If you’re looking to get outdoors this fall, there are endless opportunities to paddle, hike, bike and spot wildlife in our region. Or perhaps you prefer a free walking tour exploring the history and culture of a local neighborhood with Walking Town DC. You can also give back: this Saturday is National Public Lands Day, a chance for you to join volunteers to create new trails, plant trees and clean up thousands of acres of parkland. Join us for tips on ways you can connect with nature or a new neighborhood.


  • Candy Thomson Spokesperson, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; former Baltimore Sun reporter covering the outdoors
  • Robb Hampton Director, Public Lands Programs

Best Fall Outdoor Activities In The D.C. Region

Baltimore Sun reporter Candy Thomson and Robb Hampton, director of the Public Lands Programs, share their favorite places to enjoy the autumn weather in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

View Favorite Fall Outdoor Activities In The D.C. Region in a larger map


  • 13:37:36

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. If you're looking to get outdoors this fall, there's no shortage of options in a region as full of parks as ours. The hardest part may be deciding where to go. There are old favorites and hidden gems to explore. Whether you're up for a day trip or prefer something closer to home you can hike, bike, paddle. And if you're looking for a hands-on experience, Saturday is National Public Lands Day. You can join other volunteers to help blaze new trails, plant trees or clean up parks and waterways. Or if you prefer to stay closer to home, how about a guided tour exploring the history of a local neighborhood?

  • 13:38:12

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this all is Candy Thomson. She is the spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. She's a retired -- what, retired? Well, she's anything but retired and she's not retiring either. But she is technically retired from the Baltimore Sun. She's written about the outdoors for more than a decade. Welcome, new retiree.

  • 13:38:32

    MS. CANDY THOMSONWell, thank you. This is -- what digs. This is a palace. I love this.

  • 13:38:36

    NNAMDIWell, we heard you were coming and so they said we have to move because Candy's now retired and she wants a place that will be more in accordance with her now leisurely lifestyle.

  • 13:38:45

    THOMSONAnd we can see the outdoors. This is excellent.

  • 13:38:48

    NNAMDIExcellent for her. Also joining us from studios in Atlanta, Ga. the studios of WABE is Robb Hampton, director of the Public Lands Program, which is part of the National Environmental Education Foundation. Robb Hampton, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:39:04

    MR. ROBB HAMPTONThanks for having me and good afternoon and hello, Candy.

  • 13:39:07

    THOMSONHow are you, Robb?

  • 13:39:08

    HAMPTONCongratulations on that retirement.

  • 13:39:10

    THOMSONOh, I think I'm going to enjoy this.

  • 13:39:12

    NNAMDIShe is already enjoying it. If you have questions or comments, call us at 800-433-8850. Candy, why is the fall such a great time to get outdoors?

  • 13:39:21

    THOMSONWell, for me, it's the bugs start disappearing. It's wonderful when you don't have to put on Deet or anything else and you're not, you know, growing welts on your arms and your face and your legs. You still have to watch out for ticks and stuck but, you know, the mosquitoes and nasty wasps of summer are a thing of the past.

  • 13:39:40

    NNAMDIWhat are some of your favorite places to get away from it all in the fall?

  • 13:39:43

    THOMSONWell, you know, that's the wonderful part about this region. It doesn't take you very long to get to the ocean. It doesn't take you very long to get to the Chesapeake Bay. You've got little mountains. You've got craggy peaks in West Virginia. You've got white water out in West Virginia. I mean, there's just an amazing amount of things you can do. The state of Maryland just keeps buying more open land with its program Open Space Money, and, you know, and will develop this and it'll be wonderful and for future generations, but if you can think of something, you can do it here.

  • 13:40:17

    NNAMDIIf in general there are people who live in this area who don't have a whole lot of time, what are some places you would recommend for a short outing?

  • 13:40:26

    THOMSONWell, you know, you can't do -- as far as I'm concerned, if you're in the District, you can't do any better than Theodore Roosevelt Island right there in the Potomac. It's got nice little trails. It's got great views. If you're a flat water paddler, you can paddle all the way around the island, and quite frankly, if you don't have a car, you know, the Rosslyn Metro Station is just 15 minutes away. So that would be -- you know, and with kids, they run out of, you know, they're not really excited after a while? Well, the hikes aren't that long, and they're flat.

  • 13:40:59

    NNAMDIAnd for people who have more time on their hands, tell them a little bit about the Western Maryland Rail Trail near Hancock.

  • 13:41:07

    THOMSONWell, that's a wonderful addition to the state network of bicycle trails. I've walked parts of it, I have biked parts of it, and the Western Maryland Rail Trail is just...

  • 13:41:17

    NNAMDITwenty-two-and-a-half miles, paved.

  • 13:41:19


  • 13:41:20

    NNAMDIFlat surface. You can take the whole family there if you want to -- if you have some time to spend.

  • 13:41:25

    THOMSONAnd Hancock has a great ice cream shop right there, so you can reward yourself. I love that.

  • 13:41:32

    NNAMDIRob, there's an annual tradition that brings volunteers to parks around the country. This is the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day. Can you tell us a little bit about it, how it got started?

  • 13:41:43

    HAMPTONYeah, that's right. National Public Lands Day is the nation's largest single day volunteer event for our public lands, and it really started, like you said, 20 years ago when there was just a strong interest from a lot of people out in the public, citizens who appreciated our public lands and wanted to give back and volunteer. And it really started on a federal level at our national parks and forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, but over the years we've really tried to make sure that our city parks are participating, and our state parks, and any other public land resources including schools are participating on National Public Lands Day.

  • 13:42:31

    NNAMDIWell, you know, where we sit here in Washington, we're in the middle of the land of the sequester and the budget showdown and the budget cuts, but given all of that, how important are volunteers to our parks, Rob?

  • 13:42:44

    HAMPTONYou know, I thought it was going to be -- the sequestration was going to make a huge impact on our federal lands in terms of site managers not being able to organize the volunteer events, but that hasn't really been the case too much. We've got a lot of different volunteer groups and friends organizations that are stepping in, and if a federal agency isn't leading a volunteer effort, a friends organization can, and that’s one of the things we want to promote at the National Environmental Education Foundation.

  • 13:43:18

    NNAMDISo where can people volunteer around here?

  • 13:43:22

    HAMPTONWell, we have quite a bit of projects, but along with your previous question, there are also great opportunities to get out on the weekend. But we have a great event down at Fletcher's Boat House, which is right off of Canal Road.

  • 13:43:39

    NNAMDIAnother of Candy's favorite places.

  • 13:43:40


  • 13:43:41

    HAMPTONYeah. And there's plenty of volunteering activities and plenty of recreational activities to do after that. And also Metro accessible is our event on the National Mall, and I just spoke with the National Park Service site manager there yesterday, and they are more than willing to have even more volunteers register and sign up, and they're doing some pretty basic projects. Removing litter, raking leaves, and just general beautification of the area.

  • 13:44:08

    HAMPTONAnd one of my favorite sites in D.C. that a lot of people don't know about is the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

  • 13:44:15

    NNAMDIOh, yeah.

  • 13:44:16

    HAMPTONAnd that's in Northeast, and our friends at the National Park Service and the National Park Conservation Association are putting that together, and they do an annual project there where they remove the lotus from the park ponds. And you can get in waders and jump into the ponds and put the lotus on the side and the park service pulls it up after the event is over.

  • 13:44:38

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, what are your favorite spots for getting outdoors in the fall? Have you ever volunteered at a public park? What was your experience? 800-433-8850. You can send email kojo@wamu.org. Rob, if someone wants to volunteer in a park this weekend, how do they find a site and sign up?

  • 13:45:00

    HAMPTONOur website is publiclandsday.org, and right on the home page we say, dig in, find a site, and you click on the map and we have sites all over the Metro area, but also if you -- if it's not too late to travel someplace, or if you're going to go away for the weekend, we have about 2100 sites all across the country.

  • 13:45:22

    NNAMDIYou got a favorite place to volunteer, Candy?

  • 13:45:24

    THOMSONWell, I'll tell you I can tell you also, to piggyback on Rob's list, the Department of Natural Resources, Maryland has a list of places where you can volunteer. If it's a park you've never seen before, this is a great way to introduce yourself to the park and get to know it and do it a little sweat equity. There are lots of great places out there. One that jumps out, when you mentioned before, Kojo, little known places.

  • 13:45:48


  • 13:45:48

    THOMSONThere's a little tiny park right along the Potomac in Charles County called Purse State Park. And everybody goes to Calvert Cliffs to go find fossil teeth, shark teeth.

  • 13:45:58


  • 13:45:59

    THOMSONGo to Purse State Park at low tide. Great. It's a tiny little park. Nobody knows it's there. Well, now they do. But it's a great place to go find fossil teeth.

  • 13:46:09

    NNAMDIAnd that's why she's here. Candy Thomson is the spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. She just retired from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, and she's written about the outdoors for more than a decade. She joins us in studio. Joining us from Atlanta, Georgia is Rob Hampton, director of the Public Lands Program, part of the National Environmental Education Foundation. And maybe your idea of getting outside means sticking closer to home, perhaps exploring a local neighborhood.

  • 13:46:38

    NNAMDINaturally, we have that too. I think we have someone on the line who can help us with his. Jane Fruendel Levey is with Cultural Tourism D.C. Jane Fruendel Levey, what's going on next week?

  • 13:46:52

    MS. JANE FRUENDEL LEVEYHey, Kojo. Thank you for bringing me into this great conversation. Cultural Tourism D.C. is about to start our 13th annual Walking Town D.C., the very well-known, and popular week of free walking tours of the neighborhoods in Washington.

  • 13:47:11

    NNAMDIAnd there are tours for every taste. What are some tours that people might find?

  • 13:47:16

    LEVEYWe have all kinds of things going on. Let me just tell you about the format first, and then I'll give you some content if I may.

  • 13:47:22


  • 13:47:23

    LEVEYOn the format front, because we realize people are working hard next week, we are offering tours at lunchtime and at sort of the happy hour, although there's no alcohol involved, unless you do that yourself. So we have some short tours at noon, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday next week, and we also have some beginning at 6:00 in the evening. So just, you know, take a break from work. The ones at noon will wrap up within an hour so that you can actually do this on your lunch hour.

  • 13:47:53

    LEVEYAnd then on the weekend of October 5th and 6th, we have the tours that people know us for which are right about two hours, and give you a nice in-depth look at the neighborhood. Now, in terms of the content, you're right. We have something for everybody. If you are interested in art, in architecture and sculpture, we have a lovely tour at an unusual place. It's the Rock Creek Parish and Rock Creek Cemetery.

  • 13:48:17


  • 13:48:17

    LEVEYThat's in Northeast Washington.

  • 13:48:18

    NNAMDII know it.

  • 13:48:19

    LEVEYOff of North Capitol Street. People may know of it because it's where the Saint-Gaudens statue that's known as Grief is found. A very famous statue that is a monument to Clover Adams, and a very mysterious piece of sculpture. But that cemetery is just filled with beautiful things, and so we have a great tour at Rock Creek Parish and Rock Creek Cemetery next week. There's one at noon on Wednesday and one Saturday.

  • 13:48:45

    NNAMDIWho leads these tours, and for those who may want more or less in the exercise department, how much walking is involved, and does one Bob Levey do any of that walking?

  • 13:48:57

    LEVEYYes, he does.

  • 13:48:59

    NNAMDIThat would be Jane's husband.

  • 13:49:00

    LEVEYYeah. The tours vary in terms of how difficult they are, and when you go to our website to take a look at the whole schedule, you will see that we describe the fitness level of the tours. So some of them are very simple and flat. Some of them are not. We have a couple tours in Anacostia, one in Congress Heights, and as folks know, that's a hill party of town. And so those are a little bit more demanding. But then we also have a temperance tour downtown Washington which shows you the important sites and the history of prohibition in Washington. And because it's downtown, that's quite level. So we have a whole range.

  • 13:49:36

    NNAMDIOkay. And Jane Fruendel Levey is with Cultural Tourism D.C. You can find a link at our website kojoshow.org. Jane, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 13:49:45

    LEVEYThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:49:46

    NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. 800-433-8850. Here is Steve in Dickerson, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:49:56

    STEVEHi. Yeah. I'm involved in a lot of conservation organizations in the area, and I was hoping your guests could comment a little bit on how the Pittman-Robertson Act is funded by hunters and the contribution they make to public lands.

  • 13:50:09

    NNAMDICan you talk about that, Candy?

  • 13:50:11

    THOMSONWell, that's a little-known fact, and I'm glad the caller brought that up. You know, we think of hunters as, you know, consumptive, that they take out of the environment, you know, deer and other animals, water fowl. But the sale of outdoors equipment, ammunition, fishing equipment, all that kind of stuff, there's a tax attached there. And millions and millions of dollars goes back into, you know, public lands, in buying public lands, in keeping up public lands. So yes. Hunters and fisherman are both part of the big picture.

  • 13:50:50

    THOMSONI mean, and I would say that, you know, duck stamps which people collect, the duck stamp money goes to buy more wetlands in the mid -- usually in the Midwest, but all over the country in the flyways where migrating birds need a place as refuge. Well, that money comes from duck stamps.

  • 13:51:09

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Steve. As always, Candy Thomson to the rescue when I think there's going to be a question that nobody here will know the answer to. But my goal is always to stump Candy with a question she cannot answer, which I can never seem to do, and which our callers can't -- by the way, you can try. 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. I have one. Where can you take kids for fall activities like apple picking, hay rides, or maybe a pumpkin patch?

  • 13:51:42

    THOMSONWell, you know, I like to do all of those things.

  • 13:51:43

    NNAMDIOh, god, yes.

  • 13:51:44

    THOMSONAnd certainly all you have to do is Google, I can tell you that. Google -- the Google machine is a wonderful machine. I can tell you that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources also lists a lot of farmer's markets, a lot of places where you can locally grown vegetables and fruits and stuff. There's, I mean, really, it's all -- if you can't find something, you're not trying very hard.

  • 13:52:06

    NNAMDIWell, back to Rob Hampton, director of the Public Lands Program, part of the National Environmental Education Foundation. Rob, if somebody doesn't have a lot of time to spare, they can volunteer pretty close to home. If you're in D.C., you can volunteer right here on the National Mall, which is in fact a public park. Any public park near you is likely to have something going on this weekend; is that right?

  • 13:52:30

    HAMPTONWell, many of them -- that's our goal is to have all the public parks participate in National Public Lands Day. But before saying that any public park is participating, it's best to go to the publiclandsday.org and double check. We do have events in downtown Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, out in the suburbs. And one other event that I did want to mention, it's happening actually on Sunday, not Saturday, and it's an underlooked -- underutilized park at Fort Hunt Park, and it's a National Park Service site.

  • 13:53:05

    HAMPTONAnd there's a lot of history going on, and it's along the George Washington Parkway. And the volunteer projects are starting, I think at twelve o'clock, and they go until 3:00, and there's some special speakers at around three o'clock, and I think the director of the National Park Service will be there, as well as the chair on the Council of Environment Quality. But the volunteer projects will be painting the backdrop on the stage at the picnic pavilion, and it's right there next to Mount Vernon. So it's a really beautiful area.

  • 13:53:40

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you hike, bike, or kayak? Where do you like to go? Give us a call or send email to kojo@wamu.org. Rob, it's my understanding that there are some unusual activities you can participate in if you wish. Care to name a few? I know what I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of paining a cannon. Where can I do that?

  • 13:54:03

    THOMSONThat's unusual.

  • 13:54:04

    HAMPTONWell, we do have some paintings of cannons up at Fort McHenry, I believe. Is that what you were thinking of?

  • 13:54:12

    NNAMDIYes. That's what I'm referring to. Yes.

  • 13:54:14

    HAMPTONOkay. Excellent.

  • 13:54:14

    NNAMDIOr no. You can also do it a Manassas National Battlefield Park it's my understanding.

  • 13:54:20

    HAMPTONWell, we like to paint cannons at many different public parks on National Public Lands Day, but there are very unique events happening all over. It's not just a picking up of trash. One pretty cool event that we've done, that I've personally done in the past is at Prince William Forest Park and it's straight down 95. It's one of those road trips. It's about a 40-minute drive from downtown Washington, but there we paint historic CCC cabins, and a lot of people don't know about the Civilian Conservation Corps from the Great Depression era.

  • 13:55:00

    HAMPTONBut they help build and maintained a lot of the state and national parks and forests across the country. So it's a really cool event to go to, and the leaves are usually just changing at the last weekend of September down there if you're lucky. And you can go inside some of these cabins and see where a lot of people have actually stayed throughout the whole summer during summer cap sessions and during the CCC while they were building that park.

  • 13:55:32

    NNAMDIAllow me to go to Debbie in Washington D.C. Debbie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:38

    DEBBIEHey, how are you doing?

  • 13:55:39

    NNAMDIDoing well.

  • 13:55:39

    DEBBIEThanks for taking my call. I'm driving past the National Mall and I heard you talking about funky events happening in national parks this weekend. We've got Figment D.C. happening on Saturday and Sunday, and it's a participatory arts festival. It's free. It's family friendly. It's all about getting out there and being the art and being a part of the art and playing with the art. So I just wanted to let people know about that.

  • 13:56:00

    NNAMDIAnd thank you very much for suggesting that. Candy, how about places to kayak or canoe?

  • 13:56:06

    THOMSONWell, we've got a lot of different options, certainly everything from the hair-raising white water of the Potomac, and that is not for the faint of heart, or for people who are just starting out. But certainly we've got -- there's Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County which has nice, flat water. You can kayak on Monocacy. You can kayak in many of the tributaries along the Chesapeake Bay that are, you know, they're sheltered. You can see both shorelines. Things like that.

  • 13:56:35

    THOMSONPlease, please, please wear your lifejackets. Don't sit on them. Thirteen people have died so far in Maryland this year, and we'd like that to stop. And so please wear your personal flotation device.

  • 13:56:49

    NNAMDIRob, a place most people don't realize is a national park, Wolf Trap.

  • 13:56:54

    HAMPTONAbsolutely. It's Wolf Trap National Park, and we have a lot of projects going on down there as well. But that's a national park as well as the performing center.

  • 13:57:04

    NNAMDIIt's also fly fishing season, Candy, and cooler weather means better fishing for those who want to give it a try. Where do you recommend they go?

  • 13:57:11

    THOMSONAbsolutely. You can go -- many of the lakes, if you've got kids, Howard County Centennial Lake has nice big flat areas where kids can stand either on the docks or along the shore and catch little Blue Gills. They can catch Perch. There are all kinds of great fish. You can fish at Seneca Creek State Park. The Potomac River outside of Washington up north or west, I guess. Small mouth bass. As the waters cool, the fish get a little more active. They come out just as everybody does in the fall.

  • 13:57:46

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Ann Aldrich who is the program manager at Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy wants me to mention that the National Public Lands Day site in Dumbarton Oaks Park in Washington D.C. will be pulling invasive plants Saturday from 9:00 to 1:00. Candy Thomson is the spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Rob Hampton is the director of the Public Lands Program, part of the National Environmental Education Foundation. Rob, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:11

    HAMPTONThanks for having me.

  • 13:58:12

    NNAMDICandy, happy to see you in your new job.

  • 13:58:15

    THOMSONOh, love seeing you, Kojo.

  • 13:58:16

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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