Early Fall: the Best of Both Worlds
Early fall is a thoroughly enjoyable time of year. It’s still warm enough to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine, or your last chance to cook out in shorts and a t-shirt. Nevertheless, fall has unmistakably arrived. The first hints of color are showing among the leaves, and there’s a welcome coolness in the air – although it’s not too cold yet. Apple-picking season is in full swing, and it’s a great time to enjoy a beautiful orchard among Virginia’s sunny hillsides. You can enjoy harvesting delicious fruit without worrying about overheating in the blazing heat of summer.
This week, we’re providing our guide to early fall in the Front Royal area. Read on for the scoop on the foliage you’ll see in early fall, as well as our top “picks” for local apple orchards. We’re even throwing in some tips on how to use that big bag of apples when you get it home.
Early Fall Foliage in Virginia
Early fall doesn’t bring the riotous beauty of full-on fall foliage, when vivid colors totally overwhelm the landscape. Nevertheless, early fall foliage has its own particular charms. The deep green of the forest changes to a lighter shade. The first bright pops of red and yellow against this green background are charming . . . and they hold the promise of more to come.
If you’re out hiking or driving through Virginia in early fall, you’ll see the first signs of fall foliage. Among the first colorful leaves of the fall, you can expect to see Virginia Creeper, Black Gum, and Dogwood. Virginia Creeper is one of the first heralds of fall, but it isn’t actually a tree at all. This vine climbs on anything – trees, walls, houses, even along the ground. In Shenandoah National Park, the sight of bright red Virginia Creeper leaves intertwined among the still-green tree branches is one of the first signs of the arrival of fall. Black Gums and Dogwoods will be among the first trees to turn, bright splashes of red, gold, and even purple standing out from a tranquil green background.
Apple-Picking Around Front Royal
You can enjoy the sights of these early turners while on an apple-picking expedition in the Shenandoah Valley. The Front Royal area is home to several pick-your-own apple farms. Check out Hartland Orchard or Hollin Farms, both located just one exit down from Front Royal on I-66. Stribling Orchard is another favorite, with a stunning mountainside location. Or try Valley View Farm and enjoy sipping some hard cider, wine, or mead after you fill your basket with apples.
If you’re driving from Front Royal to pick apples at any of these orchards, you’ll drive directly past the local favorite Apple House, right before you get on I-66. Make sure to stop in and pick up some of their famous Apple Butter Cinnamon Donuts. These divine creations are the perfect treat to enjoy on your apple-picking adventure (or on your way home!).
Apples, Apples Everywhere!
There’s just one thing about apple-picking. That basket of apples looks a whole lot bigger on your kitchen counter than it did in the field! If you’re overwhelmed by a huge supply of apples, we’ve rounded up some ideas for you.
Apple pie and apple crisp are classic favorites that need no explanation. It’s also surprisingly easy to make your own apple butter. You don’t even need to peel the apples, and as they cook all day in your crock pot, they’ll make your whole home smell like fall. Or enjoy apples baked on a fall campfire. There’s even a good use for all those apple cores that get left over from your baking. Apple scrap vinegar is a fun way to use the parts you would otherwise throw away. And it has an impressive range of uses and health benefits.
Fall is in the Air!
Many pick-your-own orchards offer apple cider for sale, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try making your own. You’ll need an apple crusher to break down the apples, before squeezing the juice out in a cider press. Commercial apple cider equipment can be forbiddingly expensive, but for home use, you can get what you need for a more reasonable investment. Enjoy your fresh, sweet cider warm or cold, or ferment it into hard cider for an extra challenge.
Much in life is unpredictable, but with all the uncertainty in today’s world, it’s comforting to know that the seasons continue to come and go as they always have. While life always has itss difficulties, we can still look forward to enjoying another stunning fall in the Virginia hillsides around Front Royal.
But while they’re all similar no two falls are exactly 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.
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.
Splendid Fall Colors Coming Quickly in 2021
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.
Spring 2021 gave us a pretty smooth start to the warmer weather. The days warmed up about when you would expect, and there was no late frost to surprise us (or the trees with their new and delicate leaf buds!). Late frosts or a slow spring can also slow down fall, but spring conditions like we enjoyed in 2021 bode well for fall colors to come when you’d expect them too. According to this fall foliage map, peak foliage will hit the Front Royal area around October 11, 2021.
The weather conditions of summer can also affect fall foliage significantly. Rains this summer were plentiful, but not overabundant. Just what trees love! While a particularly hot or dry summer might cause tree stress and less vibrant fall hues, the good conditions this summer have prepared the trees to put on an outstanding display this fall.
Fall Weather May Reduce the Appearance of 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 experience a fairly rainy October. The resulting lack of sunshine may dampen the red hues around Front Royal this fall. Sunlight supports the production of anthocyanins, the chemicals responsible for the red hues in fall leaves. If fall 2021 follows Farmer’s Almanac predictions, we’ll still see some red, but not as much as in other years. Regardless, there’ll still be plenty of orange and yellow to enjoy!
Our best prediction: fall foliage will peak mid-October in the Shenandoah Valley, with predominantly orange and yellow tones.
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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