Seeing Fall Foliage Close to Home

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 16, 2009

There's nothing like a crisp fall day to draw people outside in search of bright foliage. Add a blue sky and white, fluffy clouds and the desire is almost irresistible. However, if the idea of making a long, traffic-filled trek to Skyline Drive dampens your enthusiasm, head to one of the many head-turning settings nearby.

Pinpointing peak times for fall foliage is a gamble. Some years the show is truly remarkable in others it's a muted disappointment.

It takes the proper balance of adequate precipitation followed by fall's sunny days and long, cool nights for deciduous trees to shed summer's coat of chlorophyll and reveal their best true colors: the vibrant hues of orange, red and yellow we look forward to.

Experts say this is shaping up to be a good year locally, so shoo the kids away from the TV, grab the camera and the dog, and pull out the bikes, kayaks or hiking boots.

Whether you have an hour or a day, you may be surprised at the away-from-it-all environments available close to home.


U.S. National Arboretum

3501 New York Ave. NE.

Grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

202-245-2726. Free.

This 446-acre botanical research and educational center provides an unexpectedly quiet urban oasis for the senses. Nine miles of meandering paved roads with a 15-mph speed limit and numerous parking areas set the stage for several hours of leisurely exploration. You'll quickly be enticed out of the car to get a closer look. The National Capitol Columns knoll offers a panoramic view; the Asian collection slopes to the shore of the Anacostia River; Fern Valley shows off the diversity of eastern woodlands.

Highlights: Soothe the spirit by contemplating the artistry involved in forming miniature trees -- Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing, which tout fall foliage just like that of their larger namesakes. The "Autumn Arts of Nature" exhibit (open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) through Nov. 29 will rotate these creations in and out of the exhibit in accordance with their peak colors, so plan on several visits to enjoy the full spectrum. The exhibit also includes kusamono (autumn grasses) and chrysanthemum stones (mineral formations that look like fossilized flowers).

Rock Creek Park

Numerous entrances throughout the city.

Open daily during daylight hours.

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