Fall is one of the most beautiful times of year in Washington, D.C.! As the leaves begin to turn red, orange and yellow, it is glorious to take a hike in a local park or a drive in the mountains to see the full spectrum of colors. The leaves in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia usually peak in mid to late October. The intensity of color each year depends on the amount of rainfall, warm days and cool nights throughout the season.
Some of the most popular places to enjoy fall foliage in the capital region are destinations that take a few hours to drive to, such as Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail, George Washington & Jefferson National Forests and Deep Creek Lake. These beautiful areas are great if you have a whole weekend for a getaway.
You don’t have to travel that far to enjoy beautiful fall foliage! Here are some recommendations of special places to see an abundance of color within a short distance from Washington, D.C.
- C & O Canal National Historic Park - The park has beautiful views starting in Georgetown in Washington, DC and stretching for 184.5 miles to Cumberland, Maryland. Visitors enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating and horseback riding along the towpath.
- Rock Creek Park - Washington, D.C.’s largest park stretches 30 miles from Montgomery County, Maryland to downtown. Enjoy some leaf peeping and a picnic, hike, bike ride, horseback ride, or attend a park ranger program. Explore the Rock Creek Park Nature Center, the historic Pierce Mill or Old Stone House.
- U.S. National Arboretum - Washington, D.C. The living museum displays 446 acres of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Tour the gardens on your own by foot, car or bicycle or take the 35-minute tram ride and hear an informative narrative about the Arboretum, its history, and the display gardens and collections. The National Arboretum offers a variety of hikes and public education programs.
- Mount Vernon Estate - Mount Vernon, VA. The 500-acre estate of George Washington, located along the shores of the Potomac River, is especially beautiful during fall foliage season. Tour the estate and be sure to spend time outdoors exploring the gardens and taking in the natural scenery.
- Great Falls National Park - Great Falls, VA and Potomac, MD. The park has some of the most spectacular views in the region. See vibrant colors among 50-foot cliffs overlooking the Potomac River. Take a hike, bike ride, kayak or have a picnic.
- Seneca Creek State Park - Gaithersburg, MD. The Maryland State Park has a 90-acre lake, boat rental, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, a disc golf course, and a restored 19th century cabin.
- Sugarloaf Mountain - Dickerson, MD. The small mountain is a Natural Historic Landmark with an elevation of 1,282 feet and a vertical height of 800 feet above the surrounding farmland. Visitors enjoy the striking views of foliage in the distance and a variety of plants and wildlife along the trails at Sugarloaf Mountain. Three well marked hiking trails are available: a 2.5 mile, 5 mile or a 7 mile loop.
- Cunningham Falls State Park - Thurmont, MD. The State Park in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland has a 78-foot cascading waterfall, a lake, campgrounds and hiking trails with distances ranging from .5 mile to 7.5 miles. The park is a great place to enjoy outdoor recreation all year long.
- Black Hill Regional Park - Boyds, MD. With more than 2,000 acres, the park offers a wide variety of activities including hiking, boating, picnicking, and nature programs. Visitors enjoy spectacular views of Little Seneca Lake. Miles of trails can be explored by foot, horseback or mountain bike. There is a visitor center offering nature programs and interpretive tours.
- Burke Lake Park - Fairfax Station, VA. The large park has a 218-acre lake and offers a wide variety of recreational activities including fishing, boating, camping, hiking and much more. There is a miniature train, a carousel, an 18-hole par 3 golf course, disk golf, horse shoe pits, an amphitheater, and miniature golf course.
- Harpers Ferry National Park - Harpers Ferry, WV. The historic Civil War site is about an hour drive from Washington, D.C. in the nearby mountains on the border of West Virginia. Visitors enjoy a variety of scenic hiking trails and exploring the historic town which offers ranger-guided tours, museums, restaurants and craft shops.
To get a glimpse of the region and be inspired for the season, see a Washington, D.C. area fall foliage picture gallery
Rachel Cooper is the co-author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C. The book profiles the region's best day hikes including details about many of the hikes on this list. Learn about the history of each park; see a map of the trail; directions and information about hours, facilities and restrictions; as well as the flora and fauna you may see on the trail.