I called the staff at Grayson Highlands State Park in early September last year to find out when the foliage there peaks. My plan was to take fall photos for DCR’s website and publications. The staff said its peak usually occurs the first week of October. Having often visited Shenandoah National Park at about that time of year, that seemed early to me, but I figured the Grayson Highlands crew knew more than I did about it.
As my wife and I neared the park, which is more than five hours from our home in Richmond, my concern grew. Trees in nearby Elk Creek were still green… could the park staff be wrong? Would this trip turn out to be pointless?
We drove onward on the curvy mountain roads. The trees in Independence were still mostly green, but at least there was a hint of color. As we continued our ascent, my worries began to ease. We passed through Mouth of Wilson, then Volney, and then we reached the park itself. The colors at the park, which has areas at altitudes above 5,000 feet, were stunning. The park also happens to be pretty close to Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest elevation at 5,729 feet. One learns pretty quickly that the word “highlands” is fitting. It’s unlike anywhere else in Virginia.
This is true for reasons other than its height. The weather there, at least during the three days we visited, seemed to change by the hour. The first day was warm and a little hazy. The second day brought dense fog and drizzle, which meant I’d need the tripod more than usual. The wet weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, because the waterfalls on Cabin Creek Trail were strong and beautiful. The fog lifted later that day, so we visited the park’s tranquil and very photogenic wild ponies. And then the third day was crisp and clear. The view of the valley from Sugarland Overlook was perfect.
Grayson Highlands isn’t easy to reach, but it became my favorite that weekend anyway. And I’ve been to more than half of Virginia’s state parks. My stay at the park helped me understand that you can actually fall in love with a place. Or at least you can envy those lucky enough to live near it.