The colors of the season are best viewed, agree park rangers and naturalists, up close by bike, boat or foot.
Here are some things to do and places to be to see fall in its most flattering form.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Several clubs offer hiking trips to get you started on the right foot: On Saturday the CENTER HIKING CLUB will meet at Peoples Drug Store on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street NW at 9 for a hike along the C&O Canal from Seneca to Sycamore Landing in Maryland. The fee is $3. Call 554-5008. Also on Saturday, ride the C&O CANAL CLIPPER BARGE in the morning and hike the BILLY GOAT TRAIL in the afternoon with the Potomac Area Council. Fee: $1.75. Bring lunch money. For time and meeting place, call Parker Snowe, 783-4943. To hike the Rocky Mount / Beldor Ridge area of Shenandoah National Park, meet the CAPITAL HIKING CLUB at 1424 K Street NW at 8 on Saturday. Reservations must be made by 9:30 p.m. Friday. Call 460- 3064.
A HARVEST FESTIVAL on Saturday at Lafayette School will celebrate the season with pumpkins, apples, fresh cider and a treasure chest. It's free, 10 to 2, at Broad Branch Road and Northampton Street NW. Call 966-6263.
Park-service interpreters tell the history of the canal on The GEORGETOWN barge, Friday to Sunday from noon to 6:30. The barge leaves from Lock No.3 on the Canal between 30th and Thomas Jefferson streets. Tickets go on sale two hours in advance at the C&O Canal Park Service Office on the lower level of the Foundry Mall, 1055 Thomas Jefferson Place NW. No reservations are accepted. Adults $3.75, children and seniors $1.75. Call 472-4376.
The RIVER AND TRAIL OUTFITTERS offer fall color tours on the water. No experience is necessary and everything's provided: food, safety equipment, guides and dry-land orientation. The cost is $28 a person on weekends and holidays and $20 on weekdays. The trip starts on the Shenandoah River, stops at Harpers Ferry for lunch, then proceeds to Sandy Hook. Lee Baihly, owner, suggests that you dress warmly, preferably in wool because it insulates the body. Bring a change of clothes. Take I-270 to 340 west to Valley Road (last right before the Potomac River bridge). For reservations, call 301/834-9952.
SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN provides a bird's-eye comparison of fall foliage in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The Dickerson mountain, which got its name from its resemblence to sugar loaves used in colonial times, has a hikers' stairway to the top. To get to the mountain, take the Comus exit off I-270.
Take a fall color walk led by a park ranger on the Long Draft Trail in SENECA CREEK STATE PARK on Saturday at 2. Wear long pants and appropriate shoes. It's at 11950 Clopper Road in Gaithersburg and there'll be a 50-cent entrance fee. Call 924-2127.
An Oktoberfest at the BERRYWINE PLANTATIONS WINERY in Frederick this weekend will feature helicopter rides, broom-making, dulcimer-making, wool-spinning and blacksmithing demonstrations. It's free, Saturday, 10 to 6 and Sunday, noon to 6 at 13601 Glisans Mill Road. Winery tours including wine samples and cheese will also be available for those of legal drinking age; admission $2. Call 301/662-8687.
Close to home in Great Falls, the C&O CANAL CLIPPER BARGE will operate through Sunday. It runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, at 10:30, 1 and 3 with an additional run Sunday at 5. The trips last an hour and a half. Adults $3.25, children and seniors $1.75. Tickets may be purchased two hours in advance at Great Falls Tavern. No reservations are accepted. For private evening charters, call 299-2026.
Check out the birds that perch in the trees at the NATIONAL COLONIAL FARM on an early-morning bird walk, Sunday at 8. The farm is at 3400 Bryan Point Road in Accokeek, directly across the Potomac from Mount Vernon. Admission $1, under 12 free. Call 301/283-2113.
On Friday night from 7 to 8, WATKINS NATURE CENTER will feature a hike followed by a campfire. It's free at 301 Watkins Park Drive in Upper Marlboro. For reservations, call 301/249-6202. WASHINGTON WOMEN OUTDOORS offers a trail hike in the Catoctin Mountains in Thurmont on Saturday from 10 to 5 and a bicycle hike from 11 to 5 at the Covered Bridges in Frederick. For more information on both programs, call 942-8677.
Visit the quaint town of CAMBRIDGE and the BLACKWATER WILDLIFE REFUGE by bike this weekend with the Potomac Area Council. Meet at 1332 I Street NW Friday between 5 and 6 p.m. Cost: $33. For more information, call Parker Snowe, 783-4943. For those who want to get high, WASHINGTON WOMEN OUTDOORS has climbing outings at Carderock Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. For more information, call 942-8677.
The 21ST ANNUAL HORSEMASTERS 4-H 20-MILE JUDGED TRAIL RIDE will be held Sunday at Reverdy Farm in Doncaster. Registration, 8 a.m.; ride begins at 9:30. Prizes will be awarded. Fee: $12 per horse, family rates available. Take I-495 to the Waldorf Route 5 south exit, which becomes Route 301 south; follow to La Plata, to right on Route 6 for 15 miles, to right on Route 344, go one mile to trail ride sign and turn left to end of road. Call 301/932-6242 or 301/743-7620.
At CAMP WAREDACA near Olney, you can reserve a hay ride for your group for as little as $50. Wagons are pulled by tractors through 230 acres of fields and forest. The ride lasts 50 minutes, followed by a campfire. Call to make reservations, 301/924-4991. Take Georgia Avenue five miles north of Olney, turn left onto 650 and go one mile. At BERRYWINE STABLES in Southern Maryland, 20-foot wagons are pulled by a team of Clydesdale and Belgian horses. The wagons hold 45 to 50 people, and the one-hour ride takes you through the farm's 500 acres of hills and streams. A bonfire awaits your return. You provide the food, songs anddshenanigans. Horseback riding is also available. Call to make reservations, 301/782-7052 or 301/372-8914. Take I-495 to exit 7A (Branch Avenue) and go 12 miles to the stables.
Boating, fishing, riding and hiking are a few of the fall activities offered by FOUNTAINHEAD REGIONAL PARK in Fairfax County. Sunday at 2, there'll be a naturalist-led hike that follows the meandering curves of the park's stream. Bass, crappie, northern pike, bluegill and catfish can be found in the park's streams, and rowboats are rented at $5 a day. For $2 adults and $1 children under 12, take a pontoon boat cruise on Lake Occoquan on Sunday October 24 at 10, 1 and 3. For reservations, call 528-5406. Also on October 24, there'll be a naturalist-led bike hike along the WASHINGTON & OLD DOMINION TRAIL. Participants should meet at the W&OD train station in the town square of Herndon at 10. Bring a bag lunch. Both programs are free, for reservations, call 528- 5406. To get to Fountainhead Regional Park take I-95 south, exit at Lorton, right on Lorton Road to right on Furnace Road, right onto Ox Road (Route 123), left onto Hampton Road and the park entrance. For more information about park activities, call 528- 5406.
Pontoon boat cruises are also offered Saturdays and Sundays from noon to dark through November 14 at LAKE ACCOTINK PARK in Fairfax. For 50 cents a person, the boat takes a 20-minute cruise of the 60-acre lake. Call 569-3464. Take I-495 to exit 5E (Braddock Road), go one quarter of a mile to right on Heming Avenue, to park entrance on right.
Horse-Drawn hayrides are held every evening at 7 and 8:30, with rides on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2, 3:30 and 5. The Belgian horses pull a wagon through the winding roads and woods of MEADOW ACRES FARM in Centreville. The hour-and-a-half ride costs $5 for adults and $3 for children under 13. For reservations or to set up a special charter, call Jack Harmon, 703/327- 6731.
Join naturalist Norman Orr in an early-morning walk to watch for bird life along the ACCOTINK STREAM VALLEY on Saturday from 8 to 9:30. It's free at 3400 Prosperity Avenue in Fairfax. Call 941-5009. If you'd rather paddle down Lake Accotink, canoes may be rented at Lake Accotink Park, 5660 Heming Avenue in Springfield from 7 to 8 a.m. Rental fee: $2.50 per hour, or launch your own for $2. To reserve a canoe, call 451-9588.
Stretch your legs during an off-the-trail hike along Big Rocky Run at ELLANOR C. LAWRENCE PARK on Saturday from 10 to 11:30. The park is located in Centreville at 5040 Walney Road and may be reached by taking Beltway exit 9W (Route 66) for 10 miles to Sully Road (Route 28), turn right on Walney Road to the park entrance on the right. Call 703/631-0013.
"HARVEST DAYS -- OUR MUSICAL HERITAGE" celebration is Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5. Early jazz, southern blues, Irish, Scottish and string-band sounds are some of the different styles of music to listen and dance to. Admission is $3 adults, $1 children under 13 at Sully Plantation in Chantilly. Take Beltway exit 8W (Route 50) to a right on Sully Road (Route 28) to the park entrance on the right. Call 703/437-1794.
The 4-H Educational Center will hold its FALL FOLIAGE PICNIC on Sunday, from 1 to 4 at the Northern Virginia 4-H Center near Front Royal. There'll be tours of the center, sports activities and live entertainment. Each family should bring a large dish to share for this potluck picnic. Free. Take I-66 west to the first Front Royal exit (Route 55). Follow to Route 522 toward Sperryville. Turn right at Route 604 follow to the center. Call 703/691-3400.
The Fairfax County SENIOR ADULT HIKING CLUB will conduct a free hike at Lake Accotink Park for those 50 years and older on Tuesday at 10. Free. Call 691-2266, Monday to Friday 8 to 4:30.
The Northern Virginia Park Authority will conduct a naturalist-led walk through BULL RUN REGIONAL PARK in Centreville on Sunday at 2. Free. Call 703/528-5406.