A leaf-lover’s holiday, timed just right
By Mark Hendricks
If there is something good to celebrate this year, it’s the marvelous display that nature is presenting us with right now. This could be one of the most spectacular seasons for fall foliage in recent memory. In my opinion experiencing the autumnal kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, and oranges on a crisp, cool day is tough to beat. Leaf peeping is by far my favorite sport.
A number of factors go into creating the most spectacular fall foliage. You want summer weather with a fair amount of rain, but not too much. Drought will cause undue stress on trees while too much rain may cause the leaves to drop prematurely or worse, afflict trees with the fungus anthracnose (this happened during the muted autumn of 2018 and it was particularly hard on maple trees). In September you hope for warm days paired with cool nights—a good sign that the colors will be vibrant, especially the reds.
The eastern woodlands of North America offer the best fall foliage of anywhere on this big blue marble. What makes Maryland so spectacular is our topography. We have it all in a relatively small package. From the Appalachian Mountains of western Maryland to the rolling hills of the piedmont plateau and the flat Atlantic coastal plain surrounding the mighty Chesapeake Bay, one can begin to see the colors from late September until mid-November.
Ready to get your “leaf” on? Each Thursday the Maryland Department of Natural Resources posts a fall foliage report on their Facebook page (facebook.com/MarylandDNR). Additionally, yours truly created a “Maryland Fall Foliage” page on Facebook where anyone can share reports or photos of their leaf peeping (facebook.com/MarylandFallFoliage).
Even in midst of this pandemic, leaf peeping offers an excellent way to get outdoors, take in the sun, and embrace all that the season offers. This year you will want to adhere to social distancing guidelines, easy to do with so much foliage laid out before you.
By the time you read this much of Garrett County is experiencing peak foliage, with Allegany County not far behind. You cannot go wrong in Garrett County, as the entire county from Deep Creek Lake to Swallow Falls State Park is simply spectacular. I particularly love the drive around the Keysers Ridge area and through the Savage River State Forest. New Germany State Park and the Finzel Swamp Preserve offer incredible leaf peeping hikes and walks.
In Allegany County, I would encourage you to visit the Green Ridge State Forest, Dans Mountain State Park, and Rocky Gap State Park. Driving through historic Cumberland and along Fifteen Mile Creek Road should provide excellent views by road.
Usually the last two weeks of October are fantastic for the Blue Ridge Mountains in Maryland. Catoctin Mountain Park, Greenbrier State Park, and Washington Monument State Park are all excellent. At the latter two you may hike the Appalachian Trail.
While not in the mountains, Rocks State Park in Harford County is also usually fantastic during this time, as is a drive along the scenic Route 136.
From late October through early November is when I visit the central, southern and eastern parts of the state. In the central region I am particularly fond of Patapsco Valley State Park located in both Baltimore and Howard Counties. In Southern Maryland, driving through rural farm country in autumn is always gorgeous; make a point to visit to Flag Ponds Nature Park and the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp.
If you drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge into Delmarva, just keep going and drive to Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and see the swamps of Pocomoke State Park (apart of the Pocomoke State Forest).
While these are just a few of my favorite fall destinations in Maryland this is by no means a complete list, I hope this helps you get started in exploring our state.
Autumn leaves are a fleeting beauty. Embrace this season of harvest and create lasting memories.
Happy leaf peeping.