CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges are still missing from the tree-covered hillsides here in the Mountain State due to the hot temperatures that extended into autumn, delaying fall color this year.
But the good news is that peak fall foliage won’t be far behind now that fall temperatures have arrived, bringing with it one of the peak seasons for tourism in West Virginia, Emily Hatfield of the West Virginia Tourism Office told MetroNews Affiliate WMOV Radio.
“It seems like toward the end of summer we all start waiting around to see when the leaves are going to turn,” Hatfield said. “This year we’ve been no stranger to warmer temperatures than usual, and so that has put fall color a little bit delayed than what it usually is, but we’re starting to see pops of color around the state, so we’re really excited.”
Hatfield said there are several factors that help determine the intensity and timing of fall colors.
“So every season is very unique,” she said. “We should still have great fall color to come because we’ve had plenty of moisture over the summer. A little bit more rain tends to keep the foliage from drying up and turning brown before full color is achieved. So there’s still color on the way, we just kind of need the temperatures to drop a little bit, and then the leaves will start to turn.”
In addition to precipiation amounts, elevation also plays a role in when those colors start to pop.
“Higher elevations start first, and then it gradually works its way down to the south and lower elevations,” Hartfield said.
The state Tourism Office works closely with the state Division of Forestry, putting out information to help “leaf-peepers” find the ideal places for finding the brightest fall colors.
“Every week we’re releasing a fall foliage report, so that will tell you peak fall foliage is, as well as areas that are nearing peak,” Hatfield.
Hatfield said this year, they decided to take that one step further, to encourage even more tourist activity — a “Country Road Trip.”
“We’re really trying to get folks to go see the fall color, but also see what other tourism attractions, activities and events are going on around the fall color, so every week we’re doing the fall foliage update, as well as featuring a country road,” she said.
Each report this year is directly tied to a featured route in West Virginia, outlining a scenic drive that covers peak foliage, accommodations, activities and must-see stops and overlooks along the way.
This week’s featured Country Road is U.S. 219 and W.Va. 66 from Valley Head to Cass.
The route travels through the Monongahela National Forest, starting on U.S. 219 in Valley Head, running south to W.Va. 66 and east to the old logging town of Cass. There you can experience leaf peeping from the unique perspective of the rails and even board an antique steam engine at Cass Scenic Railroad for a leisurely climb up to Bald Knob, which offers spectacular views.
Hatfield said scenic railroad rides are her favorite way to explore the fall colors.
“West Virginia is very, very lucky that in addition to trail lifts, we also have many scenic trains, and for a lot of folks that is a perfect way to come see the fall color,” she said. “They range from about a three- to four-hour trip up the mountain side, and there’s truly no other way to experience fall color than on a scenic train in West Virginia.”
As always, the West Virginia Tourism Office encourages tourists to share their favorite road trip photos using the #AlmostHeaven hashtag.
For weekly fall foliage updates and autumn travel inspiration, visit www.wvtourism.com/fall.