Shenandoah's Fall Color

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Shenandoah staff will post a weekly fall color update each Friday through the color season. Reports are based on the writer's observations during the preceding week. Please keep in mind that the park is over 100 miles long and spans a wide elevation range. Fall color conditions can vary dramatically from area to area. Weather affects the color from day to day and even hour to hour. It is impossible to predict a peak. We will do our best to give accurate reports, but please remember that many variables contribute to conditions.

If you want to consult the experts on the topic, check out one of the fall color prediction maps available online, like this one:
If you’d like a plain-language explanation of why leaves change color, visit a site like Science Made Simple:
And if you want to see in real time what at least one mountainside-into-valley part of Shenandoah National Park looks like at any given moment, don’t forget to check out the Park’s fall color webcam:

Or just come to the Park and see the show for yourself.
Sunlit yellow maple leaves
Fall colors up close and personal near Thornton Gap entrance station

NPS/Neal Lewis

October 13, 2017

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”
– Stanley Horowitz

It’s not exactly what you would call riotous yet, but Shenandoah National Park is getting there. Day by day, tree by tree, this beloved national park is becoming the mosaic of color we’ve been waiting for all year.

Some areas of the Park are more colorful than others – and this will continue to be the case – but expect to see plenty of autumn drama as you drive from Front Royal at mile 0 all the way down to Rockfish Gap at mile 105. The happy little maple that oversees Meadow Spring Parking at mile 33.5 is a swirl of cherry, orange, and lime, like a snow cone for a child who couldn’t decide on just one flavor. And sumacs are funny things. You might find a patch of the tropical-looking plants still green as poison growing right beside their brothers and sisters who have turned every color except green – poinsettia red, butternut orange, Golden Delicious yellow. A patch of sumacs at Spitler Knoll Overlook (mile 48) is especially dramatic, exhibiting just about every possible hue, like feather boas on Mardi Gras revelers.

Swift Run Gap is alive with chromatic splendor. A rogue maple just north of the Gap looks like an open box of Crayolas – Red Orange, Scarlet, Burnt Orange, Mango Tango, Sunglow, and tiny polka dots of Electric Lime. A dogwood just south of the turnoff for route 33 displays every color there ever was in the palette of red. Pulling off at Bacon Hollow Overlook at mile 68.9 on a foggy afternoon provided a Halloween vignette of grays, silvers, and blacks: crows flapping around and landing in a dead snag cawed haughtily, perfectly aware that they own the joint. "Keep moving," they croaked. "You have no jurisdiction here." Fog comes and goes, though; by Rocky Mount Overlook just two miles south, the fog was lifting and revealing south-facing mountainsides just beginning to turn maize and pumpkin. Hickories and birches, especially in the Park’s South District, glow golden-orange, one and two trees at a time, little fires of color in the forest.

A single phosphorescent yellow evening primrose hangs on fiercely on the west side of the Drive near mile 85.

The scene-stealer this week, though, is sassafras. Sassafras trees, like sumacs, are the mood rings of the Appalachian woods. In the Park this week you can see the whole gamut of sassafras shades – single trees glittering jewel-tones of both crimson and green, startling as mangoes in every stage of ripeness, or dressing themselves in classic monotones like auburn, paprika, and Velveeta orange. A sassafras near Calf Mountain Overlook seven miles from Skyline Drive’s southern end glowed a luminous light red, like a glass of Pinot Noir on the Thanksgiving table.

Please know that this fall color report is not analytic, nor is it meant to be. If you prefer science over abstraction, you’ve got a friend in the Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Prediction Map, at

AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT FIRES – Although we have had some rain in the past few days, Shenandoah National Park is still very dry. Currently, there are no fire restrictions in the Park, but please be very careful with fire – when building campfires and cooking fires, lighting camp stoves, even lighting cigarettes. As always, open fires are not permitted in Shenandoah’s backcountry.

This fall color report will be updated next Friday, October 20. Check back then to see the color parade that is autumn in Shenandoah. Better yet, come visit this lovely park – the sooner the better – and witness it up close and in person.

Red-orange Virginia creeper vine with overlook in background
Virginia creeper near Tunnel Parking Overlook does its part to add to the fall color display.

NPS/Neal Lewis

October 6, 2017

“October knew, of course, that the action of turning a page, of ending a chapter or shutting a book, did not end the tale. Having admitted that, he would also avow that happy endings were never difficult to find: ‘It is simply a matter,’ he explained to April, ‘of finding a sunny place in a garden, where the light is golden and the grass is soft; somewhere to rest, to stop reading, and to be content.’”
~ Neil Gaiman, “Season of Mists”

Here we are, in early October in Shenandoah National Park, and like corn in a campfire, the colors are popping.

Between miles 12 and 13 this weekend you will find some especially dramatic shades. One tree standing high on the west side of Skyline Drive almost gleams bright chartreuse yellow, and – wrapped with a massive, trunk-swathing, dark crimson, Goth-like Virginia creeper – can make you forget for a split second that trees are supposed to be forest colors like green and brown. North-facing mountainsides rolling down into the Virginia Piedmont, as seen from Jenkins Gap Overlook, are displaying spots of scarlet and peachy orange. Aspect matters. Therefore, as you gaze out east and west from overlooks along Skyline Drive in the days ahead you will find that it is the north-facing mountainsides that autumn’s paintbrush touches first.

Some of the best color right now is between mile 23, near Mathews Arm and Elkwallow, south to Swift Run Gap, at mile 65.5. Here and there, hickories blaze golden yellow, the color of ripe mangoes. Thornton Gap is turning candy-corn colors branch by branch, tree by tree. The Stony Man area around mile 38 is starting to show its colorful side and should be even splashier this weekend. You might remember that last week old Stony Man got himself a henna rinse. Well, this week the old fellow seems to have gone back to the salon for streaks of paprika, cumin, and saffron.

Big Meadows is layered streaks of spice tones – sand art in a huge shallow glass bowl. Driving through the section of Skyline Drive around Lewis Mountain at mile 57 is like walking down the aisle of a cathedral with stained-glass windows in marigold tones. Swift Run Gap is dabbed with yellow and pops of red. Bearfence Trail is gorgeous, flaunting a mix of goldenrod, purple asters, and yellow foliage. A maple at Naked Creek Overlook blazes vermilion against a sea of lime green and lemon yellow.

But dryness is having an impact. Dryness like Shenandoah is experiencing now stresses trees, and their leaf colors exhibit that stress; some trees may shed their leaves before they have a chance to turn the vivid colors that back in early September they wanted to turn. We’re hoping for rain later in the weekend. That hoped-for rain could still resuscitate the colors of some trees.

All this being said, adopting an attitude of adventure and discovery is more than half the battle when you’re looking for beauty anywhere, and the same rule applies when you’re seeking out fall color. If you look for beauty – especially at this most wonderful time of year, when the temperatures are dropping and the very air is refreshing – you will find it. So slow down; take your time. Don’t expect to be presented with huge Technicolor vistas around every curve. Rather, expect this week to see single trees, individual branches, patches of moon-purple asters and mustard-yellow goldenrods that proudly pop up where you least expect them, seeming to vie, one by one, for your attention. For example, near mile 47 a lone sugar maple – so flagrantly florid! – on the west side of the Drive almost made this writer run off the road when I drove south yesterday morning (Thursday, October 5) toward its shocking self. The colors like that tree threw at me are not often found in nature, but there it was, like a giant red-hot cinnamon lollipop stuck into a garden salad.

A gentle reminder: This fall color report is just that – a report of one writer’s observations taken in on a happy drive through Shenandoah. It is not a prediction. It is more poetry (this writer hopes) than science. If you prefer a more scientific prediction of fall color across the nation, check out the Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Prediction Map at

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT FIRES – We said this last week, and this week it’s even more urgent: Shenandoah National Park is extremely dry. As is true for much of the Eastern Seaboard, we have not had rain in several weeks. At this point there are no fire restrictions in the Park, but please be very careful with fire – when building campfires in the campgrounds and picnic grounds, when lighting your cigarettes, and when lighting camp stoves. As always, open fires are not permitted in Shenandoah’s backcountry.

This fall color report will be updated next Friday, October 13, 2017. Check back then for the next chapter in the tale of autumn in Shenandoah National Park. In the meantime, come seek – and find – your own little pocket of beauty in this magnificent national park. There’s no better time than now.

Reds and golds of autumn highlighted by sunrise
Sunrise at Thornton Hollow Overlook, taken September 29, 2017

NPS/Neal Lewis

September 29, 2017

Departing summer hath assumed
An aspect tenderly illumed,
The gentlest look of spring;
That calls from yonder leafy shade
Unfaded, yet prepared to fade,
A timely carolling.
– William Wordsworth, "September"

The last week in September finds Shenandoah National Park in a state of preparation for autumn. Most definitely, Shenandoah has turned her face to the year’s third season; she is entirely prepared to fade. But summer hasn’t abandoned these mountains just yet.

Predicting fall color, making precise prognostications about how the hues will unfold throughout Shenandoah, is part science and part crystal ball-gazing, but in the end forecasting a “peak” or even a progression of autumnal complexion is even less accurate than predicting the weather. And we all know how frustrating that can be. What follows here is one observer’s description of the current fall color scene in Shenandoah; if you want a scientific prediction of fall color progression in the Appalachian Mountains, visit the 2017 Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Prediction map site at

Here’s what’s going on right now in this Blue Ridge Mountains national park.

If you’re seeing the Park via Skyline Drive in the late afternoon, consider driving south to north. Without the sun in your eyes, the colors are more striking and easier to see. In the South District, the 40-mile stretch between Swift Run Gap at route 33 and Rockfish Gap at route 250, green still reigns. As you motor along Skyline Drive down south you might see spots of color – crimson Virginia creeper, a few yellow hickory branches – but gazing out from overlooks into the Shenandoah Valley west or the Virginia Piedmont east, you’ll see that the hollows and mountainsides are still lush, as if someone, unprepared for house guests and hearing the ring of the doorbell, tossed a forest green fleece throw over a pile of toys on the living room floor.

Right now – before the leaves of trees and shrubs really begin to glow with their October brilliance – is a good time to look down. There’s so much color at your feet! Purple asters are at their finest; they will fade as October progresses. Blooming on a shady west bank of Skyline Drive, the amethyst beauties fool the eye for a split second into wondering: What’s this celestial flip-flop? Is the moon shining even in the middle of the afternoon, spattering the ground with dappled fluorescent lavender light? Snow-white asters, mustard-yellow goldenrods, coreopsis the color of saffron, ferns waving from the ground like cinnamon feathers: Even while trees are not yet offering a riotous display, the forest floor sure is.

Things are starting to smolder in Shenandoah. The hillsides in the Park’s Central District remind us of the coming October, treetops just starting to recast to reddish brown, as if Stony Man and his neighboring hills and hollows got themselves a henna rinse. Franklin Cliffs Overlook is always a good spot to view fall’s progression. Already this year, the vista is coming to life there, having just started to apply a little red rouge on its northwest-facing cheeks. Franklin Cliffs is a good spot to watch, if you’re a frequent visitor to Shenandoah; you can see a lot of fall from that overlook. Just north of mile 45, on the Drive’s east side, a hickory blazes yellow-orange – one fire-colored tree in a sea of green, a one-tree show.

Keep in mind that fall color is an ever changing thing, and just as we all do, these mountains have many moods. Shenandoah’s splendors vary according to different factors: the time of year you’re taking it all in, of course, but also the time of day, whether or not the sun is out, the direction in which you’re driving or hiking, the current weather, even your own mood. Take your time. If you drive straight through, without stopping at an overlook or taking a short stroll, or if you hike hastily, forgetting to look around and notice the small things, you’ll miss a lot of the good stuff. What’s your hurry? (Did anyone ever tell you how annoying and boring your frenetic pace makes you? Well, it does.)

A very important note about fire safety: It’s been several weeks since we’ve had significant rainfall, so it’s dry in Shenandoah and throughout the surrounding area. Please exercise great caution when lighting campfires, picnic fires, even cigarettes. Make sure fires are completely out when you leave your campsite or picnic site, as even the smallest live ash can start a wildfire. Currently, there are no fire bans in Shenandoah, but you do need to be more careful with fire than usual. Thanks for your cooperation. (And if you know any good rain dances, now would be a good time to do one.)

This fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 6, 2017. Check back then to see how autumn is progressing tonally in Shenandoah National Park.

A bit of orange foliage in a backdrop of green
Photo taken September 22, 2017 near Thornton Gap

NPS/Mary O'Neill

September 22, 2017
“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.” – J. K. Rowling

Autumn has come on rather suddenly this year in Shenandoah National Park – and early, too.

In early September some trees, especially maples in the Park’s higher elevations – seeming for all the world to be already over summer – had dabbled in this new season, daubing onto their outermost branches shocking ripe-apple reds. It’s as if the trees and shrubs of Shenandoah this year, tired of playing second fiddle to the glamor-queen trees of New England, opted for a makeover and ordered the most drop-dead shades of crimson they could find to paint their leafy fingers. “Look!” they told us, even three weeks ago, “I got my nails done just for you.”

Still, it’s early days. Today is only the first full day of fall. Summer has not let go yet in the mountains. Green is the color you’ll see most of if you visit Shenandoah this weekend. Even though the Park’s mountainsides and hollows are still awash in summer’s verdancy, as you gaze out from Skyline Drive’s overlooks, you will see big isolated dots of scarlet, where one tree – a maple or even a precocious oak – has turned scarlet. Fall tends to creep down the mountain, from high elevation to low, and in Shenandoah’s central portion – its highest elevations – you’ll find sumacs, like the eyelashes of giant showgirls, splashed with both kelly green and raspberry red on the same branch. Virginia creeper, always an early turner but this year going for the gold, has wrapped entire trees in the most amazing wine red. If you catch Virginia creeper just right, in just the right light, its blood red will make you gasp. Oaks usually change color a little later in the fall, but this year some of Shenandoah’s are trading in their green in great big spots, as if they’re decorating themselves early with outsized red and orange Christmas balls. Bittersweet is an invasive vine, but right now it seems to be begging for permanent residency in the Park; its leaves are the most stunning yellow! Sassafras is taking on citrus shades of lemon and lime. Poison ivy sneaks up trees and shrubs, flame orange, like a warning. Dogwood trees, mostly at the Park’s northern end, are already deep burgundy and bronze. The section of Skyline Drive between miles 39 and 42 has positively come to life with color, as if, at the feet of a sleeping Stony Man, those trees are trying to wake the old fellow up. The natural rock bank across from Stony Man Overlook at mile 38.6 looks like a selection of paint colors in a hardware store. And just a short ways south of mile 39, on the Drive’s west side, there is an ash tree that glows an otherworldly golden, tinged ever so slightly with lilac. That tree, approached from the south yesterday evening, made this writer’s heart flip.

Even Big Meadows at mile 51 is getting in on the action. Blueberry bushes are already dusted with plums and roses. Something – goldenrods? – blooming in large patches of an unusual chartreuse shade makes it look from Skyline Drive as if someone shattered Vaseline glass over the softly rolling meadow.

True, autumn’s colors are not at their height yet. There will be more color to come. But don’t wait. Come to Shenandoah early, and come often. This park is happy to show off for you. The display of autumn has begun!

This fall color report will be updated next Friday, September 29, 2017. Check back to see how autumn is transforming this stunning national park.

The view from Bearfence Mountain is an artist's palette of autumn colors.
The view from Bearfence on Wednesday, October 26, was an artist's palette of brilliant autumn hues.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for October 28, 2016

“Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongues.”
~ William Shakespeare, “Love’s Labours Lost,” 1588

“Beauty, like supreme dominion,
Is but supported by opinion.”
~ Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” 1741

Though it’s true that what each of us considers as beautiful (or not) is entirely subjective, Shenandoah National Park is always beautiful – at any time, in any season, in the eyes and opinions of almost everyone.


...just about everyone would agree that fall brought her brightest, most vibrant colors to Shenandoah National Park last week. This week, though it’s still autumn in this part of the Blue Ridge, the colors – though still gorgeous – are more muted. You must accept this and learn to appreciate it for what it is: this is nature.

But that doesn’t mean the trees are all bare. There are still plenty of lovely trees wearing their crushed-velvet gowns in sophisticated, grown-up shades like russet, pumpkin, thyme green, and cumin. In the early afternoon stop by Jenkins Gap Overlook at mile 12.4 and try to count how many different hues you see there. The view from Pinnacles Overlook at mile 35 is one of the best going this week, with all the colors of a spice drawer – paprika, ginger, clove, sage, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and saffron – on one hillside. Heading south, when you round the bend just past Stony Man Overlook (mile 38.6) and gaze up at the old, recumbent man in the mountains, you'll see broad strokes of forest greens, cabernet sauvignon purples, allspice browns, Dijon mustard ochres, and the interspersed grizzle of trees who have lost their leaves already along with long-dead hemlocks who never got needles this year. In the waning light of late afternoon, this makes for a majestic scene that is not nearly as somber as it sounds, and much more resplendent.

The view from Bearfence, a short rock scramble to a 360-degree view that begins at mile 56.4, is like looking onto a huge artist’s palette of oil colors – terre verte, chrome yellow, cadmium yellow and cadmium orange, jaune brilliant, renaissance gold, copper, Venetian red, terra rosa, brown ochre, and raw umber – all, if you’re lucky, under a cerulean blue sky.

Remember as you travel through the Park in the next few days what Margaret Wolfe Hungerford wrote in 1878 in Molly Bawn: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In some places you will have to pull out the imagination you haven’t let play since spring and let it play now, in order to realize just how beautiful is the sight you’re taking in. In other places along Skyline Drive or some of the Park’s 500-plus miles of hiking trails you might be – without any effort at all on your part – struck breathless by patches of brilliant, pure autumn colors. But make no mistake: it’s all beautiful. You’d be foolish not to come to Shenandoah National Park as soon as possible, if you can, and see it for yourself.

Don't forget to check the fall color mountain webcam and this week's collection of Shenandoah fall color photos on Flickr.

This is the last fall color report of this year. Enjoy the rest of this charming season and have a great winter, spring and summer. We’ll see you next fall.

Autumn makes herself at home at Little Devils Stairs Overlook, mile 20.1.
Autumn makes herself at home at Little Devils Stairs Overlook, mile 20.1 on Skyline Drive.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for October 21, 2016

"How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in a landscape?"

~ Henry David Thoreau

Finally, autumn has arrived in Shenandoah National Park –and she's carrying her own torches to light her way.

This is the moment we've all been waiting for.

How many synonyms are there for astounding? You can drive through Shenandoah on Skyline Drive in any direction you choose –any way is gorgeous –but this reporter drove in both directions yesterday (Thursday, October 20) from early afternoon until dusk, from Low Gap at mile 8 to Browns Gap at mile 83. And the color this reporter saw was: astounding, mind-blowing, stupendous, astonishing, glowing, electrifying, breathtaking, eye-popping, wondrous –or, to keep it simple as Thoreau did: beautiful.

Sassafras trees are on fire –virtually, of course, but when you first lay eyes on some of them in the Park this week, you'll think their flames are real. Overnight most turned Day-Glo orange, but some choose to burn fire-engine red, others candlelight gold or lemon yellow, while a hesitant few still wear the pea greens of summer. Some sassafras trees bear all five colors at once, looking for all the world like a Southwestern kitchen's mise en place for tacos with salsa fresca –multicolored chiles, bell peppers, cilantro, and heirloom tomatoes. A quarter-mile or so south of mile 21, a patch of fiery sassafras I saw as I rounded the curve was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Another patch across from Ivy Creek Overlook near mile 77 I saw as the sun descended looked like a circa-1965 Christmas tree –wonderful bulbs of primary-color light.

Sumacs vie for attention, too, and have no trouble catching it. The burning bush Moses saw could not have been brighter. Just north of mile 82 a splash of sumac seen in the 6:00 evening sun was otherworldly. Sumacs are show-offs, displaying many hues on one plant;sassafras and sumacs imitate each other in this regard, although they paint their colors on differently –sumacs in bold, Jamaican-looking stripes, sassafras in impressionist dabs. But when you catch sight of them, both shrubs are so unreal they will make you laugh out loud –pop-art of the Skyline Drive roadside. The gold of hickory trees right now is surreal –not a color you expect in nature, except perhaps from sunflowers or marigolds. Poison ivy running up a tree in the south district is shocking yellow-gold, like a sequined boa wrapped full length around a Vegas showgirl.

The view from Brown Mountain Overlook at mile 76.6 is sulky but magnificent. From there you can see the effects of the Rocky Mount Fire of six months ago. Depending on their aspect, some hillsides are dark with scorch, while others boast the reds, golds, greens, and russets of October. Bare rock on the mountaintops there give the whole scene the appearance of a big, scruffy black bear slumbering in a fall forest. Just behind the rock wall at Brown Mountain Overlook orange-red sumacs lit from behind will make you wonder –for a second or two, until you catch your breath –if a new wildfire has just self-ignited. Driving north on Skyline Drive toward Brown Mountain in the 6:20 dying sunset light, the blue-pink sky shimmering with shell-pink and pearl-white clouds, was like driving full tilt into a Maxfield Parrish painting.

So come. Come to Shenandoah National Park and experience the three-ring circus of color that is October in these lovely mountains. There's no time like the present.

For a peek at more fall color photos taken in Shenandoah National Park this past week, check out our new fall color week-by-week Flickr post here:…/snpphotos/sets/72157675507455855

This fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 28.

Autumn does her thing at Hazel Mountain Overlook, mile 33 on Skyline Drive
Autumn does her thing at the view from Hazel Mountain Overlook, mile 33 on Skyline Drive.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for October 14, 2016

"If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you'll never enjoy the sunshine."

–Morris West

And if you spend your whole fall waiting for perfect, glorious leaf color, you'll never enjoy the other splendor this season has to offer.

We know what you're thinking: Enough already, autumn. Bring on the show! There's still (yes, still) a lot of green. But autumn will be what she will be, and there's nothing any of us can do about it. We might as well learn to love her on her own terms.

Here are the terms she's offering this week in Shenandoah National Park.

Virginia creepers –you've got to love them. While most of the other fall color stars –like maples, sassafras, poison ivy, and hickories –are goofing off, not even pretending to change color yet, Virginia creepers are hard at work, doing their part –the overachievers of the Shenandoah forest. Between miles 38 and 40 this week Virginia creepers fairly tap dance for your viewing pleasure. They rush over stone walls and across natural stone banks, as if someone tipped over a half-full bottle of claret onto a flagstone patio. They bolt up trees so thickly that in some places you can't even see bark. They aim to please, and they do so with such vermilion zeal, you almost feel like rolling down your car window and giving them a round of applause.

One lone maple across from Meadow Springs parking, near mile 34, stands tall like a Beefeater guarding the Park's soon-to-be-jewel-toned trees and vines. Fickle ash trees flirt with you, as they continue to smolder here and there, some turning purple-bronze, some butternut gold, some apparently unable to decide what color they want to be. (Ash trees wear their hearts on their leaves.) Moosewoods –goose foot maples, striped maples, whatever you like to call them –are vividly two-toned now, lemon yellow and lime green. Big Meadows has gone straight from summer greens to earth tones –a '70s palette of mauve, tan, harvest gold, and sage. Hillsides are still blanketed in green, but are dotted now with scarlet, pumpkin, and saffron–a polka-dotted quilt autumn works at a little each day. The view from Hazel Mountain Overlook at mile 33 on Skyline Drive is evolving before our eyes, an embroidered piece on which dead hemlocks stand out like sporadic gray stitches. In the south district –below Swift Run Gap on route 33 –you'll see some golds and yellows: hickories, mostly. The south district often pulls out all her stops later in the season, so keep your eye on her as the next couple of weeks progress.

Take heart: Shenandoah has had a few frosty nights this past week. Cool nights and warm days are what cue the trees, shrubs, and vines to don their colorful clothes. It's art, yes –a little textile creativity, a little fashion design, a lot of oil and watercolor –but it's also science. Educate yourself on how it works:

Check back next Friday, October 21, for the fall color update. And don't forget to check the fall color webcam on our website:…/learn/photosmultimedia/view_webcam.htm Even better, come visit the real, live Shenandoah National Park and make up your mind to love autumn on her own terms. Whatever she offers, we promise it'll be worth the drive.

An autumn-touched oak branch in Shenandoah National Park
Autumn paints an oak branch in Shenandoah National Park.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for October 7, 2016

"There's nothing wrong with things taking time."

~ James Dyson

That's a good thing, because autumn sure is taking her time in Shenandoah National Park this year.

Every year is different, of course – as is every season. No summer is like last year's summer; no winter produces the same number of frigid days or the same amount of snowfall; no spring springs exactly as she did in the past. And so no autumn paints the mountainsides in the same way or at the same pace she did last year, or two, or four, years ago.

What will we say about autumn 2016 in years to come? We might be saying she was a late bloomer. We might be saying she came on slowly at first, then burst out of the gate in mid-October. Or we might be saying she trotted leisurely through the first half of this tenth month, and was still trailing color in early November.

There's no way to know yet. What we can say right now is that autumn is dawdling: it's still mighty green in Shenandoah National Park.

But autumn hasn't forgotten these mountains. In the Park's north district, from mile 0 to mile 28 or so, as your elevation increases along Skyline Drive, so do the colors. They're juuuust starting to show. Panoramic views display subtle changes – forest greens turning lime green and chartreuse and maize. Hillsides and hollows, when you see them all at once, remind you of the dusky yet illuminated Hudson River School paintings – those of Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey, and Thomas Cole. A few dogwoods pop out at you as you drive, some dramatically dark, grape soda shades. As you near the middle of the north district, round about mile 14 or so, you'll start to notice – maybe one or two every mile – ash trees. Is this how the ash tree got its common name – because it glows from within come October, like a dying ember, so many colors on one tree? Ashes are the mood rings of our forests – subtle gold on one side, chartreuse near the ground, sunset mauve at the top – making you wonder exactly what emotion they feel at the moment and what emotional state they're headed for. Sumacs – very occasionally still – are starting to display their typical fiery color palette, like roadside lava lamps. A good-looking pokeweed here and there rises beside Skyline Drive, like a handsome but brawny lush from a bar stool, and flashes the feel-good colors of a wine flight – Pinot Gris yellow, Chardonnay gold, Petit Verdot purple. A few gum trees have turned completely chili-pepper red, one tree making a scene amongst all its green neighbors, impatient to get on with the season. Virginia creepers are mixed – some are still green as poison, others have ripened to paprika, persimmon, and raspberry.

So it starts. Fall this year is as dilatory as a prima donna making her fans wait for her descent down a grand staircase. But descend she will. Come to Shenandoah as soon as you can, as often as you can, and watch the grand show.

The fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 14, 2016. Check back to see how the color unfolds in this Blue Ridge Mountains national park.

A maple near Skyland Amphitheater offers splashes of red and gold for your viewing pleasure.
A maple near Skyland Amphitheater, mile 41.7, offers splashes of red and gold for your viewing pleasure.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for September 30, 2016

"Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn." ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

Or, may we recommend an even better way to watch the leaves turn: take time to drive Skyline Drive or hike a Shenandoah National Park trail.

It's still early. Many trees are still wearing their summer greens. But the spots of color that last week were still rather small and scattered are this week bigger and more profuse. You'll see most of the color on Virginia creeper –that startling, vivid scarlet –and on maples, where here and there throughout the Park one branch will seem to have jumped into a bucket of bright red paint ahead of its tree mates –a fall color leap of faith. A maple across from Skyland Amphitheater is a prime example.

Ferns are turning gold –their kelly green fronds brushed lightly now with gold dust, but transforming frond tip by frond tip into the cinnamon and milk chocolate tones they'll wear in winter. There are several lavish displays of ferns along Skyline Drive, but one of the most enchanting is at the Stony Man trailhead at mile 41.7. Purple asters still delight all along the Drive, winking at you with their saffron-colored eyes. Goldenrods still greet you, too, though their lemon yellow is beginning to age into a turmeric-toned golden. Dogwoods, denizens mostly of the Park's northern reaches, are turning various shades of red –beet, bronze, Mackintosh apple, and cherry.

It's been a little dry in the Park for the past few weeks, but over the past two days we've finally gotten some rain. Trees need moisture for their leaves to change the colors we expect from them at this time of year, and so the rain should help. Try to remember this if you arrive to a rainy Shenandoah. It really is a good thing, and the Park is still lovely –in some ways more lovely –in rainy, even foggy, weather. Take your time, drive safely, and enjoy the view.

The fall color report will be updated next Friday, October 7. Check back then to see how fall is working its magic in Shenandoah National Park.

Goldenrods herald fall near Marys Rock Tunnel, mile 32
Goldenrods herald autumn near Marys Rock Tunnel, mile 32

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for September 23, 2016

“Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.”

– Samuel Butler

Autumn is here now, and things are getting mellow in Shenandoah National Park.

The biggest change is at Big Meadows. Big Meadows’ higher elevation makes it one of the first places autumn transforms, and she has – right on schedule – activated her alchemy in the Meadow again this year. The shrubs and grasses that were the green of summer last week are just beginning to turn green-gold and yellow-green, brushing the Meadow the citrusy tones of a big, shallow bowl of lemons and limes. Along Skyline Drive you’ll see polka-dots of color – a spot of apple-red here, a speck of ripe tangerine there – among the mostly still-verdant trees and shrubs. But on the ground, where the flora grows closer to the earth, you can see for sure that fall has not forgotten Shenandoah; the goldenrods and asters have splashed their vivid lemon and purple tones generously – like a late-year spring – and summer flowers like black-eyed Susans and coreopsis that bloomed for you already in July and August provide a solemn but lovely golden-brown drop cloth for goldenrods’ and asters’ just-now-coming-into-their-own ludicrous hues.

As you gaze out from overlooks along Skyline Drive and summits in the Park’s backcountry, you’ll see sparse polka-dotting that mimics that along roadsides – freckles of peach-toned beeches and tomato-red maples, just here, just there. But the mountainsides are still mostly the apt forest green and eponymous navy-green of summer in this part of the Blue Ridge.

There’s one vine, though – Virginia creeper – that seems to want to accommodate the autumn-craving visitor. Virginia creeper doesn’t creep up tree trunks at all – it rushes, like an energetic child sprinting up a spiral staircase – and where you see the vine this week in Shenandoah, it does not hide its cherry-red self. It practically shouts for your attention from trunks of ash trees, hickories, and oaks. You don’t even have to get out of your car; Virginia creeper puts on its show right beside the road.

Like Virginia creeper, autumn rushes her arrival. Each day she pulls more color from her palette and dabs it on throughout Shenandoah. Come see her artistry for yourself, as soon as you can.

The fall color report will be updated next Friday, September 30, 2016. Check back to see how charmingly fall is making her way through Shenandoah.

NPS photo: Goldenrod heralds fall near Marys Rock Tunnel, near mile 32

A touch of fall color along Skyline Drive near Hemlock Springs Overlook
A touch of fall color along Skyline Drive near Hemlock Springs Overlook

NPS/Patressa Kearns

September 16, 2016

"Summer ends, and autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night."
~ Hal Borland

Technically, it's still summer, even in Shenandoah National Park.

But autumn is coming. Officially, she'll be here in six days. Unofficially, she's already unpacking her bags and making herself at home.

As autumn whirled in to these mountains, she touched her magic wand to trees, grasses, flowers, and shrubs here and there –black locusts, black-eyed Susans gone to seed, a sassafras –to turn them golden, plum, and bronze. A handful of vines, like Virginia creeper, she hurriedly splashed with scarlet, and a sumac or two's undersides she dotted with crimson.

But it's still mostly verdant in these mountains. Not only has summer not checked out yet, she hasn't even begun to fold her green wardrobe. As often happens at this time of year, summer and autumn will share quarters for another week or so in Shenandoah. When they have roomed together here, the sleepover has always been mesmerizing and fun to watch. Goldenrods, those magnificently mustard flowers of late summer and early fall, stand dazzling and sunshiny, almost in groves, along Skyline Drive. Purple asters blend in in spots, to lend the roadsides their more elegant moonlight hue. Ferns, especially the sea of ferns near mile 38 that last week waved supple and verdurous in the mountaintop breeze, are taking on a tinge of gilt –still stunning, but more stately now.

When autumn starts to move in, though, she moves fast. She settles in first at high elevations;her colors, the reverse of spring's, move down the mountains from up on high. Next week this time things will look different in Shenandoah National Park, as shades of green make way for the golds, rusts, oranges, and cranberry reds of the approaching season.

Although the ways fall color happens are scientific, describing fall color is not, and predicting it accurately -- even for an arborist -- is out of the question. Shenandoah's fall color reports will, therefore, be just that –reports of how fall is progressing, as seen through the eyes of one reporter. And as Shenandoah is a 100-mile-long park, with elevations ranging from less than 1,000 feet to just over 4,050 feet, there is no single "peak" of color;rather there are lots of little peaks, bursts of color happening at different times in different places. The best we can do, year after year, toward fall color prognostication for visitors trying to plan their autumn jaunts to Shenandoah, is to say this: the time most likely to be most colorful in this park is the middle of October. This is also Shenandoah's busiest time, so plan accordingly.

We look forward to your visit!

This fall color report will be updated each Friday through at least October. So check back next week to see what's happening color wise in this lovely national park.

NPS photo: First signs of fall near Hemlock Springs Overlook, mile 39.7



October 23, 2015

“Mark how the forest now hath doffed its green,
And Nature dons her cloak of many hues;
Now reigns the holy beauty of Decay!
How calmly sleeps the lake: the coloured woods
Reflected on its face in thousand tints...
Like rainbows wreck'd, all the gay woods do sing...”

~James Rigg, “The Poet’s Ramble in October,” Wild Flower Lyrics and Other Poems

How exquisite is the decay that comes with autumn! Drive through Shenandoah National Park this weekend and thrill to the gorgeous glory of this paradox of seasons that marks an end to summer’s balminess and the beginning of a long winter sleep. Yes, everything will turn taupe and sullen in a few weeks and the woods will nod off under a skin of frost and snow and – soon enough – ice. (It will still be lovely, especially once the clear silver-blues of winter arrive, but that’s another season.)

It’s October, though, and still party time in these mountains. Sleep and rest and the quietude of winter will come along in due time, but this week these woods are loud and obnoxiously glamorous, like ill-behaved but beautiful celebrities wearing feather boas, big hats, silk ties, and lots and lots of costume jewelry.

Red! How many different words are there for this most fiery of colors? Carmine, scarlet, ruby, cherry, candy apple – they’re all here, polka-dotting the hills of Shenandoah National Park right now. In the area around miles 18 and 19, the hills to the east of Skyline Drive are dappled here and there with trees the shocking vermillion of poinsettias. Some trees on those particular mountainsides have already shed their leaves, so these smears of red stand out like cardinals on a winter landscape. In most places in the Park this week, these dollops and smears of red (mostly maples and some ambitious Virginia creepers shimmying up tall trees of every kind) intermingle nicely with the oranges, golds, yellows, and greens of hickories, oaks, ashes, and pines. All along Skyline Drive, seriously red maples – one at a time, for maximum impact – stand and salute you as you motor by them, like Beefeaters at the Tower of London.

At Franklin Cliffs Overlook in the center of the Park, the north-facing hillside is positively alive with color – to call it a riot is no overstatement. Sunlit trees stand proudly on their slope, so flashy they put the 96-count box of Crayolas to shame. Even though the central portion of Shenandoah, where Fishers Gap lies, is past proverbial peak, the views from its overlooks and summits are just getting started. Oranges are spectacular throughout this Blue Ridge park: certain mountains at its heart are rusty and nubby with treetops, reminding you of freshly baked, yet-to-be-iced carrot cupcakes – little bumps of carrot-hued hickories and pineapple-tinted maples lending texture to the view. Sassafras has pulled out all the stops this year, absolutely blazing, the colors of a bonfire. If you have the chance to drive south through Marys Rock Tunnel near mile 32, do so: as you exit the tunnel, the view expands crazily, a kaleidoscope of yellow, gold, and Key lime. Low Gap, at mile 8, was all ebony and chartreuse on Thursday – ebony from the trunks of the tulip trees that amass there and chartreuse from their leaves, making that stretch of Skyline Drive as hushed and holy-seeming as a Gothic cathedral. By Saturday, that same sanctuary will be glowing gold, the tulip trees’ leaves burning like a thousand lit candles.

It’s all carnival colors up there now – circus-poster shades of red, gold, orange, yellow, and green. Add all that to the cornflower blue of the sky and the pale but psychedelic purple of asters that are still blooming – becoming in some places brighter as they fade – and what you get is a festival of color.

It will feel like Shenandoah National Park has gone into party mode and donned these bright jewels and garments just for you. Drive safely, of course, watching for crossing wildlife, visitors, and other cars – but don’t miss a single mile of it. Soon enough Old Man Winter will arrive in a gust and these colors will be the stuff of photographs, poems, and memory.

The fall color report will be updated next Friday, October 30, 2015.

An autumn landscape from Hazel Mountain. As we look through a window of leaves and rocks onto the mountain, we see brilliant oranges and yellows, against which the three bright red maples pop.
Mid-October 2015; Hazel Mountain Overlook

NPS | Neal Lewis

October 16, 2015

“But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they have been absorbing from the sun all summer.” ~John Burroughs, “The Falling Leaves,” Under the Maples

No doubt about it, fall color is a science. Changes in seasonal light and temperatures tell the trees they can shut down photosynthesis (making food and oxygen from water, carbon dioxide, and light) for the rest of the year, and live off the nutrients they stored up during summer. Chlorophyll, which helps bring about photosynthesis, makes trees’ leaves green. When light and temperature changes alert trees to shut down the kitchen that is photosynthesis, chlorophyll disappears from leaves and the leaves’ true colors emerge – which delights the heck out of most of us. Nature causes the color change and it’s all explainable by science. But the real end result of this for us humans is art, and we are enchanted by art.

And let’s face it, nature is famously unpredictable. Scientists try every year to forecast how, where, and when autumn’s colors will be at their “peak.” But fall color peak remains a delicious and mystifying little minx.

If you want to consult the experts on the topic, check out one of the fall color prediction maps available online, like this one: If you’d like a plain-language explanation of why leaves change color, visit a site like Science Made Simple: And if you want to see in real time what at least one mountainside-into-valley part of Shenandoah National Park looks like at any given moment, don’t forget to check out the Park’s fall color webcam:

Or just come to the Park and see the show for yourself.

If you drive into Shenandoah National Park anytime during the next week and a half, you will be greeted by Jackson Pollock-esque spatters of some of nature’s most surprising shades. The lower elevations of the north district are still coming along, and there is some magnificent color from Front Royal to Beahms Gap. But right now, the very center of the Park – from Thornton Gap at route 211 34 miles south to Swift Run Gap at route 33 – is near or at its prime for the year.

Hickories, sassafras, and some maples are splashed with dramatic yellow-golds. Depending on the time of day you see them and the light that strikes them, these trees can look like outsize flowers – coreopsis, goldenrods, big bushy blossoms like something Alice might have seen in Wonderland. Near Skyland, around mile 42 on Skyline Drive, the sun shining through those yellow-golds doubles its own intensity until you feel like you’re motoring through the sun itself.

The effect is detoxifying; you feel the poisons of the week draining away as you gaze into the gilt. The Meadow Spring parking maple (at mile 33.5) which last week was robed in ripe mango hues this week resembles the brown-orange-into-gold-into-vapor of a single candle flame; next week it will be bare, snuffed out for the year. Stop at Stony Man Overlook south of mile 38 and gaze up at the old fellow in the mountain. How very like an illustration of a recumbent Jerry Garcia he looks, rendered in Sixties-era tie-dye tones!

Between mile 47 and 48 is a commotion of color. Looking out from Hemlock Springs and Franklin Cliffs overlooks is like drifting over a Turkish spice market. Naked Creek Overlook a few miles south of Big Meadows is blazing yellow. Driving north toward Swift Run Overlook (near mile 67), you round a bend and the mountain in front of you assaults you with color. Stand at Bacon Hollow Overlook, just south of mile 69, and you won’t believe you’re not looking out onto a model railroad collection of trees of every shade.

Rocky Mount Overlook just south of mile 71 is gorgeous whether you gaze out into the Shenandoah Valley from it or turn around and take in the wall of stone across Skyline Drive that is decorated with carmine Virginia creeper, golden birches, light purple asters, and still-emerald oaks and sassafras. At South River Overlook near mile 63, a big handsome red and yellow maple bends gracefully toward the view as if to present it to you, totally unaware of how stunning it is itself.

Sumacs throughout the Park are in different stages. These shrubs don’t ever seem to play by the rules: in places where the rest of the woods are mostly green, sumacs might explode in unnatural-looking neon palettes; where the woods are every shade you can think of, the cagey shrubs might still be as green as Ireland. Sassafras trees are festive – turmeric gold in some spots, a candy bowl of tones – all on one tree – somewhere else. Along Skyline Drive scarlet Virginia creeper slithers over rock walls, as if trying to escape the lowlands and sneak across the road to safety. You might suddenly look up and catch a golden-orange hickory rising like a Jack-o’-Lantern into a turquoise sky – a scene so instantly lovely your next breath fails you and you gasp with glee.

Shenandoah National Park in autumn is nature’s art gallery. Come on out and take in the show.

Bright red tree on left; cyclist rounds curve in Skyline Drive; more fall color in background

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for Friday, October 9, 2015

“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year long for the grand finale. ~ Lauren DeStefano

If you’re looking for gold, you’ll find it in Shenandoah National Park this week. Hickories are dressing themselves, leaf by leaf, in clothes the color of sunshine. Goldenrods are finishing up their blooming season with dignity and a slight bang, as they take on Dijon mustard hues. Ashes and some maples are setting themselves ablaze – self-burnishing their leaves seemingly for your pleasure (or is it all for the pleasure of black bears, deer, squirrels, and the rest of the Park’s resident wildlife?). Asters’ otherworldly radiance – that electric purple-blue you will swear is plugged in somewhere – dapples the roadsides and overlooks.

As you drive through the Park’s higher elevations toward its center, you will look out onto hillsides that look like needle-pointed ottomans on which the needle worker has stitched every conceivable bright color of thread – including, still, plenty of emerald greens. Higher peaks have donned tie-dyed fleece caps. Depending on how the sun hits certain trees – especially the oaks that stand alone at overlooks and parking areas – you might see polished copper or glazed terracotta. This part of the Appalachians Mountains where Shenandoah National Park lies has few of the maples that transform New England mountains and hills into mounds and bowls of red and orange Skittles. But occasionally you will round a turn on Skyline drive and a maple tree the colors of a bonfire will cause your heart to skip a beat – one lone Acer sending your whole nervous system into overdrive. At Meadow Spring parking, mile 33.5, there are two such maples – one in the parking area that is the colors of a ripe mango and one on the western roadside the color of tangerines. At Jenkins Gap (near mile 12) and Range View Overlook (mile 17.1), the colors are at that elusive peak – looking lit from within, multitudinous, crazy beautiful. If you drive north on the Drive and look up to the southwest hill just above Tunnel Parking Overlook (mile 32.2), you will see a tall tree whose trunk looks to have been swathed in barn-red paint; that’s Virginia creeper, doing its thing.

Dogwoods (most of which are in the Park’s lower elevations) are the color of garnets and rubies. Ashes are starting to glow from within, too, like dying embers – that faint ochre that somehow manages to be luminescent even as it demurs, incandescing shyly from within the plum-bronzes of the trees’ outer leaves. Poison ivy vines are Javanese batik scarves, wrapped stylishly around the necks of oaks, pines, and hickories. Everywhere there are touches of light and popping color, like a Monet painting.

Come visit the Park and see this natural color show for yourself.

The fall color report will be updated next Friday, October 16, 2015.

oranges and browns cover the meadow
Big Meadows

NPS/Katy Cain

Shenandoah National Park Fall Color Report for Friday, October 2, 2015

“My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane. …”

~ Robert Frost, “My November Guest”

Make no mistake, in Shenandoah National Park – and all along the Eastern Seaboard – today we are unequivocally submerged in some “dark days of autumn rain.” But they need not be sorrowful, as Frost word-paints them. If you approach them with the right attitude, rainy autumn days can be causes for great delight. In other words, if you look for color and light, you will find it – even when it’s pouring down rain.

The color is coming on in the Park, burning through the rain in fits and starts, like the opening sequence in the TV show "Bonanza." In the north district – between the Park entrance in Front Royal, Virginia, to Thornton Gap at route 211 – the leaves are still mostly green. But as you head south toward Thornton Gap you’re going higher elevation wise, and so the color increases, too. (Remember: unlike spring, fall creeps down the mountain.) Larger patches of golden yellows, tangerine oranges, and scarlets greet you as you drive south. In the central portion of the Park – the highest elevations – those M&M colors are even more abundant and dramatic, especially around Skyland and Hawksbill – the Park’s highest peaks. These are hickories and maples, sumac and Virginia creeper. When asked about how Big Meadows’ colors are looking, especially as regards the copious rainfall and ensuing heavy fog, one ranger at Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 on Skyline Drive, in the Park’s center) responded, “The last time I saw the meadow – which has been a few days ago now – it was very colorful – reddish orange from the blueberry bushes, mostly.” The northern end and toward the meadow’s middle is turning red-orange – like a simmering pot of chili, taking on the hues of the spices that make it come alive with flavor. As you head farther south along Skyline Drive, into the southern half of the Park, trees are still green, but they’re tinged ever so slightly with the colors of the season – faint bronzes, russets, and greenish-golds.

Still, there’s no denying that if you were to visit Shenandoah National Park at this very moment (Friday afternoon, October 2), much of what you’d see, chromatically speaking, are the silvers, chromes, glimmering pearls, and slick sands and ecrus that days-on-end rain brings to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s raining right now, and it has been raining for most of a week. And it’s not supposed to stop raining for a few more days. If you choose to visit Shenandoah National Park in these “days of autumn rain,” be cautious. Plan wisely. Heed the advice from Park Management posted on our Facebook page earlier this morning: “If you are planning to visit the Park this weekend, be advised that between the rainfall we've already had and what is predicted, we could have hazardous conditions. Power outages and downed trees and debris are common in the predicted situations. You may be required to shelter in place if the Park and/or Skyline Drive have to be closed. This may mean that once here you would not be able to leave. Please keep this and other safety cautions in mind when planning your weekend.” Some parking areas have been closed due to flooding, and some ranger programs have been cancelled because they are not accessible in the rain and mud.

Be careful. Be safe. And take your color where you can find it.

The fall color report for Shenandoah National Park will be updated next Friday, October 9, 2015.

Skyline Drive roadway disappears into tunnel; bright goldenrod in left foreground.
Goldenrod along Skyline Drive just south of Marys Rock Tunnel.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Shenandoah National Park fall color report for September 25, 2015

"The goldenrod is yellow,

The corn is turning brown;

The trees in apple orchards

With fruit are bending down."

~ Helen Hunt Jackson, "September"

It's still early for fall, even at high elevations like those in Shenandoah National Park. The plane of autumn has not finished taxiing, but it has definitely touched down.

Goldenrods are yellow, and this is a good year for them. They're bright as French's mustard, more lush and frothy than they've been in past years, and they seem to be hanging out in crowds, everywhere. Asters are blooming, too, mixing their moonlit tones with the sunny hues of goldenrod. A few black-eyed Susans remain. Every few miles along Skyline Drive you'll see one brave, late-blooming Queen Anne's lace. These flowers still stand out against a sea of mostly dark green, although the sea's waves are crested with the golden browns and plums of grasses getting sleepy in preparation for winter.

Vines like Virginia creeper are turning dark crimson, almost burgundy. Sumacs' tips are just starting to glow their strange neons, like ladies at a party with freshly painted nails. Here and there, one branch of maple has decided for reasons unknown to the rest of us that it wants to be the color of cayenne, and so it is. At low elevations, like the very northern end of Skyline Drive and the southern portions around Loft Mountain (near mile 80) and south, dogwoods surprise you with their luxurious Pinot Noir garnets. The northern end of Big Meadows is taking on the shades of pumpkins and chili powder, while forests are turning the colors of citrus and vineyards –lemon yellow, lime green, Chardonnay, and ready-to-cut hayfields.

There's still a lot of green in these mountains. The summits and hollows of Shenandoah just recently got a little rain, and that has helped things green up a bit –for now. But once fall touches down on the Blue Ridge, she tends to deplane quickly, so to speak, and so these next few weeks will see her full arrival. We'll watch her strut down the red carpet of autumn together.

Please remember that these fall color reports are just that –reports on real-time seasonal color changes in this 105-mile-long, fairly skinny, varying-elevation, 300-square-mile Shenandoah National Park. When nature is in riotous color in one part of this gloriously beautiful place, she might be already disrobed in another high part of her anatomy, or still wearing the greens of summer somewhere else along her lowest reaches. This fall color reporting business is not science and prediction;it is commentary.

Check back next week to see how things are progressing. These fall color reports will be updated by noon every Friday from now through at least the end of October. Come see the crayon box that is Shenandoah National Park!

Fallen autumn leaves on Whiteoak Trail, in the rain

NPS photo

2014 Reports

November 14, 2014

"My sorrow, when she's here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane."

~ Robert Frost

Finding fall color in the area of Shenandoah National Park this week is like looking into a big vellum gift bag for a couple handfuls of M&Ms; it’s there, but at the bottom of everything, in the lower depths. What you’ll find if you come to Shenandoah National Park anytime in the next week or two is that most of the color at the highest elevations is gone. But if you pull off at some of the overlooks along Skyline Drive and look out into the Piedmont or the Shenandoah Valley, you’re still going to see some brilliant dots dappling the bottoms of hollows. Some of them are pretty dramatic hues, too – backlit golds, moody plums, scarlets, and bronzes, russets the color of a pretty redhead’s hair. If the sun is hitting those trees with leaves still left on them, you can still be mesmerized by the glorious array of colors here and there. That’s what overlooks are for, so pull off and take a look as often as you can.

Don’t forget to look down. On the ground you might find some bright colors still, artistic spatterings of leaves that have fallen. Be careful as you hike on downed leaves, as they can make the trails very slippery and dangerous, especially on rocks and when the leaves and ground are wet. But they’re so pretty – like designer mulch made by nature.

Winter is coming. It’s much closer than it was last week this time. The winds have picked up, and they’re chilly. They smell and sound of snow. They are almost visible, conveying moods and emotions – the natural body language of the coming winter – melancholy lavenders, icy blue-whites, frosty silver-grays. The leaves that have fallen seem to come to life with the winds, twirling and tumbling along trails and across parking lots and Skyline Drive. Deer, when you see them, have put on their dark-taupe winter coats, and seem to bustle into food-finding, keeping-warm mode. Birds are somber seeming – dark gray juncos, black crows and ravens, dark vultures. Occasionally you might spot a red-tailed hawk or barred owl perched high in a leafless oak, looking for a rodent meal. Bright colors have faded and become darker, stoic, just a tad contemplative and gloomy – the colors of sleep and rest and getting ready for warmer months ahead.

Rest assured, those warmer months are coming.

This is the last fall color report for Shenandoah National Park for 2014. Fall color reports will begin again next autumn, probably the last week of September. Have a safe and wonderful winter.

Thornton Hollow sunrise, October
Fall sunrise from Thornton Hollow Overlook

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for Friday, November 7, 2014

“The tints of autumn...a mighty flower garden blossoming under the spell of the enchanter, frost.” ~ John Greenleaf Whittier

In the song “America the Beautiful” lyricist Katherine Lee Bates dubbed our country’s ridges “purple mountain majesties.” This week, when you look out from the overlooks along Skyline Drive, into the hollows and hills of Shenandoah National Park and across the Shenandoah Valley to the Massanutten Mountains and over the foothills of the Virginia Piedmont, that phrase might come to mind. When the trees shed their leaves late in the year, as the trees in Shenandoah and nearby hills and ridges are doing now, the mountains really do take on an amethyst glow. Purple is the color of royalty, and that royal theme reverberates nicely, as most of the color left in the park and seen from its overlooks is gold. Purple and gold – the park is positively regal this week!

Winter is coming. Everything in nature is hunkering down. These mountains and all their inhabitants will soon be under the spell of frost and cold. Dormancy reigns; time to rest and regroup. Most of the deciduous trees in Shenandoah have shed their leaves for the year – most, for there are still some impressive displays of sun-struck gold – almost metallic – in the lower elevations! Hickories, sassafras, and birches are hanging on till the end, and strutting their stuff. When the sun hits those still-golden trees, and you’re there to watch (frankly, whether you’re there to watch or not), the hollows and hillsides explode with light, beautiful light.

It’s not over yet.

Here and there, as you drive Skyline Drive, you can still see polychromatic treats for the eye – sumacs who refuse to go drab, sassafras who seem to be vying for attention, the very occasional maple who seems to enjoy burning brightly just for you. There is a maple (or there was yesterday) on the west side of Skyline Drive between miles 25 and 26 who is putting on a one-tree fireworks show.

This won’t last, this last burst of color. But it’s here now, and if you can make your way to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive very soon, you might get a front-row seat to autumn’s last display.

This fall color report will be updated for the last time this year on Friday, November 14, 2014, so check in to see how the seasons and colors are changing in Shenandoah National Park.

Buck Hollow sunrise, fall color report 10-31-14, resized for the web

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for Friday, October 31, 2014

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
~ William Cullen Bryant

“Gloriously golden” is how one poetic ranger described the hills and hollows of Shenandoah National Park this week. That, fans of Shenandoah, is a perfect description of this week’s fall color.

The peak of color has passed in the park, no matter what part of it you’re talking about. But that doesn’t mean the color has disappeared completely, or even faded, everywhere. Many trees have lost their leaves, which means there are taupe-gray hillsides aplenty. The beauty of that situation, though, is that the trees which have not shed their leaves – particularly the hickories and tuliptrees that burn “gloriously golden” – stand out beautifully and proudly. Like candlelight shining through the eye holes and snaggle-toothed smile of a jack-o’-lantern, these incidental glowing trees flash and shimmer like nobody’s business.

In the central, highest-elevation portion of the park, the trees’ leaves have mostly loosed themselves and fluttered to the ground. As you drive along Skyline Drive in these highest parts of Shenandoah, you’ll no longer see masses of color along the roadside. Though there are still some phosphorescent sassafras and sumacs – some so flushed, vibrant, and gorgeous you’ll hardly be able to stand it – the forest has begun to pull on the blanket of less dramatic earth tones – ashen oysters, dusty doves, sere, mousy browns and grays. Even Big Meadows has sobered up for winter, having covered itself with the somber putties and smoky dull-metal irons and pewters of winter. Goldenrods and asters have gone to seed, and have shed their radiating mustard yellows and moonlit purples.

But pull off at an overlook anywhere in the park this week and you’ll be treated still to those gloriously golden patches and dots of hickories and tuliptrees. In the hollows and valleys of this part of the Blue Ridge, you can still see an incredible array of hues: those glorious goldens, and also the bright-metal copper of oaks, the paprikas and cayennes of some late-changing maples, and the lime green of sycamores and moosewoods. The Low Gap area around mile 8 on Skyline Drive is awash in fiery golds, made mood lifting by the darkness of the almost-black predominating tuliptrees’ trunks.

Here and there is still the brightly burning crimson maple – boo! -- and every now and then you’ll see a henna-colored ash gleaming through the drabness. These are the late changers, and seem to have waited just a little longer to turn, almost as if they want to delight you, the Shenandoah visitor. Enjoy every treat, for they, too, will eventually shed their crayon tones to nod off and sleep deeply through the winter.

Generally speaking, the northern and southern parts of Shenandoah National Park – since they are in the lower elevations – are where you’ll find the most color this late in the autumn season. But don’t let that stop you from driving through the park’s central district, as the views from the overlooks all along Skyline Drive into the kaleidoscopic low points are still gorgeous like the Promised Land. Come to Shenandoah and see it for yourself, if you can, sometime this week.

This fall color report will be updated on Friday, November 7, 2014, so check back then to see what’s happening color-wise in Shenandoah National Park.

Thornton Hollow view

Fall color report for Friday, October 17, 2014

“There is a harmony in autumn and a luster in its sky…”

~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Harmony indeed – harmony of color, light, and mood. That’s what autumn brings to just about everyone.

This all might sound a bit lofty, yes. But if you come to Shenandoah National Park anytime in the next week, you might be surprised by how the colors of fall in the Blue Ridge help bring a sense of accord – with nature, with the world, with yourself. Gazing out into hillsides coated in the splendid golds, oranges, and scarlets of autumn is good for the blood pressure, a great stress reliever, a bringer of peace of mind.

Although it might seem like an easy thing to do, predicting a fall color peak is almost impossible – at least it’s impossible to do expertly or well. Colors peak in different places – different elevations, different temperatures, different forest types – at different times. When the color is at peak at mile 42 along Skyline Drive, around Stony Man, it might still be very green at mile 10, at Compton Gap. A hillside that faces north, like the one you can see from Eaton Hollow Overlook at mile 70.3, can still be vivid green, even as the southwest-facing hillside directly across from it is flocked with the colors of a Thanksgiving Day buffet table. The color at Hawksbill, in the park’s highest elevation, will peak long before that at Low Gap in the north district. Like meringue swirled and spun with a pie-maker’s spatula and popped into a blazing hot oven, high points color first.

That being said, if there is one week to come to Shenandoah to absorb the de-stressing benefits of fall, it is this week. You’re likely to see the widest range of color in these mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro if you plan to arrive in the park sometime between now and next weekend. While there’s still a surfeit of green in the leaves in the lower elevations, in many parts of Shenandoah green is just a backdrop for the speckles of pumpkin oranges, carnelians, wines, and almost metallic golds and bronzes of maples, Virginia creeper, hickories, and ashes. Sumacs are still surprising with their chameleon Day-Glo tones of shocking orange, chartreuse, and pomegranate red. Sassafras’ mitten-shaped leaves seem to wave at you, in candy store shades – butterscotch, Fireball, lime, and tangerine. In places where the leaves have already started to waft ground-ward, a lone maple the color of a Tahiti sunset startles you awake. The views from Skyline Drive’s overlooks are heart-stopping magnificent. Prepare to be surprised!

This fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 24, 2014, so check back then to see how the color is progressing.

Skyline Drive in autumn

Fall color report for Friday, October 10, 2014

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ~ George Eliot

If you were able to fly like a bird over Shenandoah National Park right now, you would be able to see the big picture of how autumn is unfolding and expanding here; this 105-mile-long park would happily show you the many phases of a season. The northern third of the park has some of the lowest elevations, so fall – delicious fall, which flows down the mountain like candy sprinkle-flecked maple syrup over mounds of thick oatmeal – has begun to drip in a few bright, sweet spots here and there. Dogwood trees, features of the park’s northern end, display different shades of scarlet, all of them subtle and muted. In the center of the park, the highest elevations, the mountainsides and summits flash large patches of dramatic oranges and reds, saffron yellows, turmeric golds. Blueberry bushes in the north half of Big Meadows, smack dab in the center of Shenandoah, burn chili powder red. In the south district the palette is sunnier – yellows, golds, pumpkin oranges, mangoes – with the occasional jolt of a neon-red maple spattering the canvas.

On the ground, driving Skyline Drive or hiking the park's trails, sumacs continue to blaze rainbow tones, like a rack of color samples in a paint store. Hickories, birches, and sassafras radiate happy hues of sunshine. (Even when it’s raining, when you see these gold-hued trees smiling at you, you’re fooled into believing the sun is coming out – arboreal mood lifters!) Goldenrods are fading, but purple asters continue to glimmer like moonbeams. One young maple stands proudly at Meadow Spring parking, offering every upbeat Day-Glo color you can imagine.

Fall oozes slowly this year. There’s still a great deal of green – lodens, olives, limes. Low Gap, the tuliptree-filled area around mile 8 on Skyline Drive, is still mostly verdant, sporting only touches of yellow-gold in the very tops of the trees. Hillsides of oaks and evergreens still defy the color wheel of fall, providing a lovely backdrop to the polychrome patches of gums, maples, hickories, birches, and beeches.

That’s the color THIS week. Remember, though fall seems to be coming on slowly this year in the Blue Ridge, it can change mood and tempo as it so desires – quickly, without warning or permission. It’s a mercurial season. Like a woman in the old saying about the fairer sex, fall reserves the right to change its mind at any time. Come to Shenandoah to find out for yourself how autumn is progressing in the Blue Ridge.

This fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 17, 2014, so check back then to see how things are coming along.

Misty mountain ridge showing dots of fall color.

NPS/Neal Lewis

Fall color report for Friday, October 3, 2014

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." ~ L. M. Montgomery, "Anne of Green Gables"

This week the mountains are subtly polka-dotted with color. Red-orange, gold, auburn, and lime dot the still dark green hillsides and hollows like billiard balls on a pool table. That's what you'll see from many of the overlooks along Skyline Drive anyway. There's still a lot of summer green left in Shenandoah.

But as you drive through the park or walk its trails, close-ups offer something entirely different: Birches and hickories are still startling with marigold hues. Sumacs, always a pleasant shock, shout out their amazing neons. Virginia creepers are the stars of the forest, storming the woods' stage with their bright Hawaiian Punch-red displays. There is one dead hemlock tree on the east side of Skyline Drive, fittingly situated near Hemlock Springs Overlook, which is almost completely swathed in Virginia creeper, like someone draped a gravestone with a bright red scarf.

Asters and goldenrods are still gracing the roadsides and open spaces with hues reminiscent of a field in Provence –cheery yellows and lavenders. There are still quite a few bright green gum trees speckled with scarlet tips. Ash trees, like exotic ladies, smolder – purplish bronze on the outside, fiery amber within.

Big Meadows, in the park's center, has turned somber – taupes, camels, and various shades of brown – but it, too, is dotted still with paprika oranges and cumin-colored ochers. You can tell when you look at Big Meadows it's dozing off, preparing to pull on its winter blanket.

What's always fun to watch is the way fall oozes down the mountains, into the hollows and valley below. When you gaze out from one of Skyline Drive's overlooks, notice how this happens. Somehow, it's comforting to witness. Though it varies each year in its intensity and pace, fall moves this way year after year, soothing in its sameness.

The colors of the forest are changing by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Come to Shenandoah and see it for yourself.

This fall color report will be updated on Friday, October 10, 2014, so check back then to see how things are progressing.

Bursts of red seem to characterize the 2014 early fall.
Fall color report for Friday, September 26, 2014
Every autumn is different, and every day –every hour –of every autumn is different. This year in Shenandoah National Park, some of autumn's colors are taking the stage, very boldly and by storm.

To be sure, most trees are still green. It's still early in the season, so that behavior is not unusual. Many trees are just beginning to take on a presaging gold-green. And some hickories and birches are alight, golden yellow, as are milkweeds' leaves. Virginia creeper, a prolific vine in the park, is transforming, too, into various shades of scarlet –wine, cherry, and candy apple. Dogwoods in the north district are dappled with bronze. Gums –also early changers –are dressed in vermillion, many of them since late summer. Sumacs are neon. Asters the color of moonlight and goldenrods the shade of sunshine are displaying their usual mood-lifting hues.In Big Meadows, blueberry bushes have blushed that shade of red you have to see to believe.

But the maples! Apparently, the maples –especially the sugar maples –have selected a few leaders to go ahead of the rest of tree tribe and glow. Dotting the hillsides along Skyline Drive very occasionally you may be startled by branch tips, whole branches, and even whole trees the color of fire. Surprise!

But note: This report is based on what was happening yesterday, Thursday, September 25. Autumn is mercurial, in Shenandoah National Park and everywhere else. Temperatures at night and in the daytime, wind, rain, and all the other weather features typical of a fickle season all affect autumn's mood. In other words, what you see when you arrive in the park may be very different from what you read in this report and the other five fall color reports forthcoming this season.

Consider yourself notified.

The best plan you can make is to just come to Shenandoah National Park and see for yourself how wonderful and beautiful this magical lady is –whatever colors she chooses to dress herself in.

The fall color report will be updated every Friday through the end of October, so look for the next one on October 3, 2014.
Orange and golds blanket the ridges of Shenandoah beneath a mulit-colored sky.

NPS/Denise Machado

2013 Reports

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

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


2012 Reports

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.


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.


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

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

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.


NPS/Ed Knepley

2011 Reports

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!" Click here for details.

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 13, 2017

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Shenandoah National Park
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Luray, VA 22835


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