From the Green Mountains of Vermont to the Redwoods of California, autumn is an amazing time of year to enjoy nature. The temperatures are cooler, the humidity lessens and the fall foliage can be breathtaking in the northern latitudes. No matter where you live, there are more amazing places to go on a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip in the spring, summer, winter and fall in the U.S. than could be explored in three lifetimes. To get you started, here are some of the best fall hikes in the United States:
Long Trail: Vermont
From the Massachusetts state line in the south to the state’s northern border with Canada, the Long Trail traverses 272 miles through the Green Mountain State. One of the best areas along the entire trail for a day hike is the “Deer’s Leap” trail at the top of Sherburne Pass, just above the Pico Mountain ski resort and about 15 minutes from Rutland. This moderately difficult hike provides breathtaking views of the mountains and the entire Rutland Valley. Be sure to bring tick and mosquito repellent as the bugs can be tough in the Green Mountains.
Bushkill Falls: Pennsylvania
Bushkill Falls, in the Poconos near Philadelphia, is a perfect place for a scenic fall hike. Bushkill Falls is actually a series of eight different waterfalls spanning a two-mile moderately difficult stretch of maintained trail that can be completed by the average hiker in about two hours. There are also many other beautiful hikes in the area within a two hours drive from Bushkill Falls. Note that ticks can be a big problem in the Northeast so pack the best tick repellent you can find.
Overlook Mountain: New York
Overlook Mountain in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York has a well marked trail that will lead you to some absolutely spectacular views of the Hudson Valley. Some interesting ruins of an old hotel await hikers near the summit and a fire tower at the summit provides spectacular views of the mountains. While the two and a half-mile hike is moderately steep, it is not overly difficult and can be completed in approximately three hours.
Whiteside Mountain: North Carolina
The two-mile-plus loop up Whiteside Mountain will provide you with a stunning view of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains and peregrine falcons nest in the cliffs. On a clear day you can see all the way to South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia and on cloudy days the mountain fog gives the hike a surreal quality. However, ticks love damp conditions so pack some good tick repellent.
Mount LeConte: Tennessee
The hike to the 6,593 foot summit of Mount LeConte will reward you with stunning and colorful views of the Great Smoky Mountains that straddle the Tennessee and North Carolina borders. While the hike takes the better part of a day, the Alum Cave section of the trail passes through a concave bluff and is a good spot to take a break and look around.
White Oak Canyon Trail: Virginia
Shenandoah National Park offers several hiking options for day hikes and overnight backpacking, but one great day trip is along the White Oak Canyon Trail. While the nine-plus mile trail is somewhat challenging in spots, the gorgeous waterfalls and stunning overlooks make it worth the effort, especially during fall foliage season. A 2,000 foot overlook at the halfway mark will give you a clear view to take stunning photographs of the autumn colors.
Tongass National Forest: Alaska
Home to numerous species of wildlife, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the quintessential nature-lovers paradise. The Tongass boasts over 700 miles of trails that snake through densely wooded forests and meadows, through caves and along wetlands, waterfalls and glaciers. One favorite day hike is the two-mile Nugget Falls trail that provides incredible views of a waterfall and glacier. As Alaska has plenty of bugs, backpacking bug spray is highly recommended. If you plan to do any fishing, odorless bug spray will help from leaving a scent on the bait the fish won’t like.
High Pass Loop: Washington
The High Pass Loop trail is a 35 mile long trail winding through the North Cascades in Washington state. Small sections can be completed on a day hike or the entire loop can be completed in three to five days of overnight backpacking. The loop trail begins at the Twin Lakes Trailhead and is challenging, but lots of fun. The trail reaches a height of 12,000 foot at the summit where you can see almost forever on a clear day and the fall foliage is jaw-dropping.
Wildwood Trail: Oregon
The Wildwood Trail spans over 30 miles in Portland’s Forest Park is covered by lush and soaring Douglas fir trees that lend to a tranquil and eerily beautiful landscape. The trail is rated moderately difficult, however, the fall foliage views overlooking a stream at the bottom of the ravine at the end of the trail are worth every bit of the effort it takes to get there.
High up and away from the glitz and glamour of one of America’s premier ski resorts, the forest surrounding Aspen is a nature lover’s dream come true and offers hikes for every skill level. Two 14,000-foot high peaks, named the “Maroon Bells,” soar above the White River National Forest. The Crater Lake Trail isn’t easy, but more than worth the effort with the hike offering scenic vistas, aspen groves and so many wildflowers you will think you are in a painting.
Little Lakes Valley Trail: California
Bishop trail is an easy hike as it passes through the gently sloping Little Lakes Valley as it meanders by mountain lakes and mountain peaks that reach 10,000 feet into the sky. While the views are breathtaking year-round, during the fall the aspen trees turn such a splendid yellow and gold they sparkle in the sunshine. Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box and Long Lake are all great spots to take a break or take some photos or try your luck at fishing.
Grand Canyon National Park South Rim Trail: Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park South Rim Trail in Arizona is not for the faint of heart and is the most challenging hike on the list. However, for those who are up to it, the hike provides stunning views of the Colorado River raging through the canyon. Grand Canyon National Park also has many other hiking trails that include easy-to-get-to vista points along the canyon’s rim.
Now that you know where to go you also need to think about what to take along on your hike. Whether out for a day hike or backpacking overnight, one of the keys to a fun hike is keeping weight to a minimum and both need to take food and water. Dehydrated food is lightweight and has all the nutrition you need to make it through.
Food suggestions for day hikers:
- Trail mix
- Granola bars
- Fruit snacks
Additional food suggestions for overnight hikers:
- Dehydrated meals
- Powdered milk
- Powdered eggs
Additionally, remember to pack a small water filter and an emergency first aid kit. While the bugs aren’t terrible in autumn, everyone should pack some travel size bug spray. Proven Insect repellent makes a complete line of bug sprays and lotions including mosquito repellent, backpacking bug spray, odorless bug spray and one of the best insect repellent for kids, all of which contain no harsh chemicals.