The autumn leaf change has peaked in West Virginia's highest elevations and is sweeping quickly toward the lowlands, according to tourism officials across the Mountain State.
Leaf-peepers this week would do well to focus on travel in the lower mountain regions between 2,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level, while the hills and valleys along the Ohio and Potomac are on track to peak at and near the end of October.
Though a dry summer has dulled autumn color in some areas, the season is hardly less beautiful than in previous years, they agree.
Landscape photographer Rick Burgess toured the Allegheny highlands of east-central West Virginia over the weekend, and, despite the dry season, found brilliance in many places.
"It was a little drab in spots, but I found excellent color in Randolph County, particularly at Kumbrabow State Forest. Sully Road and Middle Mountain Road in Randolph County were beautiful. Route 39 between Richwood and Cranberry Glades was very nice too. It takes a little more looking than usual, but the color is there."
Allegheny Mountains & Northern Panhandle
According to Brian Sarfino, marketing manager for the Tucker County Convention & Visitor's, Bureau, color in the state's highest elevations above 4,000 feet has already peaked, and leaves along the Allegheny Front at Dolly Sods and Spruce Knob have faded and fallen.
Travelers this week and next, he says, may find the best colors in the highland counties on the flanks of the mountains and in the mountain valleys.
"At this point the leaf change is peaking in the Blackwater Canyon and is working its way down the valley into the Parsons area and along the Dry Fork, though Dolly Sods is now beyond peak," Sarfino said.
Highland counties that state officials generally group among the first to peak in late September include Grant, Hardy, Tucker, Preston, Mineral, Pendleton, and Pocahontas.
Ohio, Brooke, Marshall, and Hancock counties in the northern panhandle and Webster and Randolph counties in the foothills west of the Alleghenies tend to peak in early October.
North-Central Hills & Greenbrier Valley
The hill country of the Monongahela and northern Ohio valleys and the Greenbrier Valley in southern West Virginia are approaching peak. Highland reaches between the waters of the Ohio and Monongahela will approach peak by this coming weekend and will peak along the valleys of the upper Ohio and Monongahela and West Fork rivers by the end of the month.
According to Mark Lewis, president and CEO of the Greater Parkersburg Convention & Visitor's Bureau, peak color along the Hughes and Little Kanawha rivers is approaching, and color along the Ohio River will peak by the end of the month.
"We'll peak here at Parkersburg in late October as we're just a little warmer being down a little lower than the rest of the area," Lewis said.
"You can get a beautiful view of fall color on Fort Boreman Hill [in Parkersburg], but as far as recommending a trail along which someone might walk through the forest, Mountwood Park or North Bend State Park would be among the places I would go."
The valley of the Greenbrier in southeastern West Virginia and the Nicholas County highlands in south-central West Virginia are also expected to peak in mid-October.
Counties in the north expected to peak in mid-October include Wirt, Wood, Upshur, Taylor, Barbour, Tyler, Lewis, Gilmer, Braxton, Wetzel, Marion, Ritchie, Calhoun, Pleasants, Doddridge, Harrison, and Monongahela.
Southern Mountains, Western Hills & Eastern Panhandle
The mountains and hills and southern and western West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle are expected to peak in late October.
Colors should approach their most vivid along the New River and in the New River Gorge region in southern West Virginia by next weekend and extend through Bridge Day [Oct. 21] there, according to Mandy Kiss-Wriston, travel specialist with the New River Gorge Convention & Visitor's Bureau.
"I think the peak is right on schedule this year: the colors have changed beautifully, and this weekend will probably be beautiful. If everything holds and as long as we don't have a cold snap Bridge Day is looking good too. "
Traditionally the southern counties included in this the late-October peak include Fayette, Raleigh, Summers, Mercer, Wyoming, McDowell, Mingo, Logan, Boone, Kanawha, Lincoln, Putnam, Cabell, Mason, Jackson, Roane, and Clay.
Counties in the Eastern Panhandle region that enjoy a late-October peak include Morgan, Hampshire, Jefferson, and Berkeley. Peak color in the highlands along Cacapon and Sleepy Creek and along the Blue Ridge are already advanced, while the warmer valleys along the Potomac and Shenandoah will peak toward the very end of the month.