- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”

John Donne, “Elegy IX: The Autumnal” (1633)

For those who find delight in the cooler breeze and the shorter day, the Washington region is a wonderful place to be in fall. The District and its suburbs remain an area of parks and scenic drives that shine with brilliance during this crisp season. In the coming weeks, parks, roadways and hillsides will become a canvas shimmering with jewel tones of scarlet, gold and crimson.

Peak viewing season for the fall foliage will be mid- to late October, much as it is every year, according to Kevin Tunison, a botanist at the U.S. National Arboretum. “The cool nights are the main accelerator for the change in color, and areas to our west have begun to see changes, and that is usually a good sign,” he said.

So only a few days remain to plan your viewing schedule. Here are some of the best spots to see nature as it sheds another season’s worth of covering.

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In the District, the National Arboretum (3501 New York Ave. NE, 202/245-2726) provides one of the best collections of trees anywhere in the area, and during peak season displays a kaleidoscope of autumn colors. The 444-acre park provides plenty of paths and nearly 10 miles of roads, making for fine viewing opportunities.

Rock Creek Park (5000 Glover Road NW, 202/895-6070) is another great destination for nature watchers. Accessible by foot, bike or car, the park has many picnic tables for lunch or a quick break. Stop by the Rock Creek Nature Center (5200 Glover Road NW) for the latest information.

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South of the District, just across the Potomac River, lies George Washington Parkway, which runs from Mount Vernon to I-495. A drive on the highway provides plenty of drive-by sights, but if you have the time, there are numerous places to stop for a closer look.

Features along the way include Old Town Alexandria, the Netherlands Carillon and the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove. Another must-stop is Theodore Roosevelt Island. Right off the GW Parkway, the 88-acre island is full of nature trails and is surprisingly spacious, given its close proximity to the city.

Close to the busy U.S. 1 commercial area is another secluded oasis of autumn splendor. Huntley Meadows Park (3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria, 703/768-2525), offers hues of red and purple and is also known for bird and wildlife watching.

In the Great Falls area of Virginia, there are several prime viewing spots and hiking trails, including Scotts Run Nature Preserve (7400 Georgetown Pike, McLean, 703/246-5700) and River Bend Park (8700 Potomac Hill St., Great Falls, 703/324-2000). In nearby Arlington, Bluemont Park (601 N. Manchester St., 703/228-4747) and Glen Carlin Park (301 S. Harrison St., 703/228-4747) offer the chance to see vibrant reds and yellows without having to travel far from the District.

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Maryland has two fine national parks for leaf-peeping. Greenbelt National Park (Greenbelt Road at Kenilworth Avenue and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Greenbelt, 301/344-3948) has nature trails, picnic areas and a campsite. The C&O; Canal National Historical Park (301/739-4200) has the same amenities as Greenbelt, plus bicycle and boat rentals and mule-drawn canal rides.

Prince George’s County parks have something for everyone. Louise F. Cosca Regional Park (Thrift Road, Clinton, 301/868-1397) and Robert M. Watkins Regional Park (Watkins Park Drive, Largo, 301/249-6900) are both great places for the family. Patuxent River Park (16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, 301/627-6074) is perfect for those looking for outdoor adventure without the bells and whistles.

Montgomery County has several nature centers that offer information on the scenery. For great viewing sites, check out Maydale Nature Center (1726 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring, 301/384-9447) and Brookside Nature Center (Wheaton Regional Park, 1400 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, 301/946-9071).

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Outside the metropolitan area, the opportunities to view nature in all its glory only grow the farther you drive. Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (703/999-2229) is the most popular destination during the fall, but know that it may resemble a big-city rush hour during peak weekends in October.

Karen Beck-Herzog, spokeswoman for the park, offers these tips to avoid the headaches of traffic: “Try coming during the week, when others are at work and the traffic is light. If you can’t afford to take a day off, try the southern section of Skyline Drive, between Swift Run Gap and Waynesboro,” she says.

Hurricane damage closed some parts of Skyline Drive, but all sections are scheduled to be open by tomorrow. Be sure to call ahead and check.

For a history lesson to go along with your leaf viewing, take Route 20 to Charlottesville and visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (434/984-9800). This winding route also takes you through Virginia wine country, and what could be better then sipping a glass of wine while delighting yourself with the sights of nature?

Thomas Walter

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