– The Culpeper Star Exponent |

With 15.8 million acres of forestland (an amount larger than the total acreage of some states), Virginia adds color to the color of fall. In addition to magnificent autumn foliage that stretches from the Western Highlands to the Eastern Shore, Virginia’s fall festivals as well as apple, pumpkin, and grape harvests present a Virginia as fun as it is beautiful.

When is fall foliage season in Virginia? It differs slightly depending on the section of the state, but one thing that doesn’t vary is Virginia’s own Shenandoah National Park, rated by AAA as one of the top 10 national parks in which to view fall foliage. Typically, fall colors reach their peak in Virginia’s far western regions from October 10th through 20th. The mountains see peak colors from October 15th through 25th. Piedmont area colors are at their best from October 20th through 31st. The dates are approximate and are affected by the year’s rainfall and temperature. Virginia’s Fall Foliage Leaf Line, 1-800-424-LOVE, will help you plan your trip. It carries free up-to-date information on peak dates throughout the state.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation also has a special fall travel web site with information on foliage projected dates and includes “Forester Tim’s Leaf Report.” You can also view weekly foliage pictures from “Leaf Cams” located at selected Virginia State Parks. The website lists fall events throughout Virginia and has links to fall foliage travel package information.

Whenever and wherever you choose to view Virginia’s autumn splendor, you’ll find a nearby festival or event to add to your enjoyment. Virginia fall festivals are family-friendly, and many of them are pet-friendly. They are also perfect for couples looking for a weekend getaway that is both romantic and fun.

The Mountain Foliage Festival in Independence (Oct. 9) brings the traditional as well as the unusual to Southwest Virginia. Mountain music, foods, crafts and children’s activities are familiar delights, but the festival’s signature event is sure to raise an eyebrow and a smile: the annual “Grand Privy Race.” Contestants race outhouses on wheels down Main Street, and the winner advances to a national competition. Information:, 540-273-3711.

The Garth Newel Music Center boasts “Music to Match the Mountains,” and never is this more appropriate than during the fall. The Garth Newel Fall Foliage Music Holiday brings beautiful chamber music to Warm Springs in Western Virginia and offers foliage and foods to please the visitor’s eye and palate. Concerts are held the last four weekends in October, and optional gourmet dinners with the musicians are available following all Friday and Saturday evening concerts. The historic, mineral-rich resort town is also near The Homestead, a premier golf and ski resort. The area offers some of the most spectacular fall colors in the Alleghany Mountains. Information: 1-877-558-1689.

Autumn brings mild temperatures to Virginia and makes it one of the best seasons for outdoor recreation. For those wishing to burn calories while viewing nature’s beauty, Staunton’s Fall Foliage Bike Festival (Oct. 15-17) offers bicycle trips through the Southern Shenandoah Valley. The fee-to-ride includes a T-shirt, some meals, snacks, maps and evening entertainment. Information: [email protected], 540-885-2668.

October is also Virginia Wine Month, and many of Virginia’s 87 wineries celebrate with open houses, special tours, tastings, foods, discounted wine selections and live entertainment. Some of the events have a special twist, like the Apple Days Wine Festival at Tarara Vineyards (Oct. 2), Oktoberfest Fall Wine Festival at AmRhein Wine Cellars (Oct. 9), Rebec Vineyards’ Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival (Oct. 9) and the Town Point Virginia Wine Festival in Norfolk (Oct. 16 -17). The latter features wines from more than 30 Virginia vineyards. Whatever the occasion, you don’t have to be a wine expert or connoisseur to enjoy a visit to a Virginia winery. All you need is curiosity – and a tasting glass provided by the wineries.

Topping the list of wine events is the Shenandoah Valley Wells Fargo Hot Air Balloon & Wine Festival (Oct. 15-17) at Historic Long Branch near Berryville. More than 35 balloons of all colors and shapes will be on hand to inspire and even transport. Rides can be arranged for a fee through the Long Branch website or by calling 1-888-558-5567. The festival also includes live entertainment, food, children’s activities, historic mansion tours and wine tastings by more than 15 participating wineries.

If you find balloon flight a bit too daring for your tastes but are still enticed by the thought of airborne foliage viewing, you can enjoy mountaintop fall colors from the comfort of a ski-lift at the annual Fall Foliage Festival (Oct. 23-24) at Wintergreen Resort. Wintergreen’s popular ski slopes, unencumbered by snow in October, are great places to take in the fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can also go on guided nature hikes, view exhibits and participate in a variety of activities. The ski-lift ride takes you to the top of Crawford’s Knob for an unforgettable view of 6,000 acres of mountain beauty. Information: 1-877-386-1102.

You may feel that flight of any kind is simply for the birds, and so it is at the Eastern Shore Birding Festival (Oct. 8-10) at Kiptopeake State Park near the northern terminus of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. October is a peak migration month for thousands of birds winging their way to points south, and the park offers prime viewing opportunities. Festival activities include canoe trips, natural history walks, bird banding demonstrations, gallery visits, vendors and representatives of conservation and nature groups. Other winged creatures get the spotlight as well: butterfly walks and moth viewings are popular with adults as well as children. Information: 757-787-2460.

More options are available for those wishing to stay rooted to terra firma. You can put your feet on the ground again and again on a walk with naturalist and Monticello garden guide, Fran Boninti, during the Autumn Changes Parkway Walk (Oct. 23) near Charlottesville. You’ll learn about the flora and fauna of the historic hardwood forests surrounding Monticello while walking the Thomas Jefferson Parkway. Reservations are required and can be made at 434-984-9822. Don’t forget your binoculars!

Also recognized for its bountiful seafood harvest from the Chesapeake Bay region, Virginia offers blue crabs, oysters and many varieties of fresh fish that find their way into a variety of tantalizing dishes such as crab cakes and oyster stew. For a taste of these delicious Old Dominion traditions, try the Northern Neck Seafood Extravaganza (Oct. 23) held at Ingleside Vineyards near Oak Grove. The best of Chesapeake seafood is complimented by live music, lively patrons and a glass of Virginia wine. Information: 804-224-8687.

Fall in Virginia is also a time for traditional steeplechase horse racing. The pounding hooves of thousands of pounds of pedigreed horseflesh mark the annual International Gold Cup races (Oct. 16) at Great Meadow Events Center near Warrenton. Tens of thousands of spectators arrive with picnic lunches, lawn chairs and blankets to relax on a pastoral slope surrounded by rolling hills. “Tailgating” is an art form here, with many folks showing up with linen tablecloths, candelabras, catered meals and creative haberdashery. The racing is outstanding, featuring horses and riders from around the world, and the “people-watching” is unparalleled. Information: 1-800-69-RACES.

Come to Virginia this fall and enjoy breathtaking displays of fall foliage. Mix in a fall festival or two and you will find reason to come back year after year.

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