I don’t know about you, but fall is my favorite season; summer is too hot, winter too cold, and spring too rainy. Ah, but fall--juicy apples, spicy cocktails, pumpkins and best of all, cooler temperatures and nature’s greatest show, featuring coppery red, golden yellow, burnt orange and brilliant scarlet leaves. Maryland and Virginia take center stage for this explosion of color, and now that fall has officially begun, here are eight places to make the most of this fabulous season.
C&O Canal (Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.)
In Maryland, you don’t have to go far to be wowed by fall -- the C&O Canal at Great Falls is a favorite of mine. As the Potomac gushes over jagged rocks and I explore twists and turns through cavernous walls of giant boulders, I still can’t believe this treasure exists just a few miles from my home. Down the towpath there are calm almost lake-like waters as the canal widens out, replete with birds and turtles. Everywhere you look exquisite colors are around you. Here you can walk, bike or if you’re an advanced hiker, take the tough Billy Goat Trail where you’ll be rewarded with vistas of the surging Potomac River up close and personal. You can also enter the Canal from various points in DC and Virginia)
Not far from the Presidential retreat at Camp David is Cunningham Falls State Park. Nestled in the Catoctin Mountains you can hike the trails that range from .5 to 7.5 miles. Make sure to stop by the 78-foot cascading waterfall. Or go canoeing and enjoy the quiet and beauty of the season. The William Houck Area three miles west of Thurmont on Route 77 is where you’ll find the lake, falls, and camping area.
Western Maryland is always a winner in the fall. Take Route 219 to the overlook in McHenry for a view of the surrounding hills. For even more leaf peeping travel the Historic National Road which starts in Deep Creek Lake and journeys through six states. At Deep Creek Lake rent a boat and view the magnificent fall colors. You'll find two driving tours here, and information on festivals here.
Located nine miles north of Oakland, MD the park has some of the state’s most breathtaking scenery. With trees over 360 years old, it’s home to groves of Eastern Hemlock and White Pines that create a patchwork of red, orange, and yellow leaves. It’s a dramatic backdrop for the Youghiogheny River that flows past rock gorges. You can do a 1 1/4 mile hiking trail through an old growth forest that passes by several waterfalls including Muddy Creek Falls, the state’s highest free-falling waterfall at 53 feet. There is also a 5.5-mile trail between Swallow Falls and Herrington Manor State Park through the Garrett State Forest.
You don’t have to go far from home to see glorious colors. Just drive (walk or bike) along the George Washington Memorial Parkway south that follows the Potomac River to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens and you’ll see a colorful show. Wander the grounds and take in the beautiful view overlooking the Potomac River. October 22-23 is Fall Harvest Day.
A National Scenic Byway, Skyline Drive is a perfect place to view fall. It runs 105 miles in Shenandoah National Park and provides spectacular vistas from 75 overlooks. Today more than 95 percent of the park is covered by forests, with about 100 species of trees. If you wish, stay at Skyland, perched at 3,680 feet or Big Meadows Lodge. Join park rangers for a guided hike or interpretative program. At mile 39.1 take a short hike to the cliff of Little Stony Man, where you’ll be awed by the spectacular views of Luray and the Shenandoah Valley below. During your hike, you’ll hear the crunch of the leaves beneath your feet. You can also horseback ride.
If you want to keep going, Skyline Drive turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway at I-64 west of Charlottesville. And what could be better than fall foliage and having an O’Fest brew? That’s what you’ll discover along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway. Drive south, stopping at different scenic overlooks. Wintergreen Resort situated atop the Blue Ridge Mountains offers more fall foliage. But before heading up the mountain to Wintergreen, stop by one of the many breweries for a fall brew. And as you head up the mountaintop for your stay you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping overlooks.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests stretch along the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and cross into parts of West Virginia and Kentucky. The National Forests are traversed by the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a portion of the Forests adjoin the Shenandoah National Park. The Jefferson National Forest is home to the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area with 400 miles of designated trails. Trails range from primitive single-track to old logging roads, and railroad grades. Some are for foot only, others allow horse and/or bike use. Take a drive, hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, and more. Here you’ll see a color kaleidoscope.