MARYLAND — The first day of fall is only a few days away, too soon for Maryland foliage to sport blazing reds, vibrant oranges and sunny yellows. Hiking or taking a drive to view Mother Nature is a great and safe way to get out of the house during the coronavirus pandemic, especially since many of the regular fall festivals have been canceled.

The first 2020 Maryland Fall Foliage Report was issued this week by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“Another fall season is already upon us! I have noticed red maples and serviceberries starting to turn in Garrett County,” said Urban and Community Forester Becky Wilson in a news release. “Wolf Swamp in New Germany State Park is one of my favorite places that turns early due to the site conditions and you can easily view the changes as you drive along I-68. Otherwise, we are still rather green in the areas that I travel.”

“For the most part, the forest canopy remains green with a few maples showing subtle hints of yellow,” Scott Campbell, forest manager at Potomac-Garrett State Forest.

Maple, walnut and sycamore trees are starting to drop their leaves, said Daniel B. Hedderick, project forester in Allegany County. Dogwoods have formed red berries and some leaves have a slight color change.

“Rocky Gap State Park does not have any significant leaf change yet, however the fresh feel of autumn is in the air,” said Park Manager Julia Musselwhite in the report.

Camping is more popular than ever this year, she said, and Rocky Gap offers both reservations and walk-in only accommodations. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard board rentals will continue while conditions remain favorable.

Musselwhite said Marylanders should visit on Sept. 20 to enjoy the annual Dubs at the Gap international car show from 9 a.m. though 3 p.m. in the Day Use area. Proceeds benefit the Allegany County Animal Shelter.

Our state offers some stunning vistas, including several in state parks suggested by Visit Maryland:

  • The C&O Canal National Historic Park offers numerous hiking options, such as the strenuous Billy Goat Trail for advanced hikers. The trail rewards hikers with vistas of the surging Potomac River flanked by forests bursting with color.

  • Elk Neck State Park located on a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the Elk River combines colorful forests with sandy beaches for great viewing. From the Turkey Point parking lot off Route 272 South, it’s an easy one-mile walk to the historic 1833 Turkey Point Lighthouse atop a 100-foot bluff at the southern tip of the Elk Neck Peninsula. Climb 35 feet to its top for a spectacular view of the Bay waters and brilliant fall foliage.

  • Patapsco Valley State Park, covering 32 miles of the Patapsco River in Howard County, offers great fall foliage views from the comfort of your car if that’s a better fit for you. Drive to Valley Overlook in the Hollofield area right off Route 40. From there you can venture into Ellicott City’s Main Street, which has shops and restaurants open even as it recovers from fatal August floods.

  • In the heart of Baltimore County’s horse country, Oregon Ridge Park near Cockeysville has hiking trails that showcase a tree-scape of yellow, orange and red.

  • Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County is located nine miles north of Oakland and contains part of the Youghiogheny River, which flows along the park’s borders, passing through shaded rocky gorges and creating rippling rapids, and Muddy Creek Falls, a 53-foot waterfall. The 1 1/4 mile trail through Swallow Falls guides hikers to Western Maryland’s breath-taking scenery.

  • Other areas to visit close to the Baltimore-Washington metro area: Gwynnbrook Wildlife Management Area in Owings Mills, Baltimore County; Sugar Loaf Mountain Natural Resource Area in southern Frederick County; Seneca Creek State Park just southwest of Gaithersburg; and Dierssen Wildlife Management Area situated between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River in Montgomery County, offering first-rate opportunities for waterfowl watching and quiet interludes for strollers along the Canal Tow Path.

The updated Fall Foliage Prediction Map from SmokyMountains.com provides peak leaf change predictions for the entire continental United States.

In Maryland, the week of Oct. 26 looks good for a trip into the great outdoors.

The major factors that determine the fall foliage peak are sunlight, precipitation, soil moisture and temperature. The map takes in 50,000 predictive data sets, then churns out a county-by-county analysis of when the fall peak will occur, according to SmokyMountains.com co-founder David Angotti, an expert on statistics.

This article originally appeared on the Annapolis Patch

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