The Top 10 Spectacular Fall Foliage Hikes
Last Updated: Sep 22, 2017
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Hiking in the great outdoors has numerous physical benefits, such as a strong heart, healthy weight, reduced risk of diabetes, detoxification and an overall better you. What better time to hit the trails than when the air is crisp and the trees are putting on a mesmerizing show of colors? The ultimate autumn adventure awaits you at these 10 unbelievable fall hiking destinations.
FOR HISTORY BUFFS: BOULDER BASIN TRAIL, KETCHUM, IDAHO
Idaho’s lush, mountainous landscape is an endless haven of breathtaking autumn trails. Perhaps the most unique route lies within Boulder Mountain. The path features crystal-clear streams, golden aspen trees and a variety of brilliantly hued vegetation as well as the bones of the late-1800s mining town, Boulder City. “Hiking into Boulder City in the fall offers a unique glimpse of the once-bustling mining town perched high in the Boulder Mountains,” says Ray Gadd, a tourism expert with the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance. “While few remnants of this community remain, there are just enough artifacts to paint your own imaginative picture of what used to be.” The terrain is rocky, but it remains a relatively tame hike for beginners.
Tigers keeping warm in the snow
FOR ANIMAL WATCHERS: WILDERNESS TRAIL, FAYETTEVILLE, WEST VIRGINIA
Wilderness Trail is a breakoff path from the Island in the Sky route in Babcock State Park. The trailhead begins beside deteriorated structures and a replica of a gristmill once located in the park many years ago. Visitors can purchase genuine, ground cornmeal from the fully functional river-powered mill. The Wilderness Trail and Island in the Sky combo offers a shelter for mountain-view picnics, wooden stairways, deer sightings and scenic overlooks all enveloped in an assortment of foliage, including pecan, cottonwood and multicolored hawthorn trees. “At Babcock, you will enjoy the best views and get further back into the wilderness,” says Andrea Bond of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. And if you’re ideal hike doesn’t include getting deep into the wilderness, “it does have a selection of easier trails as well, but they’re mostly close in to the park’s facilities and not very wildernessy,” she says.
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FOR WATER LOVERS: SWEET CREEK FALLS TRAIL, MAPLETON, OREGON
A variation of deeply colorful maple trees and 11 waterfalls surround Sweet Creek Falls Trail all along the 2.9-mile trip in the Siuslaw National Forest. Hikers of all ages can enjoy the wooden bridges and parallel creek while hiking through one of the best family-friendly trails in Oregon. “Fall is definitely one of the best and most scenic times to visit Oregon! Our lush, green forests transform into a kaleidoscope of reds, golds and everything in between,” says Allison Keeney, a Travel Oregon representative. Bring a picnic to enjoy by the multiple-tiered Sweet Creek Falls — the grand finale of the trail’s water features.
IF YOU HAVE A SWEET TOOTH: STOWE PINNACLE TRAIL, STOWE, VERMONT
Vermont hosts some of the most scenic fall hikes in the United States. Scarlet red sugar maples brighten the land during the fall and provide an abundance of genuine, pure maple syrup, a perfect souvenir for visiting hikers. Stowe Pinnacle Trail, located in C.C. Putnam State Forest, is one of the top hikes in the nature-driven state. A wildflower meadow guides hikers into the heavily shaded 2.8-mile trail area that’s covered with yellow birch trees and other intensely colored vegetation. A prized view is the reward after accomplishing the steep hike to the bald summit. Once at 1,520 feet, the Green Mountains, Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield create a picturesque, golden canvas that is illuminated by the sun. If the steep hike left you famished, you are in luck. Vermont is the proud home of the Ben and Jerry’s factory, which offers tours and tastings of their iconic, quirky ice-cream flavors.
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FOR MOUNTAINEERS: JENNY LAKE TRAIL, GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING
Nestled in the Grand Teton Mountains lies Jenny Lake Trail, which hugs the second-largest body of water in Grand Teton National Park. The 7.5-mile trek winds through lodgepole pines, Douglas firs, spruces, golden cottonwood and aspen trees as well as an assortment of fiery red shrubs. Despite being 6,900 feet above sea level, Jenny Lake Trail is a moderate route with overlooks and meadows — perfect for an autumn picnic. Wildlife is prevalent on this hike, prompting jaw-dropping opportunities for stellar photos. Bear spray is a must because the interactive animal population can get a bit too close for comfort. “Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and experiencing it in autumn is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Chris Mickey of Travel Wyoming.
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FOR RED ROCK CANYON VIEWS: RIM VISTA TRAIL, ABIQUIU, NEW MEXICO
New Mexico may not be the first place that comes to mind when in search of an awesome fall hike. The very terrain that makes up the state may seem like a poor choice, but it actually makes it one of the best. Pale red sandstone provides the perfect backdrop against the abundance of green pinyon and juniper trees along the Rim Vista Trail. Red aspens add an extra pop of color amongst the golden shrubs cascading along the rocky surface. This Carson National Forest hike can be rigorous, with rough walkways and large boulders, but the incline is quite steady. Once at the peak, Chama River Canyon and the historic Ghost Ranch Valley can be seen clearly below.
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FOR THE WELL-ROUNDED ADVENTURIST: BLOOD MOUNTAIN TRAIL, EAST GEORGIA
Blood Mountain Trail runs along the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches all the way to Maine. The trip begins in a serene fern and moss valley that narrows into the trailhead. While having a defined path, it becomes treacherous and thin at times, requiring hikers to climb rocks and other obstacles. Adventurists will find the trail pleasant and fun, with the right amount of difficulty. A historic 1930s stone-and-wood shelter sits at the top, welcoming Appalachian hikers for a well-earned rest. Georgia is thick with fall foliage. And being that the Blood Mountain Summit is the highest Appalachian Trail peak in Georgia, you’ll have the most breathtaking views of yellow sweet gums, golden hickories and red dogwoods. Helen, Georgia, a notable Bavarian-style town near the foot of the trail, is a unique place to stop for bratwurst, beer and everything German. Horse-drawn carriages, homemade candy, funnel cakes, jerky and scenic riverside dining are the perfect rewards for conquering a trail by the name of Blood Mountain.
FOR A GOOD OBSTACLE COURSE: ROARING FORK, GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE
Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains are several cascading water features, such as Baskins Creek Falls. Since the route to the falls is not very crowded, it tends to be a more secluded, calming experience. However, you won’t be lacking in adventure because the route requires you to cross a footbridge above a stream and even clamber over rough terrain for a bit. Roaring Fork Motor Trail Loop is an exciting way to navigate through the fall colors, which include yellow birch, American beech, red maples, hobblebush and pin cherry trees.
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FOR A PEACEFUL WANDER: WAWONA MEADOW LOOP, YOSEMITE VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Mountains are typical for a fall hike, but they can be difficult for the young and elderly. The Wawona Meadow Loop is wide, flat and runs through the more leisurely terrain of Yosemite National Park. A golf course sits at the center of the 3.5-mile loop, opening up views across the route. Yosemite is flooded with people during the summer months, but the crowds diminish after Labor Day. The park becomes calm and lush with fall foliage via aspen, dogwoods and oaks contrasting against spruces. Waterfalls begin to trickle rather than surge, which adds to the peaceful ambience.
FOR THE FISHERMAN: LOOP TRAIL, TOWNSHIP 6 NORTH OF WELD, MAINE
Loop Trail is an advanced, rocky path that winds up in Tumbledown Mountain in western Maine. The terrain makes for an adventurous hike through deep orange to vibrant yellow fall color from big-tooth aspen, white ash, American beech, maple and birch trees. A brook-fed pond resides near the peak, where hikers often spend some time fishing for trout or taking a cool dip. The climb comes to an end near the Great Ledges, with breathtaking views of Tumbledown Mountain’s three peaks. Be sure to keep an eye out for falcons and moose along the trail. “After or before your hike, pick your own pumpkin or apples, walk through a corn maze, visit a canyon, explore Mount Blue State Park or visit a museum,” suggests Visit Maine.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What's your favorite hike? When's the best season to go hiking in your area? Have you been to any of the hikes on our list? What kind of hiker are you? Let us know in the comments section!
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