Swapping Stilettos for Hiking Shoes: a Leaf Peeping Story

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park Photo: Copyright Michelle Carr 2013 / Travel Boldly.com
Virginia's fall colors light up the landscape along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Michelle Carr takes us on a 3-day leaf peeping road trip with Front Royal, VA as her base.  Photos by Michelle Carr
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Swapping Stilettos for Hiking Shoes: a Leaf Peeping Story

Guest Post by Michelle Carr

Each year when summer fades to fall, I dream of visiting a place with gold, orange, and red tree-lined landscapes that offer winding roads, hiking trails, and harvest festivals. Since I live in Houston, Texas where the seasonal lines are not clearly defined, I posted a Tweet asking where to go leaf peeping. Within minutes, I received a reply from a follower suggesting several areas from his home state of Virginia. I researched the recommended sites and discovered that the third weekend in October was
Virginia's most popular weekend for leaf peeping activities, including Virginia's Wine Tour month. The wheels were in motion to making this dream come true, but two weeks before my departure the US government shutdown and closed all national parks, museums, and monuments. Despite the threat of an extended US government shutdown, I swapped out my stilettos for hiking shoes and made my leaf peeping pilgrimage to Virginia.

Graves Harvest Festival in Syria, VA. Photo: Cpoyright  Michelle Carr 2013 /  Travel Boldly.comAs I arrived to my base location at Front Royal, Virginia in my rental car, I was greeted with a warm sunset casting off of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a kiss from the crisp fall air. I followed Google Maps’ narration through a series of back roads that closely resembled Thomas Kinkade's American landscape themed artwork, exhibiting barns with red doors, rolling hills with grazing sheep, and cozy cottages adorned with seasonal decorations. Every turn unveiled a breathtaking view that made me want to pull the car over to take pictures. Shortly after seven p.m., I checked-in at the Holiday Inn at Front Royal Blue Ridge Shadows and I was upgraded to a spacious suite that overlooked the golf course and the Blue Ridge Mountains. After the long day’s journey, I refreshed up and made reservations at Apartment 2G in Front Royal’s historic district for their Third Thursdays Tapas Night. It was a treat to watch David and Stacy Gedney, the executive chefs and restaurant owners of Apartment 2G, broadcast their culinary skills over closed-circuit TV monitors as they prepared the Spanish tapas for their guests like Food Network stars. I sampled an array of tapas ranging from gambas ajillo to scallops with walnut grape salsa and finished dinner with a homemade apple tart made from local ingredients. With my wine glass lifted to the TV monitor, I toasted the beginning of my trip with a verbal "Cheers!"

Day Two- Shenandoah National Park
Luck was on my side because the US government shutdown ended the day I arrived Virginia. The next morning, I packed a bag with water and snacks, and started my leaf peeping adventure at Shenandoah National Park’s North Entrance. The thirty-five miles per hour Skyline Drive captured my full attention
Thorofare Mountain Overlook, Shenandoah National Park. Photo: Copyright Michelle Carr 2013 / Travel Boldly.com
with vibrant jeweled-tone colored valleys seen from various observation points and from the tree-lined curved roads that hugged the mountainside. Cyclist shared the road with motorists and enjoyed the cool breezes and smell of fresh pine trees. In the afternoon, I pulled over at milepost 49.4 to stretch my legs with a 2.6 mile hike to Rose River Falls, a waterfall with four cascades of 67 feet. On foot, I absorbed the essence of the fall foliage experience capturing the sights of crimson and amber hued leaves, hearing the sounds of crunching leaves under my feet and chirping birds over my head, and smell of damp soil mixed with decayed leaves. As the sun began to descend, I returned to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center to watch the sunset. The area was alive with recreation: fathers tossed footballs to their sons, couples drank wine and ate cheese on colorful blankets, and people walked their dogs on leashes. As the brunt orange globe acknowledged goodbye to the day, everyone stopped their activity to gaze at the view in wonderment.

Day Three: Syria, Virginia - Harvest Festival and Wine Tour
A light morning fog hovered off the ground as I drove to Syria, Virginia to attend the Graves' Annual Harvest Festival. I took the wine tour route 211 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoyed the
Graves Harvest Festival in Syria, VA. Photo: Cpoyright  Michelle Carr 2013 /  Travel Boldly.combeautiful fall vistas. As I neared Syria, cars formed a line to enter the Graves' festival grounds to park in an open field. The smell of freshly popped kettle corn filled the air with sweetness and lured guests to the first samplings of the day. A bluegrass band entertained the crowd with banjos and guitars as children chased each other around the grounds. Families posed for pictures in the pumpkin patches, children rode on hayrides, and vendors sold their homemade crafts. Across from the festival grounds, the Graves' working farm was open to the public. The farm was stocked with chickens, goats, and pigs, and the apple orchard was open for apple picking.

Around mid-afternoon, I decided to leave the harvest festival in search of one of Virginia’s nearby
wineries. I veered on to Weakly Hollow Road for an off the beaten path drive that displayed some of the best fall foliage views of Madison County and down RT 643 to the DuCard Vineyards Tasting
Ducard Vineyard. Etlan, VA. Photo: Copyright Michelle Carr 2013 / Travel Boldly.com
Room on Gibson Hollow Lane. The DuCard Vineyards Tasting Room offered the perfect escape to relax and unwind. A three man band played a jam session with a harmonica, bass guitar, and double bass while clients sipped wine and tapped along to the music. The owner, Scott Eliff, butterflied around the tasting room to supervise the affairs of his business and to greet his guests. When he stopped by my table, I interviewed him to find out more about his story and how he made his dream come true. Scott Eliff’s dream began over ten years ago when left his Washington, D.C. consulting job to live in the country with his wife. He converted the acreage on his estate from an apple orchard to a vineyard beginning with a few grapevines. It took him a few years, but through Scott’s motivation, determination, and process improvements to his product, the grapes blossomed into award winning grapes for local wineries. He departed with a few words of wisdom: love what you do, never under estimate a hobby, and always have fun even when times gets hard.

Ducard Vineyard. Etlan, VA. Photo: Copyright Michelle Carr 2013 / Travel Boldly.comAs my Twitter follower promised, Virginia exceeded my expectations with an abundance of fall foliage, hiking trails, civil war sights, museums, national parks, festivals, and wineries. The one thing that impressed me the most about Virginia was the first class hospitality shown to visitors. 


Michelle Carr, from Houston, Texas, writes stories and travels for fun. She gleans tips and ideas from her Twitter followers and writes about her “life by tweets” adventures on her blog. You can follow her on Twitter @lifebytweets to post ideas where she should travel next. 

Michelle's other stories on Travel Boldly:

A Day Trip to Washington, D.C.

A map of our BOLD readers

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