Shenandoah National ParkOctober 13, 2017
NPS/Neal Lewis photo: Fall colors up close and personal near Thornton Gap entrance station
“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.
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.
Plan a Shenandoah National Park Fall Getaway:
- Big Meadows Lodge
- Skyline Drive
- Shenandoah National Park
- Go Shenandoah
Reservations or Information (877) 847-1919
- Fall in Virginia - Fall Festivals, 48-hour Getaways and more
Last Updated: 10/13/2017