One of the best times of year in Virginia is the crisp, colorful fall and some of the state’s best kept leaf peeping secrets can be found in Clarke County. Part of the Shenandoah Valley and nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains, Clarke County boasts dozens of native tree varieties that put on quite a show each year. Whether you are looking for hiking trails, biking options, or public acres for strolling, below are a few of our secret spots to take in the kaleidoscope of colors. Don’t forget to download our map of great hikes and walks in the area or our 15 mile, 30 mile and 50 mile cycling maps.
A 66-acre retreat boasting two stone turrets, a secluded cottage in the woods and a spectacular outlook spot along the Appalachian Trail. There are a series of day hikes, from one to six miles that include easy nature trails or the challenging Crescent Rock climb and Spout Run hike (reserve six hours out and back for each). Three trails let you casually explore the Bear’s Den grounds and the various rocky outcroppings to view the incredible colors and sunset.
The Virginia State Arboretum is a 172 acre preserve at Blandy Experimental Farm that features over 5000 woody trees and shrubs from around the world and hosts numerous programs and events throughout the year, including its Arborfest and Garden Fair. There are numerous walking trails, each beginning and ending at the parking lot, ranging from three-quarters to two miles. It’s a gorgeous setting with an educational mission that provides great signage to guide and inform. “Don’t forget your dog!”
Beautiful, open pastures sprawl throughout this special property. Home to the Cistercian order of monks, visitors at the guest retreat house are welcome to hike the land. More than 900 acres of the Holy Cross Abbey property are part of Clarke County’s land conservation easement program.
Cool Spring, which encompasses 195 bountiful acres along the Shenandoah River, is made for exploration and discovery. You’re invited to discover the beauty from dawn to dusk on the over 5 miles of paved and mowed paths across the property, which you can appreciate with the help of guides available at the site. Depending where you stand, you can find a front-row view of a great blue heron rookery (nesting colony) or a close-up look at a variety of rock types, including quartzite, which ancient peoples used to make spear points and today are used for kitchen countertops. You can also easily step onto a gorgeous open meadow to touch grasses, seek out butterflies and other insects, enjoy the sounds of nature, and enjoy a picnic. And, on a clear day, you can even gaze across the storied Shenandoah Valley all the way to West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains.
The Shenandoah River follows lazily along the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and provides both great scenic views and an up-close experience with nature. The American Bald Eagle, blue herons, deer, red tail hawks and osprey are just a few of nature’s guardians that rule this special landscape. Watermelon Park, a family-friendly campground and recreational area offers a variety of outdoor activities including tubing, kayaking, soccer, volleyball, fishing, swimming and so much more! Pack a picnic and head to the river to take in the amazing fall colors along the lazy Shenandoah River.