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Alternative autumn

Forget the same old hayrides and haunted houses. Rafting trips to see the colors, concierge camping and go-karting amp up the adrenaline this autumn.

One more thing that drew Dia to Little Bennett: pumps with running water and a bathhouse with hot showers.

"We have our standards," Dia says with a laugh.

-- Amy Orndorff

Little Bennett Campground, 23705 Frederick Rd., Clarksburg. 301-528-3430. Tent site rental fee: $21 for Montgomery and Prince George's County residents, $25 nonresidents. Camper Ready per night (two-night minimum): additional $25 for Montgomery and Prince George's County residents, $30 nonresidents. Make Camper Ready reservations at least a week in advance.

The old: Taking a drive to see the fall colors

The new: Taking a dip to see the fall colors

With all due respect to Skyline Drive, isn't admiring the changing leaves through the window of a car a bit like going to an expensive breakfast buffet and having Corn Flakes? What about the sounds and smells? The cool autumn air on your face?

Try getting off the asphalt and onto the rivers near Harpers Ferry, where you can fawn over the foliage while you raft along the Potomac or the Shenandoah.

"We encourage people to get on the rivers for a new look at the fall colors," says Lee Baihly, who has been putting people on the water as owner of River & Trail Outfitters for 38 years.

River & Trail offers 2-to-4 1/2 -hour foliage tours through the first week in November, though the colors usually peak by mid-October.

BTI Whitewater -- more fondly known as Butts Tubing -- also tours into November. Rafters float seven miles in three to four hours on either waterway.

"A lot of people like to float right by Harpers Ferry, so we'll do the Potomac, which also comes by the C&O Canal," manager Isaac Kerns says, "but we probably see more eagles on the 'Doah."

BTI's rafts hold six, plus a professional whitewater guide. Tours end with an ATV ride to the top of nearby Hernia Hill, which offers spectacular views of the entire river valley's colors and surely beats the view from behind the steering wheel.

-- Alex Baldinger

River & Trail Outfitters, 604 Valley Rd., Knoxville, Md. (888-446-7529, Rafting trips start at $55; $49 for children. Including wetsuits and splash tops. Must be 5 years old or 50 pounds. BTI Whitewater, 10985 Harpers Ferry Rd., Purcellville. (877-723-8284, $55 per adult; $50 for children. Including wetsuits and splash tops. Must be 5 years old or 50 pounds.

The old: Winery-hopping

The new: Oktoberfest-ing

Fall wine tours are simply the "adult" version of college bar crawls. Get in a party bus and traipse around Northern Virginia, getting tipsy on sub-par plonk. Woo!

There's no "oh, look how sophisticated we are" pretense at a good old-fashioned Oktoberfest. And Biergarten Haus is tapping rare Wurzburger and Weisenhoe beers for its month-long celebrations. Jawohl! But we won't be swirling or sniffing or using faux-sommelier adjectives at this party. We'll be grabbing another on our way to dance to the oompah bands, which will perform on the patio every weekend.

That's not to say Oktoberfest is unlike a bar crawl -- it's just better, and you don't need a chauffeur to ferry you between destinations. At the Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest, there are 60 to 70 beers to sample from dozens of local and international breweries in the streets of Shirlington. Pick a couple of breweries, go to their tents, enjoy. No scorecard, just refreshment. (And more Bavarian music!)

No one will ever confuse the Maryland Brewer's Oktoberfest with a stuffy wine festival. Besides tasting the Free State's finest beers, there's a Best Beer Belly contest, the crowning of Miss Oktoberfest and a wife-carrying race, where the grand prize is your wife's weight in beer. Her weight. In beer.

But hey, if you'd rather sip chardonnay and listen to a jazz band while watching the leaves turn, we totally understand.

-- Fritz Hahn

Biergarten Haus Oktoberfest is Sept. 18-Oct. 31. 1355 H St. NE. 202-388-4085. Live music by German bands and dancers with no cover charge on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest is noon-7 p.m. Oct. 2. The Village at Shirlington, 4001 Campbell Ave., Arlington. $25; free for non-drinkers.

Maryland Brewer's Oktoberfest is noon-6 p.m. Oct. 9. Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Rd., Timonium. $20; $35 VIP (allows more beer and early entry); $15 designated driver.

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