Top Hiking Destinations for Spectacular Fall Foliage
Just hearing the word “fall” always brings to mind images of spectacular foliage. Forested valleys and mountains ablaze in jewel-like shades of reds, oranges and yellows are a natural phenomenon unique to the fall season. Fall also happens to be a delightful time to go hiking, with cooler temperatures and a certain crispness to the air.
The most famous region for fall foliage in the United States is New England, closely rivaled by the Appalachians. However, there are amazing destinations all across the country where you can admire the seasonal woodland scenery from equally excellent hiking trails. The following destinations are all ideal for doing just that.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Maine’s Acadia National Park is the No. 1 pick by Conde Nast Traveler in 2022 for the best fall hiking trails in the U.S. It’s hard to disagree, given that fall foliage is one of the major draws for visitors to Acadia, helping it rank among the most-visited of all national parks. The park offers 158 miles of hiking trails, with routes to suit all abilities.
An easier, shorter trail with prime fall foliage views is the 2.2-mile Ocean Path Trail. Hike along the rugged edge of the continent, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the blazing-hued forest of maple, birch and poplar. It’s a great option if you’re hiking with kids. Tougher trails include the near-vertical Precipice Trail on Champlain Mountain, and the adrenaline-inducing Beehive Cliffs Trail with iron stairs, railings and some scrambling required.
All of Vermont is prime for admiring fall foliage, but Stowe stands out as a great destination for combining that with hiking. A ski town in winter, it has ample amenities for visitors, and some amazing hiking terrain across Mount Mansfield.
A section of the historic Long Trail leads to the summit of Mount Mansfield and elevates you above the treeline. This means you get an uninterrupted panorama for miles across the forested countryside to Lake Champlain. Up until mid-October, you can ride the Stowe Gondola SkyRidge up the mountain for access to a wide network of trails.
If you bring a picnic to enjoy while taking in those peak fall foliage views — always a good idea — we recommend putting the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket in your pocket or day pack. It’s 100% waterproof and puncture-resistant, and you’ll really appreciate having a clean, dry place to sit.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is spectacular all year round. However, fall in the park has its own special beauty due to the diversity of sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple and hickory habitats, with peak foliage times varying by elevation.
It’s a good idea to consult a ranger at a visitor center about the prime fall foliage hikes during your visit. The park recommends a number of short day hikes to highlight the season, including the world-famous Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Indian Gap, the Sutton Ridge Overlook and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
The peak time for fall foliage in Ohio’s rural Cuyahoga Valley is usually during the third week of October, but various maples, oaks and aspens put on a beautiful show throughout the month. The folks at Cuyahoga Valley National Park suggest the inner loop of the Oak Hill Trail, the Brandywine Gorge Trail, which showcases Brandywine Falls, and the hike to the Ledges Overlook for expansive views over the whole, vibrant valley.
The popular Ledges area of the park is steep and rocky, so be sure to wear sturdy footwear. Add Pike Trail Hiking Gaiters for additional protection from rocks, mud, weed burrs, and river crossings. They’re waterproof, lightweight and fully adjustable for the perfect fit.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri
Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks State Park combines a serene sense of getting away from it all with proximity to ample visitor amenities, plus some truly incredible fall foliage. More than a dozen trails give hikers access to ridges, hollows, natural springs, rocky outcrops and dense woodlands. Views of the Lake of the Ozarks, one of the largest lakes in Missouri, are a major highlight, especially when fall foliage is on display.
Trails in the park range considerably in difficulty, with options to suit all hikers. Some require stream crossings, so remember to bring a pair of Waterproof Breathable Socks to keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable.
Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico
New Mexico might not be the first place that comes to mind for fall foliage hikes, but the state’s higher elevations are blanketed with aspen trees, which in fall transform into dazzling shades of yellows and golds.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains region near Santa Fe boasts beautiful fall foliage. Consider the Aspen Vista Trail in Santa Fe National Forest, which is unrivaled for hiking through pristine aspen and ponderosa forests. It’s a tough hike — 11 miles at a high elevation. Nearby is Hyde Memorial State Park, which also has a trail network. Check the weather forecast before setting out on this hike, as fall temperatures are variable in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Another mountain destination in the southwest with fabulous fall foliage is Coconino National Forest in Northern Arizona. It’s accessible from the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona, famous for red rock formations and the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest. The national forest also has maple trees and Gambel oaks, with leaves that change color in stunning fashion each fall.
A popular, especially scenic hike in the region is the West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon. It’s a 6-mile round-trip with creek crossings and shady, wooded terrain. Arizona is rattlesnake country, so remember to bring a pair of Snake Gaiters for 360-degree wraparound protection during your fall hike.
Ready for a Fall Foliage Hike?
No matter the season, you shouldn’t hit the hiking trail without some careful preparation. This includes getting the best gear for the terrain. Pike Trail has you covered, with a carefully curated line of outdoor products that are road-tested, high-quality and affordable. Happy hiking!
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