For some outdoor lovers, fall is the time to go camping in Virginia. When the first cool fronts sweep over the Allegheny Mountains, bringing that crisp autumn air, tent and RV campers visualize themselves by a cracking campfire, deep in the woods, up in the mountains, along the lakeshore and beside the coast, overnighting in the beautiful and bountiful landscapes that comprise Virginia.
Virginia boasts a long autumn season, extending the fall camping possibilities. By early October, leaves start peaking in the western part of the state, along the highest mantles of the Appalachians. From there, autumnal glory spreads to lower elevations and easterly across the Piedmont, marching on to the Atlantic Ocean, where color hangs on well into mid-November.
The key component to fall camping in Virginia is setting yourself up where deciduous trees will be losing their chlorophyll and revealing their underlying cornucopia of color, whether they are red maples, yellow tulip trees, orange oaks or maroon sweetgums. A mix of trees is preferred, where the varied shades contrast and complement one another — perhaps with a touch of green pines to set off the vibrant hardwoods.
And that fall smell in Virginia – drying leaves warmed by a golden sun, hot apple cider spiked with cinnamon wafting through the brisk eve and lazy curls of smoke drifting up from wood embers — it’s a clarion call to go camping!
Here are 10 Virginia fall camping destinations that cover the gamut of the state from high to low, from west to east, allowing you to experience the singular pleasure of pitching your tent or parking your RV in the Old Dominion’s autumn splendor. Along with each campground description is a suggested fall color walk you can undertake while at the campground. The campgrounds are listed from earliest fall color to latest fall color.
– GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK –
Nearest Town: Independence
Fall Color Peak: Early October to mid-October
What You Need to Know: This is Virginia’s highest campground
GPS Coordinates: 36.62124, -81.48448
Fall starts early here on Virginia’s rooftop. Perched at 4,250 feet, the campground at Grayson Highlands matches the high standards of the rest of this state park. The campground will suit both tent and RV campers seeking fall’s dramatic color show. The state park has trails galore for campers to enjoy vistas from craggy outcrops or waterfalls from tumbling streams. A relaxed atmosphere here nearly guarantees a welcome respite from the stress of day-to-day life.
The camping area is stretched out in oak-maple woods with a distinct loop for RVs. Bathhouses and reservable campsites make overnighting here even easier. Water spigots are scattered nearby all campsites. A dump station serves RVs. The Country Store, adjacent to the main campground, is open on weekends.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: Take the 1.6-mile Twin Pinnacles Trail, accessing the highest point in the state park. Along the way it passes several interesting environments and caps it off with a fine view from Little Pinnacle, then makes an encore at Big Pinnacle, before looping back to the visitor center.
– WHITE ROCKS CAMPGROUND –
Nearest Town: Pembroke
Fall Color Peak: Early-mid October to mid-late October
What You Need to Know: Bring all your supplies – no stores are nearby
GPS Coordinates: 37.43021, -80.49227
Located deep in the Jefferson National Forest, the large wooded camp offers well spread sites amid hilly woods – but the sites are leveled. The campground does offer water spigots. You are guaranteed a campsite here – it never fills. The oak dominated forest may provide enough color that you don’t even have to leave your camp chair to enjoy fall. However, there is plenty of hiking, scenic driving, and wilderness will tempt you away, including the Appalachian Trail and the view from Wind Rock.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: This 1.3-mile “Virginias Walk” makes for a perfect leg stretcher. The trek begins near campsite #9 and loops into West Virginia then back into Virginia, ending at campsite #26.
– SHERANDO LAKE –
Nearest Town: Sherando
Fall Color Peak: Early-mid October to end of October
What You Need to Know: There’s plenty to do here so try to extend your stay
GPS Coordinates: 37.91863, -79.01167
This well-managed yet traditional Washington National Forest campground is a favorite of mine. Nestled in a gorgeous wooded valley beneath the Blue Ridge, two lakes enhance the natural beauty. Three loops offer tiers of amenities, from reservable electric sites to non-electric to first come first served sites. The sizeable shady camp has plenty of room, hot showers, flush toilets and water spigots, too.
But with so much many ways to soak in the hues of autumn, you might not be at camp that much. Take a walk around the lakes, or paddle them or fish. Take a color drive on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. Pedal your mountain bike up Mills Creek. An excellent hiker-only trail system emanates from the campground, including family-friendly nature trails and more challenging treks up adjacent Torry Ridge.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: From the campground, take the short but steep .5-mile trek up to Lookout Rock, where a cornucopia of color will spread before you. An easier yet longer loop would be a family hike around Sherando Lake, a little over 2 miles around.
– STONY FORK –
Nearest Town: Wytheville
Fall Color Peak: Mid-October to early November
What You Need to Know: This campground has a natural, spring fed swimming pool
GPS Coordinates: 37.01029, -81.18124
This Jefferson National Forest Campground has all the amenities, including reservable campsites. Warm showers, flush toilets, and water spigots make the 54-site camp an easy choice. East Fork Stony Fork flows through the old-fashioned getaway with a variety of campsites including those with water and electricity, water only, or primitive, priced accordingly. The deep forest will provide immediate autumn shades while you are camped, while nearby trails provide additional color opportunities. Take a short drive to Big Walker Lookout Tower and Country Store for a great view and a good ol’ time.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: For a 2 mile loop from the campground you can climb the Stony Fork Trail then circle back on the Seven Sisters Trail under deep deciduous woodlands.
– CAMP ROOSEVELT –
Nearest Town: Luray
Fall Color Peak: Mid-late October to early-mid November
What You Need to Know: This campground was the site of the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the country
GPS Coordinates: 38.73339, -78.51736
Tucked away between Massanutten Mountain and Kerns Mountain, this 10-site Washington National Forest campground along Passage Creek is situated under oaks and other hardwoods, delivering vibrant color. Drinking water and flush toilets are available, but no showers. However, water is an important component to your fall color camping here. Both the South Fork Shenandoah River and North Fork Shenandoah River are within easy striking distance. Do a river color tour. Paddle your way past vibrant trees rising from the riverbanks and up the surrounding mountains. At the campground, walk around and check out the interpretive information detailing Great Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was here before the current campground came to be.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: From VA 675 just east of the campground, take the Massanutten Mountain Trail south up Duncan Hollow, from which rises forested ridges. The entire Massanutten Mountain Trail makes a 71 mile loop, so you won’t run out of hiking path.
– DOUTHAT STATE PARK –
Nearest Town: Clifton Forge
Fall Color Peak: Late October to early November
What You Need to Know: The park is known for its waterfalls and overlooks
GPS Coordinates: 37.89676, -79.80226
One of Virginia’s 6 original state parks, with a rustic touch added by the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the campground in the 1930s, Douthat State Park is a flawless fall destination, and recognized as a National Historic District. Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians can enjoy the trails that lead along the park lake, to waterfalls and overlooks, where you can gaze upon fall’s paintbrush sweeping over the mountains. Rent a boat and explore the lake.
The camping here is fine and varied. You can choose to overnight at primitive sites overlooking the park lake, though it does have a bathhouse, or water and electric sites at the White Oak and Whispering Pines campgrounds. There’s even an equestrian campground! Dine in the park restaurant – it also overlooks the lake, where bright trees will reflect off the water.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: It is a haul, but you owe it to yourself to head up to Lookout Rock then Tuscarora Overlook for autumn admiration. Pass Blue Suck Falls on the way, though in autumn it won’t be flowing much. At Tuscarora Overlook find a grassy clearing and a restored CCC fire-watching cabin, with the park’s most beautiful vista. Gaze west into Wilson Creek and across to Beards Mountain in the east.
– PRINCE WILLIAM FOREST –
Nearest Town: Dumfries
Fall Color Peak: Mid-late October to mid-November
What You Need to Know: You can enjoy autumn color via your auto, bicycle of foot in this large metro D.C. preserve.
GPS Coordinates: 38.55988, -77.36863
This sizeable swath of conserved forest is virtually surrounded by the D. C. suburbs, yet provides a most convenient fall escape for local residents. Explore over 15,000 acres of parkland clothed in colorful hardwoods contrasting with green pines. Explore the 37 miles of trails on foot or bicycle or tool along on aptly named Scenic Drive.
The main campground – Oak Ridge — is large and more suited for tent campers – it is a regular stop for me when in Northern Virginia. Around 100 sites are scattered in three wooded loops. The A Loop is first come, first serve only. However, reservations can be made for B or C loops. Hot showers, flush toilets and drinking water are available. RVs and campers may want to use Prince William Forest RV Campground. A concessionaire-operated campground on the edge of the forest caters to RVers, with large back up or pull-through campsites with full hookups.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: From the Oak Ridge Campground take the Farms to Forest Trail. It traverses hardwoods rising from former farmland. The interpretive trail makes a 1 mile loop. Extend your walk a bit by making the added loop trail to Quantico Creek, varying the terrain and flora, adding more tree color to your walk.
– BELLE ISLE STATE PARK –
Nearest Town: Warsaw
Fall Color Peak: Late October to mid-November
What You Need to Know: The park rents bicycles, canoes, kayaks and even motorboats.
GPS Coordinates: 37.77689, -76.59794
This newer Virginia state park is set along 7 miles of peninsular shoreline astride the lower tidal Rappahannock River, bordered by Mulberry Creek and Deep Creek. The colorful park woods are set off by fields, which in turn contrast with the river and its forested shoreline occasionally broken by sandbars. Trails follow old farm roads and are mostly level. In case you want to see autumn using other than your feet, use a bike, kayak or motorboat.
The campground is newer, with larger than average sites. The 28-site camp is completely electrified and all sites have water, too. The bathhouse naturally has hot showers. It is set in a level area of hardwoods and pines. Hikers can access trails directly from the campground via the Campground Spur.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: From the park campground, take the Campground Spur then head out and do the White Oak Swamp Loop to see autumn grandeur shining in a Virginia wooded wetland. The hike is a little over a mile.
– BEAR CREEK LAKE STATE PARK –
Nearest Town: Cumberland
Fall Color Peak: Late October to mid-November
What You Need to Know: The 14-mile Cumberland Multi-use Trail traverses the park.
GPS Coordinates: 37.53096, -78.26999
Talk about a great place to view autumn leaves, Bear Creek Lake State Park is situated in the middle of the Cumberland State Forest. Enhanced with 40 acre Bear Creek Lake, beside which the fine campground stands – this state park offers varied activities from hiking and fishing to lake paddling and bicycling.
Tent campers will go for the primitive sites in the Acorn Loop, situated beside Bear Creek Lake. The Black Oak Loop has water and electric sites, and is suited for RVs and pop-ups. The Chestnut Loop is only open weekends and has 11 smaller campsites. All three loops are set in rich woods availing fall brilliance directly from your campsite.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: Make a 1.8 mile loop on the Channel Cat Trail, traveling from the campground, along the lake and into the backwoods. Don’t forget the Cumberland Multiuse Trail is a favorite with bicycling fall color fans.
– STAUNTON RIVER STATE PARK –
Nearest Town: South Boston
Fall Color Peak: Late, late October to mid-late November
What You Need to Know: This state park is situated on Virginia’s largest lake
GPS Coordinates: 36.7028, -78.66627
Enjoy autumn hues reflecting off the shores of Kerr Reservoir, a.k.a. Buggs Island Lake, extending 50,000 plus acres in size with 800-plus miles of shoreline in Southside Virginia. Boating is naturally prominent here, being adjacent to so much water. Paddle or motor your way through this big lake from the park boat launch, or hit the interconnected loop trail system. Since the state park is officially an International Dark Sky Park, you can top off your daytime fall color viewing with nighttime star gazing.
The 47 site campground presents a variety of wooded sites for campers. RVers will have 14 electric/water sites, with another 20 electric/water sites for popups or tenters wanting electricity. Tenters desiring primitive sites have an additional 13 sites. Hot showers clean you off after hitting the park trails.
Recommended Fall Color Walk: Take the River Bank Trail as it meanders along the shores of the park, traveling through a mix of hardwoods. In places, you can gaze across the Dan River embayment for extended autumn views. The trail stretches for 8.5 miles. Pick your segment. A highlight is the point overlooking the dammed confluence of the Dan River and Staunton River.
© johnnymolloy for Virginia’s Travel Blog, 2016. |