Best Scenic Fall Drives in Northern Virginia
Autumn brings out the yellow in our maples, the red in our oaks, the orange in our sassafrasses and the purple in our sweetgums, turning Fairfax County and the surrounding area into a jaw-dropping display of nature’s best colors each fall with beautiful North Virginian fall foliage. It begins in October and lasts through November, which gives you plenty of time for weekday jaunts, scenic drives in Northern Virginia and near DC or weekend fall drives. So, while you are planning your visit to one of the outdoor farmers markets, wineries and breweries and other fall events, make sure to include a scenic fall drive to your trip. Find our best kept secrets and enjoy these scenic drives in Northern Virginia.
The George Washington Parkway
This iconic parkway stretches from near Great Falls Park in the north, all the way to George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the south, and in-between you can catch glimpses of the DC skyline and the majestic Potomac River. You can access the Parkway in the north end via the Capital Beltway (I-495) and in the south at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Every inch of the 25-mile trip was designed with recreational driving, sweeping Potomac River views and fabulous foliage in mind. There are plenty of other access points along the way for you to enter/exit the parkway and it's dotted with scenic overlooks and picnic areas to enjoy. Taking a drive on this road is a great way to orient yourself with the eastern border of Fairfax County, and it will also take you through adjacent Arlington County and the City of Alexandria. Along the way, you'll be able to stop and visit the United States Marine Corps War (Iwo Jima) Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, River Farm, or even hop across the Potomac into Washington, DC.
Need help figuring out where to start planning? The National Park Service has provided the following information to help you make the most of your trip.
- Check Places to Go to learn about historic forts, marshes, monuments, and forests along the parkway.
- Check Things to Do for descriptions of places to enjoy outdoor activities like cycling, hiking, or exploring.
- Check the Calendar for a schedule of ranger-led activities.
- Check Basic Information to download maps, reserve picnic areas, and find out about current conditions.
And don't miss this blog post to help you with visiting the Best Stops Along the GW Parkway!
If you want a short but sweet drive through a picturesque area of Fairfax County, you might want to consider Clifton Road. You can access the road on the north end at its intersection with Braddock Road, or on its southern end along Route 123. This excursion takes you directly through the quaint Town of Clifton. The town was originally known as Devereux Station and its origins are directly related to the Civil War. In 1985, the town was declared a National Historic District. On either side of town, you'll find horse fields and winding roads that make you forget you're only a few miles away from the Nation's Capital. In the middle of town, you'll find award-winning restaurants and local favorites such as Trummer's Restaurant, Trattoria Villagio and The Main Street Pub. Peterson's Ice Cream Depot is always bustling on warm days, and a little outside of Town, Paradise Springs Winery (Fairfax County's first winery) is a relaxing spot with award-winning wines for you to taste and purchase.
Designated the first Virginia Byway for its scenic value in 1974, Georgetown Pike is 12 miles of curves, hills, and fields that wind past extravagant estates, prime hiking spots, and the entrance to Great Falls Park. You can access the road in Dranesville along Route 7 in the west, or from Route 123 in the east. Georgetown Pike also passes through the village of Great Falls, where you’ll find a charming village center, complete with homemade ice cream and an Irish pub. Near the village center, you'll find one of the most well-known and highly rated restaurants in the country at L'Auberge Chez Francois. Make sure to also take some time to visit a few of the interesting attractions along your drive on the Pike - check out The Turner Farm observatory, cornmeal made fresh at Colvin Run Mill, and more.
For a scenic driving tour of this area, check out this blog post about Great Falls.
Historic Route 50
Head west from Fairfax County on Route US 50 toward Winchester, Virginia and you'll find yourself on a stretch of road generally known for its Civil War history and wide open spaces. Aside from Civil War history found at sites along the highway at places like Aldie Mill and Mount Zion Historic Park, you'll also pass through the quaint towns like Middleburg - "The Nation's Horse and Hunt Capital" and even find yourself on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains at a place called Ashby Gap. Atop this ridge is where you'll find one of the best vistas of the entire drive. You can finish your leaf-peeping ride in historic Winchester, or continue on into West Virginia where windy roads and mountains await...actually you can drive all the way to Sacramento, California if you want to as US Route 50 is a transcontinental highway. You can access Route 50 at multiple locations throughout Fairfax County as the road spans the entire county from east to west.
Located an easy hour or so drive to our west, and running 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, this iconic roadway is worth the visit if you have time. Since this is a National Park, it'll cost you to enter - $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle and/or $15 per person. If you plan on driving the entire jaw-dropping, vista-filled route spanning the length of the park, you should give yourself at least 3-4 hours for a one-way trip. Especially with a 35 mph speed limit strictly enforced, and nearly 70 overlooks for you to gaze out over the immaculately colored Virginia landscape. Prepare to open your windows, feel the breeze, and experience every exquisite curve. The northern entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park can be found off the Front Royal exit (exit 6) on I-66 heading west from Fairfax County.
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