Few better places from which to enjoy the approach of autumn exist than the Canaan Valley, perched high in the Alleghenies of eastern West Virginia.
Here, where the lowest elevations exceed 3,000 feet above sea level, the leaf change is vivid and comes early — as early as mid-August, says Steve Drumheller, superintendent of Cannan Valley Resort State Park.
"The leaves are already starting to change," Drumheller said Thursday, knowing that visitors from outside the Alleghenies might be surprised at the early arrival of autumn there
"Of course, that's mainly among the maples, but the leaves are are already starting to show color."
Thanks to the recent completion of expressway from near I-81 at Strasburg, Va., the park is now only a three-hour drive from central Washington, D.C., and park officials are taking advantage of that proximity, offering visitors a number of autumn travel venues.
Through Oct. 21, its Mountain Escape Getaway includes a night's lodging, breakfast, a round of miniature golf, and a scenic chairlift ride at the park's ski area. Rates start at $79 per person.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, the park's Fields-of-Fire Tour shuttles guests beyond the valley to Dolly Sods for a guided tour of vast plains of blueberry and huckleberry bushes turned crimson. The park also coordinates with the Tucker County Leaf-Peeper's Festival that weekend.
On Saturday, Oct. 6, an eight-mile guided Wild Walks Weekend hike from Canaan to Blackwater Falls State Park leads participants through dark forests of red spruce, eastern hemlock, and thickets of rhododendron infused with autumn color.
Park recreation director Dave Vance, who grew up in the Alleghenies nearby, says the valley is stunning in fall, particularly where reds and yellows are concerned.
"It all depends on the rain, but the scenery is always unbelievable. We see tremendous color in the yellow popular and red maple, in particular," Vance said.
One of the most lofty ranges in the Appalachian Mountains, the Alleghenies arc 400 miles southward from the Susquhanna Valley in central Pennsylvania to the New River Gorge in southern West Virginia. They reach their highest, however, in eastern West Virginia.
Though perhaps best known as a ski area, Canaan Valley Resort State Park is a four-seasons resort that includes a lodge, cabins, and campgrounds accommodations and an 18-hole championship golf course.
To reserve accommodations at the park, visit CanaanResort.com or call 1-800-622-4121, ext. 7701.