10 Best Scenic Fall Weekend Getaways from Washington DC
Fall is right around the corner and it’s time those in the DMV region start planning their fall weekend getaways from Washington DC. Make this fall count by basking in the season’s best activities in the most desired places. Let’s take a quick look at the best places you can consider while planning your fall weekend getaways from Washington DC:
The most scenic fall weekend getaways from Washington DC
1. Blue Ridge Mountains
Distance from Washington DC – 138 miles
The Blue Ridge Mountains form the southern end of the Appalachian range, spreading over Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. It got its name from its characteristic blue haze of isoprene released from the trees along its slope.
One of the most visited fall weekend getaways from Washington DC, the Blue Ridge Mountains encompass several smaller parks within their range like the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains. There’s a lot to discover along its high-footed mountains such as:
- Driving along its 469-mile backbone – the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Climb up the slope of the Clingman’s Dome (an easy 1-hour hike!) or go up the observation tower.
- Swing on the 1 mile-high swinging bridge at the Grandfather Mountain.
- Slide down the Sliding Rock waterfall.
- Chill at the many harvest festivals, farms and corn mazes dotting the lower elevations of the range.
- Visit America’s largest private residence – the Biltmore Estate.
- Check out abandoned Cherokee settlements, churches and cemeteries at Cades Cove. Go bear-spotting there as well!
The air up in the Blue Ridge Mountains is often 20 degrees cooler than at sea level areas and is usually damp with high humidity. Black bears are regular sightings all along the mountain range. The beauty and splendor of these mountains can also been explored in its many scenic drives such as:
- Newfound Gap road
- Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway – also known as the Cooperhead Loop – laden with numerous waterfalls and hiking trails.
- The Diamondback – loaded with 360-degree switchbacks, a hit with motorcyclists!
- Cherohala Skyway
- Indian Lakes Scenic Byway – a 60-mile drive around the Fontana and Santeetlah Lakes.
- The Dragon – an iconic biker drive with 318 curves spread over 11 miles.
- US Highway 64 – also known as the Waterfall Byway due to the presence of numerous waterfalls all along the route.
2. Finger Lakes
Distance from Washington DC – 300 miles
Why the Finger Lakes features on our list of the top 10 fall weekend getaways from Washington DC is because of its proximity to the city, presence of well-equipped charming towns, scenic water bodies and dense foliage.
The Finger Lakes region in upstate New York is popular not just with New Yorkers wanting to get away from the city; it holds a pristine charm with its valleys, gorges, waterfalls and rivulets surrounding its 11 lakes.
More details on visiting Watkins Glen right here.
The main lakes are Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco (west to east direction). With all the lakes appearing to be finger marks on the face of the earth when looking from space, the Finger Lakes developed a reputation of having been the hand marks of the Great Spirit when he blessed the land according to Native American culture.
Fall is exceptionally beautiful at the Finger Lakes region and it attracts people from across the coast. Best things to do during fall in the Finger Lakes region are:
- Walk the Gorge Trail to the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains – the Taughannock Falls
- Take a wine tour – by boat or in a distillery!
- Climb up the 800 stone steps of Watkins Glen, covering 19 waterfalls in one go.
- Visit the Corning Glass Museum and indulge in some glass-blowing yourself.
- Go ‘Glamping’ – a touch of glamour and a more convenient way to camp in the wilderness.
- Plan your visit to the numerous other waterfalls in the area like the Ithaca Falls, Hector Falls, Buttermilk Falls, etc.
- Follow the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail.
- Explore the Letchworth State Park – with over 66 miles worth of hiking trails, picturesque gorges along the Genesee River with options for rafting and swimming.
3. Great Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin Blaze
Distance from Washington DC – 266 miles
The Van Cortlandt Manor in New York comes alive every year with this giant pumpkin festival housing over 7000 illuminated pumpkins across the ground of the manor. The Great Jack O’Lantern Pumpkin Blaze offers people of all ages a chance to experience the thrill of Halloween in the notorious Sleepy Hollow County. These hand-carved pumpkins are creatively displayed in forms like those of animals, the Statue of Liberty, zodiac signs… just to name a few.
More information on the festival in our article on the top Halloween events on the East Coast here.
4. Deep Creek Lake – Maryland
Distance from Washington DC – 171 miles
A favorite among fall weekend getaways from Washington DC is the man-made Deep Creek Lake. Softly brushing against the hills of eastern Maryland, the Deep Creek Lake has something for everyone each season. The shimmering brilliance of the lake has made it popular with stand-up paddlers, boaters and swimmers while the lush habitat around it calls many hikers and cyclists into its forest covers.
Best places to see fall colors around the Deep Creek Lake:
- At the Thayerville fire tower at the Deep Creek Lake State Park.
- Swallow Falls State Park is another park which surrounds the lake and is home to Maryland’s tallest free-falling waterfall.
- Hike to the summit of Hoyes Crest in Garrett County and you’ll be rewarded with crisp autumn foliage views of the Deep Creek Lake and its surroundings.
- Take a scenic chair-lift at the Wisp resort and soar over the kaleidoscope of autumn colors.
While in the area, check out the Annual Autumn Glory Festival which features a parade, music, arts and crafts, a farmers market and a fall foliage driving tour. More details out here.
There are plenty of guided kayak tours which offer you chances to explore the wilderness while spotting wildlife and birds like the bald eagle. There’s also a man-made whitewater rafting course on top of the Wisp Mountain by a group called ASCI (Adventure Sports Center International). And if you’d like to camp out by the lake, you’ll find designated campsites at the Deep Creek Lake State Park, the Bumble Bee RV Park and the Double G RV Park.
If you’re not up for anything adventurous, you can even explore the area on a guided horse-drawn carriage ride. Horse rides for kids and adults through the quaint villages and mild forests are also ways to explore the areas around the lake. With plenty of lake-front and lake-access resorts and cabins, Deep Creek Lake can form the perfect couple and family fall weekend getaway from Washington DC.
5. New River Gorge and Berkeley Springs
Distance from Washington DC – 300 miles
New River Gorge area ranks among the premier locations for whitewater rafting in the country with plenty of class 3, 4 and 5 rapids along the New River.
Want one more reason why it’s constantly rated among the best fall weekend getaways from Washington DC? – Because of its rich foliage colors lining the hundreds of miles of hiking trails that form the Appalachian Trail.
The cliffs surrounding the New River are tall and made of shale and sandstone. You can see these geological formations tower above you at the Summersville Lake. You can also climb the ladder up the Endless Wall Trail to get the best sweeping views of the valley. Or check out the Canyon Rim visitor center on the Long Point Trail. Undoubtedly the most mesmerizing view of the New River is at the Grandview Overlook.
Another major attraction of this naturesque paradise is the New River Gorge Bridge. New River Gorge Bridge itself is a sight to see – with its rust-colored arch spanning over a height of 876 feet. Those daredevils wanting to get a good feel of the height can take a walk under the bridge along a suspension line called the ‘Bridge Walk.’
Another hidden gem just around the New River Gorge area is the Berkeley Springs State Parks, where warm mineral spring pools are open to the public. You can collect pure spring water or soak up in the main bathhouse or visit the numerous spas in the area which offer massages and treatments based on this mountain water.
6. Liberty Mills Corn Maze
Distance from Washington DC – 96 miles
Central Virginia boasts of many scenic wonders all along the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge mountain range. One such attraction worth the visit is the 125-acre family-owned Liberty Mills farm.
The quaint locality of Somerset serves as the nesting place of this large farm, known locally for churning out ‘farmtastic’ produce and byproducts. But why it’s on our list of the best scenic fall weekend getaways from Washington DC is because of its gigantic corn maze.
This HUGE (and ‘huge’ is an understatement as the maze is spread over 33 acres!) corn maze sports new themes every year. Usually, these are anniversaries of famous events like that of the 25th anniversary of the Jurassic Park or that of the 50th year of the moon landing.
Ideally, the complete maze experience spreads over 2 hours. But you can opt for easier and shorter mazes as well. There are night-time mazes or ‘flashlight’ mazes as well.
Here’s where you can buy tickets for the Liberty Mills Corn Maze – Tickets!
While at the farm, you can also try their farm-produced foods like pumpkin spice coffee and butter, homemade fudge and ice cream, Shenandoah spices, strawberry salsa, teas and cocoa, local syrup, African baskets and old-world Christmas ornaments.
7. Shenandoah National Park
Distance from Washington DC – 90 miles
The soft hills that surround the rolling Shenandoah River have been the muse for travellers and locals alike. While visiting this glorious mountain range, you can almost certainly hear the traditional folk song that had inspired the earlier natives along the range, echo throughout its hills as the sun sets:
I long to hear you,
Far away, you rolling river.
Just to be near you,
Far away, far away.
‘Cross the wide Missouri.”
Shenandoah National Park is the nearest mountain range to Washington DC, declared as a national forest and served by the NPS. At just an hour or two’s drive away from the national capital, this fall getaway accounts for an easy one-day trip.
Fall colors in the Shenandoah National Park have attracted people from all over the DMV, with flaming oranges, bright yellows and a few reds dotting its slants. It is impossible to explore Shenandoah without driving through the backbone of the park – the Skyline Drive, which is also the most recommended route to see fall colors. There are 3 entrances to the park, each with varying distances and similar scenery.
And if Shenandoah puts you in gear to explore more of the natural surroundings around you, head on south towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, a mammoth mountain range in itself with a whole other scale of attractions, trails and camping options.
Things to do at Shenandoah National Park during fall:
- Hiking over 500 miles worth of trails – including hiking across the backbone of the Appalachian (the Appalachian Trail)
- Exploring the picturesque waterfalls of Dark Hollow Falls and White Oak Canyon
- Star gazing at Big Meadows
- Camping across the many officially designated campgrounds along the mountain range to catch in some fresh air
8. Tangier Island
Distance from Washington DC – approx. 155 miles
The Tangier Island is among the few natural islands that have risen from the sand deposits of the Chesapeake Bay. This squiggle of mud and marsh is accessible only by air or water and is roughly 12 miles away from the nearest coast.
What makes Tangier one of the best fall weekend getaways from Washington DC is its natural ecosystems spreading across its 30-mile land formation. You can explore the island’s habitat and crabbing industry (which it’s extremely famous for!) by staying over at the numbered inns and B&Bs on this small piece of land. You’ll also likely find many marshes to kayak through and bird-watch – some of which even house abandoned boats!
The beaches along the shores of the Tangier Island are calm and unblemished by civilization. You can enjoy great off-season accommodation prices and have large areas of the shore just for yourself!
The island’s locals are very welcoming and have designed the land to be attractive to tourists. If you head to Tangier Island, trying out their seafood is a must – especially their soft shell crab and crab soup. Note that the island does not serve alcohol, wine or beer on its premises.
Best way to get to Tangier Island from the mainland:
- Catch ferries from Onancock, Crisfield or Reedville
- Bring your own boat and dock into Parks Marina
- Fly into the Tangier Island Airport (offers fantastic aerial views of the island! – pricey, but worth it!)
9. Chesapeake Wine Trail
Distance from Washington DC – 40 miles
Just 40 miles away from the nation’s capital is a wine county you can indulge in and drink away to happiness! The Chesapeake Wine Trail covers 234 miles over numerous towns and interconnecting hundreds of distilleries on the way. There are plenty of highways and byways with detours available every now and then, allowing you to savor the homely tastes of local wines and ciders at your own leisurely pace.
While the Chesapeake Wine Trail starts from Baltimore and goes all the way to Ocean Pines, if you feel you’re low on stamina, take round trips from Baltimore. Note that not all wineries are open every day and some function only during the weekend.
Among the best wineries, some that you must visit are:
- Ingleside Vineyards – one of Virginia’s oldest vineyards
- Caret Cellars
- General’s Ridge Vineyards
- Vault Field Vineyards
- Good Luck Cellars
- The Dog and Oyster Vineyard – America’s only vineyard to pair wines with oysters
- Jacey Vineyards
All along this route are plenty of quaint B&Bs, hotels and motels where you can spend the night. Farms like the Westmore Berry Farm also have pickings and activities for children who may accompany you while taking the wine plunge. Historic churches and pastures also line this route, giving you a slice of history with that cheese.
10. Blackwater Falls State Park
Distance from Washington DC – 169 miles
Nestled by the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, the Blackwater State Falls State Park offers nature lovers the solitude they rightly deserve with its bed of scenic waterfalls at the lower levels of the mountain slopes. This state park is famous for the Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot rumble of amber water, discolored by the presence of tannic acid (and hence the name!) from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. This cascade crashes into a giant natural pool below which you can access from wooded trails.
All around the falls are places you can hike, fish and camp at. The Canaan loop bike trail is a great option for those wanting to bike through the valley.
The Elakala Falls, Lindy Point and Pendleton Point Overlooks are some of the most popular and photographed sights in West Virginia. Yet with its popularity, the places are surprisingly calm and uncommericialized, giving those in need of a break a real naturesque break.
And that rounds up our list of best scenic fall weekend getaways from Washington DC. Hope this article was informative and can help you plan your travels much better.
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The jewel on the East Coast – New England is amongst fall leaf-peeper’s favorites! Check out our video showcasing the beautify of the season in the countryside here:
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