2013 Fall Color Report

Orange and golds blanket the ridges of Shenandoah beneath a mulit-colored sky.

NPS/Denise Machado

October 31, 2013

Johnny Mercer wrote in his song Autumn Leaves, "The falling leaves drift by the window, the autumn leaves of red and gold." For the most part, the autumn leaves have indeed drifted by the windows of campers, lodges, and dining rooms, at least in the mountains that comprise Shenandoah National Park. That is to say, the inscrutable peak of fall color on the ridge has come and gone.

But take heart! There's still plenty of color to be seen if you visit Shenandoah any time in the next few days. Sure, you're not going to find yourself standing under maples and oaks glowing with the blazing hues of early fall – fiery gold, Day-Glo orange, Atomic Fireball red. But when you gaze out from peaks like Compton, Hawksbill, Turk Mountain, or from overlooks along Skyline Drive like Range View, South River, or Trayfoot Mountain, you're still going to see lots of color. The lower elevations – the foothills of the Piedmont to the east and the Shenandoah Valley to the west – are still smoldering with the hues of a spice cabinet – cinnamons and cocoas, paprikas and cayennes, turmerics and cumins, even some dillweeds and filé powders, the greens that have either not yet begun to turn color or will never turn because they are evergreens like pines and a few hemlocks. There is still a wealth of hues on the hillsides and mountainsides, in the hollows and folds of these mountains. And standing atop a ridge or at an overlook in Shenandoah National Park is the perfect place to see those colors and watch them change like the natural kaleidoscope that is autumn in the Blue Ridge.

So, though the colors are fading, blowing away, and falling on the mountaintops, they are still luscious and well worth the trip in the lower elevations. That is to say, it's not too late to catch the beauty of fall in Shenandoah National Park. "Soon [we'll] hear old winter's song," yes, but right now the hills are still very much alive with the flame and smoke and iridescence of fall.

We hope you have enjoyed the weekly fall color reports. This is the final report for this year.

Orange, gold and maroon mix together to create a crazy quilt of color on the hills and hollows of Shenandoah. October 23, 2013

October 24, 2013

Fall color report for the week ending October 24, 2013.

There's some really good news and some slightly bad news about the fall color in Shenandoah National Park. So, bad news first: we're past the peak. But: the evanescent "peak" is just that – fleeting, transient, a phantom. As we've said before (and we'll say it again), there's really no such thing as one big fall color peak.

But wait! Here's the really good news: the hills and hollows of Shenandoah are still resplendent with amazing color. If you visit the park this weekend, what you'll see is a sublime show of colors in the orange-gold range – brilliant, almost coppery yellows in the hickories, tuliptrees, and ashes; rosy paprikas and luminescent bronzes in ashes and maples; tobacco-tawny oaks. You'll still catch sight of some blazing sumacs and some flashing, lit-from-within sassafras, but most of those colors are fading now – fluttering, windblown, to the ground. If you visit Shenandoah this weekend, or soon, expect to see more mature, sophisticated colors. Though you might still see the occasional vivid red maple, gone now are most of the neons of late September and early October. Say hello to the smooth Sherries, the burnished Burgundies, the subtle ciders and aged apricots that typify late autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of the best things about traveling through Shenandoah National Park in autumn is stopping at overlooks along Skyline Drive and taking in the view of multicolored trees blanketing the mountainsides like a richly toned Tabriz carpet. Even if the leaves are gone from the trees surrounding you at overlooks and ridge tops, the views from there can still take your breath away and make your heart skip a beat. It's that stunning. That's pretty good fall color news this late in October in these Virginia mountains!

There will be one more fall color report this season, so check back next week for the final update of the year.

By October 18, 2013, maple leaves were changing from green to yellow and red.

October 18, 2013

Fall color report for the week ending October 18, 2013.

Having been completely unaware of the recent 16-day Federal government shutdown during which Shenandoah National Park was closed, the leaves here continued to change since the last fall color report of September 27. In the northern section of the park, there is still some green, especially on maple trees, and although some trees still have their leaves and are showing some lovely fall hues, many of the oaks and dogwoods and much of the rest of the leaves are past peak color.

In the park's central portion, because that is where elevations are highest, fall color is past its peak as well – remember: the green of spring creeps up the mountain, but the russets, golds, oranges, and reds of autumn creep down the mountain. You will still see some vivid golds, especially on hickories and tuliptrees, but most of the more electric shades – the neon reds, tangerine oranges, Merlot purples, and lime greens – are gone. Big Meadows is still very pretty – it always is – but the color is fading, as the blueberry bushes that turn such a lively vermillion and wash the meadow with the color of Chianti wine have mostly shed their foliage for the year.

In the southern section of Shenandoah National Park, the color is just about at peak right now. You'll likely see a mix of trees that still have a bit of their summertime green, some that have pretty much lost their leaves, some that have turned about halfway, and some that are brilliant with color. There's still some Virginia creeper showing off its almost-unreal scarlet and some sassafras and sumac displaying their nearly luminescent arrays of tones, like a big freshly opened box of crayons.

The other color providers in the park, like goldenrod, Joe-Pye weed, and asters, are fading, too, and going to seed just before winter sets in. But don't let the fact that fall color in the Blue Ridge Mountains is moving past peak prevent you from coming for a visit. It's still a gorgeous place to be! And be sure to check back next week to find out what's happening color wise in Shenandoah National Park.

Pass Mountain Overlook on September 26, 2013 featuring a Redbud tree showing early fall colors.

September 27, 2013

Fall color report for the week ending Friday, September 27, 2013.

Autumn has arrived in Shenandoah National Park! It’s always thrilling, when cooler temperatures and light breezes portending winter start to stipple trees and flowers with the oil-paint colors of fall: citrines, chartreuses, ambers, cinnamons, cocoas, tangerines, and vermilions.

Overall, there’s still quite a bit of summertime green in the park. If we’re talking percentages, let’s say colors are only between 5% and 15% progressed toward the elusive color “peak.” But this week, Shenandoah is, as one Byrd Visitor Center ranger put it, “losing its green luster.” The dogwoods, most of which are in the park’s north district, have put on their burgundy-bronze jackets. Virginia creepers and sumacs throughout the park are just beginning to show their more sassy deep scarlet and Caribbean neon sides. Asters and goldenrods are filling the views from overlooks and along Skyline Drive with abundant moon-purples, vivid whites, and luscious French’s mustard yellows. Down south, toward the park’s southernmost point at Rockfish Gap, little dots and smudges of reds are peeking out shyly here and there. Perhaps by this time next week these shy colors will have become more bold and adventurous. The Shenandoah National Park fall color report will be updated every Thursday through the end of October, so “tune in” next Thursday to find out!


Last updated: October 19, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


(540) 999-3500

Contact Us