The days are shorter, the air is crisp and the landscape has turned to amber. It can mean only one thing: It's autumn in the Mid-Atlantic.
And with it comes an opportune time to travel. After all, the crowds are down, prices are on the cheap and the scenery can't be beat.
Just about every destination is hosting a fall celebration of some kind or another, beckoning travelers to get outdoors and enjoy the weather while it lasts.
"Fall is a delightful time to travel in Maryland. Daytime temperatures in the mid-60s to lower 70s combined with low humidity create perfect conditions for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking - with the added bonus of viewing colorful fall foliage while on the trails," says Margot Amelia, executive director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. "Additionally, fall is considered to be a 'shoulder season' in several Maryland regions so visitors can expect less crowds and lower prices at many venues while still being able to fully enjoy all the amenities."
So get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the season. Try a new destination or visit an old favorite. If you can't quite decide, here are a few suggestions within driving distance from Baltimore.
Natural Bridge, Va.
Come see breathtaking natural wonders set amid Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah Valley for a fall getaway sure to impress. Visit the Natural Bridge and Natural Bridge Caverns while taking in spectacular vistas along the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive.
What to see: : In nearby Lexington, the Toy Museum at Natural Bridge includes a collection of 45,000 different toys spanning almost 300 years. Or take in local history at the Natural Bridge Wax Museum with figurines and scenes on display and an opportunity to see the on-site factory and studio.
What to do: : Visit the Monacan Indian Village, where you can learn about the Woodland tribe's traditional culture and activities, including canoe-building, hide-tanning, mat-weaving and more.
Where to stay: : The Natural Bridge Hotel offers dining and package deals.
When to go: : Any time is a good time to visit this destination, but when you add beautiful fall foliage to the package, it makes it a must-see.
Information: : virginia.org
Autumn visits to Maryland's Eastern Shore, where soybean crops turn into fields of gold, should be a yearly trek. And with charming shops, mouthwatering restaurants and a "walk-able" downtown all nestled along the banks of the Chester River, Chestertown should be high on the go-to list.
What to see: : Explore downtown and enjoy the historic architecture, specialty shopping, galleries and a waterfront promenade. Don't forget to see what Washington College has going on while you visit. The college recently launched its "History on the Waterfront" one-hour walking tour on Fridays and Saturdays. The audio-guided tour allows participants to stroll along the historic waterfront and listen to music, re-enactments and firsthand accounts of life in the Colonial port.
What to do: : Chesapeake Farms, a 3,300-acre wildlife and agricultural research and demonstration site, includes a self-guided driving tour through the landscape where visitors can discover farm ponds, sunflower fields, rabbit fields, marsh and wetlands.
Where to stay: : The town boasts many bed and breakfasts to choose from, including the White Swan Tavern, the Great Oak Manor and the Brampton Bed and Breakfast Inn.
When to go: : Chestertown will be the hot spot from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 for the Schooner Sultana's ninth annual Downrigging Weekend. The event marks the beginning of "downrigging" for many of the region's tall ships and traditional sailing vessels. Films, demonstrations, cocktail parties and public cruises are all offered during the extended weekend.
Information: : chestertown.com
Small-town charm meets mountain scenery, and what better time of the year than now to enjoy both? This destination offers the state's first Certified Heritage Area near the terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, while the town's historic district boasts an impressive collection of mid-19th century and early-20th century architecture.
What to see: : Cumberland is the western terminus of the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath, a well-kept pathway for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. It also connects to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, allowing ambitious bikers to travel from Pittsburgh to Washington via both trails.
What to do: : The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad leaves the depot in Cumberland and travels through the scenic countryside to Frostburg. A short layover gives you time to enjoy lunch in Frostburg before heading back to Cumberland. This fills up quickly, so make reservations in advance.
Where to stay: : The Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort sits on the shores of Lake Habeeb and is offering a three-night family package for $218 through October. If you prefer to stay within walking distance to the shops and sites of downtown, try the Cumberland Holiday Inn.