3 Prime Fall Foliage-Viewing Spots in Maryland

Albert Camus said, “[a]utumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” I agree—if you do too, why not enjoy this second spring in one of the beautiful (and relatively close to Washington, D.C.) park lands of Maryland? Here are three prime spots in Maryland for you to consider when you’re looking for an awesome fall foliage viewing experience:

1. Patapsco Valley State Park

This state park along the gorgeous Patapsco River offers a range of fun forest- and water-centered activities. At 16,043 acres, it is quite large and it runs along 32 miles of riverfront land. If you like to camp, hike, fish, canoe, or mountain bike, you will likely be quite be satisfied by a visit to this park in the fall. Autumn is also a lovely time for a sweatered picnic in one of Patapsco’s popular pavilions.

To enjoy the foliage by foot, you can take a hike along the 170 miles of trails (70 miles of which are classified as actively maintained). In 2016-2017, the Patapsco River is undergoing some renovation projects—sewer lines are being moved and the Bloede Dam will be removed. This will create a freely flowing river and increase the park’s recreational activities. In the meantime, be aware that sections of the Grist Mill Trail will be closed.

When you’re in a more sloth-like mood, you can take a more passive and relaxed foliage–viewing stance from the seat of your warm car. The Valley Overlook in Patapsco Valley State Park offers stunning vistas and you can head to nearby Elliott City afterward for a tasty meal or to shop for some vintage treasures. Patapsco Valley State Park also offers a great program for military families and individuals called “OPERATION: CAMPOUT!” Through this program, military families can use (borrow) a free, comprehensive set of camping gear and enjoy the park and each other. Patapsco Valley and many other MD parks also offers guests the option to borrow discovery packs which aid in park enjoyment, and contain items such as : “ insect/butterfly nets, a monocular for wildlife viewing, trail guides, [a] mid-Atlantic field guide, tape measure, magnifying glass/observation jar, nature notebook for journaling, colored pencils for sketching, and much more.”

2. Herrington Manor State Park

Herrington Manor State Park is a charming recreational area centered on a man-made lake in Park Garrett State Forest, near Oakland. It is named for Abijah Herrington’s manor house which was built on the grounds in the 1800’s before the park was bought by the state of Maryland in 1935.  The Civilian Conservation Corps worked to build the 53-acre lake by building a dam across Herrington Creek. Cabins were then built above the new lake and in 1964 the 365-acre site was designated a state park.

There are now 20 cabins that are available year-round and offer a furnished, cozy home-base for your fall leaf appreciation activities in the park. Visitors can choose from two-, four-, and six-person cabins. The best way to enjoy the foliage is likely on the 12 miles of trails (the one that connects the park to Swallow Falls State Park is especially beautiful). If you prefer to check out the trees from a vantage point on the water, you can rent a kayak or canoe or bring your own non-gas-motored boat to the public access boat ramp. During your visit, you might also attend interpretive programs and play tennis or volleyball as well. Like Patapsco Valley, Herrington Manor offers discover packs. Swimming, skiing, and sledding is available, weather permitting. Also of note: Herrington Manor State Park is passionate about sustainable practices and is proud to be a Maryland Green Travel Partner. This means that they work to recycle, reduce waste, and conserve both energy and water at the park.

3. The C&O Canal National Historic Park

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At the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, you can enjoy this season’s colors on foot and trail or on a cool replica of a historic canal boat. The C&O Canal National Historic Park is open all fall, except for Thanksgiving, during daytime hours.

The tow path along the Potomac River is a great choice for an autumn jaunt. You can even camp off the trail between Swains Lock and Cumberland. Or you might select a group campsite, at Spring Gap, McCoy’s Ferry, Paw Paw Tunnel, or Fifteen Mile Creek areas of the park.  If you are an experienced hiker who likes a challenge, give the Billy Goat Trail a try for exquisite views.

There are two canal boat trip options to choose from: Great Falls, with mule-drawn rides, and Williamsport, with an electric launch boat. Two of the original 74 lift locks are still working. The C&O Canal attracts history lovers as well because it operated for around 75 years (~1850-1924) as a crucial western expansion commerce route for lumber, crops, and coal. The canal was acquired by the government in 1938 and the national park was established in 1971.

This is a huge park at about 20,240 acres, with lots to do and seven visitor centers: Great Falls Tavern, Georgetown, Brunswick, Cumberland, Ferry Hill Plantation, Hancock, and Williamsport. Select the image below to visit a full map of The C&O Canal National Historic Park.


Now that the intense summer heat has subsided, fall is a great time to breathe some fresh air and stretch your walking legs. All of these parks are delightful places to explore nature and to soak in the beauty of this year’s changing autumn colors before they’re gone.

Julia Travers

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