Top 5 places to see fall foliage

We asked and you gave us your favorite spots

October 10, 2012|Meteorologist Brent Watts

There's nothing quite like autumn in southwest and central Virginia. As the colors unfold across the region, we wanted to know where you like to go and catch the fall foliage. Here are the top answers along with a few more extras you suggested.

You can tell the leaf-peepers from the rest of those traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway. They are the ones going 10 miles below the speed limit and stopping off at every overlook to catch a better glimpse. Why not? That's what the stretch of highway is for.

No two trips are the same. Whether you're going to the Peaks of Otter or Mabry Mill, the most photographed landmark along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you'll always find colorful foliage and perhaps even bear or deer along the way.

ROUTE 311 (Catawba to Paint Bank)
It's amazing how fast you can go from cityscape to the backwoods in a matter of minutes. That's why the trip from Catawba to Paint Bank has gotten so popular over the years. Escaping to Catawba is merely a 20 minute drive from Downtown Roanoke. You'll catch plenty of colorful scenery on your way to the top of Catawba Mountain.


If you're not in a hurry and feeling up to it, hike to McAfee Knob where you'll see a breathtaking view of the foliage from 3,200 feet. Details on the hike>>

Along your trip, be sure to stop by the Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba. Come hungry and be prepared to wait a bit. The family-style dining has gained national attention and is a popular spot for locals.

The road from Catawba to Paint Bank is a winding one. Take it slow and let the speed demons pass you. You'll have a much better trip. There are several observation points with a few of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Your final stop (if you chose) is Paint Bank (Craig County). The railroad once ended its line there, hence the train depot in middle of nowhere. You'll wonder why so many cars are pulling into the General Store parking lot. It's not for gas. It's to fill-up their stomach at the Swinging Bridge Restaurant located just behind the store. After your meal, be sure to check out Tingler's Mill, located behind the restaurant.

The state highway runs 59.17 miles from the West Virginia state line near Mountain Grove, where the highway continues as West Virginia Route 39 (WV 39), east to U.S. Route 11 (U.S. 11) in East Lexington. State Route 39 connects Lexington with several communities formed around Hot Springs in Bath County.

In Rockbridge County, you'll find remarkable color changes as you drive through the Town of Goshen and Goshen Pass, a gorge formed by the Maury River.

Much of the trip takes you alongside a stream, where several pull offs allow a pairing of fall foliage and the trickling water.

Both Lexington and Hot Springs are stocked full of historic landmarks and several places to grab a bite to eat.

ROUTE 221 (Bent Mountain to Floyd)
The cool mountain air allows the trees to change a few weeks earlier than the valleys below. There are several wineries along the way up Route 221, and at the top, a produce stand that my grandfather has made a yearly tradition to visit.

Keep driving several miles and stop for a bit in the Town of Floyd.

Park the car where you can find a spot, because nearly everything is within walking distance. The Floyd Country store is a must-see, with locally made crafts and food items. You'll typically hear some great musicians performing on stage as well.

Several unique restaurants are within a short walk. There, you fill your stomach and browse through the photos you've taken.

What better way to see the fall foliage than by water? See the reflection of the fall leaves ripple in the blue water. Rent a boat at one of SML's popular marinas. Marinas often run specials during the fall months so be sure to ask.

If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, book a trip on the Virginia Dare. The replica of the 19th-century side-wheeler takes guests on a two-hour narrated tour to the Smith Mountain Lake Dam and back. Dinner cruises are often available.

Speaking of the dam, the Smith Mountain Lake Dam offers spectacular views of the fall foliage and a glimpse into what the lake is there for, hydroelectric power. A picnic area in a wooded area allows for great photo opportunities of the foliage with the dam in the background.

Be sure to check out the Smith Mountain Lake Visitor's center (follow the signs). A walking deck and a museum details the history of the project.

Since too many choices often leads to more confusion, we narrowed the list down to the top five. However, we received several more suggestions on places to go to see the fall foliage.

  • Mill Mountain and the former Explore Park
  • Interstate 77 between the two tunnels heading towards Bluefield
  • Lock Haven Lake Club
  • Alleghany Springs Road, from Check to Shawsville
  • Carvins Cove
  • Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
  • Burkes Garden,, Virginia
  • New River Trail State Park
  • Route 51 from Wytheville to Big Walker Mountain
  • Skyline Drive
  • Route 220 north from Fincastle to Iron Gate


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