- Katie Ashley
10 Hiking Spots for Amazing Fall Colors
It’s official: September 22nd marked the first day of fall, and while it might not yet feel or look like fall for everyone in the U.S., the autumnal equinox means new festivities are a-brewing.
For us at RightOnTrek, we see the fall season as an opportunity to get outside and experience nature in a new sense. With cooler weather, the crowds (and the bugs) have gone away, and the fall foliage is setting in. The holidays are just around the corner, and now is the time to seize outdoor exploration before the transition to winter snow sports.
If crisp autumn air, crunching leaves beneath your hiking boots, and the orange, yellow, red, and brown colors of fall excite you, keep reading to discover our top ten favorite places to take a trek this fall:
1. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Emerging in early October, Shenandoah National Park’s vegetation boasts a fall-color spectrum that would make any autumn-lover happy. Skyline Drive, the 105 mile road which overlooks many of the park's features, is a popular drive-along destination for fall color lovers, but traffic can sometimes make the road slow to traverse.This is why we recommend stopping and smelling the roses (in this case, freshly-dewed Maple trees) and checking out one of the Stony Man hiking trails.
2. The Great Smoky Mountains
Located along the Tennessee–North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains offer some of the best fall sights the Southeast has to offer. Trails at higher elevations, including the Baskins Creek Falls Trail and Alum Cave Trail, are ideal choices for easy to moderate hikers seeking vibrant views.
Gregory Bald Trail consistently ranks as a top choice for fall colors due to the views of the mountain range once at the top, and on the way up. Prepare appropriately, though - this trail is a little over 11 miles round trip and rather challenging!
If you’re looking for a low elevation trek, it is best to delay your hike until November when the fall-colors have made their way down the mountains.
3. Smugglers’ Notch State Park, Vermont
While beautiful all year round, this state park is arguably most attractive for fall-fanatics during mid-September through mid-October, when its infamous 17.3 mile long Smugglers' Notch Scenic Drive is consumed by a tunnel of brown, yellow, and red trees. Be sure to check weather conditions before planning your trip, because there are sometimes road closures.
See some falls’ in the fall with the Moss Glen Falls Trail.
The Moss Glen Falls Trail is only one mile round trip, so if you’re looking to burn a few more calories before Thanksgiving, we recommend checking out the Sterling Pond Trail (2.3 miles total, plus an amazing view of Mount Mansfield) or the Jay Peak Trail (3.5 miles) which climbs steeply in the woods before a beautiful overview of the multi-colored forest below.
4. Catskill Mountains, New York
The Catskill Mountains are not only a great getaway for those who embrace city-living in the Big Apple, but they are home to plentiful sugar maple, beech, yellow birch, red maple and black cherry trees - the perfect recipe for a kaleidoscope of colors. During early to mid October, take a hike up Mount Utsayantha or check out one of Walnut Mountain Park’s 13 miles of trails for views that appease your inner autumn-appreciation.
5. Acadia, Maine
If your maine concern is seeing fall colors, fear not: Acadia National Park contains thousands of acres of lush fall foliage. It starts to get cold this time of year, so if you’re hoping to view the polychromatic masterpiece that is Acadia from the safety and warmth of your vehicle, we won’t judge. The popular 27-mile scenic Park Loop Road will suffice. Alternatively, fuel your inner adventurer when you check out the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail. This 7.1 mile long trail offers views of the park’s most prominent features, including a diverse range of trees and shrubbery that have surely transitioned to hues of orange, yellow, and red at this time of year. For an easier trail with equally astonishing colors, check out Jordan Pond Path, a 3.3 mile loop around the pond.
6. Rocky Mountain National Park
The multitude of aspen trees in the Rockies take on a new form during this time of year, and if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse, it’s hard to miss. The Twin Sisters Peaks is an ideal hike for full-foliage sights, with views of Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker, Estes Cone and the Continental Divide from the western summit. Or, follow the aspen-lined Glacier Gorge Trail to Alberta Falls.
7. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
See the best of New England fall when you explore the Berkshires during October. We recommend viewing from atop Mount Greylock via the Cheshire Trail, or overlooking the Tyringham Cobble Reservation via the 2-mile Cobble Hill Loop. Be warned, however, the Berkshires are a popular destination for leaf-peepers so visitors should expect delays on Rockwell and Notch Road.
8. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
This is a mid-west must-stop for autumn sights! Michigan’s natural geographic make-up means lush forests turn to the fall colors we know and love beginning in mid-September.
State parks like Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Fayette Historic State Park offer a plethora of trails, including the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls hike and the Fayette Overlook Trail which both offer great overviews of the sights. It will probably be cold (temperatures range from 33℉ to 56℉ during October) but the colors will be quite warm!
9. Yosemite National Park
Yes, there’s even fall colors in California! This national park in the golden state contains the reds, oranges, and yellows that fall-fanatics crave, and as a bonus, you probably won’t be as cold here as the more Northern locations on this list. We recommend the Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley Trail for the best admiration of autumn shades. Or, select another Yosemite trail in our trail finder: https://rightontrek.com/trail-finder/catalog
*If you’re hoping to see the sights and sounds of fall from the top of Half Dome, make sure you plan your visit for before the Tuesday after Columbus Day Weekend, as the cables are taken down at this time and hikers no longer have access.
10. Mount Rainier
Located in Washington state - the home of Starbucks headquarters - you’ll be delighted to know the pumpkin-spice latte you’ve been craving is not far! Mount Rainier’s beauty persists year round, but for the fall-lover, late September through October might just be the best time to visit. Check out Silver Falls Loop or Third Burroughs, but be warned of snow beginning in mid October.
Before you head out on your autumn adventure this season, be sure to check weather reports and road closures and review the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.
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