Autumn’s the season for sweaters, hot cocoa, and everything pumpkin, and it’s also the only chance you’ll have to see spectacular fall foliage. Here are just a few of the best hikes to get you there.
Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Amazing alpine scenery awaits in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Try the 7.4-mile out-and-back to Desolation Lake for prime views of the changing aspens. And check out Guardsman’s Pass for a truly eye-popping experience. Oaks and aspens dazzle with reds and oranges, and the views overlooking Heber Valley are simply stunning. Just take care—the route is unpaved, and in some places, there are no guardrails to protect you from steep drop-offs.
Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area, Arizona
Once a homestead on the south slope of the San Francisco Peaks, this kid-friendly wildlife area is full of ponderosa pines, fir, and aspen offering riotous fall colors. And those trees are alive with the sound of music: Mexican spotted owls, northern goshawks and California condors have all been visitors here, along with resident woodpeckers and other songbirds. An easy 1.6-mile loop trail takes you past two springs, petroglyphs, and the ruins of the homestead’s cabin, and if you’re quiet, you just might spot some of the area’s elk or mule deer.
Heather-Maple Pass Loop, Washington
Maple Pass and its stunning views of Black Peak and North Cascades National Park is the goal of this 7.2-miler, and if the name alone doesn’t put you in mind of the season, the luxurious tapestry of red, gold, and green laid out before you from the ridgeline certainly will. With over 2200 feet of elevation gain, this trail isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge, sparkling lakes in their glacier-carved bowls, huckleberry and larch, heather and sumac, and distant peaks as far as the eye can see await you.
Natural Bridge Trail, Missouri
Small but mighty, the less-than-a-mile loop located in the Grand Gulf State Park delivers an unforgettable experience: crossing a 250-foot natural stone bridge and peering from an overlook into the “Little Grand Canyon of the Ozarks,” a collapsed cave system with sheer walls as high as 130 feet. Visit in the fall to take advantage of the wealth of brilliant color in the surrounding Ozarks of northern Arkansas, which begin to see significant change in late September and early October and really hit their stride a couple weeks later.
Three Rivers Heritage Trail, Pennsylvania
For a hike that’s a little more urban and still offers great views, this 24-mile trail system along the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers links the most dynamic geographic and historical features of the vibrant city of Pittsburgh. Interpretive signs alert hikers and cyclists to various points of interest, including historical events and culturally-significant areas, in addition to providing information about local wildlife. Mid-October’s your best chance to see Pittsburgh’s skyline silhouetted against the city’s red—and gold-bedecked greenways.
Gorham Mountain Trail, Maine
Acadia National Park is a fall foliage tourist destination that can’t be missed. Every trail presents breathtaking views of the park’s unique blend of boreal and deciduous forests, and come late September, the leaves of the local oak, maple, beech, and aspen all begin to take a turn for the colorful. The Gorham Mountain trail is one of the park’s most popular, climbing to a modest summit of 525 feet that nonetheless provides stunning views of the ocean to the northeast and, of course, loads of opportunities to soak in those flamboyant fall leaves.