Virginia State Parks Fall Foliage Report

Fall View 2021 at Bull Mountain Overlook at Fairy Stone State Park

Across Virginia this fall, you can enjoy the fall scenery as the foliage of deciduous trees reacts to the changing seasons. Thanks to our Commonwealth’s varying elevations from mountains to shore, we have a long fall foliage season, starting earliest in the higher elevations and moving eastward. Fall colors typically peak between October 10 and 31; however, these dates may vary from year to year, depending on factors such as temperature and rainfall.

What you will learn

Here at Virginia State Parks, we are happy to update you on progress through our annual fall foliage report on our website. We will also be posting highlights and images on the website and in our newsletter every Thursday starting October 6th. Participating parks will share the color changes they observe that week. For example, beech trees turn from yellow to orange, dogwood trees turn from red to brown, and hickory trees turn from gold to bronze. They’ll recommend the best places in their park to see color and let you know of any special events that will make it a great park to visit that week.

autumn view of bear creek lake
Fall view at Bear Creek Lake in October 2021

Some of the parks we’re expecting this fall are the Southwest Virginia Museum, Fairy Stone, Douthat, High Bridge Trail, Seven Bends, Shenandoah River, Leesylvania, Sky Meadows, and Machicomoco State Parks. There may be others too!

Why do leaves change color

Why do the leaves change color anyway? In fact, most leaf colors are already in the leaf of the plant. Chlorophyll gives leaves their familiar green color, while carotenoids produce shades of yellow, orange and brown. There are also anthocyanins that add color to red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the aqueous fluid of leaf cells.

red maple trees at Leesylvania State Park
Red Maples at Leesylvania State Park in November 2021

During the spring and summer growing seasons, chlorophyll is produced and broken down, and the leaves appear green. As the days get shorter, chlorophyll production slows until it stops. The green color is no longer visible, and the carotenoids that were present all along are then revealed. During the fall, bright light and excess plant sugars produce red anthocyanins in leaf cells, adding to the range of color possibilities.

Calendar and weather effects

The length of the day and the weather determine when the color of the leaves begin to change and when the leaves fall from the trees. Longer, cooler nights trigger the processes that lead to fall color. Color variations from year to year are a factor of weather conditions – mainly humidity and temperature – which also vary. A drought or a prolonged period of rain can each affect fall color. The combination of a warm, humid spring, an absence of summer drought, and warm, sunny fall days appear to produce the brightest leaf color. Cool nights trigger a gradual closing of tiny tubes connecting the leaves to the rest of the tree, and once these tubes completely close, the leaves drop.

Share your shots

This fall, find new ways to connect with nature and get outdoors for some fresh air. You can go hiking, biking or even birdwatching. Whichever adventure you choose, be sure to share your photos of Virginia State Park on social media using the hashtag #VaStateParks and #FallinVirginia. We want you to join the conversation online!