Updated in 2020 with additional links (initial publish date 9-21-2017)
Fall is a wonderful time to take a quick family road trip. The season comes after the summer crowds have gone, but before the hectic Christmas and holiday road travel arrives. The cool but not cold temperatures, the beautiful colors of the tree lines, and the leaves crunching below your feet make this a wonderful time to get some fresh air with the family and enjoy fall foliage.
Avid “leaf-peepers” may wish they were in places such as Vermont to witness the changing of the season, but you don’t need to travel to New England to experience wonderful fall foliage. In addition to leaf-peeping sites in our immediate vicinity in Northern Virginia, there are many places a short rive away to enjoy fall colors.
The Mid-Atlantic region provides many opportunities to enjoy a picnic, take a trail hike, visit historic sites, walk along the water, and climb a mountain while enjoying spectacular fall scenery. To get ideas for fun fall foliage tours or road trips, we looked to the members of the Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance. Below are their suggestions, by state, for great places to visit during this splendid time of year, plus a few tips of our own.
Delaware’s Quaint Villages
Take a leisurely drive through Delaware’s Quaint Villages‘ peaceful Amish country-side; along the way see farms, orchards and stop at a farmers market. Or take the 12-mile wildlife driving tour along the Delaware Bay at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge offering picturesque foliage for all nature lovers.
One of five nationally renowned garden estates in the Wilmington area and part of the du Pont family legacy, Mt. Cuba Center offers 600-acres of mixed formal gardens, towering poplar trees, woodland paths, meadows and tranquil ponds all of which burst into a spectacular display of color during fall.
Annapolis & Anne Arundel County
Fall is lovely in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Autumn glory shines at the 340-acre Quiet Waters Park. Nature lovers stroll along trails that wind through colorful forests and grassy fields. Cyclists head for the 13-mile-long Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, and motorists choose an afternoon drive along the colorful country roads of southern Anne Arundel County.
The stunning and natural beauty of autumn peaks from mid to late October and leaf peepers can experience magnificent fall colors in Hagerstown, in the foothills of Western Maryland. Begin at Sideling Hill in Hancock on I-70, and end on the Appalachian Trail’s overlook at the Washington Monument in Boonsboro.
Visitors can drive along scenic country roads for optimum fall foliage views in Butler County. For those who wish to experience autumn’s glory in the midst of the outdoors, enjoy a fall foliage cruise on Lake Arthur or hike along the trails at Moraine State Park.
Enjoy great fall scenes in Central Pennsylvania. Trek to the top of Mount Nittany overlooking surrounding valleys, Penn State campus and their vibrant color. If you want an adventurous route, bring your hiking boots to Rothrock State Forest to take in the leaves changing in the Seven Mountains region, including from the top of Tussey Mountain.
Fiery oranges and reds, warm browns, splashes of purple and radiant golds transform Erie, Pennsylvania into a dazzling display of colors. Ideal fall foliage views include Presque Isle State Park, historic Pennsylvania Route 6, Great Lakes Seaway Trail and Erie’s sprawling countryside. For best views, visit the area in mid-October.
In the heart of beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster County’s fall foliage season is primarily late September through late October. The Covered Bridge Driving Tours are an ideal way to see some of the area’s best foliage and farmlands, while experiencing charming towns and villages you’ll find along the way.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands is even more impressive when framed by the colorful fall leaves. Cantilevered over Bear Run, this landmark is an extraordinary work of architecture inspired by the beauty of the natural landscape, making it one of the best places to enjoy the Laurel Highlands’ fall foliage.
Take in bright reds and vibrant oranges as you tour Lehigh Valley. A drive along the Covered Bridge Tour gives you scenic glimpses of seven historic structures dressed in their finest fall colors. Or, hike along the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor for stunning views along the canal.
In autumn, the Pocono Mountains is ablaze with brilliant fall foliage. Stunning reds, oranges and yellows line the landscape as events and activities celebrate the season. There are endless ways to enjoy autumn in the Pocono Mountains, from fairs and festivals to tours, train excursions and outdoor activities.
Immerse yourself in fall foliage along the York County’s Heritage Rail Trail, where you can walk, hike or bike the 21-mile path from the Mason-Dixon Line to Downtown York. For a unique leaf-peeping experience, hop aboard Steam Into History’s replica Civil War-era steam engine and chug through the park.
From a jog down the Mount Vernon Trail to a leisurely drive along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, there are plenty of ways to take in the season’s most stunning colors while in Alexandria. Alexandria is also home to more than 100 champion trees that transform in the fall.
Charlottesville & Albemarle County
Charlottesville & Albemarle County boast an impressive and breathtaking fall foliage display every year. Visitors can enjoy the stunning colors at nearby Shenandoah National Park, on Grounds at the University of Virginia, the historic pedestrian Downtown Mall, or even at the homes of former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.
There are some great ways to experience fall right here in Fairfax County! For a unique and memorable perspective of the area’s triumphant array of fall colors, drive to George Washington’s Mount Vernon on one of America’s most scenic historical byways, plot a hike along the Potomac River at Great Falls Park, or paddle a kayak out on one of the picturesque lakes.
Some of the most beautiful fall colors on the Chesapeake Bay are found at the historic Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton. The picturesque live oaks are best viewed from inside the moat. There you’ll find the Algernourne Oak, estimated to be nearly 500 years old, along the parade grounds.
Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum invites you to step into a world of natural beauty. Find a comfortable spot to sit in the gardens or take in the serenity of the winding trails.
Lexington & Rockbridge Area
Bright foliage is the backdrop for adventure in Lexington and the Rockbridge area of the Shenandoah Valley. Top destinations include the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the jumbled boulders at Devils Marbleyard, where beauty and geology collide. Anglers and paddlers can enjoy autumn floats and camping on the James River, a Virginia Scenic River.
Escape to Loudoun County, Virginia’s famed wine country, to enjoy the changing colors by land, air, or water. Bike the W&OD Trail then savor the views from a winery, get a bird’s eye view of the countryside at Empower Adventures’ zipline course, or kayak to see the colors along the shoreline.
See the beautiful yellows, oranges, ambers, and reds of the leaves in southeastern Virginia. Nothing compares to the color of autumn at its peak, so get outside and enjoy the great outdoors in Newport News Park, a 7,711-acre oasis in the middle of a large metropolitan city.
Prince William County & Manassas
Prince William County and Manassas offer great local places to enjoy fall. Experience photographic foliage kayaking on the Occoquan River or hike through Prince William Forest National Park. Sit back and sip hand-crafted Virginia wine at the base of the Bull Run Mountains or enjoy a craft beer at the Farm Brewery at Broad Run.
For prime fall foliage scenery in Richmond, check out Libby Hill Park – which has the view that named Richmond (due to the resemblance of Richmond upon the Thames in England.). This beautiful park overlooks the James River and is located in the historic Church Hill neighborhood.
With Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachian Trail, plus the George Washington National Forest, Rockingham County offers great opportunities for leaf-peepers whether you take a scenic drive or enjoy a day hike. Make it a weekend visit and add tours of caverns, a trip to the zoo, horseback rides, and more. And for a full day of fun, head to Massanutten Resort, which each year hosts a big daylong fall festival with live music, arts and craft vendors, food vendors, beer and wine, kids’ activities, scenic chairlift rides and more. Not only will you get to take in the foliage from one of the world’s most scenic mountain resorts but you will have hours of entertainment for all members of your family, from kids to grandparents.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge
Escape to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains this fall … you can even go on Amtrak passenger rail! Go mountain biking beneath a majestic fall foliage canopy, enjoy a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and top it all off with a local seasonal brew.
From winding mountain roads to gentle curves that lay in valleys below, there is no better place to take in autumn than Pocahontas County. Cruise along Highland Scenic Highway Route 150, Route 39 or US 219 and catch a glimpse of peak fall foliage in Nature’s Mountain Playground.