Travel

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

These leaves won’t peep themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted us to reconsider how we travel. Fortunately, fall leaf peeping can be done while socially distancing, whether you’re enjoying the view of gold and amber hues from your car or on a hiking trail. We’ve highlighted scenic drives, hiking trails, and parks known for offering especially resplendent fall foliage in four Mid-Atlantic states.

Virginia

Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas and trails, best enjoyed during peak foliage from late sept to 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. 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 nibbling on cheese and sipping wine. Just follow their social distancing and mask guidelines.

Stretching 1,206 acres, Farmville’s High Bridge Trail State Park offers 31 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding. Located 125 feet above the Appomattox River, the High Bridge delivers the best elevated view of the 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.

Maryland

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 on 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 power boat 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, U.S. Route 219, to the McHenry overlook for a view of the area’s hills. 
 
October offers peak leaf peeping opportunities and the chance to enjoy the 53rd Annual Autumn Glory Festival (October 7-11), which continues this year but without the parade due to COVID-19. While you’re in the area, head to Firefly Farms Market in Accident to pick up premier goat cheese made on site and other food items. 
 
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 campsites or cabins. Head to downtown Northeast to stroll along the historic Main Street, full of independent shops and Turkey Point Vineyard Tasting Room.

Pine Creek Gorge
Pine Creek Gorge | kinglear55/Flickr

Pennsylvania

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 where foliage peaks early October. 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 an ideal 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 (mask required) 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. Note that the center is limiting visitors to 25 at one time. If you’re heading up within the next month, take a boat sightseeing tour aboard the 65-foot Lady Kate.

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. Head to one of the scenic overlooks in town. 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 round-trip trek to the Maryland Heights Trail, whose overlook provides a bird’s eye view of the town, rivers and mountains. Keep in mind that public restrooms and some attractions are closed due to COVID-19. Stay overnight in one of the luxurious 19 rooms and suites at the reopened Hillbrook Inn and have dinner at Redbook Restaurant. 
 
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. Stop in Cass (about an hour away) to hop on the steam locomotive for a relaxing train ride through the mountains.

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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.