Image: Appalachian Trail, Maryland
Scott Warren  /  Aurora/Getty Images
A hiker takes in the view along the Appalachian Trail in rural Maryland. This marked hiking trail extends between Georgia and Maine and is more than 2,000 miles long.
updated 10/18/2007 7:42:57 PM ET 2007-10-18T23:42:57

The weather is getting chilly on the East Coast and it's time to get out and enjoy the season.

Some of the best places in the country to see the fall colors are no more than a two- or three-hour drive from the nation's capital. So if you are planning a trip to Washington soon, make sure to budget a time for a memorable hike in the region.

Start your planning by studying up on the Appalachian Trail, especially the section in Northern Virginia. Also visit this site, which offers exact conditions of fall foliage.

Start with a few strolls close to the Washington metropolitan area. The 180-plus mile C&O Canal is an excellent place to take a leisurely fall walk. Or drive farther out near Frederick, Md., and take a hike at Sugarloaf Mountain. The mountain offers several hikes and vistas with prime fall foliage.

Head farther into Western Maryland and visit Cunningham Falls State Park. The park offers more remote hikes and is known for fall views.

Make your way back closer to the Washington metropolitan area and head into Loudoun County, Va. Hikers can pick up the Appalachian Trail just 20 minutes or so past Leesburg.

Start a hike on the AT and hoof up to the Blackburn Trail Center. The site is often visited by hikers tackling the entire Appalachian Trail but is equally welcoming for those hoping to see the best fall colors. For a less challenging stroll, head to the town of Waterford which was founded by Quakers in the 18th century and adds a history lesson to your fall foliage hike.

If you are a backpacker or savor finishing some challenging miles while searching for the best fall views, head to Clarke County, Va. Spend a few nights at the Bears Den Trail Center in Bluemont, Va. where you can enjoy a warm bed at the end of the your hike. The center backs right up into the Appalachian Trail. The Blue Ridge Trail Center in nearby Purcellville offers more than 100 acres of hikes and is a good spot for a fall foliage visit. Getting closer to central Virginia will put you in a prime place for fall foliage hiking — even if it puts you closer to tourists who'd rather see the colors from the comfort of their cars.

Shenandoah National Park is prized for having what many consider to be the nation's best fall colors. GORP.com, an adventure travel and outdoor recreation Web site, offers a good look at Shenandoah hiking and About.com also has a page directing walkers to several different Shenandoah hikes.

Old Rag Mountain rewards hikers with what many consider the best views of fall colors in Northern Virginia. The 7-mile roundtrip hike is described as strenuous, but it's also popular —especially in peak fall months — so you'll probably be sharing the view with a few others.

No matter where you finish your hike, make sure to drive back on Skyline Drive. After you finish your trip, share photos on this Web site, which links to fall foliage pictures from around the country.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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