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10 Mid-Atlantic fall hikes offer peak autumn experiences

The simple act of going for a walk becomes an adventure when the weather turns crisp and Mid-Atlantic trees change color. Check out these area hiking trails to get a breath of fresh air, to commune with nature and to get a glimpse of our region's rich history. Between the Atlantic marshes and the peaks of the Appalachian Trail, there are hikes suited to everyone from beginners to experienced campers.

You can flee city life for the untamed wilds of West Virginia. You can take a walk into the past to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. You can watch birds of prey soaring over the mountains of Pennsylvania. Just get outside and go.

Maryland

Old Misery Trail

Location: Cunningham Falls State Park, Thurmont

Details: 8 a.m. to sunset, April to October; 10 a.m. to sunset, November to March. Maryland residents $3 per vehicle; other states $5 per vehicle.

Length: 2 miles one way.

Local color: Truth in advertising — Old Misery Trail is a challenging hike, one of the most difficult of the nine trails in Cunningham Falls State Park. The journey leads you to Cat Rock, at an elevation of 1,560 feet, with soaring views of the Western Maryland countryside.

Tidball Trail

Location: Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg

Details: Open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Labor Day through Memorial Day. $4 per person, age 16 and older. Kids under 15 are free. $6 per family.

Length: 3/10th of a mile one way

Local color: Capt. John C. Tidball needed the high ground when the Union artillerymen under his command provided cover for soldiers advancing toward Middle Bridge. The Tidball Trail, named in his honor, thus provides one of the best overlooks of the Antietam National Battlefield. It's one of the less-traversed trails in the park because of its relative newness (it debuted in 2011) and difficulty. It's a short trail, but it goes straight up to the ridgeline. The beauty of the land stands in stark contrast to the events of Sept. 17, 1862, when 23,000 soldiers perished in a single day.

Delaware

Junction & Breakwater Trail

Location: Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes

Details: Open 8 a.m. to sunset. $4 per Delaware vehicle; $8 per out-of-state vehicle.

Length: 6 miles one way.

Local color: If you prefer beach towns in the off-season, try this trail between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. It has wooded parks, wetlands and two scenic overlooks. If you really want to feel the sand between your toes, Cape Henlopen State Park has other trails that touch upon the waterfront.

Pondside Trail

Location: Killens Pond State Park, Felton

Details: Open 8 a.m. to sunset. $3 per Delaware vehicle; $6 per out-of-state vehicle.

Length: 2.6 miles round-trip.

Local color: This easy-to-moderate packed earth trail skirts the edge of Killens Pond, a 66-acre millpond fed by the Murderkill River. Hikers will weave through hardwood forests and over small streams. Short connector trails link to fishing spots and pond views.

Pennsylvania

Skyline Trail

Location: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton

Details: $8 Adults and seniors, $4 children over 5 on weekends, $6 for adults and $3 for children on weekdays. Free admission for members and children under 5. No dogs allowed on sanctuary property.

Length: 2.2 miles, one way.

Local color: The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is home to 14 species of hawks, falcons and eagles, and it has a visitors center with a free Saturday-afternoon lecture series. This difficult hike will take you to the top of Hawk Mountain and along its spine. You'll see the Blue Ridge mountains below, and lots of big birds above, especially during fall migration

West Rim Trail

Location: Ansonia to Blackwell

Details: Open dawn to dusk. Free.

Length: 30 miles, one way.

Local color: This long but moderate trail skirts the western edge of Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga State Forest. You can peer 800 feet down and 2,000 feet across, taking in the wildlife and the foliage of the towering trees below. Through-hiking is popular, but day hikes are still worthwhile to get a taste of what is known as Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon.

Virginia

Overall Run Falls

Location: Shenandoah National Park, near Luray, Va.

Details: Open year round. Vehicle fee for one to seven days is $15 through November.

Length: 6.5 miles round-trip.

Local Color: Shenandoah National Park, which 75 miles southwest of D.C., has a plethora of hiking trails. One of the most dramatic is Overall Run Falls, which leads to a 93-foot waterfall. Summer droughts can dry out the falls, so autumn is a great time to visit.

McAfee Knob

Location: near Roanoke

Details: Open year-round. Free.

Length: 8.3 miles round-trip.

Local color: This moderately difficult section of the Appalachian Trail culminates in a spectacular panoramic view of the Catawba Valley, Roanoke Valley and the Tinker Mountains. Consider this measure of its beauty: the Appalachian Trail measures 2,180 miles and goes through 14 states, and this is one of its most-photographed spots. It was even selected as the subject for this year's Appalachian Trail's 75th anniversary poster.

Washington, D.C.

Western Ridge Trail

Location: Rock Creek Park

Details: Park is open dawn to dusk. Nature Center and Planetarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Peirce Mill and Estate is open 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through October, and on weekends only November through March. Free.

Length: 4.3 miles, one way.

Local color: "This is the remnant of the forest that used to cover this area," said Rock Creek Park education specialist Maggie Zadorozny of the 2.75-square-mile green space on the north side of Washington. The Western Ridge Trail begins near Military Road at the north end of the park and goes south, passing landmarks including the Nature Center and Planetarium, the Peirce Barn and the Peirce Mill.

West Virginia

Dolly Sods Wilderness Area

Location: Grant, Randolf and Tucker counties

Details: Open year-round. Free.

Length: Varied.

Local color: If you want to escape the city, Dolly Sods is the place to do it. "Tucker County itself has more miles of trail than we have roads. We have more federally designated wilderness areas than we have stoplights," said Bill Tucker, executive director of the Tucker County Convention & Visitors Bureau. With minimal signage, Dolly Sods is for the experienced hiker. But the scenery is beautiful and trails are abundant.

Table Rock Trail

Location: Near Dry Fork

Details: Open from dusk to dawn. Free.

Length: 1.2 miles, one way.

Local Color: Located in the Cheat Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest, this easy hike has a big reward at the end: a short, mostly level walk through the forest leads to a rock plateau overlooking the Dry Fork and the Cheat River valleys.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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