Washington, D.C., is a city of trees, with some 300 tree species spread out in its vicinity. Each fall, the parade of foliage colors here wows visitors and residents alike. Read on for recommendations for ideal places to enjoy D.C.‘s most brilliant hues—crunch leaves under your feet, or pose underneath them, alongside mighty trunks—plus, tips on cozy nearby restaurants where you can easily refuel.
America’s first president, George Washington, was known for his love of nature, and fittingly, his estate overlooking the Potomac River in Virginia (just 20 minutes from downtown D.C.) is one of the best spots to gaze upon the season’s changing color scheme. From here, visitors can behold a panoramic riverbank view, lined with turning trees that stretch for miles.
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The longest urban park in America (stretching some 1700 acres), this national park comes equipped with a planetarium and dedicated nature center. It’s also home to a wide variety of trees and bushes, lush flora that provides an ideal shelter for native inhabitants like deer, squirrel, hawks, and fox.
Where to Eat: Open City in Woodley Park is a welcoming diner serving breakfast anytime, as well as burgers and beers. It’s set just steps away from the entrance to Rock Creek Park’s many trails and the National Zoo.
3. C&O Canal
Ride a bike or set out for a stroll along the wide, flat towpath on this historic canal. Starting from Georgetown, make your way north toward Great Falls Park, situated 14 miles from downtown, to see a roaring tumble of rocks and water cascading between 50-foot cliffs.
Where to Eat: Slip into one of Chef Richard Sandoval’s rustic wooden tables at El Centro Georgetown to sample their fiery "Volcano Taco" or creamy guacamole, prepared table side.
Apart from those famous cherry trees, the Mall is flanked by ancient elms and towering oaks. They look especially colorful against the majestic white marble monuments.
Where to Eat: Replenish yourself with a hot bowl of ramen noodle soup at the new Daikaya in Penn Quarter, located three blocks from the National Gallery of Art‘s sculpture park. Upstairs at Daikaya, the menu features izakaya, or small plates of Japanese comfort food.
Stately trees stand upon rolling hills at this sprawling cemetery, reserved for the American military. Walk the path from the eternal flame marking John F. Kennedy’s grave site (November 4 will mark 50 years since his assassination) to the top of the hill, for a sweeping view of downtown Washington across the Potomac River.
This hidden gem harbors acres of woods, with paths winding through the thick forest. Walk, bike, or ride the tram through the on-site gardens, which feature striking collections of Asian, boxwood, and Azalea bushes. Don’t miss the Grove of State Trees, with 50 specimens representing each state’s iconic tree.
Where to Eat: Visit the nearby Atlas District, touting unique restaurants for every taste. The quirky Dr. Granville Moore’s is a Belgian-influenced pub that was once the setting for a physician’s office, or, try Liberty Tree for New England seafood and gourmet pizza.
The long trails adjacent to Spout Run in Arlington take you deep into a ravine and eventually to the banks of the Potomac River. On your hike, you’re likely to encounter a wide variety of wildlife. Visit the nature center for a trail map and to meet the roving naturalists who offer guided walks, kayak tours, and live animal encounter programs.
Where to Eat: Visit Lebanese Taverna’s Market Café to pick up the makings of a picnic, or dine in on their Middle Eastern delicacies.
Getting Around Town
Head out on the hunt for fall foliage on two wheels—you’ll find Big Wheel Bikes, a bike rental shop on M Street in Georgetown, set steps from the canal. In many key spots, including downtown Arlington, you can "borrow" a bike through Capital Bikeshare and return it to a new station once you’re done. Download maps of each neighborhood, bus schedules and stop locations, bike rental stations, and trails at GoDCGo.com
Or, see the seasonal changes from the water—rent a kayak or canoe on the Potomac River at the Key Bridge Boathouse or Thompson Boat Center (open until late October—rentals are weather dependent, so call to confirm).
Alternatively, hop on the DC Circulator bus that travels a round-trip loop from Union Station to Woodley Park and Georgetown for just $1 per ride.
Affordable Places to Stay
Fairfield Inn and Suites Washington DC/Downtown
Omni Shoreham Hotel sits at the foot of Rock Creek Park in Woodley Park. Ask for a room facing south for a panoramic view of this urban oasis.
Holiday Inn Rosslyn is perfectly situated for a walk into Georgetown, for easy crossover to downtown D.C., and for exploring Arlington’s many parks and sights. Ask for a room with a view of the Washington, D.C., skyline.
Lorien Hotel and Spa in Old Town Alexandria is an upscale Kimpton hotel, situated in the heart of the historic district. It’s just a short drive from here to Mount Vernon or back into D.C.
Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association; Rock Creek Park: Courtesy of S.Borisov/Shutterstock; National Arboretum: Courtesy of Andrei Medvedev/Shutterstock;
Potomac Overlook Regional Park: Courtesy of Courtesy of Potomac Overlook Regional Park