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Autumn is the perfect time to hike, bike, float, ride or just meander a bit amid some of the best leaf color there is.
Into the Night Trail Race
Fall arrives in Western Virginia, but as the natural world prepares for a winter slumber, find a flurry of recreational opportunities among eye-popping foliage.
Here are 24 different ideas you’ve gotta try this autumn, along with how the activity can fit into your leaf-looking regimen, meals and sleep schedule.
The Gotta Try: Mountain bike Douthat State Park. Just outside Clifton Forge, Douthat is Virginia’s premier state park for several reasons, its network of single-track trail being a key one.
The Leaf Look: Douthat’s trails run the ridges surrounding the lake, offering a primo view of the Alleghany Highlands in the fall.
The Place to Eat: Jack Mason’s Tavern (jackmasonstavern.com; 540-862-5624) offers a selection of pub-style food and wine, beer and spirits.
Staying Another Day? Stay over within Douthat, either in a campground or in one of its cabins (dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/douthat.shtml; 540-862-8100).
The Gotta Try: Float the Upper James River Water Trail in Botetourt County. With a new access point near Glen Wilton, it’s easier than ever to float one of America’s most historic rivers.
The Leaf Look: The upper James River winds through scenic pastures and gorges, offering a different perspective on autumn colors.
The Place to Eat: Step back in time when you enter Ransone’s Drug (ransones.com; 540-254-2904), which features a soda fountain and grill.
Staying Another Day? The Buchanan Railcar Inn (buchananrailcarinn.com; 540-460-1932) lets visitors stay over in a converted 1934 Hiawatha Dining Car, complete with a 45-foot living room.
The Gotta Try: Day hike the Rock Castle Gorge Trail, a 10.8-mile loop trail ranging in elevation from 1,700 to 3,572 feet. The hike veers from streamside walking in Rock Castle Gorge to scenic vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Leaf Look: The Rocky Knob Recreation area of the Blue Ridge Parkway offers some of the most scenic mountain views in southern Virginia.
The Place to Eat: Chateau Morrisette Winery and Restaurant (thedogs.com; 540-593-2865) serves an extensive menu of gourmet food to be paired with its wines.
Staying Another Day? The Woodberry Inn (woodberryinn.com; 540-593-2567) sits on a small lake just 200 yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Gotta Try: Four-wheel the South Pedlar ATV trail system. If off-roading on ATVs is your thing, check out these 19 miles of ATV trail in national forest near Big Island. Find routes for a variety of skill levels, from narrow and twisting to wide and open. Use permits are required, and the season ends with November.
The Leaf Look: The trail system showcases a variety of environments and views, allowing a multi-faceted exploration of fall’s colors.
The Place to Eat: The Southern Inn (southerninn.com; 540-463-3612) in nearby Lexington serves contemporary Southern food and is a longtime favorite of locals and college students alike.
Staying Another Day? For an upscale sleep after a day of riding, try The Georges boutique inn (thegeorges.com/accommodations; 540-463-3612) has 18 themed rooms and a piano bar.
The Gotta Try: Trout fish the Pigg River. Mix a fishing license, fishing pole, a box of worms and a canoe, and you’ve got the ingredients for a heck of a day floating Franklin County’s Pigg River. Instead of battling the bluebeards in search of state-stocked trout at Waid Park, use it as a starting point to float the 8-mile Pigg River Blueway.
The Leaf Look: The blueway rolls through farmland and wooded hillsides, offering plenty of views of Franklin County foliage.
The Place to Eat: Go to Bowlings Place (540-483-3403), where you can grab a couple of hot dogs, a bowl of beans, a slice of wheel cheese and a beer.
Staying Another Day? Claiborne House Bed and Breakfast (claibornehouse.net; 540-483-4616) in Rocky Mount includes gardens and a wraparound porch.
The Gotta Try: Fish and, if you get a particularly warm day, steal a late-season swim at Jennings Creek and North Creek, both of which are stocked with trout.
The Leaf Look: Hike the Apple Orchard Falls-Cornelius Creek loop, or drive a nearby gravel road, to get to the Sunset Fields pull-off on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and watch the setting sun add another level of color to autumn.
The Place to Eat: The Mountain View Restaurant (540-254-1333) is just off the Arcadia exit on I-81 and makes hand-cut sandwiches.
Staying Another Day? Camp in a tent or RV at the U.S. Forest Service’s North Creek campground (540-291-2188), open through Nov. 30. Campsite 13 has its own swimming hole.
The Gotta Try: Backpack the Rich Hole Wilderness. The 6,450-acre wilderness, just off U.S. 42 in the Alleghany Highlands, includes old-growth hardwoods, remnants from iron mining and what remains of an old homestead with an orchard.
The Leaf Look: Mature, old-growth hardwoods, sprinkled with chestnut, pine and hemlock trees, ensures a different autumn foliage pattern than most of what you’ll find in the Blue Ridge.
The Place to Eat: The Triangle Country Store & Restaurant (540-863-8006) may be a greasy spoon diner, but it’s as authentically country as it gets.
Staying Another Day? The Hummingbird Inn (hummingbirdinn.com; 540-997-9065) was first built in 1780.
The Gotta Try: Ride the Glenwood Horse Trail. The horse trail runs 65 miles from Natural Bridge Station to Camp Bethel outside of Fincastle, shifting between jeep trails and single-track trail and mostly following the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Leaf Look: The horse trail presents varying terrain and views, minus the exhaust, noise and congestion of traveling by car.
The Place to Eat: The Pink Cadillac Diner (pinkcadillacdineronline.com; 540-291-2378) in nearby Natural Bridge serves up straight-forward, no-frills American food in a fun, nostalgic atmosphere.
Staying Another Day? The Natural Bridge Park & Historic Hotel (naturalbridgeva.com; 540-291-2121) offers off-trail accommodations.
The Gotta Try: Run a night trail run. Mountain Junkies hold trail races throughout the year, including a marathon at Carvin’s Cove. Into the Darkness (mountainjunkies.net/Into_the_Darkness.htm), on the night of October 23, is a different beast altogether: a 4-mile night run through Explore Park, where the emphasis is on fun rather than record-breaking times.
The Leaf Look: If the timing is right, you may get flashlight-lit views of colorful leaves above your head and beneath your feet.
The Place to Eat: Downtown Roanoke is close, so check out Thai Continental Cuisine (540-342-8111), the Quarter (Cajun and Creole food, thequarterrestaurant.com; 540-342-2990) or any one of the other restaurants there.
Staying Another Day? Everyone should stay at least once at Hotel Roanoke (hotelroanoke.com; 540-985-5900), a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, but one with extraordinary local history.
The Gotta Try: Watch the raptor migration. Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory sits high atop Peters Mountain, providing visitors a 360-degree view and key location along an important raptor fall migration route.
The Leaf Look: The observatory doesn’t just offer glimpses of migrating hawks and eagles, but of the fall foliage along the Eastern Continental Divide.
The Place to Eat: The Swinging Bridge Restaurant (theswingingbridge.com; 540-897-5099) in Paint Bank serves up what it describes as “old-time, Southern, stick-to-your-ribs good cookin’ with a hillbilly gourmet flare.”
Staying Another Day? Sleep at the Depot Lodge (thedepotlodge.com; 540-897-6000), a former Norfolk & Western Railway station that now rents rooms.
The Gotta Try: Hike Roaring Run. The trail at Roaring Run in Botetourt County is fairly easy, with stops at a series of waterfalls and a turn-of-the-century iron furnace.
The Leaf Look: The Roaring Run Recreational Area is populated by mixed hardwoods that burst into color in the autumn.
The Place to Eat: Stop at Lil’ Cucci’s (lilcuccisdaleville.com; 540-966-5923) for pizza, pasta and Italian food.
Staying Another Day? Seay’s Escape on Craig Creek (vrbo.com/561135; 540-330-9568) offers a 900-square-foot cabin with 111 feet of private access to Craig Creek.
The Gotta Try: Hike Crabtree Falls and/or Spy Rock. Crabtree Falls drops 1,080 feet in a series of waterfalls. Hikers may find two options: a shorter, 3.8-mile hike, and a longer 13.9-mile hike that goes on past the waterfall to present a 360-degree view at the summit of Spy Rock.
The Leaf Look: The waterfall hike provides plenty of hardwood forest color, but the Spy Rock extension goes on to a much larger, scenic panorama.
The Place to Eat: Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub (dbbrewingcompany.com; 434-361-1001) pairs national award-winning beer with a full menu.
Staying Another Day? The Cabins at Crabtree Falls (crabtreefalls.com; 571-291-9370) provides five different lodging options, all within a half-mile of the trail.