Top Spots to See Fall Color in Southwest Virginia

Whether you’re hiking the backcountry to stunning overlooks or cruising the mountain byways, Southwest Virginia is an obvious choice for your fall vacation. Book a cozy cabin or cottage and start planning now for peak fall color. 

Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Whitetop Mountain

Drive straight to the top of the second highest peak in Virginia for 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. If you’re looking for a longer hike to the summit, get your start in Elk Garden, and hike 3 miles to Whitetop, crossing water several times and changing scenery on your way up.

Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Back of the Dragon

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

Grayson Highlands State Park

Smyth County is base camp for this state park boasting the most spectacular views of fall foliage in Southwest Virginia, and is 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’. Our favorite easy fall hikes in Grayson Highlands State Park include: The Twin Pinnacles Trail and the Massie Gap and Wilburn Ridge Loop. Combine the two hikes for the best fall color overlooks and valley views in the same day. The fall foliage won’t be the only stunner on your trip here – the Grayson Highlands wild ponies delight all ages. Just remember: look, don’t touch or feed!

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 and choose your fall adventures. You can’t go wrong in this park, where you’ll be surrounded by the best fall colors in Virginia everywhere you turn. Explore hiking trails, take a guided nature walk, or try your wheels out on their biking trails, perfect for beginners.

The Well Fields – Saltville 

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 Well Fields and imagine Woolly Mammoths grazing in the fields.

Appalachian Trail – Elk Garden Section

Hike this 2.3 mile out and back trip and mark this section of the AT off of your bucket list. Like our Grayson Highlands recommendations, you’re likely to encounter wild ponies at Elk Garden. Don’t miss the rocky climb to the top of the knob, where you’ll be treated to a view all the way to North Carolina on a clear day. 

Courtesy of Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources

Mt Rogers Scenic Byway

If you’re looking 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 foliage.

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. For wildlife watchers, Skull’s Gap is excellent for hawk-watching during fall migration. 

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Places to Go, Things to See: