The crisp, cool autumn air brings spectacular fall foliage to the Chesapeake watershed. The fall season doesn’t only make for great Instagram photo ops and pumpkin spice lattes – but also a great time to make memories and go for a scenic drive. Plan a trip ahead to drive during peak foliage.
Below are some of the prime places, rustic routes, and scenic byways to drive through within the Chesapeake Bay watershed if you are looking for breathtaking fall foliage. Take the winding, scenic route rather than the highway for the best scenery.
Elk Neck State Park, North East, MD
Elk Neck State Park contains beach areas, marshlands, woodlands and access to the Elk River. Turkey Point Lighthouse, located at the southern tip of the Elk Neck Peninsula, offers a bird's-eye view of the Chesapeake Bay. The park’s diverse landscapes present brilliant colors in the fall.
Patapsco Valley State Park, Ellicott City, MD
Patapsco Valley State Park was one of the first state parks to open in Maryland. The park extends 32 miles along the Patapsco River. Patapsco Valley State Park has eight recreational areas for activities such as hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and picnicking. These areas are the Avalon Area (popular for the Cascade Falls trail), Daniels Area, Hilton Area, Hollofield Area, McKeldin Area, and Pickall Area.The park is renowned for its natural, scenic trails, providing plenty of hiking opportunities and views overlooking the river – the perfect place to take your family for a fall outing.
Oregon Ridge Park and Nature Center- Cockeysville, MD
Oregon Ridge Park is surrounded by an array of forests and tree canopy and provides an abundance of hiking trails and a nature center open year round. The park has a playground and hosts public events, including live music. and exhibits explaining the history of the park. The park once was an iron ore and marble mining operation in the mid-19th century and there are remaining marble quarries and iron ore pits within the park, with archaeological digs and artifacts present in the nature center. The nature center provides exhibits of live animals, historical and archaeological artifact displays, and offers a self-guided walking tour. Explore this park during mid- to late-October to see the peak fall foliage. Oregon Ridge Park is the perfect destination for spending a relaxing autumn day and strolling through the woodland trails.
Oregon Ridge Park, Brittini Adams. Photo courtesy Maryland DNR
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware
This byway is a living land and waterscape drive commemorating Harriet Tubman and all of the rich history of those involved in the Underground Railroad. The byway travels 125 miles through Maryland and 98 miles through Delaware and is spectacular in the fall. This landscape of the eastern shore evokes the Chesapeake of Harriet Tubman’s time. This unique and tranquil drive passes by produce stands, rural landscapes, and sites to visit such as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad NHP and State Park, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center. This pastoral byway is the perfect drive on an autumn day.
Rocks State Park, Jarrettsville, MD
Rocks State Park is known for its massive boulders and rock formations. The King and Queen Seat and Kilgore Falls are the most popular attractions in the park at any time of year. The 190-foot rock outcrop was once a ceremonial setting for the Susquehannock Indians. Once you hike to reach the top of the cliff, the overlook views of the hillsides and dense forests are stunning. Be cautious of the boulders and watch your step as you hike and remain vigilant once you reach the King and Queen Seat.
Rock State Park, Kilgore Falls. Photo by Joseph Glitter, courtesy Maryland DNR
Pemberton Historical Park, Salisbury, MD
This park, managed and operated by Wicomico County Recreation and Parks, offers seven nature trails, summer camps, and interpretive history programs, and events take place throughout the year. Landscapes at Pemberton Historical Park include freshwater wetlands, tidal wetlands, freshwater ponds, hardwood forests, pine forest, and meadows. The park has boardwalk trails with views of the Wicomico River and wetlands, and raised observation lookouts to view the marshlands and wildlife. The river provides a great habitat for a wide range of wildlife. While enjoying the beautiful scenery, try to spot the songbirds and wildlife located in the park during the fall.
Shenandoah National Park
This well-known, 105-mile-long national park is a must see for nature explorers – especially during peak fall! Walk amongst cascading waterfalls, scenic vistas, and drive along Skyline Drive’s gorgeous scenic route where you can view the park from every angle.Keep your eyes peeled for deer, turkey, bears and other wildlife. There is no better place to experience vibrant fall foliage, and Shenandoah National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list as a fall destination.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is surreal in the fall and one of the most famous scenic drives in the watershed – if not the entire country! The 469-mile long parkway boasts amazing vistas of rugged mountains covered in dense forest, highlands, meadows, mountaintops, and farmlands. It is a picturesque drive to take with your family, friends, or even by yourself. Be sure to pack your camera to take photographs at the parkway’s many overlooks. Drive during mid- to late-October to see the full peak color.
Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, William A. Bake. Photo courtesy Blue Ridge Parkway Association.
Trap Pond State Park, Laurel, DE
Trap Pond State Park is an ideal place for paddling through bald cypress trees and to feel one with nature. Here, in this very unique environment, you will be inspired to discover your true self by finding your Chesapeake. Rowboats, pedal boats, canoes and kayaks can be rented for use within the park during the summer season, and park interpreters host narrated pontoon boat tours and family wagon rides through the end of October. Feel connected with nature and escape for the day at Trap Pond State Park!
Kettle Creek State Park, Renovo, PA
This park, located in a valley with mountainous terrain, is a must stop if you want to be surrounded by wilderness! Kettle Creek offers a variety of amenities such as biking, boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, and picnicking. If you want to experience the true outdoors, Kettle Creek State Park is one of the prime viewing locations for elk in Pennsylvania, and Kettle Creek itself is a beautiful trout and paddling stream. Experience the lush valley covered in a vivid display of colors in the fall at Kettle Creek State Park and take a trip to view a beautiful sunset beyond the valley.
Colton Point State Park, Wellsboro, PA
This park located in northern Pennsylvania overlooking Pine Creek Gorge, also referred to as “The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” is remarkable in autumn. You can spot the water flowing into the Susquehanna River, which makes its way into the Chesapeake Bay. The Pine Creek Gorge also has historical significance as it was used by American Indians as a travel route. The view overlooking the Pine Creek Gorge, is one that you will never forget.
Chenango Valley State Park, Chenango Forks, NY
This park is located in central New York. There are two lakes located within Chenango Valley State Park as well as a bog. The park is a great place for spotting many different birds and waterfowl. Stay overnight in a cabin in the park and revel in the fall foliage during every time of the day!
Rock Creek Park
The oldest urban park in the U.S., Rock Creek Park helped spark the inspiration for many other National Parks we love dearly today. You can take a tour with a National Park ranger, have a picnic, take in a demonstration of the historic old mill, or stargaze at the Nature Center and Planetarium. Run, bike, hike or rollerblade in the fall on paved trails surrounded by the fall foliage.This park brings visitors of diverse backgrounds and all walks of life to appreciate the outdoors and nature as an escape from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C.
Rock Creek Park, photo courtesy National Park Service.