Top 5 DC Rides for Fall Colors

A bike ride along Skyline Dive is challenging, but the views and fall colors are stunning
A bike ride along Skyline Dive is challenging, but the views and fall colors are stunning National Park Service
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The weather is changing, which means two things: Winter is coming, and the leaves are turning. But before you start thinking seriously about when you'll take your first run down the slopes, make the most of the season by checking out the fall foliage—by bike! Here's a look at five of the best DC rides for fall colors.

1. Sugarloaf Mountain—Maryland

The climb up Sugarloaf Mountain is lined with trees
The climb up Sugarloaf Mountain is lined with trees Jason Devaney

Sitting roughly 10 miles south of Frederick, MD, is Sugarloaf Mountain , a relatively small (1,282-foot) peak that offers spectacular views of the surrounding valley.

The mountain, is considered a monadnock, which means it was formed by erosion of the land surrounding it. There's a 1.3-mile road that snakes up from the parking lot to the scenic overlook, which is a few hundred feet short of the actual summit—you need your hiking shoes to get there, as the paved road goes no further.

So after you give your legs a brief, Category 4 workout, stay to the right when you reach the top of the paved road, dismount, and check out the amazing view.

2. Bears Den—Virginia

The view looking east from Bears Den
The view looking east from Bears Den Wikicommons

Several factors make this overlook just off the Appalachian Trail worth a visit. For one, it's about 60 miles from downtown Washington, DC, making it a good option for a weekend activity. And its westward-pointing view allows visitors to see for miles and miles, with the Blue Ridge Mountains—and the setting sun at dusk—serving as the backdrop.

Bears Den occupies a 66-acre footprint and has three trails. The overlook is mere yards from the Appalachian Trail. The scenic overlook closely resembles an amphitheater, with several tiers in the rock formation that provides incredible views from 1,350 feet above sea level.

The entrance to Bears Den is located off Blue Ridge Mountain Road, which ascends Mount Weather from the north. Since the road to Bears Den is unpaved, however, your best option might be to ride to Purcellville, Va. on the W&OD Trail and catch a shuttle to Bears Den—check with the Bears Den Center for more information.

3. Skyline Drive Scenic Highway—Virginia

Skyline Drive Scenic Highway winds 105 miles in Shenandoah National Park
Skyline Drive Scenic Highway winds 105 miles in Shenandoah National Park National Park Service

This 105-mile road offers unbelievable views of the Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the north, the road gains nearly 15,000 feet in elevation—which includes 18 categorized climbs. The trip from the south gains more than 13,000 feet and traverses 19 rated climbs.

Despite those big numbers, however, a ride along Skyline Drive doesn't have to be limited to riders looking to earn a spot in the UCI WorldTour. If you want to really enjoy yourself, take Friday off from work and spend a long weekend along Skyline Drive, breaking up the ride over three days. Several lodges dot the route. Inclement weather can close the road at any time, however, so be sure to check with the National Park Service before starting your trip.

4. Rock Creek Park—Washington, DC

Rock Creek Park is filled with trees that turn into a colorful collage in the fall
Rock Creek Park is filled with trees that turn into a colorful collage in the fall Wikicommons

Rock Creek Park cuts right through the heart of D.C. from north to south, beginning in suburban North Kensington, MD, and ending near the Kennedy Center. Sections of Beach Drive, a tree-lined road that goes through the park, are closed to cars on the weekends, making this a perfect weekend sightseeing spot for cyclists. There are several trails and side roads in the park as well, so you've got plenty of options for a two-wheeled journey through this colorful landscape.

5. The National Mall—Washington, DC

The Smithsonian Castle stands behind trees along the National Mall
The Smithsonian Castle stands behind trees along the National Mall National Park Service

The National Mall  may be better suited to running and playing frisbee, but it's also fun to take a spin around this historic stretch of land connecting the Washington Monument with the Capitol Building. Fall is a good time to enjoy the mall, since many of the tourists have come and gone, but be sure to keep your speed in check and warn pedestrians you're coming through.

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