As you might expect, West Virginia’s mountains put on quite an autumn show. You might not realize those yellow, gold, and orange colors appear at different times across the state. The West Virginia tourism folks provide information on five different fall color tours, based on likely peak color in the area.
The frost comes early in the Canaan Valley, where the Mountain Magic Tour begins. Plan a late September trip to see the five-story Blackwater Falls framed in color. Take time to mosey around the towns of Davis and Thomas, which now offer eclectic dining and nightlife as well as local advice on enjoying the area’s trails.
Heading south, you pass through the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and you can stop for hiking or rock climbing at Seneca Rocks, where the sandstone outcropping stretches upward for 900 feet. The area also includes Seneca and Smoke Hole caverns, where the underground passages are also full of color. At Green Bank, the focus is star gazing, with huge radio telescopes and a visitor center that explains the scientific work conducted there.
Not far from Green Bank, you can catch one of Cass Scenic Railroad’s steam locomotives and travel nearly a mile high to the top of Bald Knob for spectacular fall views.
Back in the car, drive over the Highland Scenic Highway, West Virginia Route 150, which offers 22 miles of plateaus and valleys viewed from 4,500 feet. At the highway’s southern end is Cranberry Glades, a natural botanical garden of bog vegetation that exists far south of its normal location.
Also in late September, Mother Nature visits the area around Morgantown, so if you’re not watching a West Virginia University football game you can appreciate the colors at the university’s arboretum, Coopers Rock State Forest, or along the Cheat River Gorge.
By mid-October, the central part of the state comes alive with color, making it a great time to visit picturesque places such as Philippi Covered Bridge, site of the first land battle of the Civil War, or Stonewall Jackson’s boyhood home at Jackson’s Mill.
West Virginia’s western reaches, along the Ohio River, usually hit their color peak in mid-October. Parkersburg offers a sternwheeler cruise to historic Blennerhasset Island, where Aaron Burr allegedly hatched a plot to create an empire in the Southwest. East of Parkersburg, view the color on a bike along the North Bend Rail Trail that takes you through towns and 13 tunnels.
In late October, the Eastern Panhandle of the state dons its fall color and nearby places like Harpers Ferry, Charles Town, Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, and Berkeley Springs are surrounded by shades of amber and gold along the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and across the mountainsides.
A trick of geography means that West Virginia’s southernmost regions are touched with nature’s paintbrush at the same time as its northeastern region. Arteries like I-64, I-77, and U.S. Route 19 take you through places like the state capital of Charleston and historic Lewisburg. Along the way, you can visit West Virginia’s artisan showcase at Tamarack and cross the New River Gorge.
Bridge Day draws visitors to Southern West Virginia
Oct. 15 brings visitors to one of the best-known West Virginia festivals: Bridge Day in Fayetteville and the New River Gorge Bridge.
Said to be the largest extreme sports event in the world, Bridge Day was first celebrated in 1980 to mark completion of the world’s second-longest single arch bridge.
BASE jumpers leap from the bridge more than 800 feet into the New River Gorge while other adventurers are skydiving and rappelling. Vendors line both ends of the bridge and there are additional events, including the Bridge Jam Music Festival and a chili cook-off.
Take the train
West Virginia’s spectacular fall foliage can also be seen on one of the state’s scenic excursion trains. Mountain Rail Adventures provides excursions departing from historic depots in Elkins, Durbin, and Cass through December.
Trips range from all-day excursions on the Cheat Mountain Salamander to half-day trips on the New Tygart Flyer and Mountain Explorer dinner train.
You can even spend the night in the Castaway Caboose or the Bald Knob Caboose and catch the train back the next day.
The Wild Heart of West Virginia Adventure package offers a combined ride on two trains, the Cass Scenic Railroad and the Cheat Mountain Salamander, with overnight options in Elkins and Cass.
The Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad provides narrated excursions through unspoiled countryside and “The Trough,” a narrow mountain valley with the South Branch of the Potomac River running below.
The Trough is also known as the eastern home of the American bald eagle and sightings are common. The excursions depart
from Romney, W.Va., and run through Oct. 30.
For more information:
West Virginia Tourism: visitwv.com