Fall is a perfect time to celebrate trees and their glorious colors. Trees are a vital component to a healthy local and global environment. Taking your family for a hike is a great way to experience the reds, yellows and oranges of trees, to smell the musty, crisp air and hear the crunch and swish of fallen leaves on a trail. Furthermore, a hike may stimulate inquisitive questions about trees from your kids. What better way to invite science into your child’s life than adventuring down a trail.
You ask, where is a great place to hike in the DC region where a family can experience the splendor of trees? Right now in mid-October, the fall foliage is peaking in the Shenandoah Mountains; here are two great hikes in the central region of Shenandoah National Park.
• Bearfence Trail. This is a short, 1.2 mile, but difficult hike along the spine of Bearfence Mountain. To get to a spectacular 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks, you must rock scramble along a narrow ridge. The trailhead parking lot is on Skyline Drive between mile marker 55 and 56.
• Graves Mill Trail. This out-and-back, 4-mile hike gains gentle elevation along the Rapidan River at the base of Shenandoah National Park. The Rapidan flows both fast and slow between ridges of dense forest that rise above the river. The trailhead parking is at the end of Graves Rd., which is off VA-615 and Rt-230.
Close to metropolitan DC, the fall foliage peaks around Halloween. Therefore, if you don’t want to venture two hours to the Shenandoahs, then there are some great hikes around DC that showcase our tree’s beautiful colors.
• Scotts Run Nature Preserve. This 336-acre preserve just outside the VA beltway on Georgetown Pike is an amazing place to walk under an old growth forest (old growth for DC!). The trees tower here. There are many trails that cross-cross each other in this preserve providing families many short or longer hiking options. Furthermore, families can hike along Scott Run as it cascades into the Potomac River.
• Blockhouse Point Conservation Park. This gem is located on River Rd. in Darnstown, MD. Ferns carpet the ground under large oaks, beech and hickory. On the bluff, families can take snapshots of the fall foliage along the Potomac River. The park offers seven miles of trails of which families have a few 3-mile, loop and spur options to hike.
• Patuxent River Park at Jug Bay. This park sits on the Patuxent River at Jug Bay in Southeastern Prince Georges County. This peaceful park offers many different combinations of trail loops. The best for families is the brown and green trails looped together. On the brown trail, families hike through the wetland along the river. The green trail sits on the bluff overlooking the river providing families a hiking experience through an upland forest. Look for the 100+ year old maple tree on the green trail.
No matter whether you decide to visit one of these trails with you family this fall, just get out on a trail close to your home to spend some time with your kids. Let them climb a tree or throw leaves at each other while on your hike. Or better yet, hug a tree; they give so much sustenance to our lives. Happy hiking!
By Jennifer Chambers – owner of Hiking Along, a science teacher, environmental educator and author of two books: Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle, a children’s book, and Best Hikes for Kids: Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland to be released summer 2014.