Fall Into Escapes

Fall Into Escapes

From Local History to Hiking, Autumn Activities Abound

 Does fall fever have you looking for ways to enjoy the crisp autumn air and colored leaves, especially after this sweltering summer? If so, then try one of these ideas, from afternoon excursions to overnight getaways, all located within a two-hour drive (some much closer) from downtown Washington, D.C.

Intoxicating Virginia Getaway


Maryland may be relatively small, but it offers Washingtonians an abundance of getaway options, from the rugged natural beauty of Sugarloaf Mountain, above, to the quaint charm of Ellicott City. Or just stay in the city and experience the changing leaves against D.C.’s monuments, top.

Virginia is known for its array of wineries that make for excellent day trips, but why not use your next wine tasting as an excuse for an overnight escape? You won’t have to drive far (if at all) after a hard day of sipping and swirling, and you’ll get to enjoy the relaxed pace of the Virginia countryside.

One option is the Cottages at Sharp Rock Vineyards, a working vineyard and winery located less than 100 miles from downtown Washington. For $200 a night, the owners provide a private mountain-view carriage house stocked with snacks, plus a complimentary wine tasting and bottle of your choice.

Or you could spend a spirited afternoon sipping tasty cabernet francs and listening to live music at Tarara Winery, then follow it up with a leisurely evening at Lansdowne Resort (where the restaurant wine list features labels from Tarara and other nearby wineries).

There’s also Red Fox Inn, a charming historic spot for capping off a day of exploring Middleburg, a hub for Virginia’s wineries. Chrysalis Vineyards, Swedenburg Estate Vineyard, and Piedmont Vineyards and Winery are all a short drive from the inn.

Sharp Rock is about 80 miles (less than two hours) from downtown D.C.; Middleburg is a closer 45-mile drive. For more information on the Cottages at Sharp Rock Vineyards, visit www.sharprockvineyards.com/bb.html or call (540) 987-8020. To learn more about Tarara, Chrysalis, Swedenburg and Piedmont wineries, visit www.virginiawine.org. To make reservations at Lansdowne Resort, visit www.lansdowneresort.com or call (703) 729-8400; for Red Fox Inn go to www.redfox.com or call (540) 687-6301.

A (Somewhat) Solitary Hike

To escape the city crowds for a while, head to one of the area’s many nearby hiking trails. True, staying close to the city means you’re bound to run into other folks who have the same idea, but there are a couple of close spots where foot traffic is minimal.

The trails at privately owned Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland are open to the public year-round. To avoid heavy crowds, pack a picnic lunch and give yourself a few hours to hike the blue-blazed Northern Peaks trail all the way to White Rocks Overlook.

In Virginia, a five-mile roundtrip hike on Bull Run Mountain offers spectacular views, an enchanting creek and hard-to-find solitude.

Both Sugarloaf Mountain and Bull Run Mountain are located 45 miles from D.C. For trail maps and directions to Sugarloaf, visit www.sugarloafmd.com. To find the trailhead for Bull Run Mountain, go to the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy at www.brmconservancy.org.

Small-Town Tranquility

From Washington, D.C., you can drive in just about any direction and hit a tranquil little town with historic charms — usually in less than an hour.


For a water excursion, enjoy views of the Tidal Basin at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in D.C., above, or head out to Maryland’s Havre de Grace, nestled at the mouth of the Susquehanna River on the Chesapeake Bay, left.

One favorite among locals is downtown Ellicott City in Maryland. It’s ideal for a leisurely afternoon of boutique shopping, dining and spa treatments. For more outdoor pursuits, pack a lunch and drive a little further to Patapsco Valley State Park to see the fall foliage and enjoy a little fishing or canoeing.

Lesser known is Havre de Grace, a quaint city of 11,000 nestled between Philadelphia and Baltimore, Md., at the mouth of the Susquehanna River on the Chesapeake Bay. The waterfront downtown features a maritime museum, haunted history tours on Friday and Saturday nights, and a farmer’s market every Saturday morning.

Historic Ellicott City and Patapsco Valley State Park are both a 30- to 40-minute drive from D.C. Visit www.historicec.com to learn about historic Ellicott. For information on the nearby park and activities, visit www.dnr.state.md.us. For details on Havre de Grace — a longer, 75-mile drive — visit www.havredegracemd.com or call (800) 851-7756.

Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

Not interested in hopping in the car after a harsh week of commuting? Try foregoing the wheels altogether with a hotel package that will allow you to see the city through a newcomer’s eyes.

With the Hotel George’s “Park and Go” package, you’ll get complimentary valet parking at a spot that’s right next to Union Station, Smithsonian museums and a host of restaurants and theaters.

Or, get a refresher on the city’s monuments from the comfort of a private sedan, with a guided tour that’s included in the Hay-Adams Hotel’s “Leading Culture” package (which also includes specialty chocolates and breakfast for two).

The Eldon Luxury Suites Hotel is also enticing guests to get outdoors with its “Anti-Hibernation” package, featuring preferred passes to Vida Fitness and tickets to a number of popular Washington attractions, including the Newseum and International Spy Museum.

If you can’t make the trek to the Chesapeake Bay or the ocean, enjoy water views for a night at the Mandarin Oriental. For a truly indulgent getaway, check out the hotel’s “Tai Pan Temptation” special, which includes private club access with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and savory snacks throughout the day, plus spa and dining discounts.

If you’re looking for a way to entertain kids, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel’s “Out of This World” package offers tickets to an IMAX show at the National Air and Space Museum for a family of four.

For more information on these hotels and packages, visit:

The Hotel George: www.hotelgeorge.com, (202) 347-4200.

Hay-Adams: www.hayadams.com, 202-638-6600

Mandarin Oriental: www.mandarinoriental.com/washington, (202) 554-8588

L’Enfant Plaza Hotel: www.lenfantplazahotel.com, (202) 484-1000


About the Author

Heather Mueller is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.