The crisp, cool air that marks the changing seasons is moving across the country. Leaves slowly reveal new colors, and trees will soon be dressed in fiery yellow, red, and orange hues. Our country’s most beautiful parks and landmarks are beginning the start of a show that comes once a year. It’s time to get your hiking boots out and enjoy the fall foliage.
You can experience the beauty of fall in almost every region throughout the United States. Whether you’re planning to travel with family or friends this season or stay local, don’t miss your chance to view the leaves and connect with nature. There are endless options for exploring, and a wide range of hikes are available for every skill level.
We’re highlighting 5 incredible landmark destinations throughout the U.S. that should be on everyone’s bucket list for leaf-peeping. So, if you can’t make one of these happen this year, jot it down as something to do in the future and hit a local trail near home.
5 Of The Best Fall Hikes In The United States
Letchworth State Park | New York
Photo Courtesy of sunoutdoors.com
Letchworth State Park is located in Castile, NY, and is known as the Grand Canyon of the East Coast. It is among the highest-ranked scenic destinations in the U.S. In 2015, USA Today readers declared it the winner of the best state park, and it is considered a prime destination for the leaf-peeping season.
The park caters to hikers of all ages and abilities with over 23 hiking trails that span 66 miles, giving beginners a chance to find their footing and experienced hikers a challenging trek. Beyond the self-guided trails are opportunities for guided walks and tours, bird watching, horseback riding, biking, kayaking, snowmobiling, and even hot air ballooning. Letchworth State Park is an unforgettable experience that has something for everyone all year round.
Home to three main waterfalls with gorgeous views, you can decide how you want to spend your time exploring the park. Portage Trail is a popular choice at only 1.6-miles round trip, where you can hike, run or walk while taking in the scenery.
You can enter the park for $10/vehicle, and it’s recommended that you take advantage of the onsite camping or cabin rentals to make the most of your visit. To plan your trip, click here.
Yosemite National Park | California
Photo Courtesy of myyosemitepark.com
Those who can travel easily in the fall should always take advantage of escaping the summer crowds. An unexpected destination for fall travel is Yosemite National Park, located within California’s beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range.
While you might not receive the Yosemite summer experience, don’t let that be a reason to neglect this option. Even in the cooler months, you can enjoy most park areas. And though much of the park is filled with evergreen trees, there are scenic trails that will deliver picture-perfect fall foliage.
One of the best hikes in Yosemite is Cook’s Meadow Loop. This path is a short, flat 1-mile loop that offers some of Yosemite’s best views. Explorers hiking this trail will see several of the park’s featured attractions, such as Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Royal Arches.
Reservations are required to enter during certain months, and checking for any road closures before visiting is wise. All Yosemite information can be found here.
Mount Rainier National Park | Washington
Photo Courtesy of visitrainier.com
Another less crowded option during the fall season is Mount Rainier National Park, located in Washington, just 2.5 hours from Seattle. Visitors start to dip after Labor Day, but early October is one of the best times to visit, especially if you’re searching for fall colors.
If you’re only interested in leaf-looking, you can do so by driving through the Chinook Scenic Byway that runs through the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Mount Rainier National Park. However, if you want to take in the park on foot, an excellent hike for those looking to take it easy is the Naches Peak Loop offering seemingly endless views for 3.2 miles.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, embark on the well-known Skyline Trail for a gorgeous 5.5-mile looped adventure.
Maroon Bells | Colorado
Photo Courtesy of The National Forest Service
Known as the most photographed mountains in North America, the Maroon Bells are located just 10 miles southwest of Aspen, CO offering gorgeous views among the Rockies and are a must-visit when you find yourself in the area.
There are a few ways you can soak in the scenery. The most popular option is the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, which offers an easy 1.9-mile round-trip lakeside loop, or you can continue your steps from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake for a 3.5-mile round-trip adventure.
Whichever hike you choose, you can expect to be met with colorful trees as you wind your way through the trails along with the expansive views of the Maroon Bells mountain.
You can visit for $10/vehicle when you make a reservation to experience only a portion of the beauty that colorful Colorado offers!
The Blue Ridge Parkway | North Carolina
Photo Courtesy of the Travel Channel
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway that runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, linking the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains.
With multiple visitor centers and entry points along the parkway, the hiking options and viewpoints for you to choose from are vast. Late September and early October are the most popular times to visit, and you’ll understand why when you see the scenery yourself.
Due to the many hiking spots and overlooks along the parkway, it’s hard for us to choose just one, but depending on where you plan to start your venture, some notable options include:
- Rough Ridge Overlook: offers excellent views of Grandfather Mountain; this is a perfect spot to snap a photo without breaking a sweat.
- Beacon Heights: a short hike with a big payoff as you reach the rock-covered mountain tops to sit and take in the views.
- Craggy Gardens: a popular destination for those visiting Asheville, Craggy Gardens offers multiple hike options that vary in skill from easy to expert.
- Chestoa View Overlook: an observation deck located in Linville, NC, that’s easy to miss if you aren’t on the lookout.
- Grandfather Mountain: a top-rated destination that features various hikes, a swinging bridge for photos, and even restaurants. It’s one of the few stops along the Parkway that requires reservations.
Overall, the changing season creates the opportunity for so much fun and adventure that you can enjoy solo, with a partner, or with family to create lasting memories.
No matter where you live, pick a destination to visit this fall, plan a trip or intentionally explore your own local area as a way of embracing this time of year. Use digital tools like The Hiking Project to discover and explore new places. We’ll see you on the trails.