2012 Fall Color Report

Trees starting to looses their leaves on Pass Mountain.
View from Pass Mountain October 25, 2012


October 26, 2012

Fall color report for the week ending Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall color in Shenandoah National Park is well past peak in the higher elevations (between Skyland Resort and Big Meadows), and is just past peak in the lower elevations. However, there is still plenty of color to be seen here. The sassafras, sumacs, poison ivy, and Virginia creepers are still providing lots of vivid color throughout the park, and some of the oaks are at their loveliest now, wearing their muted shades of rust, cider, saffron, and cranberry - a Thanksgiving plate of hues.

But 'muted' is definitely the word of the week now, when it comes to fall color in Shenandoah National Park. Most of the vibrant oranges and scarlets and bright golds have blown away or fallen to the forest floor, especially in the Park's higher areas. Warm browns and cinnamons have replaced most of the more fiery colors of autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some lavender and white asters are hanging on, still blooming, but many have finished flowering for the year and won't be seen again until next fall. The milkweed pods have opened and are showing - and releasing -- their ghostly white, downy insides.

This is a great time to visit Shenandoah National Park! October crowds are beginning to thin out and it's not yet gotten bitterly cold. The vistas are wider because the leaves are gone; you can see for miles and miles, across the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. The air is clear, the skies are often bright blue, and you couldn't ask for better hiking weather. Plus, it's hard to beat the fun sound of leaves crunching underfoot as you tread the park's trails!

We hope you have enjoyed this year's weekly fall color reports. This is the last update to the fall color report for this year.

Many different color trees leaves changing on Skyline Drive.
View from a top Little Stony Man Otober 16, 2012.


October 19, 2012

Fall color report for the week ending Friday, October 19, 2012.

Fall color in Shenandoah National Park (or indeed anywhere) is hard to pin down; it's not into commitment, no matter how we try to make it fit our rules and expectations. This is a long somewhat skinny park -- more than 100 miles long - and its elevation range is 3,400 feet. When the colors of fall begin to emerge, they can go very quickly, often from summer green to full color almost overnight. You can travel just five or 10 miles along the Skyline Drive and in that short distance, drive through June greens, then through peak color so bright and stunning it will thrill you to the core - then through leafless trees and shrubs whose color has been shed onto the ground like so much confetti. Each year, each day, each hour is different. And when the higher elevations are past peak, you can still find lots of lovely fall color in the lower elevations.

That being said, these past few weeks Shenandoah National Park has caught on fire with color: hickories have gone from yellow to luminous gold; maples and gums and even some oaks (which usually change color a little later than some of their fellows) have put on dramatic coats of scarlet, neon orange and vivid magenta. (There is a beautiful oak tree in front of park headquarters on route 211 just west of Thornton Gap that has big spots of garnet-red so vivid among the rest of its still-green leaves that it looks like someone has decorated it for Christmas. It's a whimsical way for a tree to turn color, especially a tree as solid as, well, an oak, but there it is.) Some trees' leaves turn the most gorgeous shade of lime green on their way to becoming yellow and gold; there are currently some maples, sumacs, and sassafras trees which have turned this tropical shade, making the hillsides in some places - especially, this week, in the lower elevations (around the north and south ends of the park) - riotous with color.

Some of Shenandoah's plants are reliably colorful year after year - no matter what the summer weather or even the current weather brings - delivering electric shades to the park's hollows and ridges without fail: Virginia creepers regularly turn the dark red of strawberries; poison ivy vines turn every color in the spice rack at home; sassafras and sumacs turn - on a single tree or shrub - the most glorious oranges, chartreuse greens, bright reds, and golds you could imagine. This year is proving to be no exception, so look for those trees and shrubs to be among the most colorful you'll find. The good news is that many of these trees and shrubs grow right along Skyline Drive, so they'll be easy to spot and enjoy.

Fall color in the park's higher elevations - especially in the Central District (the 34 miles between Thornton Gap, off highway 211, and Swift Run Gap, off highway 33) - is well past peak. However, from those higher elevations, in the next week or so, you should be able to look out from the overlooks and see some colorful slopes, as fall descends down the mountain to the lowlands. In the lower elevations, though there is some green left, peak is occurring right now - the week before Friday, October 19. So if you visit the park this coming weekend, you can still expect to see some very nice fall color.

Shenandoah's actual colors are brightening in real-time - right now - and they're changing by the hour. Come and enjoy the amazing colors of autumn in this full-of-surprises Appalachian national park. Come soon!

This fall color report will be updated next week, one last time for the 2012 season.

Long view of moutain peak of the leaves changing color.
The view from Stony Man, October 11, 2012.


October 12, 2012

This is the Fall Color Report for Shenandoah National Park for the week ending October 12, 2012.

Fall color in Shenandoah National Park is currently at 75% to 90% of saturation overall. Has it peaked? Will it peak in the next few days? It's hard to tell or predict. But that's how it goes when you're talking about Mother Nature: You never know when the peak is until the peak has passed. Predictions mean almost nothing, especially in a park like Shenandoah, whose elevations range from 600 feet to more than 4,000 feet. Since autumn creeps down the mountain, different elevations offer different palettes of color throughout the season.

Driving north on Skyline Drive from Thornton Gap (at mile 31.5) to Front Royal (mile 0), 80% to 90% of the trees are showing varying degrees of color, and as much as 50% of those are showing significant color. The slopes, as viewed from the Drive and the overlooks up north, are becoming more thrilling as the hues descend into the Shenandoah Valley to the west and into the Virginia Piedmont to the east. Dogwoods have turned garnet and wine red, and maples glow fiery orange-red.

In the Central District of the park there has been some loss of color because of rain and strong winds; some of the trees have already lost their leaves at these higher elevations. Virginia creeper continues to blaze dark scarlet, though, "burning" from the trunks of the trees it has climbed and wound itself around, and along and over the Skyline Drive's rock walls.

In the south - from Swift Run Gap (mile 65.5) toward the southern terminus of the park at Rockfish Gap (mile 105) - catch the citrus yellows and buttery golden shades of hickories and birches, and the kaleidoscopic ashes' purples, bronzes and egg-yolk golds. Poison ivy vines, sassafras, and sumac continue to show off their ever-ripening tropical fruit tones. Asters - moony lavender and delicate white - and saffron-colored goldenrods are still blooming and vivid throughout Shenandoah.

Truly, the Shenandoah National Park autumn is a treat, offering an intriguing palette of color for visitors who come its way - a veritable ice cream sundae of colors!

We have some helpful hints for leaf peeping and enjoying fall to the fullest in Shenandoah. "For your viewing pleasure":
  • Use polarized lenses when you're photographing, or just viewing, the leaves.
  • (Polarized sunglasses are easy to come by.)
  • Face northeast, so the sun is at your back.
  • Remember that late in the afternoon, the sun will be the warmest and provide the best viewing light.
  • Also remember that overcast skies provide leaves with better color absorption.
This fall color report will be updated once a week through the month of October, so visit us next week to see what's happening color-wise in Shenandoah National Park.

NPS/Ed Knepley

October 5, 2012

This is the Fall Color Report for Shenandoah National Park for the week ending October 5, 2012.

Fall color in Shenandoah National Park overall is currently at 50% to 60%. Color arrived earlier than usual this year, and so the peak of color is likely to occur in the second week in October, which would put peak weekend at its usual Columbus Day Weekend spot - this year, Friday, October 5, through Monday, October 8. Not surprisingly, Columbus Day Weekend has traditionally been Shenandoah's busiest weekend of the year, and this year will be no exception.

Big Meadows' summer carpet of green and gold has been positively saturated with the glowing burgundy of the blueberry shrubs' leaves. It looks like someone poured a nebuchadnezzar of Pinot Noir over the whole 130 acres of the Meadow -- even more dramatic than last week! And already, in early October, the oaks in the higher elevations of the Central District are donning their russet and golden robes.

A big contributor to fall color in the park this week is coming from sassafras trees. Their mitten-shaped leaves' color currently ranges from still green in a few places - especially in the North and South Districts - to the more common stunning paprika shade, and every conceivable color in between. You find great big splashes of over-dyed color - mostly bright and dark scarlets and tangerine and burnt oranges - in maples, Virginia Creepers, poison ivy, and dogwoods - but there is still an abundance of the "40 shades of green" this park is famous for, especially in the South District (from Swift Run Gap south to Rockfish Gap). You will also find golden yellows and lemon yellows, on hickories, birches, and dying-back milkweeds and other herbaceous plants that line the Drive. But here and there, as you venture around a curve, you will find whole hillsides that look like a big bowl of mangoes - a few bright greens, but more of Crayola marigolds, rosy reds, and Day-Glo oranges. Maples are blazing, especially in the park's Central District. Ash trees turn very unusual shades of bronze-purple, and they're not holding back this year - they are beautiful this week, especially at higher elevations. Gum trees' leaves are treating viewers with Christmas-y hues of bright green and vermillion - on the same tree! One ranger put it put it nicely when she reported about the South District: "Creeping vines are accenting stone walls and rock faces with vibrant reds. They're even lending a helping hand to evergreens… .There are…even trees showing the full spectrum of fall within themselves - browns, then oranges and yellows, top to bottom. From Brown Mountain Overlook [looking west from just north of mile 77 on the Skyline Drive], the color fire has begun to spread."

The ferns that line the Skyline Drive have started their color descent early this year, too, so you will find moody golds and spiced cider browns in the Park's ferns already.

The wildflowers of summer have been replaced with those of fall - lavender and white-lace asters and all sorts of goldenrods, mostly - which lend your drive or hike through Shenandoah a more contemplative palette. And there are some amazing witch hazels in flower, in the Big Meadows area especially - their shabby-chic yellow ragged flowers as pretty as any summer wildflower you've ever seen.

This fall color report will be updated once a week through October, so check back next week to see what's happening in the Shenandoah National Park palette.

There's still plenty of green, with just a touch of orange in the maples.

NPS/Bob Kuhns

September 28, 2012

This is the fall color report for Shenandoah National Park for the week ending September 28, 2012.

Fall has arrived in Shenandoah National Park! Traditionally the peak of color arrives in the second and third weeks of October, but this year the fall colors are making an earlier-than-usual appearance.

This is a great year for fruits of all types, and meandering along Skyline Drive this week will reveal to you apple trees loaded with red and green fruit, spilling their windfall on the forest floor below. Hawthorns, hollies, and dogwoods are displaying their bright red berries. Only about 20% of the trees and shrubs have put on their fall colors, but there are already big touches of drama here and there in the Park: neon-red maples; sumacs, with their tropical-looking leaves brightening to spring green right before they turn every color in the Froot Loops box; Virginia creeper, which turns the most luscious scarlet; even poison ivy, which this year is making quite a scene in its blazing oranges and reds. Green is a color, too, and so the four-fifths of the foliage that have not yet begun to change provide a lovely backdrop for the cider- and cinnamon-colored beech trees, dying ferns, and grasses that line the Skyline Drive. The golden-yellow birches and hickories stand out against the still-green evergreens and apples.

The central part of the Park has the highest elevations, and because fall creeps down the mountain, the Central District is the most colorful in these last days of September. Here near Skyland Resort and Big Meadows you'll find the startling and subtle reds of gum trees, pokeweeds, and sumac berries. Maples are already starting to turn their neon shade, and even the oaks - usually later in the season to turn their more subtle fall colors - are progressing nicely. Hickories offer their golden yellows, as do the tulip trees. In the Big Meadow, as in other parts of the Park, fall wildflowers and grasses are putting on a show: citrus-colored goldenrods, asters the colors of moonlight and stars, and bronze grasses. The most stunning and visible aspect of Big Meadows, at least as concerns autumn, is the seductive scarlet of the blueberry bushes' leaves, which are this year making the whole Meadow blaze crimson! The Meadow is absolutely stunning. The leaves of milkweeds and dogbanes are turning from green to golden and speckling the hillsides in sunny shades. Even the dried seed heads and mature grasses along the Drive provide the spice tones we've come to love about autumn in these mountains.

The southern part of the Park is rockier and traditionally drier, but this week the colors there are quite nice, and the crowds - as always - slimmer, so a drive from milepost 65 to the southern terminus at Waynesboro will reward you with every shade of yellow dotted with a bright red maple or Virginia creeper here and there, situated against backdrops of rock and stone. A drive through the Park's North District will still show you much green, but you'll also find more dogwoods with their burgundy leaves - some brilliant but most muted - and orange-red berries.

Color doesn't just come from trees, flowers, and plants, but also in the form of Shenandoah's wildlife: the white-tailed deer coats are turning to dark gray from their summer nutmeg-y brown; black bears forage for this year's bounty crop of acorns and other nuts and fruits as they prepare for a long winter sleep; hawks and vultures soar overhead on the still-warm rising air from the Valley and the Piedmont below. Skies will be bluer now than in the summer, so expect less haze as temperatures drop.

This fall color report will be updated once a week through the month of October, so check back next week to see how things are progressing.


Last updated: October 19, 2017

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Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


(540) 999-3500

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