Virginia is for lovers and that’s certainly true for folks who love to revel in the splendor of Fall’s colorful masterpiece. One journey in particular will take you to some of the highest places in the state, while at the same time giving you a nearly birds-eye view of the patchwork of red, yellow, orange and green in the valleys below.
In Abingdon, VA (about 2 hours from Knoxville) get off I-81 and head east on U.S. 58. In late September hints of color should start appearing as you journey from the historic town into the countryside. As you approach the mountains you see from the interstate, the hills become taller and the valleys more narrow.
About 10 miles from Abingdon you enter the charming town of Damascus, a place that in recent years has become a Mecca for outdoors enthusiasts. The Appalachian Trail runs right through the heart of Downtown and the Virginia Creeper Trail (an old railroad bed) draws hundreds of hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders every day.
U.S. 58 is rather straight until just past Damascus. As you venture to the left at the end of town you will quickly understand why this is called Virginia’s “Crooked Road.” The road winds its way along mountain streams and thick forests sure to show their true colors in the fall. This part of U.S. 58 takes you through the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, a part of the Jefferson National Forest. You will find ample opportunities to see the fall colors from the road or on a number of trails (including the Creeper) that will take you further back into the woods.
Eventually drivers find themselves in the Whitetop Community, a peaceful wide open space just below Virginia’s 2nd highest peak of the same name. A short detour off U.S. 58 will take you to the top of the mountain, the highest drive you can take in the state. While this peak has few trees, the views from it will certainly give you a color show.
Virginia’s Crooked Road continues to Grayson Highlands State Park, a place known for its wildflowers, wild setting and wild ponies. It is one of the state’s greatest treasures and because of its remoteness is mostly void of large crowds. A trailhead for the hike to the state’s highest peak, Mt. Rogers is located within the park.
From Grayson Highlands continue on U.S. 58 to Volney and take VA 16 North toward Marion and Interstate 81. This stretch of road is just as curvy and just as full of spectacular colors in the fall. Another of the Commonwealth’s great parks, Hungry Mother State Park is just a few miles north of Marion..
This Fall Road Trip is around 350 miles long. Since there is so much to see and do along the way, consider staying in Abingdon or Marion or camping within Mt. Rogers or Grayson Highlands if the campgrounds are still open and it’s not too cold as temperatures at these elevations will be quite cooler than down in the valley.
For more ideas click on either of these links:
Knoxville Road Trip Examiner
Knoxville Day Trips Examiner