Where to See the Most Beautiful Fall Foliage in the Mid-Atlantic
A leaf-peeping guide for all four states in the region.
Escaping the city to take in winding roads and hiking trails awash in vivid colors is easily one of the highlights of the fall season. Although New England gets much of the credit, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia actually contain some of the nation’s best spots for leaf peeping. We’ve highlighted some of the better-known and lesser-known fall foliage spots, along with fun detours and places where you can spend the night along the way.
Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails, where peak foliage runs through mid-November. If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches, such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap, where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, or Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap, which offers the highest elevation lookout points. Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook, perched at 3,320 feet. The area is bursting with wineries, such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery, where you can enjoy the views while sipping cheese and wine.
Another nearby option in Virginia sits 60 miles south of Charlottesville. Farmville’s High Bridge Trail State Park offers 31 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding across more than 1,000 acres. Located 125 feet above the Appomattox River, the High Bridge delivers elevated views of multi-colored hues in the surrounding countryside. Stay overnight at the boutique Hotel Weyanoke, which opened two years ago with a rooftop bar with a view.
Covering 1,800 acres, Garrett County’s Deep Creek Lake State Park affords a variety of ways to take in the autumn colors, whether it’s by foot, car, or boat. Hike or bike in one of its many trails, which range from easy strolls to steep treks that traverse several miles. Several companies offer pontoon and powerboat rentals at the lake’s six marinas so you can enjoy the brilliant colors from the water. Begin your scenic tour through the fallen leaves on the area’s main highway, US Route 219, to the McHenry overlook for a view of the area’s hills. After taking in all the beautiful sights, take a quick detour to Accident where you can pick up premier goat cheese and other picnic essentials at Firefly Farms Market.
Cecil County’s gems often fly under the radar, but its prime attractions are fitting for nature lovers. Head to Elk Neck State Park in North East for unique scenery, which includes sandy beaches, white clay cliffs, and dense forests that shine in the fall. Climb to the top of the 1833 Turkey Point Lighthouse for the best view of the foliage and the surrounding Chesapeake Bay and the Elk Neck River. Stay overnight in one of the many campsites or cabins in the area, and head to downtown North East to stroll along the historic Main Street, full of independent shops and a Turkey Point Vineyard Tasting Room.
Dubbed the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, the 47-mile Pine Creek Gorge in Wellsboro slices 165,000 acres of the Tioga State Forest in North Central Pennsylvania. Hike one of the overlook trails at Leonard Harrison State Park or Colton Point State Park, which take visitors from the panoramic vistas on top to the canyon floor. The more adventurous can bike the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail, which runs along the canyon and connects small towns. Stay overnight in a rustic lodge or historic B&B in downtown Wellsboro.
Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie might be known for boating and other summer activities, but in the fall, the destination turns into the perfect spot to enjoy autumn colors reflected in the waters. Located on a peninsula that juts into Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park offers a 13.4-mile recreational trail that loops around the park that can be experienced by foot, bike, or at a more leisurely pace in your car. Stop in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center to explore the interactive exhibits on the area’s conservation efforts and climb the 75-foot tower for a bird’s eye view of the park. If you’re heading up within the next month, take a boat sightseeing tour aboard the 65-foot Lady Kate.
Harpers Ferry boasts dramatic scenery that shines brightest in the fall, thanks to its location at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers with the Blue Ridge Mountains as the backdrop. Head to one of the scenic overlooks in town, including the Point for a view of the rivers and railway bridges or the 15-minute hike from lower town to the natural rock formation, Jefferson Rock. More adventurous hikers can make the arduous but rewarding four-hour round-trip trek to the Maryland Heights Trail, whose overlook provides a bird’s eye view of the town, rivers, and mountains. Stay overnight in one of the luxurious 19 rooms and suites at the reopened Hillbrook Inn and have dinner at Redbook Restaurant to top off your trip.
Additionally, the winding, two-lane Highland Scenic Highway passes through the Monongahela National Forest and reaches as high as 4,500 feet in elevation with several stunning overlooks, making it an ideal drive to gaze at the changing leaves in the fall. The most scenic section stretches 23 miles along West Virginia Route 150, where you’ll find several picnic areas and hiking trails. Fill up with gas and snacks before you hit the road in this remote area, and be sure to stop in Cass (about an hour away) to hop on the steam locomotive for a relaxing train ride through the mountains.