In the D.C. metro area, it’s tough to not see fall foliage, but for anyone looking to get an unobstructed view or something more than trees dotting medians and front lawns, there are options – lots of them. Some locations are practically in our backyard, while others require a little driving and could be turned into a day trip. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely walk, a challenging hike or a view from the car or a boat, we have 12 places for you to choose from.
Rock Creek Park
Since becoming one of the first federally managed parks in 1890, this 1,700-acre park in the heart of D.C. can make you forget all about being in a city. Take a walk with a ranger to learn about the park, hike or bike the 32-plus miles of trails and stop by the Rock Creek Planetarium for a free show or stargazing session.
Part of West Potomac Park, this 107-acre circle isn’t just for cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial. As it turns out, D.C.’s favorite trees look just as amazing in gold, red and yellow as they do in green and pink in the spring.
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
The estate includes the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, as well as a distinguished 18th century French decorative art collection. With its twenty-five acres of landscaped gardens and natural woodlands, it is also a great place to see fall foliage. Kids love the small walking paths that run through lush green trees and shrubbery, connecting the formal gardens that surround the mansion. Take the Friendship Walk to the four seasons sculpture and have the kids guess which sculpture represents each season. The stunning Japanese garden and the pet cemetery are also fun for little ones to explore. When little tummies need food, the Vista Terrace is the perfect resting spot, with lots of chairs, tables and fantastic view of fall foliage.
4155 Linnean Ave., NW (Woodley Park)
Tudor Place Historical House and Garden
The historical landmark features 5.5 acres of landscaped grounds that provide visitors with a magnificent display of fall colors. Kids love the outdoor garden, which is open Tuesday through Saturday and features a lily pool, boxwood eclipse and Japanese tea garden. Admission for self-guided garden tours is $3 per person, and free for children under age 6. The Tudor Place does not offer a café and eating on the premises is not recommended, but Montrose Park is located nearby, and offers a perfect place to picnic after viewing the gardens.
Tudor Place Historical House and Garden
1644 31st St., NW
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Take a ranger-led kayak tour or download a trail map to see the 18 miles of trails that run from Theodore Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon. The island itself is 88.5 acres with a memorial to the 26th president toward the middle of the northern end. Pack a picnic and set up shop on one of the island’s small beach areas.
The National Arboretum
Want to see beautiful trees? Head here to see 446 acres of plant life. Take to the 9.5 miles of winding roadways to tour them alone on foot, in the car or on a bicycle. Usually, the arboretum, which an act of Congress established in 1927, also offers a 35-minute tram ride, too, but they have been suspended for the remainder of the 2018 season. Check the website for reopening.
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
For about 100 years, it served as a “lifeline for communities along the Potomac River,” according to the National Park Service’s C&O Canal website. The 184.5 miles of canal and towpath run from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing and canal boating are among the programs offered along the towpath.
President George Washington knew a good view when he saw it. His red-roofed 500-acre estate on the Potomac River practically glitters among the fall foliage. Fun fact: He hired his first gardener in 1762 to care for the landscape he carefully designed. Take a tour of the home to see the bed where the president died, his office and dining room, and wander among the grounds, landing at his burial site. Or get a look at the estate from a sightseeing cruise on the river ($11/adult, $7/child).
Cost: $20/adult, $19/seniors ages 62 and up, $12/youth ages 6-11, free/child ages 0-5
Billy Goat Trails at Great Falls
There are three tree-covered trails to choose from, all with spectacular views of the cliffs and Potomac River that make this part of the C&O Canal a destination for millions of people a year. Combined, the three trails total 8 miles, but you can do them in sections, and each trail has varying levels of difficulty. For the greatest challenge – traversing a step climb along a cliff face, for example – go with Trail A. For the most leisurely tree-gazing, take Trail C.
Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
This 105-mile drive runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the only public road through the park. It takes about three hours to travel the whole thing, and it’s accessible at four points. “Deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels,” according to the National Park Service. Fall colors begin to show up in early October at 3,500 feet and above, while the lower elevations are in full glory closer to the third week of the month.
Catoctin Mountain Park
This Maryland park has multiple scenic vistas, including Chimney Rock, which has an elevation of 1,400 feet, and Hog Rock, which rises 1,600 feet. Twenty-five miles of hiking trails crisscross the park, which also has a Children’s Discovery Room at the Visitor Center and the Catoctin Mountain Junior Ranger program, which is open to ages 6 and up.
Burke Lake Park
This 218-acre park in Fairfax Station has lots of activities for kids and adults. The 4.7-mile trail around the lake is flat and easy to walk, run or bike. There’s also a mini golf course, carousel, miniature train and playgrounds. The park also offers activities such as the Fall Family Campout ($75/family) on Oct. 20 for ages 5 and up, during which campers will go on a naturalist-led night hike, attend a live animal talk and take a tour boat ride. On Oct. 27, there’s a Halloween Campfire ($10/person) at 6 p.m., featuring ghost stories and s’mores.
Cost: Free for Fairfax County residents, $10/car for non-county residents on weekends and holidays only from April through late October
—Stephanie Kanowitz and Shelby Settles Harper