During replication, nucleosomes are disrupted ahead of the replication fork, followed by their reassembly on daughter strands from the pool of recycled parental and new histones. However, because no previous studies have managed to capture the moment that replication forks encounter nucleosomes, the mechanism of recycling has remained unclear. Here, through real-time single-molecule visualization of replication fork progression in Xenopus egg extracts, we determine explicitly the outcome of fork collisions with nucleosomes. Most of the parental histones are evicted from the DNA, with histone recycling, nucleosome sliding, and replication fork stalling also occurring but at lower frequencies. Critically, we find that local histone recycling becomes dominant upon depletion of endogenous histones from extracts, revealing that free histone concentration is a key modulator of parental histone dynamics at the replication fork. The mechanistic details revealed by these studies have major implications for our understanding of epigenetic inheritance.