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Enjoy the Foliage and Take a Hike

September 18, 2019

By: Austin A. Deray
19 September 2019

One of my favorite parts of the fall, other than getting to order new books (yes, I have always been that guy), is to see the leaves change. Growing up, my Gram (also known as Mommom or Grandmother Devine) would always talk about wanting to make a drive through New England to see the foliage. She never took her September drive to see all of New England in the fall, but she did instill the love of fall colors in her children and grandchildren. It is a goal of mine to take a September off (or at least two weeks) and make the drive in her honor.

Here in the DMV, we are lucky because we do get to see the leaves change and for someone who grew up down in the low country of Georgia’s coast line, this has been an amazing sight to behold. My favorite time to hike through the many national and state parks we have in the region is the fall, and I bet you can guess why: the fall foliage! We are lucky enough to live in a region of the world where we can hike 5 of the National Hiking Society’s top hikes to see the season change.[1] While I haven’t had the pleasure to hike them all, I can share my favorites, a few of which are on the list.

[2] Let’s start with the park that is basically in my backyard: Rock Creek Park. Rock Creek Park is on the National Hiking Society’s list and just happens to be in both DC proper and Maryland.Spanning 2.7 square miles (1,754 acres), the park is the home of historical sites, multiple trails to hike or run, and workout and recreation sites, and is a great place to picnic or relax in the middle of an urban center.[3] For trails and guides check out the national park info page(s).

Another of my favorites on the National Hiking Society’s list, close to all three Mason campuses, is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Tow Path.[4] I have been fortunate to have first been introduced to the park during a Graduate Outdoor Adventures hike and got to see Great Falls and the Billy Goat Trail. I have since gone back twice, once with friends and once with a student group I advise, and all three times have been great trips. Last year’s trip during late September was especially memorable because I got to see some of the prettiest fall foliage in the region, in my opinion.For more activities and information about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Tow path, check out the national parks’ info page(s).

Although I haven’t been to the next two trails, I’ve heard good things and can pass on some helpful information courtesy of the National Hiking Society. The Seneca Creek Greenway Trail runs 20 miles through Maryland, ending at the Potomac River. Named for the original indigenous population, the trail has some great paths for moderate to disciplined hikers. Next we have the Potomac Heritage Trail. This trail is going to be for our waterfall lovers and our fisherpeople. The Potomac Heritage Trail looks like a cool place to picnic in the fall and spend a relaxing day by a stream, creek, or river while enjoying the fall colors and scenery.[5]

While the Shenandoah National Park is not on the National Hiking Society’s list for picturesque foliage and hikes in the DMV, it would be on the top of my personal list.[6] I have hiked, picnicked, and canoed through the park and enjoyed many an afternoon, hour, and moment with friends and family.I first discovered the hikes with a cousin when visiting the area as a child and have loved it since. I have kayaked the river, with friends, and canoed, with fellow Mason grad students on a GOA trip during the summer and fall months. The views are spectacular no matter the season, while I should concede that I favor the fall. The orange and red hues in the leaves and reflected in the water make for a tranquil and relaxing trip down the river. If you are more of a hiker/walker, Shenandoah offers a plethora of trails to explore, both along the Appalachian Trail and through the valley. Graduate Student Life has planned a Graduate Outdoor Adventure trip to Old Rag Mountain, which offers one of the best views of the region from its summit.

I could keep going here, but I won’t. If you don’t like my list, this is now my challenge: go out and discover your own trails and experiences. Use this interactive map/tool that shows you the predicted peak foliage times in the region: Fall Foliage Prediction Map. I think one thing we all forget in grad school is to have some fun and take some time to just relax. That paper will write itself later. There is always time to study for that test or comp. There is time to run that experiment or observe your ethnographic subject. We are in the DMV for this short time, so I challenge you take a well-being moment, enjoy the air, and see some cool orange, red, and brown foliage while you have the chance.


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[1] “Five Great Hikes Near Washington, DC.” American Hiking Society, 9 Aug. 2018, americanhiking.org/blog/five-great-hikes-near-washington-dc/.

[2] All photo credits’ can be found through the hyperlink associated with the singular photo and will direct you to the photo creditor.

[3] “Rock Creek Park (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/rocr/index.htm.

[4] “Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm.  

[5] “Five Great Hikes Near Washington, DC.” American Hiking Society, 9 Aug. 2018, americanhiking.org/blog/five-great-hikes-near-washington-dc/.

[6] “Shenandoah National Park (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm.