Washington DC in the Fall: Top 15 Activities and Sights

August 8, 2022

Vibrant fall foliage, world-class art museums, and fall-themed festivals make our Nation’s Capital a welcome respite come September. From heart-pumping hikes at Sugarloaf mountain to sneaking a peek at Dorothey’s ruby slippers in the Smithsonian, there’s nothing like Washington DC in the fall.

Follow along to discover the best Washington DC fall yet!

Embrace your creative side with a visit to the National Gallery of Art, or appease your animal-loving tot with trick or treating at the Zoo. Whether you’re yearning for monuments and memorials or are waiting to witness Washington DC foliage, the District delivers.

Dive into our Nation’s history, see the Lincoln Memorial by moonlight, or raise a stein at an authentic Oktoberfest.

Nothing compares to autumn in the Capital City!

Washington DC Fall Colors

Wondering when fall starts in the Chocolate City? While many locals may insist the harvest season begins after Labor Day, the most luscious fall colors in Washington DC can be found from Mid October on. Encounter bountiful leaves and beautiful times when you schedule your Capital City excursion any time from October through mid-November. 

Where to See Peak Fall Foliage in Washington DC 2022

Dreaming of vermillion, golden, and rust-hued photogenic leaf displays? Fall foliage in Washington DC paints a picture-perfect canvas. Take your leaf peeping to new heights as you explore the parks, lakes, monuments, and mountains of DC, Maryland, and Virginia:

Rock Creek Park

A gem of our Nation’s capital, this nearly 1,800-acre city park is overflowing with natural beauty. Locals and tourists alike flock to Rock Creek Park for a picturesque jog or to spot over 150 species of birds.

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In addition to horseback riding, picnicking, hiking, and golfing, this national park offers ample opportunity for leaf looking. Wander through a hardwood forest, and stroll past oak, beech, and tulip trees as you take in the staggering fall scenery. 

photo credit: Robert A. Powell Photography via Facebook

Burke Lake Park

Skip out on the metropolitan madness, and hightail it to Fairfax County, Virginia, for crisp autumn hikes and plenty of lakefront views. Burke Lake Park serves up a plethora of flora,  fauna, and fall color. Take on the nearly 5-mile lake trail, forage for wild edibles, or start a spirited game of mini golf.

With almost 1,000 acres to conquer, you can feel free to spend the whole weekend riding the miniature train or searching for squirrels and beavers.

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True outdoor enthusiasts will relish the opportunity to fish, boat, or camp. While wanna-be nature photographers will be agog over the variety of hickory, birch, and oak trees. 

photo credit: Friends of Burke Lake Park via Facebook

Great Falls

Want to spice up your fall foliage pics? Inject a little H20 into your leaf-strewn backdrops with a sojourn to Great Falls. Just a 15-minute drive from Washington DC, this stunning 800-acre park consists of a series of rapids and waterfalls.

Situated on the Potomac River on the border of Montgomery County, Maryland, and Fairfax, Virginia, the fall’s rushing water speeds over a series of rocks to create arresting visual displays.

Serious hikers should pack those boots, as the park contains several challenging trails to tackle. Well traversed favorites include the Billy Goat, Overlook, and Towpath trails, all of which additionally provide jaw-dropping changes in leaf hues. Complete the entire Billy Goat Trail for a rocky, almost 8-mile adventure accented by searing Potomac River views. 

photo credit: Shailendra Jain via Facebook

Sugarloaf Mountain

Dreaming of the Maryland countryside? If you’ve got your sights on day tripping out of the District, Sugarloaf Mountain is the ideal destination. Thankfully fall’s cooler temperatures make the mountain hikes even more enjoyable. As a bonus, come October, the park will be aglow with the crimson, goldenrod, and burnt orange leaves of thousands of trees.

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Just an hour and a half drive from the city, this lush mountain oasis was actually President Franklin Roosevelt’s first choice for a presidential retreat. In fact, due to its wild nature and features of geological interest, Sugarloaf Mountain has been designated a Registered Natural Landmark.

Depending on your skill and experience level, you can opt for the 7-mile Saddleback Horse Trail or the more low-key Purple Loop. Have the camera ready, as you’ll want to document the festive foliage and spellbinding Monocacy Valley vistas.

photo credit: Sugarloaf Mountain via Facebook

Tidal Basin

In between checking out the Lincoln Memorial or recreating the famous Forrest Gump run, squeeze in some leaf spotting. The Capital City contains countless parks overflowing with autumn colors. However, the Tidal Basin’s fall allure is often overlooked.

Swing by mid-October or early November to catch the symphony of Cherry Blossom colors. Unlike their infamous spring blooming, fall time brings few crowds to this well-loved landmark. However, adept photographers will have a ball harnessing their creativity as they capture the contrast of tree colors against the sparkling waters and the Grecian beauty of the Jefferson Memorial. 

Washington DC Hotels

The National Monument, American History Museums, and old Abe Lincoln. The beating heart of our country offers up endless attractions and activities.

Whether you wish to visit George Washington’s homestead or sample dozens of amber-colored ales, you can never have enough time in the Capital City. Make the most of your fall-themed getaway when you book any of our Washington DC hotels.

Stay downtown just minutes from the National Mall, or sleep just blocks from the commander in chief. Wherever you decide to rest your head, book regret-free, knowing you are always guaranteed our lowest rates online.

photo credit: Club Quarters Hotel White House, Washington DC via Facebook

What to Do in Fall in Washington DC

DC National Gallery of Art Museum Tour

When you schedule a DC National Gallery of Art Museum Tour, Marvel at everyone from the old masters of the Renaissance to Georgia O’Keefe, this world-renowned museum is open daily and exhibits over 150,000 sculptures, decorative arts, and prints, drawings, photographs, and paintings.

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Engage with the works of Rothko, Rembrandt, and Renoir on a whole new level when you experience a 2.5-hour semi-private guided tour. Make your way through the museum’s two buildings. While you muse over the historical and cultural significance of Monet, da Vinci, and more. 

Wide shot of adults and children looking at a painting of a man and lions at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

photo credit: National Gallery of Art via Facebook

Smithsonian Museums

Dinosaur skeletons, giant gems, and mummies, oh my! Immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural world on a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Tour. Curious explorers of all ages will be in awe over the scope and breadth of this 2-hour semi-private tour.

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Discover Earth’s origins, learn about the Hope Diamond’s devastating legacy or stand in front of a 45-ton Blue Whale. This tour will take you through the museum’s greatest highlights, including the Dom Pedro Aquamarine, the Ocean’s Hall exhibit, and the Live Fossil Lab. Gaze upon taxidermied giraffes, elephants, and even an Arctic Narwhal!

Time travel back to 1776 and uncover the origins of our ragtag Nation of colonists when you book a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Tour. See our founding fathers in a new light as you observe priceless artifacts such as George Washington’s sword and the Star Spangled Banner.

Your knowledgeable guide will regale you with unique stories, facts, and histories, from segregation to the Revolutionary War. So snap a photo of Dorothy’s famous ruby slippers, envy the first ladies’ elegant gowns, or take a gander at Thomas Jefferson’s Desk. 

Wide shot of a room full of rockets at the National Museum of Air and Space in Washington, D.C., USA

photo credit: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution via Facebook

Old Town Trolley Tours of Washington DC

Need to hit the ground running? Cover even more of the Capital on a comprehensive Old Town Trolley Tour of Washington DC. This 90-minute adventure is full of landmark monuments, memorials, museums, and more. Relish the fall scenery of the city as you jump into over 230 years of history.

Old Town’s expert guides will paint you a vivid picture of the stories and sights that make up our country’s legacy. Then, sit back in comfort on their custom-built stadium trolley as you whiz along the National Mall.

Pay visits to the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Take a peek at the Capitol Building, the White House, and the towering Washington Monument. Listen up, as you won't want to miss a minute of live narration or the tour's numerous photo opportunities. 

view of the National Mall and Washington Monument at Sunrise in Washington D.C.Monuments by Moonlight Night Tour

See our Nation’s treasures in a new light when you tour DC by moonlight. Soak in the evening ambiance and glowing lights of our country’s most iconic sights on the Monuments by Moonlight Night Tour. Then, embark on a stirring 2.5-hour journey through the Capitol led by a charming and professional guide.

Enjoy entertaining tales, historical facts, and a sprinkling of spooky stories as you stop by the MLK Jr., FDR, and Lincoln Memorial. Pay your respects at the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. 

Washington DC Fall Events

Wunder Garten’s 7th Annual Oktoberfest Celebration 

Welcome to the fall harvest with a hearty german pour at the Wunder Garten’s 7th Annual Oktoberfest Celebration. Every weekend from September 17th through October 10th, visitors and locals alike can imbibe like they do in Berlin! This Northeast Beer garden is a Germanic oasis of sausages, suds, and stein-inspired fun.

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Sip tons of special Oktober brews and German-style beers as you sample schnitzel, Bavarian pretzels, and more. Come in costume and be prepared to compare lederhosen and dirndl for the chance to win prizes. Get groovy to the sounds of live German music, and even take turns competing in stein holding contests and other traditional Bavarian games.

photo credit: Wunder Garten via Facebook

Art All Night 

Searching for a special event to unleash your inner artist? Burn the midnight oil as you stay up all night for a multi-neighborhood arts extravaganza. Washington DC’s Art All Night Festival will occur on September 23rd and 24th.

Featuring activations in 8 wards in 20 different neighborhoods. This event is jam-packed with everything from painting to performance art. From Dupont Circle to H Street, scope out sculptures, face painting, live music, and more. Celebrate culture, uplift local businesses, and let loose at this community-wide event. 

Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour 

Eschew the city limits for a romantic reprieve at our founding father’s Mount Vernon estate. George Washington’s Mount Vernon is particularly scenic come fall, so scurry up here for a special celebration after sundown. The Fall Wine Festival & Sunset Tour will take place from October 7th through the 9th.

Wine-loving guests can taste a multitude of Virginia wines and meet both George and Lady Washington. Bring your own blanket and cuddle up on the East Lawn as you take in the awe-inspiring views of the Potomac River. But don't sneak in a sunset tour of this city's expansive property before scuttling back to the city.

photo credit: George Washington's Mount Vernon via Facebook

DC Beer Fest 

Take me out to the ballgame! While the beloved Nationals may not be playing on November 5th, beer fans of all backgrounds will be in heaven at the DC Beer Festival.

Spend the day at Nationals Park, sipping tons of seasonal ales, IPAs, Pilsners, and more. Delight in offerings from dozens of craft breweries, food trucks, and dueling pianos. Pay visits to the Bud Light Loft and Budweiser Terrace, or challenge your friends to some spirited lawn games. Wander throughout the stadium’s concourse and even explore the dugout with special VIP admission.

Boo at the Zoo

Are your tiny tots begging for some animal accented trick or treating? Step your Halloween game up when you hightail it to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Boo at the Zoo is a family-friendly event that allows little ones to celebrate the spooky season among their favorite critters.

Come in costume, and prime yourself for plenty of candy, dance parties, and live entertainment. Visit the Zoo’s various treat stations, and enjoy festive displays and photo opportunities. Once you’ve stocked up on sweets, be sure to visit the animals, many of which are more active at night!

photo credit: Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute via Facebook

Piping hot cups of apple cider, the solemn serenity of the Lincoln Memorial, and the color contrast of changing leaves against the azure waters of the Potomac. Autumn in Washington DC is about as perfect as can be.

Gaze upon Degas's Little Dancer at the National Gallery, hop on a charming Trolley Tour or uncover a thriving underground art scene. From sublime seasonal events to full-length sightseeing tours, there is no end to the ways to cover the Capital City.

Frolick among falling leaves in Rock Creek Park, or taste the tannins of Virginia’s best vino at George Washington’s estate.

Whatever your fall cravings, the Capital is waiting!

Tell us, What's Your Favorite Thing About Visiting Washington DC in The Fall?

Did we miss any of the best Washington DC fall activities? 

Leave us a comment below!

isis with mural in background

Written By Isis Maya

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central America and her love o ...

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