Fall Foliage in Virginia

Virginia is diverse in landscape, from the highest mountains to the Eastern Shore. The variety in landscape and elevation provides a long fall foliage season, starting earliest in the higher elevations and moving eastward. Fall colors generally peak sometime between October 10 and October 31; however, these dates can vary from year to year, based on factors such as temperature and rainfall.

Virginia’s many species of deciduous trees create an interesting mix of autumn colors. Here are some colors you can expect from some of our most common species:

General timing of fall foliage season, in years of typical rainfall and temperatures

Tree Color Timing
Black Gum Bright red Early
Dogwood Red to maroon Early
Tulip-poplar Yellow Early
Red Maple Orange to brilliant scarlet Middle
Sugar Maple Bright orange Middle
Beech Yellow to orange Middle
Hickory Gold Middle
Oaks Deep red, amber, russet Late


Weekly Fall Foliage Report

September 20, 2023 —

This spicebush in Fort Chiswell sports bright red berries, along with hints of yellow fall foliage to come. Photo by Tammie Lowry.

September 23 will mark the autumnal equinox – the first official day of fall. Virginia’s forests are still mostly green, but many trees have begun their “great fade,” a dulling of green color as chlorophyll production slows. This effect is happening earlier than usual in areas that lacked summer rainfall, including much of northern and central Virginia.

Look closely, and you’ll notice a few tree species beginning to change already. These include black gum, which starts with a few bright red flags scattered through the crown; yellow-poplar, a tall tree showing yellow leaves here and there; and dogwood, our state tree, which blushes from pink to a deep, dull red.

Fall will soon progress downslope, and eastward, from the highest mountains of southwest Virginia and the Alleghenies. Meanwhile, many of our roadways are awash in the golden yellow of tickseed and goldenrod, some of our most noticeable fall wildflowers.


Fall Foliage Resources

Fall Foliage Driving Tours

Try our DOF-recommended Fall Foliage Driving Tours.

Why Leaves Change Color

  • Chlorophyll gives leaves their familiar green color.
  • Carotenoids produce yellow, orange, and brown colors.
  • Anthocyanins produce red and purple colors and are the same pigments that give color to fruits like blueberries and cherries.

Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the leaf cells throughout the growing season. During this time, chlorophyll is produced and leaves appear green. As days get shorter, chlorophyll production slows and eventually stops. With the green color no longer visible, the yellow carotenoids are revealed. During autumn, bright light and excess plant sugars produce red anthocyanins within leaf cells.

Additional Resources

ImageTitleIDDescriptionContent Typehf:tax:document-categoryhf:tax:Media
Forest Facts: Virginia in the Fall
Forest Facts: Virginia in the FallF00009

Forest facts information sheet provides an illustrated explanation of the science of leaves changing colors, the role of pigments, effects of the calendar and weather, why these changes occur, and fall leaf identification information. Target audience: Youth – elementary age. Printed copies available.

Vieweducation public-informationpublication

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