by Caitlin Finnerty
September 17, 2012
Fall brings with it cooler weather and a rainbow of red, orange and yellow foliage, making it the perfect time to get outside for a hike.
From the coastal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay to the rocky hills of the Appalachian Mountains, scenic vistas and mountaintops await.
Tip: To plan your outing, find out when "peak fall foliage" occurs in your region with this map from the Weather Channel.
Here are some of our favorite sites to take in the changing colors of fall:
1. Old Rag Mountain Hike, Shenandoah National Park, Va. (7 miles)
Image courtesy David Fulmer/Flickr
Be prepared for a challenging rock scramble and a crowd of tourists, but know that it will all be worth it in the end. Some consider this hike to have the best panoramic vistas in Northern Virginia, and it remains one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic.
2. Loudoun Heights Trails, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, W.Va. (7.5 miles)
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is located along the C&O Canal—a hot spot for those looking to find fall foliage. But if you're tired of the canal's flat views as it runs along the Potomac River, check out the trails in Loudon Heights. It may be an uphill battle, but you'll find yourself overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers from what seems to be the highest point around. This is certainly a good hike for a cool fall day (this blogger took to the trails in the heat of summer and was drained!). Be sure to grab ice cream in town afterwards!
3. Flat Top Hike, Peaks of Otter Trails, Bedford, Va. (3.5 miles)
Image courtesy Jim Liestman/Flickr
The Peaks of Otter are three mountain peaks that overlook the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. While a hike to Sharp Top is an intriguing one with stunning views, a hike to Flat Top promises to be less crowded. Keep in mind, there are many other trails and lakes near the Peaks of Otter worth exploring!
4. Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock Loop, Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Md. (5 miles)
Image courtesy TrailVoice/Flickr
Give yourself plenty of time to take in the unique rock formations and two outstanding viewpoints found along this hardwood forest trail. If you're not up for a long hike, visit the park's more accessible viewpoints and make a stop at the nearby Cunningham Falls State Park to see a scenic waterfall just below the mountains.
5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail, Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. (184 miles)
Image courtesy sandcastlematt/Flickr
This trail follows the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. While bikers and hikers often tackle the entire trail, the canal path can also be enjoyed as a leisurely day hike.
From Great Falls to Harpers Ferry to Green Ridge State Forest—the second largest in Maryland—a walk along this rustic trail traces our nation's transportation history with sightings of brick tunnels, lock houses and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it all.
If you plan on making a multi-day journey, watch the color of the leaves change as you move north along with peak foliage.
6. Pokomoke River State Forest (Snow Hill, Md.) (1 mile)
Image courtesy D.C. Glovier/Flickr
Whether you explore the 15,500 acres of this forest from land or from water, you are sure to find breath-taking scenes of fall—in stands of loblolly pine, in bald-cypress forests and swamps and even in a five-acre remnant of old growth forest. Take a one-mile self guided trail or opt for an afternoon fall colors paddle in the nearby Pocomoke River State Park, sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
7. Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch Hike, Cumberland County, Pa.
Image courtesy Audubon Pennsylvania
This rocky site is located along an autumn raptor migration flyway, making it popular among bird-watchers. During the fall, however, it is a must-visit for birders and non-birders alike. From the top of Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, you can see South Mountain and Cumberland, Perry, York and Franklin counties. The land is cared for by Audubon Pennsylvania.
8. Pole Steeple Trail, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Cumberland County, Pa. (.75 mile)
Image courtesy Shawnee17241/Flickr
This trail offers a great view for a short climb. While the trail is less than one mile long, it is steep! From the top, you can see Laurel Lake in Pine Grove Furnace State Park and all 2,000 feet of South Mountain. Plan this hike around sunset to see fall colors in a different light.