Fall is the harvest season for pumpkins, apples, and corn, while fall festivals celebrate the change in season with hay rides, corn mazes, cider, and roasting marshmallows over an open fire. In Maryland, fall foliage is a delight for the senses and is best explored with a scenic hike. Vibrant yellow, orange, and red leaves welcome the change of season with cool air, perfect for a cozy sweater. Is that music to your ears? Then lace up the old hiking boots and lather on some bug repellant to hike the best Maryland trails in autumn.
A portion of the Appalachian Trail weaves and twists through 41 miles of Maryland, following the ridgeline of South Mountain. Hikers are rewarded with stunning fall colors scattered throughout the wooded trails.
Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliffs are one mile apart on the Appalachian Trail, making it easy to explore both viewpoints on the same day.
For access to Annapolis Rock, start at the parking lot off Maryland Route 40, east of the entrance to Greenbrier State Park. Hike along the moderately rocky climb of the Thurston Griggs Trail to the blue blaze trail markers of the Appalachian Trail.
Once on the blue blaze trail, hikers pass through a small camping area before reaching the top of the monumental rock formations overlooking Greenbrier Lake.
One mile north of Annapolis Rock is Black Rock Cliff. Trail markers to Black Rock Cliff are on wooden markers carved with blue lettering attached to trees. While not as large as Annapolis Rock, the panoramic view of Cumberland Valley from Black Rock Cliff is equally impressive.
The Appalachian Trail in Maryland consists of easy terrain featuring panoramic vistas. Access points for day hikers provide direct access to overlooks.
Calvert Cliffs State Park
Southern Maryland is home to massive clay cliffs and sandy beaches on the Chesapeake Bay. Visitors flock to Calvert Cliffs Beach to search for shark teeth and other fossils embedded in the cliffsides millions of years ago.
While a summer treasure, Calvert Cliffs State Park is spectacular in the fall. The park is a designated wildland area with thirteen miles of marked trails for hiking.
The Calvert Cliffs Beach is accessible by a 1.8-mile hike on the "Red Trail." The trail begins at the parking lot and leads hikers on a flat forested path to the sandy cliffside beach.
Another popular trail is the Orange Trail. This 2.8-mile trail curves through interesting varieties of topography ranging from wetlands, woods, and open fields with modest elevation changes. Bird watchers will delight in spying on birds such as Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and American Woodcock.
The trails in Calvert Cliffs State Park are open from March to mid-November. Maryland's fall foliage provides a visually stunning hike to the beach.
Rocks State Park
Rock State Park is in Harford County, Maryland, home to hiking trails and a stunning waterfall. The densely forested park has colorful foliage in the fall and provides exceptional visual beauty while hiking along the trails. The park includes picnic areas, 3.5 miles of hiking trails, and access to Deer Creek.
Hike across the Falling Branch Stream along the Falling Branch trail to reach Kilgore Falls. The combination of red, yellow, and orange leaves creates a magical background for the stunning 17-foot waterfall.
Although challenging, another popular hike overlooks Deer Creek. Many vertical rock faces along the trail test even the most skilled hiker. The highlight of this steep hike is the 190-foot jutted rock, the King and Queen Seat. The viewpoint is reachable from a few access points. Rock Ridge Picnic Area, the White Trail, or the Rapids parking area along the Purple Trail all lead towards the King and Queen Seat.
Rocks State Park welcomes fall hikers to enjoy the crunch of leaves beneath their feet while climbing to majestic views.
Potomac-Garrett State Forest
The Potomac-Garrett State Forest is a 19,000-acre state forest consisting of mountain forests, streams, valleys, and 80 miles of trails. The forest is dominated by oaks, maples, cherry, ash, and birch trees, making it an array of colors in the fall.
Hike to Lostland Run Trail to brave swinging bridges to Hoye Crest on Backbone Mountain. The rugged 3.5-mile mountain trail follows Lostland Run Stream through ravines, coves, and hardwood forests. The hike allows views of phenomenal waterfalls on the Potomac River.
For a shorter hike, the Rock Maze Trail is less than a mile. Hikers navigate through a maze of large boulders. The nooks and crannies of the boulders offer an excellent day of exploration. In addition, unique mushrooms and ferns are scattered beside the trail, enriching the visual ambiance. For access to the Rock Maze Trail, park near the intersection of Cranesville and Snaggy Mountain Road.
Trails within the Potomac-Garrett State Forest supply a colorful distraction for a peaceful walk through the woods.
Washington Monument State Park
The Washington Monument State Park features a massive stone structure, the Washington Monument, thus giving the park its name.
The park is ideal for hiking on South Mountain, particularly in the fall when the brilliant mix of warm colors covers the trees. The easy 0.5-mile out-and-back trail near Boonsboro, Maryland, takes hikers an average of 13 minutes to complete.
For bird watchers, Washington Monument State Park in the fall is ideal. Beginning in September, migratory birds such as hawks, eagles, and falcons are all spotted as they head south for the winter.
After hiking, visit the Washington Monument Visitors Center. Exhibits showcase the history of the first completed monument to honor George Washington, an 1862 Maryland Campaign summary, and a map presenting an overview of the Battle of South Mountain.
Washington Monument State Park in the fall blends Civil War history with serene beauty for hikers. A visit to the park enhances historical stories, bringing history to life.
Patapsco Valley State Park
Patapsco Valley State Park is a 16,000-acre park that contains over 200 trails with swinging bridges, tunnels, and water views. With a large landscape, the park encompasses four counties in Maryland, including Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, and Howard County.
For access to the Cascade Trail, start at the Orange Grove area. The colorful foliage guides hikers to small waterfalls and a trickling stream. The trail continues for 2 miles, leading to the refreshing Cascade Falls.
In addition to Cascade Falls, visit the swinging bridge and Grist Mill Walking Bridge. The Grist Mill Trail is a 5-mile loop trail through a wooded park between Ilchester Road and Lost Lake. The trail passes the swinging bridge leading to the ruins of the Orange Grove Flour Mill. An easy route, the trail takes hikers an average of 1 hour 35 min to complete.
Parking for the Patapsco Vally State Park is on the Patapsco River and is open daily. An entrance fee of $2 on weekdays and $3 on the weekends is required.
The Patapsco Valley State Park welcomes hikers to enjoy a leisurely trek through the woods.
Catoctin Mountain Park
The Catoctin Mountain Park is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and contains many trails leading hikers through wooded paths. Entrance to the park is free.
The park is divided into two sections, the East Side Trails and West Side Trails. East Side Trails offers hikers stunning overlooks, access to Cunningham Falls, and interpretive historical exhibits. Adventurers on the West Side Trails hike along wetlands and remnants of farms. Self-guided brochures of the trails are available at the Visitor Center.
For experienced hikers, the Wolf Rock Loop Trail is an uneven and rocky terrain. The trail leads hikers to the Chimney Rock and Wolf Rock mountain ridgeline, approximately 600 feet in elevation. The 3.9-mile trail takes hikers 4 hours to complete.
Another heart-pumping trail is the 8-mile Trail. Hikers will see it all while crunching fallen leaves beneath their feet. This loop combines three trail loops for an all-inclusive hike. Hikers will visit Cunningham Falls, Hog Rock, Blue Ridge Summit, Thurmont Vista, Wolf Rock, and Chimney Rock, for an adventurous day of hiking.
Catoctin Mountain Park contains rugged trails leading hikers through a rigorous Maryland adventure.
Maryland is full of scenic beauty. During the peak of the fall season, the trees shift from summer's green to fall's vibrant rainbow of colors. In fall, the temperature drops, welcoming cooler breezes perfect for a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate. The change in weather invites hikers to a challenging hike or enjoy a leisurely stroll through the woods. With waterfalls, overlooks, and stunning fall foliage along the way, the trails in Maryland await hikers to experience nature firsthand.