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Leaf Peep in these Shenandoah Valley Parks

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Fall in the Shenandoah Valley is nothing short of spectacular, especially as the trees transform from summer greens to the vibrant reds and golds of autumn. Fall’s breathtaking tapestry of colors can be enjoyed with scenic drives through Shenandoah National Park and the surrounding countryside as well as by visits to other Valley parks and trails. Are you ready to breathe in the crisp air and feel the rustle of leaves underfoot as you explore and connect with nature? Grab your camera, your hiking boots, and your favorite fall jacket. Here are some of our best parks and trails for leaf-peeping.

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Connect with Nature in Front Royal

Front Royal is known both for its location at the northern entrance to Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive as well as for being the “Canoe Capital of Virginia.” A beautiful place to visit at any time of the year, it’s especially lovely in autumn when the fall foliage decorates the trees. Take a drive or hike in SNP or float down the Shenandoah River to take in the fall colors from different perspectives. Front Royal Outdoors offers rental canoes and kayaks as well as self-guided tours. Another wonderful spot to observe the seasonal colors is in the 1,619-acre Shenandoah River State Park, which includes 5.2 miles of riverfrontage on the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Stop by the visitors center for a map of the 25+ miles of trails. Cullers Overlook is a good bet, offering wide views of the Valley, several bends of Shenandoah River, and Massanutten Mountain from the observation deck. An easy hiking, biking, and running trail leads to the overlook, but you can also drive right up to it.

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After your park adventure, head to the visitor center at 414 E. Main Street in historic downtown Front Royal for directions and tips on over 20 places to eat and drink as well as a guide to shopping. Each year, Front Royal holds a Festival of Leaves in mid-October. This year’s festival (October 13-14) celebrates the season with live music on three different stages, dancing in the streets, performers, food trucks, a beer garden, vendors, and lots of stuff for kids to do.

Hike the Appalachian Trail in Clarke County

The Appalachian Trail may stretch from Maine to Georgia, but some of the best sections are right here in Virginia, and you can explore them as day hikes. Have 45 minutes? Try the 1.6-mile Bear’s Den Park Trail. This out-and-back adventure climbs 285 feet and includes a rock scramble and incredible panoramic views of the Northern Shenandoah Valley and the Allegheny Mountains. Look for old-growth trees, Civil War graffiti (the rocks once served as a signal station), and veins of quartz through the rock. This hike is good for families with young kids, and leashed dogs are welcome. There’s even an outhouse at the top if nature calls.

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6-mile Raven’s Rock Trail’s steep ridges and elevation gain of 1,535 feet present more of a challenge. Committed hikers can reach a summit with commanding views of the Valley to the south and west. Hiking boots and trekking poles will aid in multiple stream and rock crossings. After your hike, relax with a glass of wine and a snack at Veramar Vineyard or Twin Oaks Tavern Winery. History buffs should head to the village of Millwood to learn the history of milling at Burwell-Morgan Mill, one of the oldest grist mills in the country. Nearby, the Locke Store “modern country store and deli” strives to support local agriculture and community, and The Buttery serves up farm-to-table food, cocktails, craft beer, and wine. If you’re not finished having fun, drive to Berryville for shopping and the fall flavors you’ll find in the hard ciders from Wild Hare Cidery and Macintosh Fruit Farm. Still hungry? Homespun serves craft hot dogs and hand-dipped ice cream, and you won’t be able to resist the selection of cookies and cupcakes at Sweet Elephant Bake Shop.

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Explore Rockbridge County’s Natural Wonder

Natural Bridge State Park is truly spectacular during the peak of the autumn season. The iconic 215-foot tall limestone arch is framed by the colors in the surrounding trees. Take in the crisp air as you explore more than ten miles of hiking trails, including the Cedar Creek Trail that leads you under the majestic bridge to Lace Falls, and the Skyline Trail with its views of the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains. Look for glimpses of wildlife, play a round of disc golf on the Thistle Ridge course, and let the kids explore the Kids in Parks Track Trail and the interactive art, music, and creative elements at the Children’s Discovery Area. You’ll also want to return on a Tuesday night, not only for the leaves but also to see the spectacular night sky. This International Dark Sky Park provides self-guided tours and ranger-guided events.

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Consider booking a Natural Bridge Two-Night Adventure Package from the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center. This includes a stay and breakfast at the hotel as well as admission to Natural Bridge Park and nearby family-friendly Caverns at Natural Bridge and Dinosaur Kingdom II. Take the kids on a tour of the Virginia Safari Park and wind down with brews and views at Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery. The Pink Cadillac Diner serves up comfort food against a background of classic 50s decor. Visitors to the nearby charming town of Lexington can find history, culture, shopping, and more dining.  

Whether you’re exploring the enchanting trails of Shenandoah National Park, sipping craft beer or warm cider at local orchards, or simply soaking in the beauty of this season, the Shenandoah Valley offers an unforgettable fall experience. Don’t miss the chance to soak up nature’s most vibrant display: plan your visit today!

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