Top 10 Spots to See Fall Color in Virginia

More Specifically…in Smyth County, Virginia. That’s right, look no further than Smyth County’s backyard for the best fall colors and views in Appalachia. Whether you’re on foot, on wheels, or on water or horseback, Smyth County is the fall destination for leaf peepers. Here’s your guide to the top spots to see fall color in Smyth County.

Top Spots to See Fall Colors in Smyth County on Foot

Hiking to see stunning overlooks with fall colors on full display is an obvious choice for your fall vacation to Southwest Virginia. Smyth County is home to challenging hikes as well as leisurely strolls to quench your thirst for fall and all things pumpkin spice.

Twin Pinnacles Trail Overlook During the fall in Grayson Highlands State Park
Hiking the Pinnacle Trail at Grayson Highlands Park mid-October. Photo courtesy of Sara Saavedra.

#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, 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!

Fall colors at Grayson Highlands State Park in Smyth County Virginia
Photo uploaded by Virginia State Parks via Flickr

#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 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.

Fall at Hungry Mother State Park. A double rainbow emerges over fall colors surrounding a lake with a hint of fog.
Photo by Virginia State Parks on Flickr

#3: Downtown Marion

If you’re looking for a more leisurely fall experience, the small town fall vibes in Downtown Marion will fit the bill perfectly. Take a stroll downtown, and take pictures for the gram in front of the LOVEworks. Experience the charm of shopping at the quirky, independent shops and wet your whistle at 36°Fifty Brewing or Highlands Distilling Company. Grab dinner at any of the great restaurants, catch a show at the Lincoln Theatre and rest your weary head at The Francis Marion.

Marion VA Loveworks Sign

#4: 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. 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.

Sunset on Whitetop Mountain View of Blue Ridge Mountains in Smyth County VA
Whitetop Mountain offers a spectacular view of fall colors and sunsets. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation,

#5: 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.

#6: 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 of a view all the way to North Carolina on a clear day. 

Top Spots to See Fall Color on Wheels

#7: 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 Fun! 

There are two sections of this scenic route – from Marion, we recommend the section that starts in Troutdale, VA. You will drive west for 13.2 miles over Virginia Route 603 to Konnarock. VA. while traversing the heart of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. If you haven’t had your fill of fall colors, continue on the second section for another 32.5 miles from Damascus, VA to Volney, VA on US 58. US 58 is a two-lane, paved scenic road that leads you through the “High Country” of the Mt. Rogers NRA.

This scenic fall drive overlaps with some of Southwest Virginia’s Smyth County gems like Grayson Highlands State Park. 

Aerial photo of Back of the Dragon scenic drive in Smyth County VA

#8: 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.

#9: 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. 

Ride Horseback on Your Next Fall Vacation

#10: 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 for those who trailer horses.

Horseback Riding on the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail in Smyth County VA

Bonus: Stunning Fall Colors on the Water at Laurel Bed Lake

We had to include this incredible lake at the top of Clinch Mountain’s Wildlife Management Area in our list of top spots to see fall color. Other popular uses of the area include: horseback riding, wildlife viewing, hiking, and nature photography. The biodiversity here is a must-see!

Choose Your Smyth County Adventure!

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