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9 things to do in Maryland to get into the fall spirit while staying safe from the coronavirus

A scene from Ladew Topiary Gardens at night.
A scene from Ladew Topiary Gardens at night. (Ladew Topiary Gardens)

The festivities that typically accompany the fall season will look a little different this year. You may be required to wear a mask when you pick out a pumpkin, and you should definitely put that Halloween bash on hold.

But even though the world is utterly unrecognizable from the last time summer melted into autumn, you can count on some things staying the same. The weather will still flicker from warm to cool until crisp fall winds finally take hold, and dead leaves will still crunch underfoot. Skeletons and cobwebs are already appearing in windows as Oct. 31 approaches, and — if you have a backyard — you’ll likely still have to break that rake out of storage.

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If the spirit moves you, you can even still take your kids apple picking.

Here is a collection of places to go and activities to try to remind yourself that fall — even during a pandemic — is still fall.

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View the foliage by car

The Hollofield Overlook at Patapsco Valley State Park.
The Hollofield Overlook at Patapsco Valley State Park. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources Ranger Felicia Graves)

Even if you’re not in the mood for a hike, you can still soak in the sights of trees flush with red, orange and yellow from the comfort of your own car. Take a drive to Valley Overlook in the Hollofield area of Patapsco Valley State Park, or set out along the Horses & Hounds Scenic Byway, a 70 mile stretch of road that coasts through Central Maryland, passing along the Oregon Ridge Nature Center and Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park. Looking for a tour of Western Maryland? Drive along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Scenic Byway for an up close look at the changing leaves.

Hit the trails

The C&O Canal's Key Bridge at sunset.
The C&O Canal's Key Bridge at sunset. (Sam Kittner)

Looking for a bit more of an adventure? Pack a bagged lunch, and explore the 184.5 miles of trails the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal has to offer. Scramble up rocks along the Billy Goat Trail — located southeast of the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center — or choose a more leisurely hike from the many trails Great Falls has to offer. Alternatively, take your bike out to Loch Raven Reservoir, which hosts a collection of trails north of Towson.

Picnic at the Ladew Topiary Gardens

One of the many gardens hosted at Ladew.
One of the many gardens hosted at Ladew. (Ladew Topiary Gardens)

Though the Butterfly House, Manor House, café and gift shop remain closed, there is still plenty to do at the site, which is located in Harford County. Ladew’s 22 acres of gardens will remain open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays until Halloween, and are now in full bloom with the colors of fall. The site’s 1 mile nature trail and boardwalk through its wetland forest and freshwater marsh is also still open.

Tickets for the gardens and nature walk are $15 for adults, $10 for visitors 62 years and older and for students, $4 for kids ages 2 to 12 and free for children under the age of 2.

Pick fruits, vegetables and flowers at Larriland Farm

Larriland Farm offers pumpkin, kale, apple and tomato picking.
Larriland Farm offers pumpkin, kale, apple and tomato picking. (Larriland Farm)

With face masks required and social distancing enforced, Larriland Farm in western Howard County remains open to the public. Stay up to date on which produce is ripe and ready on the farm’s website, or give them a call at 410-442-2605. Recently, red raspberries, kale, pumpkins and flowers were all good for picking.

Get lost in an 8 acre corn maze

Maryland's 8 acre corn maze, located in Anne Arundel County.
Maryland's 8 acre corn maze, located in Anne Arundel County. (Maryland Corn Maze)

For over a decade, Marylanders have explored the sprawling corn maze located at the intersection of MD Route 175 and Gambrills Road. And with some precautions — all staff members must be screened for symptoms before their shifts and guests must wear masks — that tradition will continue this year. Admission to the maze is $12 per person until Oct. 15, and will increase to $14 up until Halloween. Pony rides are $6.

Get a socially distanced spook in a haunted drive thru

An actor stands in the haunted drive thru hosted this year by Legends of the Fog.
An actor stands in the haunted drive thru hosted this year by Legends of the Fog. (Legends of the Fog)

Miss the heart-pumping thrill of walking through a haunted house? Fear not — you can still get your scare on while complying with all necessary COVID-19 safety precautions. Lower your car windows and take a ride through a spooky scene, brought to you by Legends of the Fog. The haunted experience is enhanced by a voiceover you can transmit through your vehicle’s audio system. $25 per vehicle, and an additional $10 for each passenger who isn’t the driver. Parental discretion advised.

Run in a virtual race

Runners compete in a Charm City Run before the pandemic.
Runners compete in a Charm City Run before the pandemic. (Charm City Run)

At least for my family, it wouldn’t be fall without registering to run in a 5K weeks in advance, only to regret everything when the day of the race finally arrives. Lucky for us (and anyone else who has the same silly tradition), this song and dance can continue this year, thanks to the advent of virtual races.

From family fun runs to 5K’s for a cause, Charm City Run is hosting nine races through the second week of November. Even the Turkey Trot (my family’s race of choice) has gone virtual this year.

Visit Cylburn Arboretum

A butterfly at Cylburn Arboretum.
A butterfly at Cylburn Arboretum. (Cylburn Arboretum)

Although all indoor facilities and bathrooms at this self-described “urban oasis” remain closed, its grounds are still open. Take a stroll along its wooded trails to view the changing leaves up close and personal, or visit one of its more than 20 gardens. Be sure to visit the arboretum’s website before your trip to be ready to recognize all the wildlife and vegetation you may see during your tour. The grounds and gardens are closed on Mondays and on federal holidays.

Trick-or-treat at the Maryland Zoo

A scene from last year's ZooBOOO! event.
A scene from last year's ZooBOOO! event. (Maryland Zoo)

Mask up and dress up for the Maryland Zoo’s annual ZooBOOO! event. Though the pandemic has put some of the celebration’s usual activities on hold, visitors are still invited to wear their favorite costumes and collect candy from trick-or-treat stations located throughout the zoo. You’ll have to wear a face mask in some areas of the park, and you should definitely wash your hands throughout your visit, but most animals are out and still viewable. Or, if you’re still nervous about going out in public, you can also watch their antics from home on the zoo’s live cams and feeds.

Reservations are required to visit the zoo in-person. The ZooBOOO! is free with admission or membership.

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