Fall Foliage in Northern Virginia: Best Fall Colors Near DC

Find the best places to see Northern Virginia fall foliage, for locals and visitors seeking beautiful autumn colors and fun outings near Washington DC. The fall foliage season in the Northern Virginia area usually peaks in late October, but timing varies depending on the weather. Fortunately, Northern Virginia has a range of elevations, extending the foliage season.

Our favorite places for viewing Northern Virginia fall foliage are listed below, followed by tips and links for tracking the colors.

Discover the best places to see Northern Virginia fall foliage and enjoy Autumn beauty on fun fall outings in the Washington DC region.

Fall Foliage Reflections in Northern Virginia Lakes

Fall foliage reflections Burke Lake
Fall foliage reflections, Burke Lake

Local lakes are excellent for fall color photos, as the water mirrors the lovely shades above.

Lake Audubon and Lake Thoreau, Reston

Lake Thoreau has a nice collection of trees next to the water and a stretch of trail with benches for enjoying the view. Park at the South Lakes Plaza and follow the path along South Lakes Drive. Extend your foliage viewing with a nice loop hike around Lake Thoreau.

You can also see colors while dining by the lake at local restaurants Cafesano or Red's Table. Lake Thoreau is on our list of the best places to watch sunset in Northern VA, so consider timing your visit for the end of the day.

Fall foliage reflected in Lake Thoreau in Reston Virginia.
Lake Thoreau foliage

Colorful trees also line parts of Reston's Lake Audubon and Lake Anne, and both are worth a visit. Park at the Lake Audubon Pool for a nice tree-lined walk along the lake. The photo at the top was taken at the south end of Lake Audubon in October 2019. Discover more fun for your leaf-peeping trip in our guide Top 10 Things to Do in Reston Virginia.

Lake Fairfax

Popular Lake Fairfax Park is a nice spot for lakeside and woodland foliage. Park near the Visitor Center to reach the lake and take a short walk over the dam. The woodland paths, which start near the sports fields and campground area, are popular for both hiking and biking. In fact, Lake Fairfax is one of the top mountain biking areas in Northern Virginia.

Burke Lake

A 5-mile path offers good views of the foliage around Burke Lake, and we also like the park's open fields at this time of year. Turn left after you enter the park, and stop at the first parking lot on your right (near the restrooms). From here you can follow the lakeside trail or the roadway past open fields lined with fall color. You can also enjoy the foliage from a pontoon boat ride on early November weekends.

Fall foliage from the dam at Burke Lake

Lake Accotink

Another Fairfax County lake surrounded by trees is Lake Accotink in Springfield. Hike or bike the trail around Lake Accotink, enjoy a picnic, or just sit by the pier and take in the view.

Find more scenic spots: 21 Fun Family-Friendly Parks with Trails in Northern Virginia

Scenic Northern Virginia Fall Foliage Drives

There is nothing like the return of fall foliage to inspire a scenic drive. These roadways are especially lovely when lined with autumn colors.

Fall foliage on a Georgetown Pike scenic drive near Washington DC
Fall foliage on Georgetown Pike

Georgetown Pike

Historic Georgetown Pike becomes a winding, tree-lined beauty once you pass the center of Great Falls. It's a pretty road any time except at rush hour, and it offers access to several wonderful parks and hikes. Stop in Great Falls Park to enjoy spectacular waterfalls and hiking.

George Washington Memorial Parkway

The northern section of George Washington Memorial Parkway, another historic and scenic road, is very pretty in autumn. Stop at one of the overlooks (only accessible if you're heading north) or hike to the Potomac River at Turkey Run Park.

George Washington Memorial Parkway is perfect for a scenic drive neat DC in the fall
George Washington Memorial Parkway in fall

Further south, you'll see less fall foliage along the parkway, but lots of places to stop and enjoy excellent views of Washington DC. Stop at Dyke Marsh for a short easy hike on the dirt trail or Mount Vernon Trail boardwalk. Closer to George Washington's Mount Vernon, the trees are backed by Potomac River views.

Mount Vernon Trail in Mount Vernon Virginia
Mount Vernon Trail boardwalk

Snickersville Turnpike

A beautiful scenic drive in Loudoun County follows the historic Snickersville Turnpike from Aldie to Bluemont. This is a wonderful country drive with interesting stops, including three classic general stores.

Fall foliage on a Snickersville Turnpike scenic drive in Loudoun County Virginia.
Snickersville Turnpike in fall

Hike to a gorgeous view at Bears Den at the end of your journey. Or just relax with an eastern Piedmont view at Bluemont Winery or Dirt Farm Brewing. Plan your visit with our guide to 15 Fantastic Fun Things to Do in Bluemont Virginia

Dirt Farm Brewing fall view of the Virginia Peidmont
Dirt Farm Brewing fall view of the Virginia Peidmont

Fairfax County Scenic Byways

Another lovely way to view fall foliage is on a scenic drive on several Fairfax County scenic byways. Our route visits the quaint town of Clifton and lovely stops like Occoquan Regional Park. Fairfax County Parkway has pretty foliage, and the section from Lee Highway (Route 29) to Rolling Road is the most scenic and tree-lined.

A paved bike trail follows the parkway, but keep in mind you'll be biking next to traffic with little shade. You'll also find good color along route 123, between Braddock Road and Lorton.

Explore more scenic Northern Virginia drives where you can see fall foliage.

Woodland Walks with Fall Foliage in Northern Virginia

If you'd like a more active outing to view autumn colors, we suggest a walk in the woods at these national, regional, and county forests.

The Cross County Trail follows Difficult Run in Great Falls Virginia
The Cross County Trail at Difficult Run

Difficult Run and Great Falls Park

The colors along Difficult Run are stunning during fall foliage season. The trail between the parking area on Georgetown Pike and the Potomac River is mostly flat and wide with continuous stream views. If you want more exercise, continue your walk on steeper trails in an uncrowded section of Great Falls Park on a Run, Ridge, and River hike.

Prince William National Forest

You will find an extensive network of trails, a scenic drive, and both paved and dirt bike trails in Prince William National Forest. Start at the Visitor Center to pick up maps and get advice from the rangers about the best foliage spots in the park.

Prince William National Forest Park in Virginia
Fall foliage, Prince William National Forest

Scotts Run Regional Park

Take a Scotts Run loop hike through the woods and along the Potomac Heritage Trail. You'll visit one of the prettiest waterfalls near Washington DC and enjoy beautiful Potomac River views. If you're short on time, you can head straight to the waterfall on a sometimes steep trail.

Find more beautiful trails in our guide: 16 Favorite Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia.

Favorite Northern Virginia Parks for Viewing Fall Colors

Northern Virginia parks fill will autumn colors, perfect for a leisurely stroll or a family-friendly hike.

Neabsco Creek Boardwalk Hike in Northern Virginia
Neabsco Creek Boardwalk Hike in Northern Virginia

Great Falls Park

The trees surrounding the Potomac River in Great Falls Park are not the most vibrant, but they're hard to beat when you add in waterfall views. Take pictures from the overlooks, then hike at least part of the River Trail to enjoy spectacular views of Mather Gorge.

Huntley Meadows Park

An ADA-compliant, stroller-friendly boardwalk trail draws families to Huntley Meadows for a quiet walk over a marsh. Catch fall foliage reflections as you watch for birds and other wildlife in this lovely park.

Huntley Meadows is one of 20 Must-See Northern Virginia Hidden Gems Rich in Nature and History.

Washington and Old Dominion Trail Bike Trail

Fall weather is perfect for biking, whether you prefer paved or dirt trails. Many sections of the paved W&OD Bike Trail are lined with trees that get nice Autumn color. Or bike the parallel Bridle Trail for more wooded views. Woodland sections of the Fairfax Cross County Trail are a good option for off-road biking.

Fall foliage on the W & OD Bridle Trail in Autumn
W & OD Bridle Trail in Reston
Enjoy fall foliage by bike: 15 Northern Virginia Bike Trails for Paved / Mountain Biking Near DC.

Meadowlark Gardens Regional Park

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens draws visitors throughout the year, as the plants and trees change with the seasons. You'll find bursts of autumn color around the lake and trails in the fall. Return in spring to enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms. And don't miss the annual Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights during the holiday season.

Neabsco Creek Boardwalk

One of the prettiest new trails in Prince William County is a great place to walk through a wetland in the fall. The Neabsco Creek Boardwalk is a wheelchair accessible, stroller, and dog-friendly 3/4-mile trail with nice Autumn views.

Find more easy walks in our guide 6 Beautiful Boardwalk Hikes in Northern Virginia.

George Washington's Mount Vernon

A day trip to George Washington's Mount Vernon is fun year-round. In Autumn, you'll see pretty fall colors in the trees surrounding the President's beautiful estate. Fall colors are also pretty along the Potomac River and in the woods near the Round Barn.

Mount Vernon photo credit Charlotte Geary
Mount Vernon, photo credit: Charlotte Geary

Sky Meadows State Park

A loop hike on the Appalachian and Piedmont Overlook Trails is a great way to enjoy beautiful views of fall foliage across the Virginia Piedmont. Visit Sky Meadows State Park on an October weekend to enjoy a pumpkin patch and family-friendly events.

Mason Neck State Park

Fall colors often emerge first near water at low elevations. Visit Mason Neck State Park early in the foliage season for pretty colors along the Bay View and marsh trails. History buffs should consider a stop at Gunston Hall for a tour of the house and pretty colors on the grounds.

Fall foliage lines the Bay View Trail boardwalk at Mason Neck State Park in Northern Virginia
Bay View Trail, Mason Neck State Park

Foliage Mountain Views in the Washington DC Region

It's hard to beat autumn views from a mountain top. Fortunately, residents and visitors to the Washington DC region can find spectacular foliage views nearby. These National Parks, National Forests, and scenic mountain drives offer fabulous mountain top Autumn views.

Mid-October foliage in Shenandoah National Park
Mid-October Shenandoah foliage

Big Schloss Hike

One of the most outstanding fall foliage views straddles the Virginia and West Virginia border. The trail to Big Schloss summit is very steep and rocky for almost a mile. The payoff for your climb is a long ridge and an open, rocky summit with incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.

Big Schloss Summit
Big Schloss Summit

Mary's Rock Hike

Within Shenandoah National Park is another of our favorite fall view hikes. Our preferred Mary's Rock hike follows the Appalachian Trail from Jewell Hollow Overlook. This route includes two awesome viewpoints, on a 6.5-mile out-and-back trek.

Stony Man Trails

Stony Man Summit offers three great options for an easier fall foliage hike with gorgeous views. Climb the short, steep trail to Little Stony Man Overlook, hike the longer but easier trail to Stony Man summit, or combine both in a loop hike. Find maps, photos, and trail descriptions in Stony Man Trail Hikes to Beautiful Shenandoah Views.

Little Stony Man Shenandoah NP
Little Stony Man looking north

Shenandoah National Park Overlooks

You don't have to hike to enjoy gorgeous views in the Shenandoah mountains. A drive along scenic Skyline Drive, with stops at favorite overlooks and the Byrd Visitor Center, is a wonderful way to enjoy fall colors in Shenandoah National Park.

Skyline Drive Marys Rock Tunnel Shenandoah NP
Skyline Drive Tunnel, Shenandoah NP

Our Shenandoah Central District day trip planner includes more hikes, the best overlooks, and things to do in the park's most scenic section.

Painters capture fall foliage at the Pinnacles Overlook in Shenandoah National Park Virginia.
Fall foliage at Pinnacles Overlook, Shenandoah NP

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain rises above the surrounding Maryland fields, delivering pretty views by car or on foot. Drive to the East View Parking area for a picnic with a view. More expansive summit views are a short but steep hike from one of two upper parking areas.

Combine your Sugarloaf visit with a scenic drive along the Virginia/Maryland border.

Fall Foliage Peak Season Viewing Tips

When peak Virginia fall foliage arrives, you can find nice stretches of color in almost any heavily treed area. Large populations of oak, ash, beech, and hickory trees mean golden and russet hues often dominate the view. However, you'll find splashes of bright red maples and dogwoods throughout the area.

Brilliant fall foliage in Reston Virginia
Brilliant fall foliage in Reston Virginia

The best fall colors result from cool sunny days and cool nights with some, but not too much, rain. Too much heat or a very dry season, like in 2016, makes leaves brittle and dulls the color.

Here are some online tools for tracking foliage progress in Virginia and surrounding areas. Many of the sites start posting foliage forecasts in late September.

Find more Northern Virginia fall fun in these related articles:

Wherever your fall foliage outings take you we wish you crisp days, sunny skies, and beautiful autumn colors.

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Virginia Travel. Fall Foliage. Find the best places to see Northern Virginia fall foliage, for locals and visitors seeking beautiful fall colors and fun outings near Washington DC.

This article was published in 2017 and updated in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

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