2011 Fall Color Report


NPS/Ed Knepley

November 4, 2011

A wet heavy snow blanketed the park this past weekend causing many more leaves to fall, branches to snap, and even some trees to fall. The remaining color will be found in the lowest elevations of the park in the north and south districts. The weather forecast for this weekend is bright and sunny with highs in the 50s, so the weather is perfect for viewing lingering leaves in the park. Trees above approximately 2,000 feet have lost most, if not all, of their leaves.

Fall color in the park has turned to subtle shades of mostly browns and golds. Splashes of gold color continue to be seen along Skyline Drive in the many small saplings along the bank including sumac, oaks, locust, and sassafras. The trees offering the most color this week include gold tulip trees, hickories, and walnuts and various species of our brown and deep tan oaks. Soft green pines distinguish themselves against the deciduous trees and the snow that remains on the ground in some areas. Mountain laurel shrubs are easily seen throughout the woods in contrast to the white snow. The contrast of the remaining leaves, the soft evergreens, and the snow exude a dreamlike quality. Be sure to bring your camera this weekend to capture some outstanding scenes.

Wildflowers have gone to seed. Some milkweed seed pods still cling to their stalks which stand straight and tall like dark centurions protecting their white cottony stashes concealing dark brown seeds. Vine-like virgin's bower drape their silvery-white trellises over small shrubs and saplings still harboring their dark brown seeds.

As you drive along the crest of the ridge this weekend, you may see still-melting snow, especially on the east side of Skyline Drive. Hiking trails on the east side of the park are apt to be more wet than those on the west side. Trails in higher elevations may still be slushy. Wet leaves may make some trails slippery.

Be on the lookout this week for our normally shy American black bears. This time of the year they are most often seen either crossing Skyline Drive or balanced high in the tops of sturdy oak trees gathering acorns. Bears are on the move eating as much food as they can. They will build up a four-inch layer of fat which allows them to survive as they sleep the winter months away. Woodland creatures and plants alike prepare for their winter slumber, soon to come.

The park's seventy-five overlooks offer marvelous views of the Shenandoah Valley. Although peak color occurred last week in the Shenandoah Valley, scenic views remain; picturesque green patchwork fields surrounded by browns and golds lay on the valley floor. Beyond the valley looking westward from Skyline Drive, view deep blue mountains and eastward, the wide Piedmont Plateau. Take the time to enjoy a stunning Shenandoah sunrise or sunset and create a personal, unforgettable moment in time.

Make your destination a journey! Come visit Shenandoah National Park. It's natural beauty and inspiration is yours to enjoy.

A classic rainbow adds a bright splash of color to the already vibrant fall vista.

NPS/Ed Knepley

October 28, 2011

There's a change in the weather! The previous forecast of "bright and sunny with cool temperatures" has given way to "Winter Storm Watch!"

As for the leaves, once the snow melts there may still be some color, particularly in the lower elevations in the north and south districts of the park. However, leaves continue to fall and their descent will most certainly be hastened by the snow.

The color that remains will be primarily rich browns and deep golds in the lower elevations of the park. An occasional bright red maple may be seen along with an orange-red sugar maple. The trees offering the most color include gold tulip trees, hickories, and walnuts and various species of our reddish-brown and deep tan oaks. Soft verdant green pines prominently display themselves now that many leaves have fallen; they contrast against the deciduous trees. Still-green ferns and small but colorful locust, sumac, sassafras, and oak saplings, with their sprinklings of gold, yellow, and red, border the gray ribbon of Skyline Drive.

A few purple asters still bloom along the Drive, but many wildflowers have gone to seed. Delicate silvery- white trellises of virgin's bower embrace their dark brown seeds. Opened milkweed seed pods look like perched puffs of cotton waiting for the wind to blow and scattered their seeds.

As you drive along the ridge top, you can peer much deeper into the woods than before, as leaves no longer obstruct your view. Throughout the forest, stands of the evergreen mountain laurel are more easily seen. Massive gray rocks protrude from the ground. Fallen logs, perhaps downed by strong winds or ice storms of years past, lay on the forest floor. Some rocks and trees are covered with lichen, an organism consisting of fungus and algae. Light and dark grays, light greens, and blue greens of the lichen dot the surfaces of tree trunks and rocks. Logs and rocks provide shelter for some of the woodland creatures of the park. Although not a true hibernator, an American black bear may choose a hollow log to sleep in or a rock outcrop to stuff itself underneath for a cold weather nap.

The park's overlooks offer marvelous views of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Peak color blankets the valley floor. In some areas, streaks of gold clamber up mountainsides toward the park. Some valley hills boast an array of reds, oranges, yellows, golds, and greens. Picturesque farmlands with rolling hills and flat green squares of open fields fill the valley floor. Beyond, look westward from Skyline Drive toward deep blue mountains and eastward toward the sweeping Piedmont Plateau.

Take a break from driving. Take a short walk through the woods, perhaps along the Appalachian Trail. Feel the chilly mountain air on your cheeks. See nature's beautiful color palette in the fallen leaves that carpet the forest floor. Hear the rustle and crackling of crisp autumn leaves under your feet as you stroll through the trees. There's no season like autumn in Shenandoah National Park! Make your destination a journey! Let the park's natural beauty touch your heart.

Looking through a fall tree tunnel on Skyline Drive.

NPS/Ed Knepley

October 21, 2011

Autumn leaves are falling due to recent rains and gusty winds, but the weather outlook for this weekend offers crisp cool days perfect for viewing in Shenandoah National Park. Most of the color is currently in the north and south districts of the park, with an estimated 90% color change. Peak color occurred just a few days ago in the park's highest elevations along the 34-mile stretch of Skyline Drive between Thornton Gap (Route 211) and Swift Run Gap (Route 33). This central district of the park is home to Shenandoah's highest peaks where many leaves have fallen. Trees above approximately 3,300 feet have lost most of their leaves. The color that remains includes fabulous golds and yellows of birches and sugar maples and beautiful shades of browns and tans of our mighty oaks. Most of the beautiful deep burgundies and purple jewel tones of Big Meadows' berry bushes have peaked, but an occasional splash of color catches your eye when the sun sweeps over the meadow and showcases a patch of low-bush blueberries.

Golds, yellows, and reds remain the prevalent colors in the lower elevations of the park. Red maple, scarlet oak, black gum, sweet gum, and sourwood trees show off their reds this week, along with the tall, slender sumac. The three-leaved poison ivy and five-leaved Virginia creeper outline tree trunks with their deep reds and burgundies. Once-red sassafras and wild cherry are becoming yellow in company with the orange-reds of the sugar maples. Yellow and gold tulip trees, hickories, striped maple, and birches paint the mountainsides in rich, glorious color. Brown- colored Fraser magnolias, reddish-brown red oaks, and orange-brown chestnut and white oaks provide the perfect backdrop for other trees to display their brightly contrasting colors.

Beautiful colors of fallen autumn leaves carpet the forest floor as you walk along some of the park's 500 miles of trails, perhaps to a peak or a waterfall. As you hike, keep your eyes open for blooming fall wildflowers such as blue or violet gentian, blue southern harebell, yellow autumn sneezeweed, and white ladies' tresses, virgin's bower, and silverrod. Witch hazel shrubs, easily identified this time of year by their tiny witch hat-shaped galls on some leaf surfaces, display their tiny twisted yellow flowers and their golden brown seed pods. In the fall, these seed pods burst open and with an audible "Swoosh!" violently release their seeds up to 15 feet away.

Purple and white asters and yellow goldenrods remain the most commonly seen wildflowers along Skyline Drive. Scattered throughout the park, dark gray milkweed seed pods cling to their tall dark brown stalks. Open seed pods assisted by the wind, release their seeds. Dancing on the air like tiny white fairies, milkweed seeds eventually come to rest on the ground and overwinter to grow into new milkweed plants to await next season's hungry Monarch caterpillars.

The views of the valley from Skyline Drive are simply breathtaking this week! Color bursts from the hollows and valleys with a mix of reds, oranges, golds, yellows, and greens. Seventy-five overlooks offer fabulous viewing opportunities from the Drive and give you a break to relax from driving, to stretch, and to breathe in Shenandoah's cool mountain air. East-facing overlooks present views of the impressive Piedmont Plateau. Look from westward overlooks to see sweeping views of blue and purple mountains as far as the eye can see. Peer into the valley below to see patchwork squares of lush green fields and farmlands. As John Muir said "The mountains are calling and I must go." Make your destination a journey! Visit Shenandoah National Park where its awe-inspiring beauty and serenity are wonders to behold!


Last updated: October 24, 2017

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