Changing colors mean peak fall foliage is right around the corner in Va., Md.

Nature lovers are getting closer to one of the most popular times of year: Peak fall foliage in the mountains and hills of Virginia and Western Maryland.

Virginia leaves in the Shenandoah National Park should peak between mid-October and the first week of November, park spokeswoman Alyssa Fox said.

“The foliage will not be the same in all areas of the park, but that’s OK, you have a chance to capture it in different areas,” Fox said. “Because the park is about 100 miles long and varies in elevation, the colors will change at different times.”



Fox said Skyline Drive is one of the most well-known ways in Shenandoah National Park for viewing the change in colors.

“You get several different viewpoints, especially because we have more than 70 overlooks where you can stop and get some leg stretches in,” she said. “You can see so much of the foliage in the park outside of the park.”

For hiking, Fox recommended Hawksbill Summit, the tallest point in the park, or Stony Man trail. Any vista is ideal for viewing. She said getting to the park during the week, as opposed to the weekends, will be less busy and make for a more enjoyable time.

As far as the best time of day to view foliage, Fox suggests finding a good view during the “golden hour,” a brief period immediately after dawn or just before dusk where the sun’s low angle makes colors pop and gives the landscape a warmer glow.

sunrise in Blue Ridge Mountains,
In Nellysford, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the trees had not changed yet on the first weekend of October 2021. (WTOP/Mike Jakaitis)

Fox said Virginia’s Shenandoah is only about 10% into the fall foliage season, in contrast to Maryland — where she expects colors to peak over the last week of October.

MARYLAND

“Western Maryland is arguably the best place to view fall foliage, with its dense forests and mountain ranges,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Megan McGinn-Meals.

“There has been a slow start to the fall foliage season, but within the last few days, the color has really begun to pop,” McGinn-Meals said.

She said Maryland is often called “America in Miniature” due to its diversity in landscapes and people.

“The first glimpse of color began at the higher elevations in Western Maryland,” in early September, McGinn-Meals said.

The lower elevation levels of the state and its eastern region will experience the fall peak last.
The Natural Resources Department said the most popular parks are Patapsco Valley in Ellicott City, Gunpowder Falls in Middle River, Sandy Point outside Annapolis and Assateague near Ocean City.

And the time to see “the best color” is on cool, clear days when humidity is low. Many factors influence the intensity and duration of fall color including temperature, light and water supply.

“Low temperatures above freezing favor bright reds in maples, while early frost may weaken color. Rainy and/or overcast days interspersed with the sun tend to increase color intensity. Extended periods of dry weather typically lead to less vibrant foliage seasons,” McGinn-Meals said.

“Warm, sunny dry days and cool crisp nights jump-start the transition and deepen the colors. Stable weather patterns allow the leaves to hold longer. Warm, wet fall weather seems to equal green leaves and less color change.”

Like Fox, Maryland park officials also recommend trying to catch fall foliage on the weekends.

“If you want to avoid crowds, you’re going to avoid weekends. Weekdays would be preferable. Some of our parks, particularly the most popular, fill at capacity on the weekends,” McGinn-Meals said.

And the best way to see fall foliage?

“Get into the forest understory,” McGinn-Meals said. “That can be accomplished through traveling the back roads in Western Maryland.”

Park officials recommend going online before heading out for a particular park.

Every Thursday, Shenandoah National Park features a video of the week where park rangers talk about the current conditions, and the same day the Maryland Department of Natural Resources updates its newsletter, which shows a color code of how far along the fall foliage is.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal levels for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

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