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 2021 point to early-mid 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 the 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.
Peak fall foliage in Shenandoah National Park is truly a national treasure. Don’t miss out on one of America’s favorite leaf-peeping spots. Plan your peak foliage visit to Skyline Drive today!
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