Watch broad-winged hawks gliding south along the rocky spine of mountains. After a cool front moves in see the mild blue sky fill with boiling kettles of thousands of broadwings. Experts say Rocky Knob at Milepost 168 near Tuggles Gap is the place go.
Grab your binoculars, a field guide, and a lawn chair and wait for the hawks – you’ll see ospreys, red-tails, sharp-skins, Cooper’s hawks, even bald eagles.
The essence of fall in the mountains is the magnificent scarlet, gold, and tangerine of changing leaves. And what better way to enjoy the mountain scenery than a leisurely drive along a Virginia Scenic Byway to Big Walker Lookout Tower and General Store. Just 12 miles north on U.S. Route 52 from Wytheville, the lookout offers views of farmland as well as forested wilderness. Climb the 100-ft. tower above the treetops for an unbelievable view of five states. On weekend afternoons, watch demonstrations of blacksmithing, soap-making, or apple butter boiling and listen to live bluegrass or gospel music. www.scenicbeauty-va.com
Feast at a German banquet table, quench your thirst at the biergarten, and dance to a rollicking German “oompah” band September 22 and 29 and every Friday and Saturday in October. The dinner—complete with roast pig—includes fresh breads, pastries, German sausages, sauerkraut, and all the other tasty German specialties. Dancers polka, waltz, and polka-march through barn, driven to a frenzy of exuberance by the 20-member Sauerkraut Band. Oktoberfest is included in the hotel’s overnight package; tickets for the feast alone can be purchased in advance. http://mountainlakehotel.com
The Blue Ridge Mountains have their own autumn traditions, some you’ll never find anywhere else. Consider turning out to cheer at the Official Virginia Grand Privy Race at Independence’s Annual Mountain Foliage Festival October 13. Outhouses on wheels race down Main Street in double elimination heats until a grand winner is declared. The Friday night before has both men and women vying in a hilarious beauty contest for the title of Potty Princess. Festivities include a pie baking contest, music, and games throughout the day. www.independenceva.com
More than a walk in the cornfield, these gigantic puzzles incorporate befuddling pathways, clues, and riddles. Corn mazes are exercise for the mind and body. Doe Run Farm in Patrick County’s Ararat has a themed corn maze open Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. You can also pick pumpkins, zip down the hay slide, or stock up on fresh popcorn, apples, gourds, or pies. Or try out Mountain Meadow Farm’s Corn Acoustics musically-themed corn maze in Meadows of Dan. Children love the smaller hay bale maze. Franklin County’s Three Red Barn Corn Maze in Boone’s Mill boasts a 7-acre corn maze, hay rides, ghost race, and other fun activities Saturdays though October 27.
Foggy Ridge Cider in Carroll County’s Dugspur is famous in epicurean circles for its “Serious Cider” made from mountain-grown heirloom apples. The apples and crabapples mix that goes into Foggy Ridge ciders imparts a special snap lauded by Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Food & Wine magazines. Whether you’re sipping Foggy Ridge’s crisp Serious Cider, Sweet Stayman or another of its exciting ciders, you’re drinking in fall with tradition. Foggy Ridge is open for tastings Friday – Sunday afternoons. www.foggyridgecider.com
Whether you go to Blue Ridge Pumpkins LLC near Fancy Gap, Williams Orchard in Wytheville, or any of the other fine farms of the Blue Ridge Highlands, it’s always more fun to pick out your jack-o-lantern pumpkin on the farm. Both Williams and Blue Ridge Pumpkins offer hay rides, child-sized hay-bale mazes, face-painting, produce sales, and refreshments to add to their weekend festivity.
As the State Center for Blue Ridge Folklore, Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute & Museum documents the folkways of the Blue Ridge Mountains, everything from quilting and carving to moonshining and tragedy ballads. The Blue Ridge Folklife Festival Saturday, Oct. 27 showcases it all – a huge celebration of authentic traditional music, crafts, food, and rural life. Performers at three stages play the old-time bluegrass, blues, ballads, gospel, and string band tunes of the region. Workshops in acappella singing and Blue Ridge piano styles will be held for the first time this year. Mule jumping, horse pulling, coon dog contests, and fiddle workshops will be ongoing. www.blueridgefolklifefestival.com
If you want the high views, head for Grayson Highlands State Park, the highest of Virginia’s state parks. With just over 4,500 acres, this park has a lot of territory to explore and a many spectacular views. Look for the wild ponies that graze on its bald ridgetops and for the brilliant red sugar maples in the hillside forests. The park offers 15 miles of trails for hiking plus year round access to the 2,184 mile long Appalachian Trail. Plan to visit Sept. 29-30 when the air fills with old-time music and the sweet scent of sorghum molasses and apple butter. Wild ponies will be auctioned off on Saturday afternoon. www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/gra.shtml
The autumn leaves won’t last but gold and diamonds do – visit the luminous Hodges Faberge collection at Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art. For most, Fabergé conjures up images of enameled eggs. But Faberge eggs constitute only a tiny percent of the thousands of pieces created before the Russian Revolution caused Peter Faberge to close his doors. The Taubman exhibit contains nary an egg, instead displaying jewelry, tableware, boxes, clocks, and smoking accessories, all created of precious and semi-precious materials. Each represents thousands of hours of intense handiwork. The exhibit closes on the first day of winter, Dec. 22, 2012. www.taubmanmuseum.org
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