7 of the Best Fall Hiking Trips in the U.S.

Surround yourself in beautiful autumn colors and striking scenery along America's picturesque trails. 

By Claire Volkman, ContributorOct. 7, 2015
By Claire Volkman, ContributorOct. 7, 2015, at 2:18 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 of the Best Fall Hiking Trips in the U.S.

 Sunset at the Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Whether you're an experienced hiker or a beginner, there's a hiking spot for you on this list.(Getty Images)

With trees ablaze in a dizzying array of stunning colors, from bright reds to sparkling golds, there's no better time to strap on your hiking boots than autumn. Thanks to the country's expansive and dynamic geography, nearly every corner in America's national parks come with spectacular views. Plus, the crisp, cooler air in so many parts of the country make it easier to hike longer without fatigue. So toss on that cozy sweater, grab your thermos of hot cider and head to these breathtaking spots. Ranging from easy to strenuous, these hiking destinations offer epic views and trails suitable for a variety of interests and skill levels.

The Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee  

One of the most popular parks in the country, the Appalachian Trail is nothing short of spectacular in the fall. This segment of the AT, which extends 94 miles through Tennessee, winds through the lush Great Smoky Mountains and offers glimpses of foliage and cascading waterfalls as well as valley viewpoints. If you don't have weeks to spend on the trail, hike the smaller section from the Iron Mountain Gap to the Cross Mountain, which is a mere 17 miles and allows you to set up camp in the decorated Cherokee National Forest. 

Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Arguably the toughest hike in Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag Trail is not for novice hikers. However, don't let that deter you from climbing the rugged, steep and winding nearly 9-mile-long circuit. You'll be welcomed with panoramic, 360-degree views of the picturesque Shenandoah National Park's 200,000 protected acres, which comes alive in a natural palette of bright orange, gold, yellow and red in autumn. Tackle this strenuous day hike during the week to avoid the massive crowds that visit during leaf-peeping season.

Central Park, New York City

You don't have to go far to experience an invigorating hike. In fact, you can do it right in the center of one of the country's s largest cities. The Ravine, a stream bed located in the lush green and yellow trees of the North Woods in Central Park, is great for leisurely hikers and kids. The trail extends from 101st Street to Harlem Meer (ending near the gorgeous Huddleston Arch) and is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, like migratory birds and raccoons. Home to 57 other hiking trails, there's plenty of places to see the colorful trees and monumental skyline inside the 1.3-square-mile natural oasis.

Acadia National Park, Maine

The incredibly scenic and robust coastal mountains of Acadia National Park provide some of the most expansive and stunning views of New England's coastline. Since many of the roads are unpaved and closed to cars, the park makes an idyllic place to hike along  colorful birch, maple and poplar trees. For a memorable sunrise, hike up the Cadillac Mountain along the North Ridge Trail, which reaches a staggering height at 1,530 feet. Though it's not for the faint of heart, ascending the popular (and strenuous) Beehive Trail will yield amazing views of Acadia's bright foliage against the icy Atlantic.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

One of Colorado's crown jewels, Bear Lake is one of the most beautiful hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake's aqua blue color framed by the glowing yellow and orange aspen trees create dazzling views. The trail around the lake is an easy walk and encompasses 0.8 miles along the stunning lakeshore. And once you reach the summit, you'll be welcomed with more panoramic views of the picturesque lake, colorful forest and the towering Half Mountain and Longs Peak.

Wildwood Trail, Oregon

Covering over 30 miles in Portland's Forest Park, the Wildwood Trail is a local and tourist favorite. The trail is flanked by spectacular Douglas firs, creating  a thick canopy along the scenic route. For an eerie, yet hauntingly beautiful  landscape, turn northwest onto the trail at mile marker no. 12. Through the lush trees, you'll find an arduous climb up Newton Road. The tranquil views at the end are postcard-worthy, with a stream-filled ravine decorated with brightly colored leaves in red, orange, light yellow and green hues. 

Beaver Lake Loop in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

One of the Michigan's most stunning trails, the Beaver Loop inside the 73,000-acre-long Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore winds along the multi-hued sandstone cliffs and verdant forests. Starting at the campground, the 3.5-mile trek circles around Beaver Lake along the beautiful Beaver Creek. A shorter, 1.5-mile hike, which also starts at the campground, takes you through the vibrant foliage to Lake Superior's craggy coast. The icy blue water against the blazing trees provides one of the most dramatic views in the park.

Claire Volkman, Contributor

Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent ...  Read more

Tags: travel

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.


The 21 Most Beautiful Waterfalls to See Around the World

Discover which stunning falls offer once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences.

April 25, 2019

The 20 Best Michigan State Parks

Two peninsulas, four Great Lakes and innumerable natural highlights elevate Michigan's state parks.

April 18, 2019

50 Awesome Vacation Ideas for Every Type of Traveler

Consider these vacation ideas for your next getaway.

April 11, 2019

The 13 Best National Parks in California

You won't regret adding one of these national parks to your California itinerary.

April 10, 2019

10 Beautiful Places to Visit in the South of France

Plan a getaway to these special destinations to soak up culture, cuisine and quaint atmospheres.

April 8, 2019

Best Carry-on Luggage of 2019

U.S. News rated the best carry-on luggage, considering recommendations from experts and consumers.

Lyn MettlerApril 3, 2019

The 11 Best Utah National Parks to Visit

From birding to bouldering to boating, Utah's national parks have it all.

April 2, 2019

The 30 Best Zoos in the U.S.

Get an up-close look at wild creatures in natural settings at America's top animal parks.

March 28, 2019

15 Scenic Train Rides

Climb aboard these locomotives for jaw-dropping views.

March 26, 2019

13 Top Places to Visit in Tuscany, Italy

Ditch the crowded streets of Rome or Milan and head to Italy's picturesque countryside.

March 25, 2019