Fall in Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains is a bounty for the senses. Here are 10 top activities to make the most of this colorful season...
Skyline Drive: Although it sometimes slows to a crawl, you'll be happy to have time to take in the views from the winding road on top of the Shenandoah Mountain range. On the drive you'll see a riot of colors—hickory trees turning gold, maples becoming garnet-red, and sumac bushes transformed to a shocking orange—all against the backdrop of silver granite with lavender wildflowers mixed in.
Stay in a Bed and Breakfast: Villages along the Shenandoah boast dozens of charming inns tucked into mountainsides and valleys. We're fond of Glen Gordon Manor and the Mayhurst Inn. Some are luxurious and sophisticated. Others are cozy and affordable. But all of them have innkeepers that send you off for the day with a satisfying, homemade breakfast.
Climb Old Rag Mountain: The rocky cliffs and steep paths carved into this famous peak will get your lungs pumping. Besides the workout, the panoramic views will take your breath away. For beginners, hike the 3.7 mile Stony Ma trail.
Explore a Cave: There are four popular caverns in the Shenandoah Valley—Luray, Shenandoah, Skyline, and Endless Caverns—all with glittering rock formations. Whether it's scorching hot or freezing cold outside, the inside temperature remains 56 degrees year round. Experience "total darkness" in the cave when your guide turns off the lantern.
Tour a Presidential Mansion: Four Presidents lived in this region, and their homes are open to the public—Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, James Madison's Montpelier, Woodrow Wilson's home in Staunton and James Monroe's Ash-Lawn Highland. Besides impressive architecture, you'll find original furnishings, books, and art treasured by these famous Americans.
Go Apple Picking: The orchards along the Shenandoah Mountains are bursting with apples. Many towns celebrate the harvest season with a festival, and most orchards welcome visitors to pick their own. Stop in a farmers market to buy crafts and freshly pressed apple cider.
Visit a Craft Brewery: There are 16 crafter brewers in the area, like Blue Mountain Brewery, South Street Brewery in Charlottesville, and Starr Hill. And all of them open their doors for tours, tastings, and events each fall.
Drink Some Wine: The region is also home to a burgeoning wine community, with dozens of vineyards. Guests are invited to sample their stock, and many wineries serve meals on outside patios with fantastic views of the colorful autumn leaves.
Hike the Appalachian Trail: Almost 500 of this 2,200-mile path passes through Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains, paralleling Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Animals and humans have used the same trails for centuries. Escape into the wilderness with its rich assemblage of biodiversity—you might see bear, deer, elk, snakes, and other small mammals.
Save Room for Farm-to-Table Cuisine: Stop at one of the many farm-to-table restaurants scattered throughout the region. Many local farms offer cooking demonstrations, before feeding their guests from their own harvest. The local ingredients worth seeking out include: handmade cheeses, lamb, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, and broccoli. Fine dining restaurants worth the splurge: Inn at Little Washington (Washington), Glen Gordon Manor (Huntly), Ashby Inn (Paris), and Zynodoa (Staunton).
Photo credits: Glen Gordon Manor breakfast and entrance courtesy of Glen Gordon Manor Bed and Breakfast; Shenandoah Caverns courtesy of Shenandoah Valley Tourism; Virginia winery via Dreamstime.com