The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in America’s DMV

Fall is undoubtedly the best time to spend in the DC, Maryland and Virginia region
Fall is undoubtedly the best time to spend in the DC, Maryland and Virginia region | © Panoramic Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nicole Hampton
1 October 2020

The DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia) is one of the most verdantly beautiful stretches of land in the USA. The states and district are so closely connected that it’s easy to bounce between them, and they boast thousands of miles of parks, lined with deciduous trees, making your options for a fall foliage trip, well, extensive. Here, we’ve given you 14 possible options for a great autumnal experience.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

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Potomac River, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Sandy Hook, Maryland, USA
© Pat and Chuck Blackley / Alamy Stock Photo
About an hour out of DC in West Virginia, this historic Civil War site is quite the walk, and is ideal for families who want to get their history on. They offer the miraculous trees in all their transitional glory, while also providing live historical performances, ranger-guided tours, museums, craft stores and restaurants. Make this one into an all-day event or request your kid’s school to make it their next field trip and you can tag along as chaperone.

Cunningham Falls State Park

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Unlike the word Ferry in Harpers Ferry National Park, they didn’t throw Falls in there just for kicks. This state park located in Thurmont, Maryland in the Catoctin Mountains boasts a 78-foot (24m) cascading waterfall. It has plenty of light hiking trails that range from half a mile to 7.5 miles (0.8km-12km), so you can choose which path you wish to follow based on how much time you have. If you start to fall in love with the foliage here so much that you never want to leave, don’t worry. They have campgrounds available until the leaves turn from red to brown.

Seneca Creek State Park

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No, not Seneca Crane – Seneca Creek! It’s not named after the Hunger Games character who was thrown into a room with only nightlock berries to eat after he let two tributes win. Don’t worry though, the outdoor activities offered here are much safer and more fun than in that book. There’s boat rental for the 90-acre (36ha) lake, canoeing, kayaking, hiking trails, fishing, picnic areas, a disc golf course and a 19th-century cabin that’s been restored, with the trees a’ turnin’ as the backdrop to it all.

US National Arboretum

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The United States National Arboretum. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.
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This is probably one of DC’s proudest accomplishments: 44 acres (18ha) of trees, shrubs and plants right here in the city. You’re able to tour the garden on your own, including some major hiking or running, or take a 30-minute tram ride to hear information about the Arboretum, its display gardens and its history.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

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Starting in Georgetown and ending in Cumberland, Maryland, this park is pretty accessible to almost everyone in the DMV. And you can expect plenty to do within the expansive 185-mile (300km) land area. Enjoy seeing all fall has to offer with tons of outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, biking and boating. Calling all equestrians in the DMV area, this park also has horseback riding available along the canal.

Rock Creek Park

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The largest park Washington DC has to offer, one that starts downtown and ends 30 miles (48km) later in Montgomery County, Maryland, it is the perfect place to go this fall. Check out the Old Stone House, the historical Pierce Mill and the Rock Creek Park Nature Center before or after you indulge in some hiking, biking or horseback riding.

Sugarloaf Mountain

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The most beautiful thing about being in the mountains in fall is the way the trees’ kaleidoscope of colors looks when seen blended together from a distance. You are able to get that striking view at this Natural Historic Landmark in Dickerson, Maryland, with an elevation of 4,206 feet (1,282m) and surrounded by endearing farmland and wineries. The drive there is enough to want to go. And once you get there, appreciate the plants and wildlife that can be seen walking the trails that extend two and a half, five or seven miles (4km-11km).

Burke Lake Park

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With a 218-acre (88ha) lake, you better believe there are recreational activities galore. Fish, boat, camp and hike through the beautiful fall foliage. Some of the more unique activities in this large park include a golf course and mini-golf course, disc golf, a miniature train and carousel, ice-cream parlor, horseshoe pits and an amphitheater.

Mount Vernon Estate

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This 500-acre (200ha) estate that belonged to George Washington himself has a lot to offer. Walk along the Potomac River, tour his mansion, pet the livestock that’s still on the land and stroll through the garden Washington once tended to. See he and his wife’s tomb, and be sure to visit the memorial where his slaves were buried. During the start of fall and when it’s warmer out, don’t miss the live performances and the large market that takes you back to simpler times of psychics, homemade goods and “miracle cure” shows.

Reston Lakes

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Fall on Lake Anne, Reston VA
© Ian Leigh / Alamy Stock Photo

Located in North Virginia, Reston is a trio of lakes – Thoreau, Audubon and Anne – which offer some lovely walking routes around them, spotting the various different tree species as you trace a route around the banks. Reston itself is a great place to relax, and two restaurants sit right on the edge of Lake Thoreau – Cafesano and Red’s Table, so you can can take in the scenery with a hearty meal in front of you.

Montrose Park and Dumbarton Oaks Park

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Georgetown is generally a great place to walk around and watch the leaves fall, but both of these historic parks – situated site by side – are especially worthwhile stops. Both were listed on the National Register of Historic places, and offer tranquil, winding routes through the tree cover. Dumbarton also has a formal garden designed by Beatrix Farrand, who also did landscaping work for the White House.

Deep Creek Lake

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Deep Creek is the largest lake in Maryland, spanning 3,900 acres (1,578ha) of water and a 69-mile (111km) shoreline. There are a few good places to see the leaves change, but Swallow Falls State Park, with its waterfalls and boardwalks, is unmissable. Boating and fishing are permitted on the lake, and the Annual Autumn Glory Festival in nearby Oakland is a great seasonal activity if you’re there in mid-October.

Shenandoah National Park

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on the way to shenandoah national park
© AYAN DAKSHI / Alamy Stock Photo
Shenandoah National Park is a huge expanse – 311 sq. mi. (805sq. km.) – encompassing Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains and more besides. The famed Skyline Drive is a great route to take during the autumn months, as you’ll get to experience the colors on a gorgeous winding road, but perhaps the best option is take the 6.5-mile (10.5km) Mary’s Rock hike, following the Appalachian Trail up to an astonishing viewing point of the rolling hills.

Great Falls Park

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Great Falls, Great Falls National Park, Potomac River, Maryland
© Danita Delimont Creative / Alamy Stock Photo

Another stop on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Great Falls runs along the Potomac River, and offers 15 miles (24km) of good hiking routes perfect for an autumn day. The Great Falls themselves are on the southern boundary of the park, picking from a range of easy or challenging routes to take you there and marvel at the Falls (and the fall).

Callum Davies contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on October 1, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.