The Washington area boasts many excellent biking trails, with a range of settings and terrain. There are flat, paved trails for novices; hilly paths for more experienced -- and stronger -- riders; and rugged, off-road trails for adrenaline junkies. For those who like to pedal in packs, there are several area groups that head out to see autumn's splendor.
Bike the Sites , a local outfitter that rents bikes and leads bike tours of the area, offers fall foliage excursions along the C&O Canal for up to 15 riders ages 9 and older. The three-hour trip starts at 2 Sunday afternoons through October and costs $30 for adults, $5 less for kids and those who bring their own bikes. If you'd rather head out on your own, mountain bikes rent for $7 an hour, tandems for $10. The rental hours are daily from 9 to 6. Reservations can be made at www.bikethesites.com, by calling 202-842-2453, or by visiting the ticket office at the Old Post Office Pavilion (1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW).
(Illustration by Christiane Beauregard - For The Washington Post)
If you have a mountain bike or a hybrid, consider the nature tour at Patuxent River Park on Oct. 16 from 10 to 1. A staff naturalist will guide bikers (adults and children 8 and older) along the park's trails, pointing out fall's effect on the park's forested areas and wetlands. (16000 Croom Airport Rd., Upper Marlboro. $3, prepayment required at time of reservation. 301-627-6074.)
Opportunities for self-guided trips are abundant in the area -- it takes little more than a bike and a sense of adventure to see the leaves on two wheels. For beginners, Rock Creek Park is a great place to tour without undue exertion. It can get crowded on the weekends, but the scenery is terrific. On a recent early evening ride on the National Zoo trail, I screeched to a halt when I saw a blue heron fishing in the creek for its supper. Just off the path, two deer placidly grazed. And I was only minutes from busy Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street NW.
Rock Creek Park's Laura Illige recommends Ross Drive for fall color, noting that its hills make it a bit less crowded than the multi-use hike-bike trail that winds along the creek. On weekdays, be alert while riding, because the bike trails include stretches of road and cross some busy streets. On weekends, though, Beach Drive is closed to traffic. But don't be a menace: Biking on any of the unpaved footpaths is strictly prohibited.
For a more challenging ride, serious mountain bikers swear by the Schaeffer Farm Trail Area, in Montgomery County's Seneca Creek State Park. The trails were designed specifically for bikers, though hikers also use them. The single-track dirt routes offer alternating vistas of hardwood forests and fields. There are trails for all ability levels, though expect some spills if you're a real newbie. Pick up a trail map at the visitors center. (The park is open daily from 8 to sunset. 11950 Clopper Rd., Gaithersburg. Free. 301-924-2127.)
Another top spot is Wakefield Park in Annandale, which has five miles of single-track gravel trails. Though there are some challenging hills for mountain bikers, those who wish to test their BMX mettle can try the courses at Wakefield's new skate park. (Open 3 to 10 Monday through Friday, noon to 9 Saturday and 9 to 9 Sunday. 8100 Braddock Rd., Annandale. Free. 703-321-7080.) Across Braddock Road, Lake Accotink Park also has gravel and asphalt bike trails that wind along the banks of several streams. (7500 Accotink Park Rd., Springfield. Free. 703-569-3464.)
Christina Talcott is a member of the Weekend staff.
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Maryland -- 800-532-8371.
Virginia (Shenandoah Valley) -- 800-434-5323.