There’s nothing like the beauty of autumn in the MidAtlantic! Here are five hikes with some of the region’s best fall foliage. For more hiking ideas, order my new guidebook 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Washington DC on Amazon. Published by Menasha Press with co-author Rachel Cooper.
Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Maryland
A less well known battlefield than Manassas and Gettysburg, Monocacy is seldom busy, and it has a haunting story to tell. The battlefield consists of multiple sights depicting this pivotal Civil War fight. Named after the fast moving Monocacy River, Monocacy National Battlefield has trails built along riverbanks, farmland, beside a historic mill and a modest peak with panoramic views of the countryside. Stop in the Visitor Center to learn the story of how this Civil War battle prevented Confederate soldiers from marching into Washington DC. It would make an memorable day trip when combined with a tour of Flying Dog Brewery or lunch at one of Frederick, Maryland’s contemporary restaurants.
Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge, Virginia
Leesylvania State Park was formerly the home of Harry Lighthorse Lee, a Revolutionary War hero and father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Here you can go paddle boarding, kayaking, workout on the Par Coures fitness trail, and of course, get in some great hiking. The waterfront Bushey Point Trail offers stunning views of Powell’s Creek, the Potomac River and Belmont Bay. You’re likely to see an abundance of wildlife, especially birds of prey and marine life. After a hearty walk along the water, you’ll head into the woods on Powell’s Creek Trail enjoying sounds and sights of the natural inhabitants of this marshy, woodsy park, notably some frolicking beavers. On the way home, stop in to tour the outstanding National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Mason Neck State Park in Occoquan, Virginia
One of my new favorite places is Mason Neck State Park. This waterfront hike by Belmont Bay traverses boardwalks over thriving wetlands and pristine woodlands. You might get lucky enough to have a bald eagle sighting that make their home here. Other wildlife who thrive here include duck, geese, swan and songbirds. Hang out in the observation hut for cover. Stop in the visitor center to sign up for a guided tour with one of Mason Neck’s naturalists. Mason Neck Park is just a few miles from the historic residence of George Mason, Gunston Hall. Following your hike, stop at the Occoquan Harbor Marina for food, shopping or a pleasant stroll.
Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, Maryland
Sugarloaf Mountain looms above rolling farmlands of Montgomery and Frederick Counties in Maryland, the tallest peak for miles. Privately owned, Sugarloaf functions as a nature preserve and public recreation area. For hikers, the 3,300-acre property offers multiple trails, many challenging with steady ascents and descents. The scenery from the peak is beguiling. Wildlife including birds, deer, raccoons, wild turkeys and red foxes are plentiful when the mountain isn’t crowded. Climbers are fun to watch, and it’s a great place for a picnic, but bring your own supplies as there is no concession here. Stop by Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard just a few miles away to sample wine and enjoy the view of this textured landscape.
Sandy Spring Underground Railroad Experience in Olney, Maryland
The Sandy Spring Underground Railroad Trail commemorates the involvement of Montgomery County residents in the Underground Railroad and celebrates the Quaker heritage and traditions of the Sandy Spring community. Known as part of the “Network to Freedom” program, hikers can follow the interpretive signs or join a guided hike with “conductors.” Guided hikes are offered on Saturdays from April to early November. The terrain varies from tall grass, a river crossing, forest, farmland, eventually leading to the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, a historic plantation. One of my favorite places to hike in the region!