We aren’t just being wimps — D.C. summers really are the worst. That’s according to Bruce M. Beehler, right, a D.C.-based naturalist who has camped in tropical rainforests from Papua New Guinea to Ivory Coast. “D.C. summers are substantially worse than New Guinea’s worst days,” Beehler says. Unlike at the equator, our summer days are very long, which gives the sun plenty of time to bring the air to a rolling boil, he adds. And yet, it would be a shame to stay indoors, says Beehler, the author of “Natural Encounters: Biking, Hiking, and Birding Through the Seasons,” which he’ll discuss at Politics and Prose on Sunday. As he describes in the new book, summer is a great time to explore the Mid-Atlantic. You just have to head for the hills — specifically, the Appalachian Mountains. In these higher altitudes, temperatures are more comfortable and natural wonders abound: Wildflowers reach to the sky, butterflies dance on the breeze and whiny fledglings chase their parents around, begging for snacks — “just like human teenagers,” Beehler says. These three gorgeous spots, profiled in Beehler’s book, are some of his favorite summer destinations, and they’re all just a few hours’ drive from D.C.
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Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia
On the highest plateau east of the Mississippi, midsummer temperatures start in the 50s and rarely reach 80 — and it often feels colder, thanks to steady winds. “You’ll want to pack a parka,” Beehler says. Hiking this area of Monongahela National Forest can be challenging, but you’re rewarded with views that go on forever and a picturesque, austere landscape of bare rock dotted with stunted conifers that have been permanently tilted by the wind. “You can look down into the ridges and see the flowering plants — the laurels and the rhododendrons, which are mixed in with spruce and balsam firs,” he says. “It’s pretty darn nice.”
Canaan Valley in West Virginia
A popular ski area, this high Appalachian valley is even more gorgeous in the summer, Beehler says. “It’s just an endless carpet of green,” he says. Plus, temperatures rarely rise above the mid-70s, even in July. Unlike rugged Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley is easy to hike, because it’s relatively flat and protected from the wind. “They have a national wildlife refuge, and the birds that are seen around the woods there are the same birds you hear in northern New England,” which has a comparable climate this time of year. In midsummer, you’ll also see enormous deer and perhaps a black bear or two. “But if you really want to see bears, you have to go in early June, when the mama bears have kicked the yearlings out, and they are sort of wandering around looking for new territory.”
High in the Allegheny Mountains, this charming college town enjoys average midsummer temperatures ranging from about 60 to 80 degrees. “It’s a great little town with some good restaurants — and great hiking and bird-watching nearby,” Beehler says. One of his favorite spots is Dan’s Rock. “It’s a spectacular vista. You can see all these Appalachian mountain ridges to the east, 10 or 12 of them.” The area around Frostburg is also a great place to spot two of Maryland’s rarest birds: the golden-winged warbler and Henslow’s sparrow, both of which nest in grasslands that have sprouted on former mountaintop strip mines. “If you get up really early in the morning, the special thing to be looking for is a gray fox,” Beehler says. “It’s a glorious creature.”