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Finding Fall Farther Afield

By Larry Fox
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 4, 1996

If seeing trees in their autumn dress of golds, yellows and reds means more to you than just craning your neck as you drive through Rock Creek Park, you'll want to leave Washington behind. The following mountain regions and other highland parks less than four hours' drive from the Beltway offer visitors the opportunity to explore the hills at the peak of the fall colors.

Maryland

Catoctin Mountain
This central Maryland region is a suburbanites' wilderness: easily accessible forests, well-marked and maintained hiking trails, and enough nature activities to make you want to subscribe to the Discovery Channel. Two thickly forested parks -- the 5,770-acre Catoctin Mountain Park and the 4,950-acre Cunningham Falls State Park -- are north and south of Route 77 just west of Thurmont, and have more than a dozen maintained hiking trails and six campgrounds or lodging areas. For more information about park facilities and activities, call 301/271-7574 for Cunningham Falls State Park and 301/663-9388 for Catoctin Mountain Park.

Thurmont's Catoctin Colorfest, Oct. 12 and 13 from 10 to 5, features 300 crafts vendors, music, dancing, food and other activities. Signs along U.S. 15 will direct you to parking areas. Admission is free, but parking is $2 per person (or $5 per carload; 11 and younger free). Call 301/271-4432.

Garrett County
Maryland's westernmost county is a mountain region that attracts the more experienced wilderness adventurer. The terrain is more rugged than central Maryland, the forests denser and larger, the rivers faster and colder. The hiking trails range from the marked-by-the-ranger kind to a find-your-own-way version.

Visitors are lured by more than 70,000 acres of public lands, magnificent forests and wild rivers. There are six state parks -- Big Run, Casselman, Deep Creek Lake, Herrington Manor, New Germany and Swallow Falls -- and three state forests -- Garrett, Savage River and Potomac. If exploring all that landscape seems a bit intimidating, well, the view from beside Deep Creek Lake can be pretty spectacular.

Garrett County's annual Autumn Glory Festival is Oct. 10-13 in Oakland, with banjo and fiddle contests, two parades, arts and crafts and other activities. Call 301/334-1948 for lodging, tourist or festival information.

Virginia

Shenandoah National Park
To call it nature's parking lot is a bit harsh, but there are times during fall foliage time that Skyline Drive begins to resemble a big-city rush hour. Over the next two weeks, the park will attract more than 100,000 visitors. But there are ways to avoid the rush. Go in the middle of the week, when traffic is lighter. If that isn't an option, drive south on U.S. 29 to Charlottesville, Va., turn west on U.S. 250 to Rockfish Gap, and then enter the park and take Skyline Drive north. You'll be going against the traffic. Front Royal holds a Festival of Leaves at Chester and Main streets on Oct. 12 from 9 to 5 and Oct. 13 from 10 to 5. The festival features music, a parade, crafts, food and entertainment. Admission is free; call 540/636-1446.

Park admission is $5 per car ($3 per pedestrian, motorcyclist or bicyclist). Call 540/999-3500; for lodging, call 800/999-4714.

Mountain Roads
For a one-day tour of the countryside, try driving Route 7 west from the Beltway to Winchester, Va., and back. You can expand this trip by taking U.S. 11 south from Winchester through the Shenandoah Valley (16) to either Strasburg, Va. (and Route 55 east and back), or New Market, Va. (and back by Route 211 east and U.S. 29 north to I-66).

Route 50 west offers not only some stunning views of autumn colors but also the pleasure of browsing through the shops in Middleburg, the capital of Loudoun County's horse country.

On Oct. 19 from 10 to 5 there's a Harvest Festival in tiny Aldie, Va. Attractions include more than 200 artisans, Civil War reenactments, food and music. Admission is free; call 703/327-6742.

In Maryland, one of my favorite fall destinations is Sugarloaf Mountain (17). Take I-270 north to Exit 22/Comus, drive southwest on Route 109 and then turn right on Route 95 and continue to the park entrance. The summit offers striking views of the foliage and the Maryland countryside.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post

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