Where to See the Most Beautiful Fall Foliage in the Mid-Atlantic

A leaf-peeping guide for all four states in the region.

Fill the tank and get your road trip snacks ready, it’s time to take full advantage of the glorious fall colors you can admire throughout Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The Mid-Atlantic is a fantastic region for getting your leaf peeping on, so we’ve pulled together all the best places to view our area’s stunning fall foliage. Along the way, you can also admire charming small towns, hike in state parks, and drive down winding roads to enjoy the dazzling technicolor display. So what are you waiting for? Peak foliage is expected between early and late October, so read on and get ready for a stunning display of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Maryland leaf peeping
Elk Neck State Park | Neelima Ayilavarapu/Shutterstock

Maryland

Located about three hours from DC, Garrett County’s Deep Creek Lake State Park affords a variety of ways to take in the autumn colors, whether you’re on foot, car, or boat. Hike or bike one of its many trails, which range from easy strolls to steep treks that traverse several miles. Several companies offer pontoon and power boat rentals at the lake’s six marinas so you can enjoy the brilliant colors from the water. Or you can simply take a scenic driving tour through the fallen leaves on the area’s main highway, U.S. Route 219, to the McHenry overlook for a view of the area’s hills. Take a quick detour to Accident where you can pick up premier goat cheese and other picnic essentials at Firefly Farms Market.

A bit closer to DC, Cecil County’s gems often fly under the radar, but its prime attractions are fitting for nature lovers as fall foliage rolls out. Head to Elk Neck State Park in North East, which sits about two hours outside the city, for unique scenery like 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. Head to downtown Northeast to stroll along the historic Main Street, full of independent shops and Turkey Point Vineyard Tasting Room.

The Eastern Shore might be known as a summer destination, but the region’s state parks and wildlife refuge make it a spectacular fall trip for nature lovers. Birdwatching enthusiasts can head to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge to spy on more than 250 species of birds, including a sizable population of nesting bald eagles. The four-mile Wildlife Drive allows visitors to leisurely bask in the fall colors while seeing the wildlife, while kayakers can take in the scenery via the water. Though the roughly two-hour trip can be done in a day, those wishing to spend a weekend have numerous options, including two beautiful properties in St. Michael’s: The luxurious Inn at Perry Cabin, where you can roam the 26-acre garden, and the year-old Wildset Hotel, where guests can enjoy s’mores huddled around a bonfire.

Pine Creek Gorge
Pine Creek Gorge | Flickr/kinglear55

Pennsylvania

Located about three hours from DC, the rolling hills of Lancaster County in Eastern Pennsylvania shine bright as you make your way through Amish country and stop at the general stores with locally baked whoopie pies and other treats. A couple of hours north, the Pocono Mountains provide numerous opportunities to view autumn leaves. Traipse through quaint small towns like Stroudsburg, which contains colorful murals and art galleries, and Jim Thorpe, full of historic charm with cobblestone streets and historic buildings. Hike or drive to the summit of Camelback Mountain in Big Pocono State Park to take in the dazzling foliage across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Head about five hours outside the city for leaf-peeping and lots of adventure. 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 and is particularly stunning in the fall. Those looking for even more adventure can bike the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail, which runs along the canyon and connects small towns.

Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie may be best 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. It’s a six-hour drive, making it an ideal jaunt for a long weekend.

Virginia leaf peeping
Shenandoah National Park | Vladimir Grablev/Shutterstock

Virginia

Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers perhaps the area’s most iconic foliage views from 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails. 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.

If you’re making a weekend of it, take time to explore the area’s many wineries like Little Washington Winery, Quievremont Vineyard and Winery, and Crimson Lane Vineyards, which will open in late November in Linden. Designed by a top winery architect in California, Crimson will deliver red and white varietals, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, syrah, and petit verdot.

For travelers who want to hike or bike through colorful nature trails, head to parks in nearby Alexandria or Loudoun County, which can be enjoyed on a day trip. Located along the Potomac just south of Old Town Alexandria, Jones Point Park features a small lighthouse, plenty of open space, and bike paths. Numerous trails dot Loudoun County, including 20 miles of family-friendly hiking in the 725-acre Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. Since this is horse country after all, hop on a two-legged friend and ride the 32-mile gravel equestrian trail in Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park. The area offers several plush overnight stays, including the bucolic Goodstone Inn and the luxurious Salamander Resort & Spa.

Another 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, a three-year-old property with a rooftop bar that offers views of downtown Farmville.

Highland Scenic Highway
Highland Scenic Highway | Ross Ellet/Shutterstock

West Virginia

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. There are several overlooks in town for foliage viewing—head to The Point for a view of the rivers and railway bridges or make 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 trek on the Maryland Heights Trail, which has an overlook that provides a bird’s eye view of the town, rivers, and mountains.

The winding, two-lane Highland Scenic Highway, about five hours from DC, 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 or stop in Cass (about an hour away) to hop on the steam locomotive for a relaxing train ride through the mountains.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Julekha Dash is a Maryland writer who covers food, travel and design with bylines in USA Today, American Way, Architectural Digest, Eater, Fodor’s, and others. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and check out her Contently portfolio.