In the DC metro area, it’s tough to miss out on the change of seasons, but for anyone looking to get an unobstructed view of the foliage 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 19 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, DC’s favorite trees look just as amazing in gold, red and yellow as they do in green and pink in the spring.
The beautiful mountain has been designated as a Registered Natural Landmark and its striking beauty makes it easy to see why. This fall, the rolling hills will burst with fall color. Be sure not to miss the East Overlook for an amazing view of peaceful Maryland farmland.
Insider tip: on your way down the mountain, stop by Sugarloaf Mountain Winery. It is super family-friendly and boasts the same beautiful fall views.
Head to Montgomery County for an award-winning 50-acre garden extravaganza inside Wheaton Regional Park. The Children's Garden is a mini-Maryland experience with an old farmhouse, mountain boulders and tons of Maryland-style outdoor fun. Wander around to search for iconic state symbols and learn more about what each one means.
Where: 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, MD
Tudor Place Historic 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 are free. 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.
Where: 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.
Meridian Hill Park
A peaceful oasis in the middle of the bustling city, this Columbia Heights’ park is the perfect picnic spot to peep the leaves. On Sunday afternoons, a lively drum circle fills the park with toe-tapping beats. Twelve acres of fall beauty will delight young and old visitors alike.
Where: 16th St. & W St. NW
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 2019 season. Check the website for reopening.
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 a fantastic view of fall foliage.
Where: 4155 Linnean Ave. NW
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
With 95 acres of local flora and fauna, the whole family can walk around the winding walkways and across the quaint bridge. Explore tons of fall color alongside the striking Korean Bell Garden. Your kiddos will enjoy a quick stop at the restored 18th-century log cabin. No need to leave the stroller at home. The garden is accessible to all.
Cost: Age 18-54, $6, Age 6-17 & 55 and over: $3, Age 6 & under: Free
Where: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct., Vienna, VA
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
In late September, this gorgeous historic National Park is ablaze with all the reds, yellows and oranges. Take a 5-minute bus ride from the Visitors Center into Lower Town. Don't forget to pick up a Junior Ranger packet. Your kiddos can answer fun and educational questions about the area, and after an adorable ceremony with a local ranger, be presented with a badge.
Insider tip: the wild and natural landscape is difficult to navigate with a stroller. You might want to grab the carrier instead.
Cost: $10 per car
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 steep 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.
Washington National Cathedral
Get the best view of the fall foliage from the Cathedral's bell tower. The 60-acre property is a great stop on your autumn viewing tour. The stone paths through Olmstead Woods guide your family through one of the only old-growth forest in DC. Check their website for the Fall Festival dates in early October. Pack a picnic lunch or grab one from one of the many vendors. It is fun for the whole family.
Cost: Visit the grounds: free; Visit the cathedral: Adults: $12, Age 5-17: $8, Age 4 & under: free
Where: 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Stroll along the cobblestone streets and listen to the sounds of the C&O Canal while you take in all the autumn views. Your family can take a leisurely walk down O Street NW to see the rustic row homes surrounded by fall foliage. Or plan a lunch by the water so you can get a view of the leaves changing around George Washington Memorial Parkway.
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. Family favorites include hiking, biking, camping, fishing and canal boating along the towpath.
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 ($78/family) on Oct. 19-20 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.
Cost: Free for Fairfax County residents, $10/car for non-county residents on weekends and holidays only from April through late October
—Angelica Kajiwara with Stephanie Kanowitz and Shelby Settles Harper