All of fall is beautiful, but the season’s “peak” is that much-anticipated time when the greatest abundance of fall colors fill the landscape. It’s a short window, arriving when the vast majority of leaves have assumed their fall hues, and ending as they turn brown and fall from the trees. In the Shenandoah Valley, peak usually arrives in October (predictions for 2020 point to late October). The season typically lasts around two weeks.
If you’re coming to the Front Royal area to enjoy peak foliage, we’ve put together some helpful information. Read on some fun facts about the beautiful trees you can expect to see. We’re also featuring Front Royal’s top fall attraction: Skyline Drive.
Who’s Who in the Peak Foliage
Yellows, oranges, and reds are the signature colors of fall, and together they make up a peak fall landscape. However, it takes a variety of trees to make all of these vibrant shades appear. Different species contribute different hues to the display. If you’re seeing yellows and oranges, you may well be enjoying a view of beeches, sycamores, or sugar maples. Red maples take their name for the bright scarlet that they contribute to the riotous colors of fall. Meanwhile, oaks are a well-known species that contribute a spectrum of reds, russets, and browns (in addition to covering the ground with acorns – another signature sight of fall).
Of course these tips can only get you so far in determining which tree you’re looking at. If you’re wanting to go a little deeper in your enjoyment of the peak foliage, a little tree identification may fit the bill. Equip yourself with a tree identification field guide before heading out on your hike or fall picnic. You’ll find that identifying trees is a fun activity for all the family. And it’ll definitely help you increase your appreciation of nature’s handiwork.
Skyline Drive from the Front Royal End
Speaking of fall hikes and picnics, the premier spot for such pursuits is Virginia’s Skyline Drive. The central road of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the nation’s favorite places to enjoy peak fall foliage. Cresting the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountain range, Skyline Drive provides access to many unparalleled vantage points from which to enjoy the vistas of fall in the Shenandoah Valley. The northern entrance of the park is conveniently located right in the town of Front Royal.
Simply enjoying a drive through the park is a great way to enjoy the foliage display. In fact, Skyline Drive was actually designed with driving in mind. However, October is Skyline Drive’s most visited month, and the traffic can get frustrating. If you’re looking to enjoy Skyline Drive from the Front Royal end, we’ve rounded up some ideas for leaf-peeping in the park without having to drive too far. That way you can spend more time enjoying nature, and less time waiting in leaf-peeper traffic.
Compton Peak is a fantastic hike near the Front Royal end of the park. It’s a family friendly trail that includes a mildly strenuous climb, but is manageable for most. Park at the Compton Gap parking area (mile-marker 10.4). Cross the road, and head south/west on the Appalachian Trail into the woods. After a mile or so, the Compton Peak trail intersects the Appalachian Trail. Look out for a concrete marker to tell you’ve arrived at this point. A right turn takes you up hill to a stunning viewpoint, where you can enjoy the fall foliage and a sense of accomplishment. Heading left will bring you to a more obstructed viewpoint, but fascinating rock formations. Can’t decide? The two overlooks are close enough that you can check out both.
If you’re not up for a hike, there are some great picnicking spots also within easy distance of the Front Royal entrance to the park. Range View Overlook (mile-marker 17.0) consistently makes it on lists of the park’s top overlooks. From this viewpoint, take in the beauty of the piedmont on the Eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For views of the Shenandoah Valley to the West, good options are Gooney Run Overlook (mile 6.8), and the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Dickey Ridge is also a great place to get advice from a park ranger on other good spots to check out in the park.
Don’t miss out on one of America’s favorite leaf-peeping spots. Plan your peak foliage visit to Skyline Drive today!
It’s definitely fair to say that the year 2020 has defied expectations. When the calendar flipped to January 1, who would have predicted that we’d face a pandemic and the lockdown of our entire society, not to mention riots and social unrest?
With all the uncertainty in today’s world, we can take some comfort in knowing that the seasons continue to change as they always have. While the tide of human affairs ebbs and flows, another stunning fall will illumine the Virginia hillsides around Front Royal. And yet, as we mentioned last week, no two falls are the same. With the many factors that go into creating the beautiful colors of fall, it should be no surprise that there’s some variation from year to year. Certain colors might be more or less vibrant. The season could begin earlier or later, and could be more or less drawn out.
But since we know a little bit about what causes the leaves to change, we can make some estimates as to how each fall will go. So, even though it’s apparently dangerous to make any kind of prediction in 2020, we’re going to be bold. Here are our best guesses as to the way the fall foliage will play out this year in the Front Royal area.
Spring and Summer 2020 Indicate a Late Fall
Leaves are living things that come to life in the spring and die in the fall. Weather conditions during the entire lifetime of the foliage will impact its appearance in the fall. Taking a look back at the spring and summer can give us some hints as to how the fall may go. For a couple of reasons, the weather of spring and summer 2020 points to a late arrival of fall color.
First of all, spring got off to a rough start this year. Though warmer temperatures appeared earlier than normal, they weren’t around to stay. A chilly April, and a late frost in May damaged the yields of fruit-bearing trees in many areas. Tender young buds that had emerged in the early warmth could not survive the bitter cold of the late the frost. In general, the colder temperatures in late spring meant that the season got off to a later start than usual. A late start to spring often causes fall to come slowly as well.
The conditions of the summer are also likely to cause fall foliage to appear later than usual. Summer 2020 saw record-breaking heat in Virginia, and a fairly dry July. These conditions can cause tree stress, leading to less vibrant fall hues. However, welcome rains in August brought some stress relief to the trees. These late rains will likely allow the trees around Front Royal to stay greener for longer. They may also reverse the negative impacts of a hot and dry July.
Fall Weather May Cause Vibrant Reds
Of course, it’s not possible to predict the fall foliage entirely from the weather of spring and summer. When fall arrives in Front Royal, it will bring its own combination of weather conditions that can greatly influence the foliage display we see around us.
It’s obviously difficult to predict the fall weather in advance. Long-range weather forecasting is far from an exact science. In fact, many meteorologists will tell you not to trust a forecast of longer than ten days. And they may well be right. But it’s still fun to make some guesses.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, a popular long-range weather forecast source, the Front Royal area will enjoy plenty of sun in September and October, mixed with some rain. The forecast of sun bodes well for a brightly colored fall. Sunlight supports the production of anthocyanins, the chemicals responsible for the red hues in fall leaves. The sunshine of the fall, in addition to being enjoyable for humans, promises to contribute to a stunning display on the tree covered mountain slopes of Virginia. That is, if the almanac’s right…
Our best prediction: fall foliage will be slow to arrive in the Shenandoah Valley, but splendid when it comes.
Visit the Shenandoah Valley for Some Lucky Leaf-Peeping
The good news is that while we can’t predict the exact condition or timing of the fall foliage, we can tell you one thing for sure. Any visit to the Shenandoah Valley or the Front Royal area during the fall foliage season will be memorable. Even if your arrival doesn’t quite coincide with the perfect peak of fall foliage, you’ll still be able to enjoy glorious colors, beautiful views, and every essential fall activity that your heart desires.
After all, the unpredictability of the foliage is part of the fun of leaf-peeping. It’s an exciting pursuit that requires knowledge AND some good luck!
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