Virginia is arguably one of the best places in the United States to visit in autumn. The air turns cool, the Blue Ridge Mountains take on shades of fiery red, orange, and yellow, and Virginia comes alive with a variety of festivals and outdoor activities that visitors and locals can enjoy. Whether you’re hopping in the car for a weekend trip or only have a few hours to spend, read on for our list of the best activities to do in Virginia in the fall.
Things to Do in Virginia in the Fall
Take a weekend trip
1. Road trip through Virginia
There are few things more beautiful – or more colorful – than Virginia in the fall. Covered in trees, raging rivers, and rolling mountains, Virginia is the perfect place to go for a long drive. Whether you only have a day or an entire week, Virginia has so much to offer. Here are just a few areas that make a perfect stop on any Virginia road trip:
While I cringe at the thought of lumping all of Northern Virginia together like this, there are just so many places I could recommend around here. Some of the area’s highlights include Old Town Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Mount Vernon, and Occoquan.
Natural Attractions in Virginia
- Shenandoah National Park – The only national park in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park consists of beautiful, green forests and miles of mountains. You can also find the Appalachian Trail running through here. A drive through the central Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic routes in all of Virginia, and in my opinion, it’s best during a chilly fall sunset.
- Luray Caverns – The largest set of caves in the Eastern United States, Luray Caverns is an incredible sight to see. You can even experience their Stalacpipe Organ (an organ entirely made of stalagmites/stalactites – pretty freaking cool if you ask me!) while you’re there.
- Natural Bridge – A naturally-formed rock bridge made of stark formations, Natural Bridge State Park is really a spectacular natural attraction that you can’t miss if you’re in the area.
- Charlottesville – Filled with a charming downtown mall and university area, amazing wineries, and quick access to hiking and biking trails, Charlottesville is the perfect destination for any kind of traveler.
- Roanoke – Roanoke is a small city located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here, you can find lovely weekend markets, amazing BBQ, and nearby, some of the best hiking trails in the state.
- Richmond – Virginia’s bustling capital, Richmond, has a lot of historic sites, parks, and quirky gems that are definitely worth checking out. Of note are the Edgar Allan Poe museum, Maymont Park, Carytown, and First Fridays Art Festival.
- Williamsburg/Yorktown/Jamestown – Some of the oldest settlements in the United States, Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown are a history nerd’s paradise. They’ve retained many of their original buildings, and guides roam the area to answer questions and talk about some of the historical value of the towns.
- Virginia Beach – If you’re looking for a beach getaway, Virginia Beach is the easiest one to access in Virginia. Since fall is the off season for the beach, it’s probably too cold to swim, but autumn still has nice enough weather to stroll on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk or go for a boat ride. There are also other fun attractions like the Virginia Aquarium and the Cape Henry Lighthouse.
2. Rent a cabin or lodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains
If you’re hoping to spend a weekend enjoying Virginia’s fall colors, renting a cabin can be a great option. There are all kinds of cabins dotted throughout the state ranging in size, amenities, and price. You can find a bunch of options on Airbnb (and if you use this link, you can save $40 off your first booking!).
Alternatively, one of the cutest cabin complexes I’ve been dying to try (but haven’t gotten to go to yet) is called Getaway House. Tiny house-style, Getaway House provides cozy tiny cabins in the middle of rural Virginia for a weekend of disconnecting.
Maybe you’d rather have more amenities, like restaurants, pools, etc. A great option for you is to check yourself into one of Virginia’s scenic ski lodges. While the ski lodges won’t yet have any snow to shred the slopes, you can still usually ride the cable cars, hike, and enjoy the fire side in the lodge. One of my favorite ski lodges in Virginia is Wintergreen Resort, which is located near Charlottesville.
(Check Wintergreen reviews on TripAdvisor | Book Wintergreen Resort now)
If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, the Homestead Resort is a historic lodge located in the mountains of Western Virginia that is perfect for a posh weekend getaway. Several famous people and US presidents have come here to get away for a while, and I don’t blame them! With a full-service spa, great food options, a warm pool, and nearby skiing and hot springs, there’s LOADS to do here. But you can also do nothing here; that’s the beauty of it.
(Check Homestead Inn reviews on TripAdvisor | Book Homestead Inn now)
3. Take a scenic train ride
Historically, Virginia has served as a thoroughfare for trains carrying freight, coal, or other goods. The remnants of this long-standing history are still intact in many parts of the state, and visitors can experience some of this legacy on a historic train ride. Because of the weather and the fall colors, autumn is the perfect time to do it.
The Manassas to Front Royal N&W 611 train offers visitors a chance to experience a scenic ride through northern Virginia. (Note: The Manassas to Front Royal N&W 611 train is not running any passenger excursions in 2018. However, they will hopefully resume operations in 2019.) Another beautiful scenic passenger train ride is the 3.5-hour Buckingham Branch Railway, located in New Canton, Virginia. The Buckingham Branch route features beautiful views of the James River and pastoral Virginia, and boasts onboard dining and souvenirs.
4. …Or a scenic boat ride
Virginia is a state full of rivers that have shaped its history. In addition to serving as a major form of transportation and shipping, the rivers also have served as an important hub of
- Potomac River – This river stretches through the northernmost part of Virginia, close to the border with DC and Maryland. One of the most incredible tours you can do on the Potomac is a scenic boat ride to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.
- Elizabeth River – Located near the coast of Virginia, the Elizabeth River has historically served as an important base for naval activity. You can learn more about this history on the Victory Rover Naval Cruise, which takes you around the Elizabeth River on a 2-hour adventure.
- James River – In Virginia’s capital, Richmond, you can take a tour by boat with Richmond Canal Cruises that explores some of the city’s natural and historic attractions.
For bookings, call (804) 649-2800.
Sample Local Foods and Drinks
5. Eat ALL the fall foods
If you’re anything like me, you probably love food. And, because the crops and produce available in Virginia changes throughout the year, it means the local food options change with the seasons. Some of the most popular foods in Virginia in the fall include:
- Apple EVERYTHING (Hot apple cider, apple strudel, and apple desserts (apple pie, anyone?!) are some of my personal favorite fall delights.)
- Pumpkin pie (and desserts)
- Roasted chestnuts
- Fresh oysters
The best place to find these are at local farms, farmer’s markets, and fall festivals.
6. Go apple picking and cider tasting
Fall is the season of apples in Virginia, and one of the most fun fall traditions for people of all ages is to visit an orchard, pick some apples, and enjoy some apple-flavored treats. The season for apples usually runs from late August through November, so gathering apples at the orchard is one of the best things to do in Virginia in the fall. Growing up here, it was just something everyone did in the fall!
Apple Orchards in Virginia
Most of the orchards in Virginia are located in the mountainous regions toward the western side of the state, near the borders of Maryland and West Virginia extending down to Charlottesville and further south. Some really fun apple orchards around Virginia you can visit in the fall include:
- Stribling Orchard – Located towards the border with Maryland, Stribling Orchard is a charming, family owned peach and apple orchard. This orchard is perfect for people who live in Northern Virginia or who are coming from states to the north. They also sell a variety of fresh farm products like sauces, jams, cider, and cheese.
(Address: 11587 Poverty Hollow Lane, Markham, VA 22643; Phone: (540) 364-3040)
- Carter Mountain Orchard – Located near Charlottesville in the Blue Ride Mountain region, Carter Mountain Orchard is a large orchard that offers all kinds of different apples. It’s also a family owned orchard that serves delicious apple treats and desserts, and is perfect for people coming in from Richmond or Central Virginia.
(Address: 1435 Carters Mountain Trail, Charlottesville, VA 22902; Phone: (434) 977-1833)
- Johnson’s Orchard – In southwestern Virginia lies Johnson’s Orchard, which is a lovely orchard located just outside of the city of Lynchburg. It’s near a wonderful outdoor area known as the Peaks of Otter, which makes Johnson’s Orchard perfect for a day trip of apple picking and hiking. There’s also a winery next door!
(Address: 1218 Elmos Rd, Bedford, VA 24523; Phone: (540) 586-3707)
7. Sip some local brews
The mountains of Virginia aren’t just for hiking; they’re also a wonderful place to brew beer, cider, and spirits. As a dark beer lover, fall is the perfect time to find ales with nutty and toasty flavors. While most cities in Virginia have at least one brewery, one of my favorites in the state include:
- Blue Bee Cider (Richmond, VA) – As Virginia’s first urban cidery, this cute little shop opened in 2014 and serves several varieties of cider, ranging from very dry to sweet.
- Hardywood Brewery (Richmond, VA) – Hardywood is one of Richmond’s most beloved breweries. It’s also one of Virginia’s most eco-friendly breweries, powered 100% by renewable energy.
- Three Notch’d Brewery (Charlottesville, VA) – A local craft brewery in Charlottesville, Three Notch’d also offers homemade sodas and ciders in addition to beer. Try their specialty ghost beer.
8. Go for a farm visit
Apples aren’t the only crops that grow in Virginia! In fact, the agricultural offering in the state is quite diverse due to the temperate climate and variety of landscapes. Farmers in Virginia raise fruits, vegetables, herbs, and livestock. Visiting a farm is a wonderful way to support local businesses, learn about Virginia’s agricultural history, and enjoy the crisp fall air.
Enjoy Virginia Culture (and Quirks)
9. Listen to traditional Virginia music
Tucked into the streets of southwest Virginia, the Crooked Road is Virginia’s music trail, offering a variety of stops at country, bluegrass, jazz, and fiddle music venues inherent to the region’s rich history. The route passes through over 300 miles, 50+ towns, and dozens of different historic sites. Along the Crooked Road, visitors can listen to all kinds of live music in locally-owned, historic bars, theaters, and venues.
Among some of the most notable stops on the trail are the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, the Blue Ridge Music Center, and the Ralph Stanley Museum & Traditional Mountain Music Center.
10. Unleash your inner Harry Potter nerd
Every year, in September, hundreds of witches and wizards (or wannabes) gather in Staunton, Virginia for the annual Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival. Harry Potter nerds, don’t be shy! (I’m a big one myself, admittedly.) Here, it’s encouraged and expected for visitors to dress up in their favorite wizard cloak and bring a wand along for some serious, geeky Hogwarts fun.
During the festival, the charming, historic city of Staunton turns into a Diagon Alley of sorts where visitors can mix potions, try butterbeer, see dragons, and try a magical escape room challenge. There’s a mixture of free and paid events, so check their online schedule for more information about dates and happenings.
And don’t worry, muggles are also welcome. (Just make sure you’ve read at least some of the Harry Potter books so you know what’s going on! You won’t regret it, I promise.)
11. Visit a pumpkin patch (and carve one!)
Fall, especially October, is the season for pumpkins. Trust me, guys, pumpkin patches are fun to visit no matter how old you are. You can pick your favorite orange pumpkins and prepare them for the Halloween season ahead. Not only can you bring home some pumpkins, but you can also eat pumpkin-themed foods, like pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. Belvedere Plantation (Fredericksburg, VA) and Cox Farms (Centreville, VA) are some Virginia favorites.
PumpkinPatchesAndMore.org is also super helpful for finding a good pumpkin patch or farm near you.
12. Get spooked at a haunted field
One of the most unique things you can find in Virginia around Halloween is haunted farms. Nope, not haunted houses, or haunted mansions…entire haunted fields. For a good scare around halloween time, you can head to some of the famed haunted farms to spend a night in the cool, autumn air and maybe scream your lungs out. These temporary exhibitions usually have light displays, props, and human actors that make the experience extra scary.
13. Learn to square dance
There’s nothing more fun than a night out dancing, and learning to square dance is one of the best things to do in Virginia in the fall. The square dance is one of Virginia’s most beloved dances and you can learn how to do it right in the heart of the state! You can find square dance events all around Virginia on the Virginia Square Dancers website. There’s also a square dance-specific club called Circle 8 Square Dance Club, located in Staunton, VA.
14. Visit historic Virginia homes and plantations
As one of the oldest states in the United States, Virginia has a ton of beautiful historic homes you can explore. While some of these historic sites reveal some of the dark sides of American history, such as slavery and the Civil War, they’re also an integral part of the history of the United States. If the fall, these historic grounds light up with the beautiful fall colors, and many offer visitors the chance to explore both the homes and the gardens that surround them.
Some of the most beautiful and famous historic homes you can visit around the state – many of which once belonged to US presidents – include Mount Vernon, Monticello, Poplar Forest, Maymont, and Montpelier.
15. Get lost in a corn maze
Corn mazes are a fun and family-friendly way to enjoy the cool air and the rural atmosphere in Virginia. In fact, corn mazes are one of the most beloved things to do in Virginia in the fall because they’re so addicting, competitive, and fun. Usually these “maize mazes” start popping up around the state in September and last until November or so.
16. Attend a local fall festival
Fall is the time for outdoor festivals in Virginia, and there’s really no better way to experience Virginia in the fall. Most of these festival feature great eats, live music, family-friendly activities, and local businesses and stalls to enjoy. They also demonstrate much of Virginia’s heritage and local cuisine. Some of the most unique and wacky fall festivals in Virginia include:
- Blue Ridge Folklife Festival (Ferrum, VA)
- Apple Dumpling Festival (Stuart, VA)
- Bluegrass, Barbecue, and Brew Festival (Brookneal, VA)
For more information about events nearby, you can find a much longer list of fall festivals in Virginia here.
17. Head to a national or state park
Arguably the best way to enjoy Virginia in the fall (and its amazing fall weather) is to get outdoors. Some of the most beautiful places in the state to take a hike are the national and state parks. Virginia is home to several national park and state parks, so there are endless opportunities to enjoy fresh air no matter where you live.
Here are a few of the most popular parks to visit in the fall:
- Shenandoah National Park
- Shenandoah River State Park
- Pocahontas State Park
- Great Falls National Park
18. Saddle up for a horseback ride
Horseback riding is a wonderful way to trek through the mountains and get some fresh air amidst the fall foliage. Luckily, Virginia offers many opportunities to saddle up and explore some of its most beautiful regions by horseback, and fall is one of the best times to give it a try.
If you’d like to take a mountainous horse ride, North Mountain Outfitter (Swoope, VA) provides horse rentals and guide services for half-day and full-day rides through the Blue Ridge area. Alternatively, Appalachian Horseback Riding Adventures (Grayson County, VA) offers mountain horse rides up to the Blue Ridge Highlands and peaks at very reasonable prices. If you’d prefer a longer horseback getaway, Shangri La Guest Ranch offers riding retreats in the pastoral area surrounding South Boston, VA.
19. Visit one of Virginia’s beautiful waterfalls
Virginia is not only home to forests and mountains, but some amazing waterfalls too. Towards the beginning of fall, the waterfalls in Virginia flow as quickly as in summertime. By the end of the season, however, many of them begin to freeze and form magnificent ice formations. What you’ll see depends largely on the weather and when in the fall you visit the falls. Some amazing waterfalls in Virginia to explore include:
- Cascade Waterfall (Pembroke, VA)
- Crabtree Falls (Massies Mill, VA)
- Great Falls (Great Falls, VA)
- South River Falls (Elkton, VA)
20. Try some adventure sports in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Much like many of the other tips in this section, adventure activities are one of the best way to get your blood flowing and explore some outdoor areas of Virginia in the fall. Some options around the state include stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, rock climbing, canoeing, zip lining, and more. As an example, you can rent a kayak in Virginia beach and paddle around the waters, hop on a mountain bike in Harrisonburg, or take a zip line through Williamsburg. Of course, you can also always go hiking on Virginia’s many trails, too.
21. Watch the fall pony roundup in Chincoteague
Virginia’s Chincoteague island is home to wild ponies, the subject of many books and movies. While the ponies can be elusive throughout the year while running free, fall is a wonderful time to see these ponies in real life during the the Fall Pony Roundup.
Twice a year, local officials in Chincoteague round up the island’s wild ponies to check on their health. Luckily, one of these magnificent happenings usually happens in the fall, and you can see the great pony roundup for yourself!
22. Go for a weekend camping trip
Fall – especially early in the season – is the perfect time of year to go camping in Virginia. You can skip the mosquitoes and humidity of summer and simply enjoy the crisp air and autumn colors of the state’s more rural areas. Most national and state parks in Virginia have campsites located nearby, including Shenandoah, Great Falls, and more. Be sure to check the websites for campsite closures, as these tend to shut down toward the middle or end of the camping season.
23. Bask in the fall foliage
One of the best things about Virginia in the fall is that you don’t really have to be doing anything to enjoy it fully. Set up your hammock between some trees, light a campfire, and simply hang out and enjoy the fall colors. Or, alternatively, go winery hopping in the Blue Ridge area and enjoy locally produced tastings. Whatever you do, don’t simply sit inside and let the beauty of fall in Virginia pass you by. It will be winter before you know it!
Virginia Travel Tips
Getting Into Virginia
The largest airports in Virginia are Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Richmond International Airport (RIC). You can check for cheap flight deals and compare prices on Google Flights or CheapoAir.
If you’re located on the East Coast, you can drive in or take a MegaBus from basically any major cities in the region. It’s also possible to take an Amtrak train to stations in Richmond, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, or Washington, DC. However, unless you really love trains, I’d stick with a bus or a car. The Amtraks tend to get delayed or run very slowly.
Getting Around Virginia
The best way to get from place to place in Virginia is with a car. Many attractions are in small towns with poor public transportation. Additionally, hiking trails are impossible to get to without your own transportation. However, if you’re not planning on driving your own car in, don’t fret! You can easily rent a car from any of the major airports or cities. I recommend renting with Hertz – I use them every time I need to rent a car.
Where to Stay in Virginia
Some of the charm of being in Virginia is finding small, family-owned inns to stay in around the state. However, if you’d rather base yourself somewhere, here are a few of the main cities you might consider:
- Richmond – Richmond, VA is the state capital and the perfect base for exploring Central Virginia. If you’re hoping to stay in Richmond, the Berkeley Hotel is a charming and historic place to stay.
- Charlottesville – For access to mountains in Western and Southwestern Virginia, Charlottesville is a cozy and fun base. In Charlottesville, the Clifton Inn is a perfect pick for a Charlottesville weekend break.
- Virginia Beach – Located on the coast, Virginia Beach is a wonderful getaway to get some sun and sand in the last few warm days of the year. We recommend staying at Four Sails Resort in Virginia Beach.
- Washington, DC – While obviously not Virginia, Washington, DC gives you great access to Northern Virginia and some of the mountains and parks bordering Maryland and West Virginia. Here are our recommendations for places to stay in Washington, DC.
The Bottom Line
Virginia is the perfect place to plan a fall getaway, as there’s so much to do and see! If you want to experience a beautiful fall destination, be sure to add Virginia to your fall getaway list.
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Cover photo by Matthew Paulson (Flickr Creative Commons)