Between the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers that border Fairfax County and the 30,000 acres of parkland in between, you'll find a plethora of breathtaking locations awash in the russets, golds, reds, and greens of the area's most triumphant season. These are the places that locals like to keep secret, inviting only insiders like you to see why they're so special!
1. The George Washington Memorial Parkway
The George Washington Memorial Parkway (or "GW Parkway") is maintained by the National Park Service and was actually designed for the sole purpose of recreational driving. So take advantage by taking a leisurely jaunt along its scenic twists and turns and observe great views of not only the autumn colors of the trees lining the road, but of the foliage fronting the DC skyline and Potomac River as well. The parkway links over two dozen sites that commemorate important episodes in American history and preserve habitat for local wildlife, so there are plenty of places to stop along your journey.
2. Great Falls Park
Great Falls is a "pocket park" administered by the National Park Service and is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Great Falls is hands down one of the most visited destinations in the entire region when the leaves begin to show their fall colors. Photographers and families come out in droves to visit this beautiful 800-acre park seeking to witness autumn colors in all their glory with the mighty Potomac splashing down in the foreground. Due to its popularity on beautiful fall days, especially weekends, crowds at the park can lead to waiting times to enter. So arrive early; it's totally worth the wait.
3. Burke Lake
Fantastic trails loop all through Burke Lake Park and its 218-acre lake is the ultimate centerpiece. Plenty of unique leaf viewing vantage points await your arrival along the park's trails which give you the opportunity to take in the tranquil beauty of the lake while the colorful leaves surround you and provide the perfect backdrop to the water. Don't feel like walking? That's cool. Rent a small boat on-site and take in the views on the water. The American Hiking Society also proclaimed that Burke Lake has one of the top ten fitness trails in the nation! So if you're on a trail and the fall spirit moves you, don't hold back, just start jogging.
4. Lake Accotink
Lake Accotink Park's 493 acres include a 55-acre lake, wetlands, and streams that each offer unique views of waterfowl, marsh life, and fall foliage. The path around the lake is well maintained and gives visitors the option to either walk or ride a bike. Facilities and activities vary with the season and include bike rentals, canoe and pedal boat rentals, boat launch, tour boat rides, fishing, nine-green double-holed miniature golf course, and an antique carousel. However, most of these activities are only available on the weekends in the fall and only through October 18.
5. Huntley Meadows
Huntley Meadows Park is a rich, natural and historical island of over 1,500 acres in the suburban sea of Northern Virginia. Some of the best wildlife watching in the Washington metropolitan area is enjoyed here, as is some of the best leaf peeping. When visiting, you'll find majestic forests, wildflower-speckled meadows and vast wetlands, featuring a ½ mile wetland boardwalk trail and observation tower. All this lends itself to one unique fall foliage adventure...and don't forget your binoculars as Huntley Meadows is well known as a prime birding spot, with over 200 species identified in the park.
6. Riverbend Park
Tucked away in a remote river setting, Riverbend Park has over 400 acres of forest, meadows, and ponds. The park has over 10 miles of hiking trails, most of them adjacent to the Potomac River. Riverbend Park offers several loop trails that highlight the natural beauty of the park and its history. Stop by the visitor center first to plot out your course and pick up a trail map. Then set out on the trail of your choice and immerse yourself in autumn glory as you scan the serene Potomac with the reds and golds of the changing leaves seemingly all around you.
7. Mason Neck State Park
Mason Neck State Park is a favorite of locals due to its hiking trails, three miles of paved multi-use trails, and prime location for guided canoe trips of Kane's Creek and Belmont Bay (which are favorites with park visitors during the warmer months). The park's wetlands, forest, open water, ponds and open fields make it ideal for environmental study and wildlife observation. A visit here will give you a diverse view of the Bay and the shoreline adorned with colorful leaves. Mason Neck State Park is also one of the best places in the entire region to view bald eagles. The adjacent land that makes up the Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge was the first of its kind in that it was the first federal refuge created specifically for the protection of the bald eagle.
8. Fountainhead Regional Park
Visitors to Fountainhead Regional Park will find themselves taking in the spectacular view of the widest point of the Occoquan Reservoir. Aside from the outstanding foliage views surrounding the reservoir, one can choose to get in the middle of the fall colors by trekking on the 2.25 mile looped Nature Trail (White Blazes), the trailhead for access to the Bull Run Occoquan Trail (Blue Blazes), or the shared use Equestrian/Hiking Trails (Horse-Shoe Blazes). Fountainhead also has one of the most popular mountain bike trails in the Mid-Atlantic for you bike enthusiasts. Maps for all trails can be found at the marina.
9. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
At Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, beauty and discovery flourish during autumn throughout it's 95-acre complex of large ornamental display gardens and unique native plant collections. Meadowlark is home to plants that are native to each of Virginia's geographical regions, so a visit here would kind of be like seeing the entire Commonwealth in spectacular fall colors, but all in just one beautiful and expansive garden! An easy-to-navigate paved path leads you around the park and gets you up close and personal with their well-maintained ponds and landscaping. Meadowlark is also home to the only public Korean Bell Garden in the Western Hemisphere so make sure you include that stop on your journey through the park.