October is the prime season for fall foliage in our region. Here are five great routes for leaf peeping in Northern Virginia!
As the calendar pages hit October, the leaves start to turn and paint the landscape in vibrant shades of garnet and gold.
Skyline Drive, the perennial favorite destination in the Mid-Atlantic, is usually the first idea that springs to mind for everyone from North Carolina up to Maryland. Over the years, however, this outing has become more congested, more expensive, and a bit of a hassle on any given October weekend. For 2018, the entry fee is $30 per car, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per individual on a walk-in basis. Traffic to enter from the Front Royal side starts well before the park entrance is even visible, and the entire drive along the mountain crests is over 100 miles long from end to end. All of that aside, Skyline Drive is an amazing trip if you have an entire weekday to devote to it!
If you want to experience a bit of nature and don't have hours to spend getting there, here are five local options in Northern Virginia:
Great Falls (MD or VA)
9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA
$10 entry fee per car or $5 entry fee per person arriving on foot, bicycle, or horse
Photo by Sarina Petrocelly
Located just off of the Beltway, Great Falls Park is the most accessible to everyone in Virginia, D.C., or Maryland. You have 800 acres to explore, complete with walking trails, marked hiking trails, and several overlooks to watch the falls. Daring kayakers serve as additional entertainment as they paddle upstream and tumble back down again. Leashed pets are welcome, and you will see many along all the trails. The Virginia side welcome center has restrooms, picnic areas with grills, and information about the park's flora and fauna. You are surrounded by many varieties of trees here, and you should see all different colors during peak season. The park website recommends arriving well before 10 a.m. to avoid congestion at the entrance.
Surrounded by Centreville, Manassas, and Fairfax Station, Clifton, Virginia, is more of a scenic drive than a structured park outing. The best thing about this area is the sudden appearance of overhead canopies as soon you turn in off of Route 123. Henderson and Clifton Roads are particularly picturesque, and you won't believe you're in the middle of the DMV.
Downtown Clifton boasts several restaurants (stop at Trummer's for drinks by the fire) and quaint shops, but you could easily drive through just to admire the leaves. The best times to drive through Clifton are weekend mornings and early evenings. Be sure to drive through the "horsey" side near Centreville to daydream about having a Clifton estate with your own rolling pastures.
Leesylvania State Park
2001 Daniel K. Ludwig Drive in Woodbridge, VA
$5 entry fee per car
This enormous park in southern Prince William County boasts many marked hiking trails, a fishing pier, a boat launch, dozens of scattered picnic areas with grills, and a playground. The park's information center doubles as an interactive museum, and visitors of all ages will find something to do here. The park website provides park trail maps and information about renting pavilions for special events. In addition to the foliage, the park offers amazing views of the Potomac River. Leashed pets are welcome.
Photo by Sarina Petrocelly
Just off of 66, Markham is far enough away to feel like you're getting out of the city while still being close enough to get home for lunch. This town is where you go if you want to pick apples or visit a winery. Depending on where you end up (Hartland Orchard is my personal favorite), you will drive through rural farms complete with grazing cows and giant rolls of hay. This is an extremely kid-friendly area; even the wineries have fields to run around and children's menus. Have a destination in mind when you go to Markham -- corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and fall festivals abound at this time of year.
Prince William Forest Park
18170 Park Entrance Road in Triangle, VA
$10 entry fee per car or motorcycle, valid for 7 days
Courtesy of Prince William Forest Park
This 15,000-acre park just off of I-95 is an incredible nature preserve for hiking, camping, or just driving the 12-mile loop to enjoy nature. Pack a lunch and enjoy one of the many picnic spots. Bring your leashed pet and take family photos for your holiday cards, or tackle any one of their many trails. It's all about nature here, and even the camping options offered range from backwoods to half-acre spots with electricity and well-maintained restrooms. The leaves will be all around you at PWFP, and you may even encounter wildlife in the more remote areas of the paved loop. Each rented campsite comes with a fire pit and grill, so bring supplies to make s'mores and sit around the fire, even if you don't spend the whole night. For $26 a site, it's a bargain for an outdoor gathering! For more information, visit the park website.
Where do you go for autumn leaf peeping? Do you have a favorite drive for seeing the leaves turn? Tell us about it in the comments below!