An estimated 99 million Americans walk for pleasure, and 7 million of them even say walking is their favorite form of recreation.

Citing those government figures, a group of nine Washington-area women has launched a new national magazine, WalkWays, , a quarterly they hope to expand into a walker's clearinghouse for information.

They also have formed Walk Inc., the magazine's parent company, to sponsor walking tours. They already have begun organizing day walks in the Washington area and are planning to offer walking tours elsewhere in the United States and abroad in the near future.

"We're responding to a terrific upsurge in interest in walking," says Joan Shorey, the magazine's travel editor, who formerly worked on Capitol Hill on energy and environmental issues. "We're on the crest of a well-deserved wave of widespread enthusiasm."

The magazine's staff, including lawyers and businesswomen who divide their time between the new publication and other jobs, are all devoted walkers. Shorey frequently walks the three miles from her Cleveland Park home to the magazine's downtown office at 733 15th St. NW.

Recreation and travel are a primary focus of the quarterly, but the winter issue, due out in January, will take a look at the unusual subject of "business walks." Some business travelers, it seems, are beginning to take walks together rather than gathering in a smoke-filled conference room or meeting for lunch.

"Our whole concept," says Shorey, "is to help expand the whole walking idea."

WalkWays originated in the spring of 1983, and last August it acquired Walking Journal, another national publication. The fall issue of WalkWays (the most current one) was the first to follow the merger.

The magazine sees its market, says publisher Louise E. Sagalyn, as "the millions of upscale, affluent men and women 35 years and older whom federal government surveys show prefer walking over virtually every other recreational activity." Sagalyn also heads Country Living and the Bread Oven at Country Living, a combined gift shop and restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue NW in Spring Valley.

Among WalkWays' fall features are stories on Christmas walks in Rome, taking in the lovely Piazza Navona (no traffic) and the Vatican; on "good works" in Portland, Ore., to improve the lot of city pedestrians; and on selected walks through Washington streets.

Regular features include "What's Afoot," an international calendar of walking events, listing for this fall city walking tours in Richmond, Charleston, S.C., and Minneapolis, among others; the "Reading Walker Tours," a guide to new walking books; and "Health and Fitness," which in the latest issue reports on "Walking Without Tiring."

Each issue also contains a pull-out section called "A Step Up," a catalog of clothing and equipment for walks and longer hikes.

Coming in January are articles on "Walking to Improve Your Heart" and adventure walks in Spain and along the U.S. West Coast.

A subcription to the quarterly sells for $10 a year, and a sample copy can be purchased for $1.50. Contact: WalkWays, 733 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, 737-9555. Single copies sold also at Common Concerns, 1347 Connecticut Ave. NW, and Travel Books Unlimited, 4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda.

NIGHT OWL: Looking for a comparatively inexpensive room for a night in New York City? Or is the airport fogged in? Consider Amtrak's Executive Sleeper service: a roomette for one or a bedroom for two on Amtrak's Night Owltrain parked for the evening in Pennsylvania Station.

Ticket holders can board the train beginning at 9:30 p.m. (or as late as they please), tuck themselves into bed and awake the next morning already on their way to Washington. No morning rush to check out of a hotel and catch a taxi.

Similar service used to be offered between New York and Washington prior to 1970, but this is Amtrak's first venture. "We feel its time has come again," says Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black. The new service was inaugurated on Sunday, Oct. 28.

The Night Owl departs New York daily at 3:52 a.m. and arrives at the New Carrollton Station at 8:09 a.m. and Washington's Union Station at 8:22 a.m., getting you here in time for a full day at work.

New York-bound travelers from Washington who want to get an early start can board the Night Owl at Union Station at 9:30 p.m. The train north departs an hour later at 10:30 p.m., arriving in New York at 2:44 a.m. But passengers may remain in their rooms until 7:15 a.m.

The cost (in either direction) of a single roomette, with toilet and sink, is an additional $40 above the one-way coach fare of $37, or $77 total for bed and transportation. A two-berth bedroom is $68, plus (for a couple) one fare at $37 and the other at $18.50, or $123.50 total.

The Night Owl price also includes a Continental breakfast of coffee, juice and a Danish.

Currently there are 10 roomettes and 6 bedrooms available on each train.

* LEXINGTON CHRISTMAS: Lovely Lexington, Va., the historic Shenandoah Valley community where Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson once lived and are buried, is celebrating a "Holiday in Lexington" the weekend of Dec. 7-9.

Among the main events:

* Christmas House Tour: A walking tour of four homes of old Lexington, sponsored by the Historic Lexington Foundation, followed by a party at the Stonewall Jackson House. Noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8.

* "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever": A play adapted from a short novel about "a Christmas pageant that runs amok because of mischievous children." 8 p.m., Saturday, Henry Street Playhouse.

* "Hansel and Gretel": The Humperdink Opera, performed by the Ensemble Company of the Cincinnati Opera. 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 9, Lexington High School.

Plus: A Friday night Christmas parade and, throughout the weekend, the Old Main Street Christmas Arts and Crafts Show.

For more information: Historic Lexington Visitors Center, 107 East Washington St., Lexington, Va. 24450, (703) 463-3777.

* POLYNESIAN PEDALING: American cycling tours have invaded even French Polynesia, where once one dreamed of going only to idle on a beach.

Off the Deep End Travels, a Gainesville, Fla. cycling tour organizer, has scheduled a two-week visit to three French Polynesian islands, March 2-17. It's the firm's first visit to the Pacific after two years of operating bicycle trips through Europe.

The itinerary includes four days on Moorea, four on Tahiti and three on Huahine, returning again to Tahiti. Participants will stay in one hotel on each island, taking day trips by bicycle about half of the days. On Huahine, plenty of beach time is planned since the island has only 11 miles of road.

Firm co-owner Tom Sheehan, who with his partner will lead the tour, rates the cycling as "easy." The longest ride is an optional 71-mile loop of Tahiti, most days averaging 15 to 30 miles.

The group is limited to 20 persons with a minimum age of 18 unless accompanied by an adult. The land cost is $1,390 per person (double occupancy), which includes first-class lodging, breakfast and lunch, transportation by boat between islands and a 15-speed bicycle (to keep). Bring your own bike: $1,175. Round-trip air fare from Los Angeles, approximately $730.

For more information: Off the Deep End Travels, P.O. Box 1196, Gainesville, Fla. 32602, (904) 373-6833.

HISTORIC HOTELS (UPDATE): A central reservation number has just been established for the 15 hotels of the Association of Historic Hotels of the Rocky Mountain West.

The hotels are located in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and South Dakota. For information or reservations: (800) 626-4886.