Top Spots for Fall Color in Southwest Virginia

Whether you’re on foot, wheels, water or horseback, Smyth County, Virginia is the fall destination for leaf peepers. Here’s your guide to the top spots to see fall color in Smyth County.

#1: Grayson Highlands State Park

Smyth County is base camp for this state park boasting the most spectacular views of fall foliage in Southwest Virginia, frequently listed as one of the top spots to see fall color in the country. Grayson Highlands has over 17 trails for you to explore as you chase those colors. The fall colors show up here earlier than you might expect, due to the average elevation of 4,500’.

Hungry Mother State Park
Hungry Mother State Park in fall, photo by Brad Deel courtesy of Virginia State Parks

#2: Hungry Mother State Park

It’s easy to make a whole weekend of memories this fall with your family at Hungry Mother State Park. Reserve a cozy cabin or yurt near Hungry Mother Lake and choose your fall adventures. Explore hiking trails, take a guided nature walk, or try your wheels out on their biking trails, perfect for beginners.

#3: Whitetop Mountain

Drive straight to the top of the second highest peak in Virginia for mother nature’s spectacular fall colors. You can also combine this trip with a short hike to Buzzard Rock for one of the top 360 degree views on the east coast.

#4: Salt Trail & Saltville Wetlands Loop

Don’t want to fight the crowds at the more popular fall spots? Saltville’s natural and cultural resources have offered a home to human settlers for over 30,000 years. Get familiar with the history alongside your fall foliage adventure on the Salt Trail. Explore the Saltville Wetlands Loop and imagine Wooly Mammoths grazing in the fields.

#5: Mt Rogers Scenic Byway

For a peaceful country drive with gorgeous mountain foliage, head southeast from Marion to the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway.  This two-lane paved road traverses the heart of the Mount Rogers Recreation Area. Combine this scenic drive with a hike, pack a picnic from one of our local restaurants and make it a full day of Fall Fun! 

Fall motorcycle ride
Fall motorcycle ride courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

#6: Back of the Dragon

A one of a kind experience for motorcycle enthusiasts, The Back of the Dragon (Route 16) winds its way through Smyth County into neighboring county Tazewell, where you can make a pit stop for brews and live music. Pause at one of several overlooks on the way where you can stop to take in the breathtaking fall colors.

#7: The Iron Mountain Trail plus Skull’s Gap Overlook

Mountain bikers love the Iron Mountain Trail. The mostly dirt and shale single track trail easily offers access to the top of Iron Mountain. Grab a picnic lunch in Chilhowie to recharge after your ride at Skull’s Gap Overlook, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the fall colors. 

The Virginia Highlands Horse Trail
The Virginia Highlands Horse Trail courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

#8: Appalachian Horse Trail

Bring along your four legged companion for one of the best horseback riding trails in the country. Experience the fall colors on the VA Highlands Horse Trail, located in the Mt. Rogers NRA. This 68-mile trail between Elk Garden and VA Rt. 94 features mountainous terrain, valley views of the fall foliage and primitive camping areas.

Cover photo: Fall mountain roads courtesy Virginia Tourism Corporation

Places to Go, Things to See: