive (there are two loops; the longest is about 20 minutes) that takes you over pretty marshes and lovely, curving, wooden bridges.
Take a leisurely drive or bike ride along the scenic 23-mile Colonial Parkway that provides a physical and metaphorical link between Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Scenic driving, interpretive pull-offs, biking, and fishing are available along this National Scenic Byway. You’ll pass plenty of quiet ponds and skirt along both the James and York Rivers giving you a great chance to spot hawks, herons, and other big birds.
Take a tour standing in place
Head to Yorktown and hop on a Segway with Patriot Tours for a one- or two-hour tour covering the waterfront and historic Main Street. Riding a Segway is easier than you think. Lean forward, imagine you are moving, and—presto—you are.
America’s Historic Triangle
Of course, a visit to the area isn’t complete without visiting all the historic sites it’s known for. Must-sees include the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield (where the American Revolution was won), Jamestown Settlement (where America’s first permanent English colony comes to life), and Colonial Williamsburg (the world’s largest living history museum depicting life in the 18th century).
Three places in Virginia can lay claim to where America was born. The first permanent English settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607. At Williamsburg, the ideas of independence and revolution took form. The siege of Yorktown in 1781 was the last major battle of the American Revolution. In this Historic Triangle, discover the history of the diverse people whose lives form the earliest chapters of America’s story. Experience the past and discover commemorative events, educational programming, and entertainment all in one place. Colonial Williamsburg has a Historic Triangle ticket so that you can save when you explore all three places.
Discover the world of the settlers who established the first permanent British settlement in the New World at Historic Jamestowne, a National Park Service and Preservation Virginia site. There you can talk with archaeologists about their excavations on the exact site of the first permanent colony in America, experience the first democratic assembly, and visit the Archaearium, a museum that houses some of the two million artifacts uncovered since the Jamestown Rediscovery Project began in 1994.
For another view of the time, visit Jamestown Settlement and watch 1607: A Nation Takes Root, explore artifact-filled exhibit galleries, climb aboard replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, visit re-creations of a Powhatan Indian village, and walk through a re-creation of the original fort interacting with interpreters.
Explore Yorktown Battlefield, a National Park Service site. Then stroll through the 18th-century village of Yorktown. The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown tells the story of the nation’s founding through immersive indoor exhibition galleries and films and outdoor living-history experiences. It offers unique looks at the lives of everyday people overtaken by revolutionary events. Inside, nearly every attraction is interactive. Outside, there are old-fashioned interactive options. Drill in an Army encampment. Help fire artillery. Pick up a recipe from colonial cookbooks at the bakehouse. Tend to the crops at a 1780s colonial-era farm.
The Colonial Parkway is a 23-mile scenic roadway stretching from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown connecting Virginia’s Historic Triangle—Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
The truth is, I love history and studied it in college, with a particular focus on early American history. My love is so deep, in fact, I went to school at The College of William & Mary in Colonial Williamsburg.
All you need to know about trails, campgrounds, and mountain adventure
When mentioning Shenandoah National Park, visitors often get that faraway look in their eye fondly recalling adventures at this scenic mountain jewel rising high atop Virginia’s Appalachians.
What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive which runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail-side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that creates the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.
Shenandoah—the first of Virginia’s national parks—was dedicated on July 3, 1936. Cobbled together along the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Waynesboro, the long narrow preserve divides the beautiful Shenandoah Valley from the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park contains a wide array of flora and fauna as it rises from a mere 550 feet at its lowest elevation to over 4,049 feet at its highest atop Hawksbill. The park clocks in at 200,000 acres with over 500 miles of trails offering plenty of room to spread out and enjoy any type of outdoor adventure you can think up.
Located on the traditional lands of the Manahoac, Shenandoah’s mountains and valleys have long called to humans in some way or another. European colonizers arrived in the 1750s and throughout the rest of the 18th and 19th centuries, the area was farmed, logged, and mined. Some recognized the touristic value of the area, however, and conversation about building a nature reserve began in the early 20th century. Eventually, the land was seized via eminent domain (a move that displaced hundreds of families that lived there), and the park was established in 1935 built and maintained by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).
When the park first opened, nearly a third of it had been cleared by logging, farming, and tree blight. Today, mature forests have grown atop of these scars and a profusion of wildlife make their homes in and beneath the canopy: black bears, bobcats, migratory birds, amphibians such as the endangered Shenandoah Salamander, and more.
Scenic Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains starting in the north at Front Royal to Waynesboro where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Skyline Drive is Shenandoah National Park’s linear conduit with 75 overlooks connecting travelers to all the major visitor centers, campgrounds, lodges, picnic areas, and most trailheads. Concrete posts numbered every mile keep you apprised of your whereabouts.
Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurels.
Front Royal to Thornton Gap
Driving Distance: 31.5 miles
This most northerly section winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to the historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (Milepost 4.6). Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (Milepost 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. At Mathews Arm Campground (Milepost 22.2) numerous hikes are available from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (Milepost 24.0). Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (Milepost 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.
Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap
Driving distance: 34 miles
The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—the highest park elevation, the highest point on Skyline Drive, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too.
Hike to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (Milepost 33.5). Pinnacles Overlook (Milepost 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area. Hike to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak from Milepost 46.7. The next must-stop is Big Meadows (Milepost 51.0) which includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.
Consider camping at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (Milepost 57.5). The pull-through and back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. It offers a more serene experience than Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit the 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (Milepost 62.8).
Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap
Driving Distance: 40 miles
The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area.
The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District. Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap, you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (Milepost 71.2) where boulder fields known as talus slopes are exposed. The Loft Mountain area is found at Milepost 79.5. A side road takes you to appealing Loft Mountain Campground which also offers showers.
Entrances to Skyline Drive:
Front Royal at US-340
Thornton Gap at US-211
Swift Run Gap at US-33
Rockfish Gap at I- 64 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway)
Shenandoah is a hiker’s paradise—trails lined with wildflowers, mushrooms, and berry bushes weave and dip through valleys and across peaks delivering full-sensory journeys through lush forests of red oak, chestnut, maple, and yellow poplar trees.
The wild and less seen side of Shenandoah awaits those who leave Skyline Drive behind and take to their feet. The rewards increase with every footfall beneath the stately oaks to rocky vista points and into deep canyons where waterfalls roar among old-growth trees spared by the logger’s axe. In other places, your footsteps lead to Shenandoah’s pioneer past. Discover both the human and natural history of Shenandoah.
Check out the staircase of cascades that run along Dark Hollow Falls Trail (1.4-mile loop), take in the views from Shenandoah’s tallest peak on the Hawksbill Loop (3-mile loop), or find Lewis Falls tucked away on the side of the mountain behind Big Meadows (3.3-mile loop).
Long-distance hikers won’t be bored here either because 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) runs through Shenandoah—follow the famous trail for maximum mileage gains and access to many shorter trails along the way. Besides the AT, perhaps the most well-known long hike is the Old Rag Circuit, a 9.4-mile loop that takes you up to the rocky peak of its namesake mountain via a steep climb and some rock scrambling; you’ll need a day pass ticket.
Camping and Campgrounds
Skyline Driver runs 105 miles along the crest of Shenandoah’s the Blue Ridge Mountains and given the slow speed limit on Skyline Drive (35 mph) plus the 70+ scenic stop-offs it can take you hours to get from one end of the park to the other. Pick your campground strategically—you’ll want to stay relatively close to the trails you plan to hike if you don’t fancy a lengthy drive to get there.
When it comes to developed campgrounds, Mathews Arm Campground is your best bet in the north end of Shenandoah. Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are the most centrally located campgrounds and they give you quick access to some of the most popular sites in the park like Dark Hollows Trail and the Byrd Visitor Center and camp store. Loft Mountain, the largest campground in the park is the only one south of US 33. Book your campsite several months in advance via the NPS system—things fill up quickly in peak summer and fall seasons.
Location: Milepost 22.2
Elevation: 2,920 feet
The hilly campground has first come, first served and reserved sites most of which are shaded. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and a tow vehicle. No electric or water hookups. Campground has potable water spigots and a dump station. The higher elevation keeps it a good 10 degrees cooler than the Shenandoah Valley below.
Elevation 3,480 feet
Big Meadows Campground is near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the Park with three waterfalls and Big Meadows within walking distance. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. No electric or water hookups. The campground has potable water spigots and a dump station.
Elevation 3,390 feet
This is the most centrally located of all Shenandoah’s campgrounds and the smallest. The 30-site locale offers first come, first served sites only. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. No electric or water hookups or dump station. The campground has potable water spigots.
Elevation 3,320 feet
Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in the Park. The campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to the east and west. Two waterfalls and numerous trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby. The Appalachian Trail circles around the campground highlighting the richness of hikes nearby. The hilly campground has first come, first served, and reserved sites. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. Note, however, that the low canopy and trees on some turns can present challenges for taller RVs. No electric or water hookups. The campground has potable water spigots and a dump station.
Top tips for planning the perfect trip to Shenandoah
From keeping safe to packing the right clothes here’s what you need to know before you go:
Respect the wildlife and be prepared for bears: Shenandoah is known for its above-average population of black bears so hike smart—make noise, bring bear spray, and use bear-resistant containers if you’re backpacking.
There are ways to avoid crowds: Shenandoah’s proximity to the nation’s capital means that crowds can get dense, particularly in the warmer months. Visit during the week for more solitude and hit the trails early to score parking and a quiet trail.
Pack for all weather and dress appropriately: Due to Shenandoah’s relatively high elevation in comparison to the surrounding areas, it’s not unusual for weather conditions to quickly change, be it fog, rain, or snow. Check the weather before you go out and bring layers to ward off moisture and chill from the cool mountain air.
It’s not free to visit Shenandoah: Like in most US national parks, you’ll either have to pay the $30 single car entry or opt for an annual pass. The entry fee does not include camping fees, which have recently been upped to $30/night in all developed campgrounds.
Size: 199,000 acres, 40 percent designated as wilderness
Established: May 22, 1926
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Park Elevation: 550 feet-4,049 feet
Park entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days
Speed Limit: 35 mph
Recreational visits (2021): 1,592,312
How the park got its name: The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning Daughter of the Stars. Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and many other things so the origin of the National Park name is unclear.
Iconic site in the park: A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is undoubtedly the most popular and the most difficult hike in the park. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But for those of you ready to take on the challenge, you will find yourself in the clouds. The circuit hike is about 9 miles with significant elevation change and strenuous rock scrambles. This hike takes 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—waiting in line to pass through scrambles is par for the course. Hitting Old Rag on a weekday and/or during off-season is a much more pleasing experience. As of March 1, 2022, those wishing to hike Old Rag are required to purchase a day-use ticket.
Accessible adventure: The Skyline Drive scenic byway is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road travels through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there.
Did you know?
Skyline Drive rides the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park and joins the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. As an aside, this is the same ridge that was walked by American Indians and early settlers of Virginia.
Shenandoah is without a doubt one of the coolest leaf-peeping spots in the United States when fall foliage changes color each year.
If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.
The annual festival takes place from July 19 to July 21
When you come home at night and flip on the lamp switch, do you ever stop to think about what you might be missing?
In 1880, less than 150 years ago, electric light first came to American cities. In 2017, roughly 80 percent of people in North America cannot see the Milky Way due to electric lights at night. In other words, our dark night skies often really aren’t all that dark. When was the last time you were able to experience the awe of seeing a sky full of stars? It can be easy to feel disconnected from or simply forget about the beauty and sheer vastness of the cosmos.
National parks are some of the best places to appreciate night skies because the National Park Service works to protect these places from the increasingly prevalent effects of light pollution. The National Park Service recognizes dark night skies as a valuable resource that needs to be protected.
National Parks are becoming a refuge for people from city light pollution. Dozens of national parks around the country have earned designations such as International Dark Sky Parks and Sanctuaries. These distinctions recognize “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment,” according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
Many of these parks have astronomy programs where people of all ages can learn more about the wonders of the night sky—and all of them have places to lay out a blanket and simply enjoy the darkness. Grand Canyon National Parks hosts an annual Star Party in June.
While Shenandoah National Park may not get as dark as some of the Parks in the West, its high elevation combined with its relative remoteness from dense urban areas makes the Park a great place to engage in stargazing on the east coast.
On moonless and cloud-free nights it is a wonderful spot to view the Milky Way or some of the 2,500 stars visible to the unaided eye that make up one of the 88 official constellations. Finding and observing constellations, phases of the moon, meteor showers, and eclipses can provide a sense of wonder about our place in the universe.
Starting in 2016 Shenandoah National Park began a Night Sky Festival, full of ranger programs and activities to help celebrate our disappearing dark skies.
Tips for Stargazing
A good place for stargazing in Shenandoah National Park is by the Big Meadows area near the Rapidan Fire Road. The amphitheater in the Skyland area is also appropriate.
Most people are a bit uncomfortable in the dark. Try getting used to it by walking outside in a dark area while keeping your flashlight in your pocket.
Allow your eyes time to adjust; it takes about twenty minutes for your eyes to become accustomed to the nighttime darkness. You may be surprised how well you can see by starlight.
Make a red flashlight or use one with a red LED. To make your own, use red paper or cellophane to cover the white light of the flashlight. Red light allows your eyes to adapt better to the darkness than white light while still providing visibility for safety.
Enjoying the night skies is for everyone, you don’t need expensive equipment. If you don’t have a telescope, grab your binoculars to get a better look at the fuzzy spots in the sky overhead. Also, use the binoculars to gaze upon the Milky Way.
Educate yourself on the constellations overhead with the use of a star chart or a star-finding app downloadable for your smartphone or tablet.
When venturing out to stargaze in the park make sure to bring a red flashlight to journey from your car to your destination. Be sure to dress in layers, as summer nights are often cool on the mountain ridge. Bring a blanket or a set of chairs to sit on.
Shenandoah National Park will conduct its sixth annual Night Sky Festival from August 19-21. Rangers and guest speakers will present a variety of programs at sites throughout the park focusing on space, celestial objects, nocturnal residents, and the importance of dark night skies.
Guest speakers presenting will include NASA Solar System Ambassador Greg Redfern and amateur astronomer Rich Drumm. These programs are sponsored by Delaware North, the park concessioner.
Other activities include special ranger-led talks, discussions, children’s activities, and telescope/night sky viewings. Programs will take place at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (Milepost 4.6), Mathews Arm Campground (Milepost 22.1), Skyland Amphitheater (Milepost 42.5), Byrd Visitor Center (Milepost 51), Big Meadows (Milepost 51), and Loft Mountain Amphitheater (Milepost 79.5).
All programs are free. No reservations are needed. However, park entrance fees apply ($30/vehicle, valid for 7 days). Participants should be weather-prepared and bring a flashlight with a red filter. The complete program schedule can be found on the park’s website.
I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.
Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working trades people, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous settlement in the New World.
Meet a Nation Builder like George Washington or Edith Cumbo and admire the craftsmanship of some of the best artisans in the world. Connect with your family over a horse-drawn carriage ride, world-class dining, and a Haunted Williamsburg ghost tour.
History of Williamsburg
The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.
Named Williamsburg in honor of England’s reigning monarch at the time, King William III, the colonial mecca also became a center of learning. The College of William and Mary founded in 1693 counts political leaders such as Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler as graduates.
During its time as the capital of Virginia, Williamsburg flourished as the hub of religious, economic, and social life in the state. A palatial Governor’s Palace was built as were markets, taverns, a theatre, a church (those living in the New World were required by law to worship in the Church of England), and countless homes. Market Square was the site of celebrations, festivals, fairs, contests, and even puppet shows; tradesmen, such as wig makers, tailors, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers, practiced their craft along Duke of Gloucester Street. Restaurants and taverns offered onion soup, ham, carrot and chicken dishes, pudding, and pie.
Here is an overview of the essentials for a visit to Williamsburg.
Governor’s Palace: Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth. Tours every 7-15 minutes
Raleigh Tavern: The Raleigh Tavern served as a critical stage for Virginia’s political ambitions amid intensifying debate about liberty, ultimately leading to our nation’s independence. Learn about different perspectives on the extraordinary events that took place here on tours offered every 20 minutes.
Wetherburn’s Tavern: Merriment and conviviality were specialties of the house at Wetherburn’s Tavern. Get a glimpse into the private lives of Henry Wetherburn, his family, and his slaves who made the tavern one of the most successful of the 1750s. The tavern and the dairy out back are both original buildings.
Everard House: Visit the home of Thomas Everard, a wealthy planter and civic leader. One of the oldest houses in Williamsburg, the Everard House is furnished with 18th-century antiques and was meticulously restored to its early appearance.
R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse: Step back into the time of the Stamp Act and learn about the fashionable world of the coffeehouse where Williamsburg’s citizens and visitors met to share news, transact business, and debate politics. Meet people of the past and converse over coffee, tea, or velvety chocolate prepared in the 18th-century style. Tours offered every 15-20 minutes.
Anderson Blacksmith Shop: The Revolutionary War wasn’t won through battles alone. Virginia desperately needed a new armory to keep pace with the might of British industry. Watch blacksmiths take red-hot iron from the fires of their forges and hammer it into a variety of tools, hardware, and weapons.
Brickyard: Discover the process of making bricks that will be used in building projects around town. During the summer, brickmakers mold and dry thousands of bricks. In the autumn, the bricks are baked in a giant wood-fired oven. Keep an eye out, too, for masons using these bricks in all sorts of projects around town.
Foundry: The Geddy family included gunsmiths, cutlers, founders, and silversmiths. On the site of their home and shop, watch founders cast and finish buckles, knobs, bells, spoons, and other objects in bronze, brass, pewter, and silver.
Guardhouse: The Magazine stands as a symbol of the Crown’s commitment to the common defense and the expansion of its empire. Visit the Guardhouse and discover how this military storehouse and Virginia’s diverse peoples shaped an empire and defined a new nation.
Gunsmith Shop: See how gunsmiths made rifles, pistols, and fowling pieces using the tools and techniques of their 18th-century predecessors and uniting many skills from forging iron to working wood.
Presbyterian Meetinghouse: In a time when only the Anglican Church was Virginia’s official religion, what did everyone else do on Sunday? Although Catholics and other non-Protestants were denied religious freedom, the government allowed many dissenting Protestants to worship in meetinghouses like this one.
Public Gaol: Thieves, runaway slaves, debtors, and political prisoners once paced the cells of the Public Gaol as they waited to be tried—or hanged. Perhaps its most notorious inmates were several pirates who had served under Blackbeard and were captured with him in 1718. Self-guided exploration of the cells where prisoners were held as they awaited trial and punishment.
Arboretum & Gardens: More than 30 maintained gardens dot the 301-acre living history museum. The collection features 25-period species of oak trees. The Arboretum is home to 20 Virginia state champion trees and two national champion trees—the jujube and the Paper Mulberry.
America’s Historic Triangle
A visit to Colonial Williamsburg isn’t complete without visiting all the historic sites the area is known for. Must-sees include the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield (where the American Revolution was won), and Jamestown Settlement (where America’s first permanent English colony came to life).
Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days a year. Most Historic Trades and Sites are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours, check out Evening Programs which run well into the evening. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Restaurant and store hours vary.
Admission tickets are required to enter buildings and experience programming in the Historic Area. With your ticket, enjoy interpreter-guided tours of the most iconic sites including the Capitol, Governor’s Palace, and Courthouse. Tradespeople work and share their craft in workspaces, gardens, yards, and at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
Your admission ticket also grants you access to multiple programs throughout the day on the Charlton and Play House stages as well as the newly expanded and updated Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg including stage programs and performances twice a day in the Hennage Auditorium. You’ll also be able to take advantage of a complimentary shuttle service and get seasonal discounts on carriage rides. Check the events calendar and seasonal activities pages to see what’s open and happening during your visit.
Colonial Williamsburg offers several admission options and special offers to customize your visit. Tickets and passes currently available include:
Single-day ticket ($46.99)
Multiday ticket ($56.99)
Annual pass ($74.99)
Art museums single-day ticket ($14.99)
America’s Historic Triangle ticket ($109.90)
The truth is, I love history and studied it in college with a particular focus on early American history. My love is so deep, in fact, I went to school at The College of William & Mary in Colonial Williamsburg.
Summer is the perfect time to hit the open road: School’s out, the weather’s warm, and the possibilities are endless
Don’t you just love when you are driving and see those welcome signs into states? There’s nothing like a summer road trip to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. Summer is the best time to hit the road and check some places off that bucket list. It’s your chance to feel that summer breeze, listen to good music, play fun road trip games, and watch road trip films. Sightsee across some of your favorite states both near and far!
In their Summer Travel Survey 2022, The Vacationer determined that 42 percent plan to travel more than last summer with nearly 51 percent flying on a plane and 80 percent on road trips.
Deciding to take a trip is the easy part, though. Picking a destination and affording everything you want to pack into your itinerary is harder. Fuel prices might be one thing to worry about, for example. They’ve been increasing this year with the national gas average hovering around $5 per gallon now ($5.80 for diesel). On top of that, you’ll need to consider accommodations, activities, and dining. All of these certainly contribute to the more than $751 billion we spend on leisure travel each year.
Wallet Hub curated a list of the best and worst states to take a summer road trip this year. Of course, Texas made the list. I’m not surprised! Wallet Hub compared all 50 states and key factors to determine the most fun, scenic, and affordable states to visit on a road trip. After the pandemic and current inflation, road trips are still the best way to still experience an enjoyable vacation with your favorite people. So load up the RV and hit the road! It’s time to see what states fall into the top 15 best states for a summer road trip.
To determine the best road-trip destinations for travel this summer, WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key dimensions: Costs, Safety, and Activities.
They evaluated those dimensions using 32 relevant metrics. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for summer road trips.
Metrics used to determine Costs include:
Average gas prices
Lowest price of camping
Cost of Living Index
Metrics used to determine Safety include:
Quality of roads
Quality of bridges
Car thefts per 1,000 residents
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents
Metrics used to determine Activities include:
Share of the total area designated as parkland
National parks recreation visitors per capita
Zoos and botanical gardens per capita
Number of attractions
Access to scenic byways
Historic sites per capita
The financial website then determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order their sample.
Taking the average gas prices metric, for example, Georgia came in with the lowest average prices followed by Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. At the high end, California and Nevada came in with the highest prices followed by Washington and Oregon.
When the points were tallied, New York came in No. 1 with a score of 58.01 and Minnesota followed with 57.56.
1. New York
Not only is there the city to enjoy but many places outside the Big Apple. Visit Niagara Falls, mountain views, The Catskills, historical spots, and more!
Hit the road to Minnesota. I know, maybe you did not know it would be No. 2! Take a scenic drive and view beautiful byways, waterfalls, and more.
Texas is absolutely it! One of my favorite to explore in an RV! Head to Texas and you could spend days driving through the entire state all you want. Stop in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and more. From the beach, to the cities, to the country side you will never run out of things to do and places to eat.
Go to Louisiana and it’s time to have fun! Visit the swamp on a swamp tour, factory tours, historical tours, Cajun Country, and much more.
Now, maybe you would have never guessed it? I surely did not. But head to Maine and experience national parks, cool loop highways, beaches, and more.
Oh, Ohio! Drive up North and visit Cedar Point Amusement Park, Put-In-Bay, Columbus Zoo, hiking trails, and more!
7. North Carolina
You read that right! NC is in the No. 7 spot for best summer road trips. If you’ve toured the Tar Heel State, I am sure you know why. Drive through the mountains, on the beach, through the cities, eat good, hike, shop, relax, this state has it all!
Hit the road in Idaho! Visit hiking trails, national recreation areas, and scenic byways while you’re there.
Hit the road and head to Florida. You might want to drive through the entire state but trust me; it will take you a while so you might as well pit stop while you’re there. Drop into Pensacola, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa area, Miami, Key West, and more!
If you drive to Wyoming for Yellowstone and Grand Teton, take some time to visit the Union Pass Monument, National Museum of Military Vehicles, Wild Horses, and more!
This is a good one, and another personal favorite! Visit the mountains, the lake, amusement parks, amazing shopping centers, state parks, great food, and more all throughout Georgia!
Drive across the country and visit Washington State this summer. You’ll see plenty of sites on the way, but once you are there enjoy views of Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Mount St. Helens, the Cascade Loop, San Juan Islands, and more!
Shenandoah National Park hugs the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering panoramic views and ample wildlife sightings
Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!
Shenandoah—Virginia’s first national park—was dedicated July 3, 1936. Cobbled together along the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Waynesboro, the long narrow preserve divides the proud Shenandoah Valley from the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park contains a wide array of flora and fauna as it rises from a mere 550 feet at its lowest elevation to over 4,049 feet at its highest atop Hawksbill.
The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders! Shenandoah is without a doubt one of the coolest leaf-peeping spots in the United States when fall foliage changes color each year.
Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.
There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:
Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness. And we drove this scenic byway all the way to the southern entrance, stopping by the numerous lookouts for different and unique views. Skyline Drive joins the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Drive is a worthy destination in its own right. As an aside, this is the same ridge that was walked by American Indians and early settlers of Virginia.
As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side of the road (right side if you are traveling south, left if you are heading north). These posts help you find your way through the Park and help you locate areas of interest. The miles begin at 0 in Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the Park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the Park, at mile 51.
The speed limit is 35 mph, so feel free to roll down your windows, feel the breeze, and experience every curve and turn of this beautiful drive that offers stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. Be sure you will clear Marys Rock Tunnel (mile 32.2), with a maximum clearance of 12 feet 8 inches.RVs, camping trailers, and horse trailers are welcome, but prepare to shift into low gear.
Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.
Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.
If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.
Check out these leaf-peeping tips for a spectacular fall visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway
Tens of thousands of people visit the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Georgia each year to see the beautiful fall foliage and autumn colors. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer one of the most colorful and longest-running fall leaf seasons in the world.
One of the many reasons for this is the varied elevations which show prime fall colors for more than a month. Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October and work their way down to the lower elevations in early November.
When will the Parkway leaves stop producing chlorophyll and change to their wardrobe of fall colors? If you’re wondering when the peak Blue Ridge Parkway Fall leaf season will be this year, you’re not alone. It’s usually in October which is often the busiest month along the Parkway. But there are many factors that influence the timing and intensity of the color including when and how much rain falls, how late in the season the sun shines with intense heat, and how cool the nights are. So your best bet to see peak autumn color is to incorporate as many of these elements into your trip as possible.
Elevation: Travel a longer section of the Parkway to see a variety of elevations. Leaves change color at higher, cooler elevations first. The elevation along the Parkway ranges from over 6,000 feet at Richland Balsam in North Carolina to just under 650 feet at the James River in Virginia. You can also continue into Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks on either end of the Parkway for additional opportunities to view fall color. Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the state high point of Tennessee and Mount Mitchell, located along the Parkway at Milepost 355 is the state high point for North Carolina and either would be a good choice.
Aspect: Which direction a slope face determines its temperature and the type of plants that grow there. Leaves change color first on cooler, wetter north-facing slopes and later on warmer, south-facing slopes. View a variety of aspects to see different plants and different phases of color change.
Distance: Since overlooks with distant views reveal a variety of elevations and aspects you are more likely to see leaf color. Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the state high point of Tennessee, and Mount Mitchell, with access at Parkway at Milepost 355, is the state high point for North Carolina; either would provide a long-distance view. But many Parkway overlooks also provide long-range views, so there are lots of options besides the tallest peak in the state.
The bottom line is, don’t expect to pick one spot on one day on the Parkway and see the perfect combination of colors—instead, travel a longer distance and you’re likely to meet all the criteria above and see a variety of stages of color change.
Here, then, is the general progression:
Leaves at the highest elevations (Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and Waterrock Knob) change from late September to early October
Mid-October provides good color along most of the Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park including Boone and Blowing Rock in North Carolina and Wytheville and Fancy Gap in Virginia
Next, the lower elevations provide good color (Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge, Nantahala Gorge, and Maggie Valley in North Carolina and Roanoke, Lynchburg, Lexington, Waynesboro, and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia)
The lowest elevations (Asheville, Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee, Gatlinburg, Chimney Rock, and Lake Lure) provide the final color display if the weather has cooperated and there are still leaves on the trees
2021 Fall Color Forecast for the Blue Ridge Parkway, by week
September 27-October 7: At the highest elevations, close to 6,000 feet there is some color but it’s often very spotty and muted. The views from these locations will be mostly green since the areas viewed are lower elevations. Areas that turn early in this date and elevation range include Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8) and Rough Ridge Trail (Milepost 302.8).
October 1-10: Peak time for areas above 5,000 feet. This would include Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2), and Graveyard fields (the first location on the Parkway to turn) and higher elevations of The Blue Ridge Parkway (between Asheville and Cherokee) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
October 10 – 20: Peak time for elevations from 4,000-5,000 feet. This would include almost all Blue Ridge Parkway locations and the majority of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well. Included in this elevation are the Boone and Blowing Rock areas.
October 18-26: Peak time for lower elevations, from 3,000-4,000 feet. This would include places like Pisgah National Forest which includes Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls, Dill Falls, Wildcat Falls, and many other waterfalls. Other areas include Linville Gorge (Milepost 316.4), Nantahala Gorge, Maggie Valley (Milepost 455.5), and Cataloochee Valley.
October 24-31: Peak time for elevations from 2,000 feet-3,000 feet. This would include The cities of Asheville, Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee, and many others. Places of interest include Dupont State Forest and Biltmore Estate, and Cades Cove.
October 26-November 8: Peak time for remaining elevations including Gatlinburg (Tennessee), Chimney Rock (North Carolina), and remaining lower elevation mountains. This includes Chimney Rock (State Park) as well, a great place to see fall color.
Please note: These timeframes are estimates based on prior years and current weather and soil conditions. Actual peak times may vary some from this forecast.
Information and Trip Planning
The Parkway’s unique features such as limited sight distances, blind curves, and elevation changes offer driving challenges, especially for recreational vehicles. Stay alert and watch for other motorists, wildlife, and bicyclists.
Camping: Be sure to make advance camping reservations. The Parkway’s eight campgrounds were built years ago and do not currently offer RV hookups. Most Parkway campgrounds have at least some sites that will accommodate sizeable recreational vehicles. There are many private campgrounds in communities available just off the Parkway with full RV hookups and amenities.
Tunnels: Know the height of your RV in comparison to the heights of the 26 tunnels along the Parkway. The top of each tunnel is curved with the maximum height above the center line and the minimum height at the road shoulder.
Parkway Detour: From May 2021 to spring 2022, a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Expect a closure by Roanoke due to a serious slope failure there. The National Park Service will be completing repairs on the Roanoke River Bridge at Milepost 114 and also repairing a road hazard at Milepost 127.9 that was caused by heavy rains and landslides. As a result, the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed from Milepost 112.2 (Route 24 near Vinton) to Milepost 136 (Route 221 on Bent Mountain) for through-travelers. You can take US 221 around the closure from Parkway Milepost 135.9 to Milepost 106 (about a 27-mile detour).
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular destination for vacationers who RV. Nothing beats a beautiful, wooded drive in your home-away-from-home!
Almost heaven, West Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River Life is old there, older than the trees Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze
Country roads, take me home Take me home, country roads.
A national historical park reveals the consequences of a divided country and the importance of reconciliation
On April 9, 1865, in the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, Gen. Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his army to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. It was the beginning of the end of the “war between the states” which tore the country apart for more than four years. During the conflict, at least 620,000 Americans died, more than in all of the country’s wars before and since. Another million were wounded.
Appomattox Court House located east of Lynchburg was little more than a cluster of buildings that spread across the Virginia Piedmont region. Like some other county seats at that time it was named after its courthouse.
The National Park Service has put together an impressive facility that includes indoor displays as well as a re-created town full of original buildings. The town appears very similar to what it looked like in 1865. The property pays tribute to both sides in the final days of the conflict.
In the center of the town is the rebuilt courthouse (the original burned down in 1892) which serves as the visitor’s center. A 15-minute film shown upstairs in the courthouse explains the final days of the war from both the Confederate and Union points of view.
War’s End in Sight
Historians remind us that Lee was not the only Confederate general leading troops and he did not represent the entire Confederacy when he surrendered. It wasn’t until May 5, 1865 that Confederate President Jefferson Davis dissolved his government. The official declaration that the war was won by the Union came more than a year later in August 1866.
But by late March 1865, Grant had put Lee’s army already plagued by desertion at a great disadvantage. Grant had cut off railroad lines that supplied food. The Battle of Five Forks which some call the Waterloo of the Confederacy was fought near Petersburg, Virginia, on April 1, 1865. Lee’s army was defeated and nearly a third of his men captured. After abandoning Petersburg, Lee’s men retreated to Amelia Court House where they hoped to meet a Confederate supply train. But no train arrived. By that point, the men had not eaten for 36 hours.
The Battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6 cost Lee another 7,700 men. Lee headed west to another supply train stop outside Appomattox Court House. But the train had been captured by Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and Maj. Gen. George Custer.
Yet another battle took place that evening near this site. Lee saw his supply lines cut off from the south, the James River to his north, and an army of starving men. He sent Grant a message requesting a meeting in the small village of Appomattox Court House.
On the second floor of the courthouse, a copy of a famous painting by Tom Lovell depicts the meeting between the two generals that took place at the McLean House just a short walk down the gravel road. In the home’s parlor on April 9, 1865, Lee and Grant met to discuss and sign surrender terms for the Army of Northern Virginia.
On that day, Lee arrived at the McLean home shortly after 1:00 p.m.; Grant followed 30 minutes later. Once they were in the parlor, Grant and Lee sat across from each other. Today, visitors can see authentic reproductions of the two small tables and chairs that sit about 10 feet apart.
It was decided that the terms of the surrender should be put in writing. Grant wrote out his terms in pencil and handed the paper to Lee for review. After reading the document, Lee made a few minor requests. Grant agreed to the changes. The final draft was put to ink and duplicates were made for each side. Once completed, each man signed the documents. Afterward, they shook hands and Lee left. The meeting lasted approximately an hour and a half.
A formal surrender ceremony, the stacking of the arms, took place on April 12. That gave the Union army time to print more than 28,000 parole passes that were distributed to the Confederate soldiers. Lee was concerned that his army would reject the surrender and engage in guerrilla warfare. As part of Grant’s terms, passes were printed to allow the men to return home, free from detention.
On that day, the Confederate soldiers walked up the hill between two lines of Union soldiers to lay down their arms for the last time. The place where guns were stacked, in front of what was then the Peers house was called “Surrender Triangle.”
On April 10, 1940, Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument was created by Park Service opened the McLean House to the public. The entire site which encompasses approximately 1,800 acres became a national historical park in 1954.
An interesting fact is that homeowner Wilmer McLean became wealthy as a sugar smuggler during the war selling the commodity to the Confederates. All of his gain was in Confederate currency; when the war ended, McLean lost everything.
Several other historic buildings on the expansive park grounds can be seen via a self-guided walking tour. Overall, more than two dozen structures have been restored and 31 others are awaiting restoration.
Inside the restored 1819 Clover Hill Tavern, you see a replica of the printing press used to create the parole passes for the Confederate soldiers. Built in 1819, it’s the oldest original structure in the museum.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is 25 miles east of Lynchburg, Virginia. Parking and admission are free. RV parking is available (no overnight parking). The visitor’s center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The war is over — the rebels are our countrymen again.
―Ulysses S. Grant, after stopping his men from cheering Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse