Photos from Skyline Drive: Near peak foliage color working its way towards the lowlands

October 21, 2013
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)

I’ve been in D.C. almost eight years and never seem to get out of the city enough. No better time than fall, especially given the proximity to idyllic farmland and mountains.

My girlfriend and I took our dog on an outing Sunday to Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.

…All images are available in larger versions by selecting

Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)

Given prime leaf peeping season and the Park’s recent re-opening following a two week shutdown (thanks to government squabbling), it was noticeably busy in many parts. Not enough to spoil the breathtaking views.

Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)

Around the region, the foliage status maps posted by Brendan and Jason last week seemed to more or less accurately reflect the state of fall colors (a more recent update shows how quick it’s progressing).

CWG contributor Matt Ross made a great comment to me before heading out this weekend based on what he’s seen further north over the last 10 days in terms of fall color: elevation matters, a lot.  The foliage maps you see won’t necessarily reflect conditions at the higher peaks.

The highest parts of the mountains and hilltops change color first and quickly. This was fairly easy to see in the area of the Shenandoah Park over the weekend. At the other end of the spectrum, areas moderated by either a warmer urban environment or water may exhibit slower change compared to surroundings.

Milkweed with autumn and gold backdrop on October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Milkweed with autumn and gold backdrop on October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
A path through the woods around or above 3,000 feet. Trees were either at peak or bare in this area. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
A path through the woods around or above 3,000 feet. Trees were either at peak or bare in this area. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)

By my estimation, much of the segment of road with overlooks near and above 3,000 feet are at or even past peak, while the 2,000 to 3,000 foot level is nearing peak. Below that, color remains patchier, with some spots still quite green. In other words, parts of the area described as “high color” in the maps linked above are a bit further along than the maps convey.

Changes will continue to be rapid over coming days and weeks given the natural decrease in sunlight. The combination of inbound colder temperatures and breezy conditions means you’ll be seeing bare limbs at the highest peaks before too long (already about the case in parts of West Virginia).

But of course as that happens, the rest of us are about to enter into peak period, one which may be accelerated after a slowish start in the urban center.

Should be a fun few weeks to spend outdoors…

Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)
Fall color from Skyline Drive. October 20, 2013. (Ian Livingston)

Route and info


The route in which photos were taken. It began at Swift Run Gap and ended at Front Royal, covering about 66 miles of the 100+ mile length of Skyline Drive, including the highest elevations of the entire path. There are many outlooks over 3,000 feet. (Google Maps)

Skyline Drive | Shenandoah National Park

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Ian Livingston is a forecaster/photographer and information lead for the Capital Weather Gang. By day, Ian is a defense and national security researcher at a D.C. think tank.
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Jason Samenow · October 21, 2013