Pumpkins, apple cider, falling leaves … fall is our favorite time of year in Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley.
And we are one of the country’s best kept secrets when it comes to fall foliage.
The autumn colors here are absolutely spectacular. The leaves start to change as early as late September, and peak season is usually mid- to late-October. Visit us this season, and explore miles of scenic backroads lined with rock walls from another era and mature trees bursting with hues of amber, auburn, crimson and gold.
We are just a short drive from all major metro areas of the Northeast corridor, and the perfect destination for a romantic escape, girlfriend getaway or last-minute weekend trip.
The other big plus? Everything here is so close together. You’ll have time to do it all. In addition to taking in the brilliant colors of the season, stay at one of our lovely inns or top-notch hotels, indulge in a spa treatment, nosh at an award-winning restaurant, and treat yourself to some (tax-free) retail therapy. Fall is also the perfect time to visit one of our breweries or wineries, enjoying the crisp autumn air as you sip the libation of your choice.
So where are the best places in Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley to leaf peep? Here are 11 of our favorite spots:
1. Ashland Nature Center
The Delaware Nature Society’s headquarters, Ashland Nature Center offers 130 acres of woodlands, meadows, and marsh to explore. The best fall foliage viewing is along the Treetop Trail. It begins along the floodplain below the visitor center building and leads up into a large oak-beech-tulip forest on the hillside overlooking the Red Clay Creek. Also be sure to bring your binoculars. Every fall, up to 20,000 hawks migrate past its Hawk Watch Hill.
2. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Fall is a great time to stop by Bombay Hook and watch birds against the backdrop of the changing leaves. Take the auto tour loop to view the brilliant fall leaves as well as the changing colors of the tidal marsh grasses. You will also see tons of migrating birds as the refuge is directly in the path of the Atlantic Flyway. Among these are the American Avocet which you are most likely to spy in Raymond Pool, one of several freshwater pools within the refuge. In the fall, the refuge is a popular photography spot among amateur and professional birders.
3. Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art
This one-time nineteenth century mill is also the former family home of famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth and his son, acclaimed American realist painter Andrew Wyeth. After you’ve viewed the treasured nineteenth and twentieth century American artworks that line the museum’s walls, follow the river trail, beginning at the corner of the parking lot near the museum on the river side, for some spectacular seasonal sights. One of the earliest (and showiest) fall foliage is the Black Gum. It bears up to four colors at the same time. Many wildflowers also bloom here in the fall, adding to the explosion of color.
4. Brandywine Creek State Park
Hike through the meadows or the forest at Brandywine Creek for stunning fall colors in every direction. One of our favorite trails, the Hidden Pond trail, begins at the nature center and winds through the forest and down to Brandywine Creek. The stone walls throughout the park, built in the 1800s by the du Pont family, make an excellent foreground for foliage photos. Every weekend in October, the park also runs wagon rides. Bring a blanket and picnic, and settle in for a relaxing 30-minute trip to enjoy the autumn colors and picturesque meadows. Warm up with a campfire at the end of your journey.
5. Hagley Museum and Library
Hagley is the site of the gunpowder works founded by E. I. du Pont in 1802, later to be known as the DuPont Company, and it now includes restored mills, a workers' community, and the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family. In the fall, the colors are a lovely contrast against the stone buildings, and a stroll along the Brandywine Creek surrounded by ancient trees is a sublime way to spend a fall day. On special days, Hagley offers fall hayrides and fall strolls. Check its events page for details.
6. Longwood Gardens
Pierre du Pont, who reshaped the family company and brought it into the 20th century, personally designed Longwood Gardens, getting inspiration from lush European gardens he’d seen on his travels. The majestic 1000+ acre gardens are an explosion of color and beauty as are the amazing fountain shows. Beginning October 22, 2020, Longwood celebrates fall’s “official” flower with the Chrysanthemum Festival. The highlight is the Thousand Bloom Mum, the largest chrysanthemum plant outside of Asia. This mammoth mum must be seen to be believed.
7. Lums Pond State Park
This park, one of Delaware’s largest, is home to the state’s largest freshwater pond. Bring along your kayak or canoe and paddle along the pond’s perimeter for a panoramic view of the changing leaves from the water. Make a weekend of it with an overnight stay in the park’s campground. Lums Pond also offers some great fall-themed events including hayrides, bonfires and fall themed hikes. Check its website for the most up-to-date event information.
8. Mt. Cuba Center
This botanical garden just earned a top spot in USA Today’s 10Best Reader’s Choice Awards. Experience the brilliant hues of fall amidst the towering trees of this naturalistic garden as well as one of the most panoramic views of Brandywine Valley scenery from the back side of the property’s estate house. Guests are welcomed to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the lawn or one of the more secluded nooks found throughout the gardens. Mt. Cuba also offers numerous fall-themed classes, including a fall photography stroll. Click here for the most up-to-date information.
9. White Clay Creek State Park
The park covers nearly 3,600 acres and is one of Delaware’s most pristine nature sanctuaries. In 2000, the National Park Service named White Clay Creek a National Wild and Scenic River. Hike or take a mountain bike ride through its woodsy trails, many of which run along or over the scenic creek that is its namesake. Our favorite route? Take the PennDel trail along White Clay Creek for tall trees bursting with color, beautiful vistas, and a bridge that offers lovely views of the creek and the forest beyond. Also keep an eye out for warblers that are common here during peak migration season. You might also spot fox, deer, and beaver along the way.
10. Wilmington and Western Railroad
The railroad offers tours on steam-diesel-powered antique trains through the scenic Red Clay Valley. The family-friendly Autumn Leaf Special is one of the best ways to enjoy the colors of the season. On weekends and select weekdays, it offers 1½-hour round trips to a secluded grove along the banks of the Red Clay River where you can enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch. Click here for dates and times.
11. Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
You can spend an entire day at this nearly 1000-acre estate where Henry du Pont designed the naturalistic gardens as a tribute to the landscapes he loved as a child. Fall color starts in mid to late September with the dogwood, maple, and katsura trees. In October, hickories, ashes, beech, and black gum join the color explosion. Late fall brings the vivid yellows of tulip-poplar, russet tones from oak, and reds from dogwood. Color is echoed on the woodland floor by wildflowers. If you have kids or are a kid at heart, you don’t want to miss the koi pond with its friendly fish and the fairytale-like world of the Enchanted Forest.
Now are you as excited about fall in Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley as we are? Well, it’s time to start planning! Get your camera ready, your bags packed and join us for a stress-free fall getaway through some of America’s most stunning landscapes. There is no shortage of things to do here. Learn about our 3-2-1 Getaway package that offers free admission to three of our top attractions with any two-night stay in participating hotels. Also be sure to read up on the four scenic byways that run through our region. For even more ideas, visit www.visitwilmingtonde.com.