Best Hikes to See Fall Colors in the US
From the west to the east, the lush green aspens, maples, beech, dogwood, larch, and willow trees slowly fade into vibrant fall rainbows. If you’ve yet to plan a hike around this transition, we’ve got your back. Here is a list of the best hikes throughout the states to get your fix of fall colors.
The Pacific NorthWest
Viewing Season: early October
The Pacific Northwest provides a myriad of ecosystems and diversity. Enjoy long dirt paths covered in canopies of trees announcing autumn’s arrival as you hike to hidden waterfalls encased in fall hues. There is no shortage of vibrancy here and your peepers are sure to get a show. For the most up-to-date information on fall foliage check these useful guides.
Skyline Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State
Length: 8.4 miles roundtrip
The Skyline Trail on Mount Rainier is mostly known for its spring wildflower views yet it shouldn’t be missed during fall. The Skyline Trail provides viewers an opportunity to see fall colors up close as the shrubbery and bushes that hug the trail are fiery reds and oranges. The hillsides are covered in a sea of fall’s beauty.
Check-in with the national park service and the weather during your prep for this trip as it can suddenly change to snow, making your once colorful trip turn white and cold quickly.
Want to check out the PNW on a guided trip? Look here for our trip to Mount Rainier and The Olympic National Rainforest.
Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Length: 7.2 miles
The Trail of Ten Falls is popular all year long for heaps of reasons. If you’re keen on waterfall hunting while soaking up autumnal hues, this is your trail. The Trail of Ten Falls boasts ten different waterfalls, and the final fall reaches 178 feet in height. The maple trees turn bright orange and yellow and their leaves cover the trail making a delightful crunch with every step. The trail provides numerous benches for waterfall viewing and pitstops. Make sure to bring the camera!
The Harriman Trail, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho
Length: 19 miles roundtrip
The Harriman Trail near Ketchum Idaho runs right along the Bigwood River, giving sustenance and life to the vibrant foliage here. Marvel at the changing aspens, willows, and cottonwoods throughout this lush landscape. Continue along the Harriman Trail as it opens up and offers standout views of Boulder Mountain covered in aspens. Fun fact: aspen groves are all interconnected through their roots so when one starts to change colors they all follow suit.
This trail is open to bikes and furry friends as well!
Viewing Season: mid-October to early November
Frequently argued as having the best fall views, the Appalachian Mountain range boasts drool-worthy scenic vistas for soaking in the waves of autumnal color change. The complicated geography of the area offers many overlooks and viewpoints of perfect fall foliage. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, you can follow the Appalachian Trail north to south and chase the changing colors.
McAfee Knob, Virginia
Length: 8 miles roundtrip
If you want to avoid crowds skip this hike as it is one of the most popular and photographed locations along the Appalachian Trail, for good reason. McAfee Knob hike is a 1,700-foot elevation gain hike up Catawba Mountain. Once summited one is generously blessed with panoramic views of the Roanoke Valley to the east, Tinker Cliffs to the north, and the Catawba Valley and North Mountains to the west.
Mt. Cammerer, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Length: 11.1 miles roundtrip
This lesser-known fire lookout destination offers the shortest and most commonly used route to the summit of Mt. Cammerer. It sits on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, offering incredible views to those that willingly choose the 3,200 feet of elevation gain. The trail traverses switchbacks through gorgeous old-growth forest, along ridgelines, and against rivers. At the summit of Mt. Cammerer is a fire lookout with a 360-degree view of the vibrancy of fall in the Smokies. Included in the view are the Tennessee Valley, the Pigeon River and its breathtaking gorge, and Mt. Sterling in North Carolina.
For a guided option check out our Wildlands Trekking Fall Colors in the Smokies backpacking trip.
Viewing Season: middle of September to middle of October
It’s not all corn fields and dust bowls in the midwest. This area is home to thousands of acres of parks and outdoor recreation.
Sam’s Throne Trail, The Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Length: 3-5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: easy to moderate
A little off the beaten path for hikers, as this area is mostly known for its rock climbing, the Sam’s Throne trail offers unbeatable views of the transition from summer to fall. The hike travels through the wooded forest of the Ozarks, along the bluff line, and next to beautiful rock formations. It is said the area got its namesake because a man once preached from the bluff. While we can’t say this with accuracy, the foliage does give off heavenly vibes.
Helpful hint: when the leaves are bursting with fall color you might not spot Sam’s Throne until you’re directly on top of it. Stay the course!
Top of the World trail, Marquette, Michigan
Length: about 4 miles roundtrip
The Top of the World overlook is a short uphill climb to two large rock outcroppings that offer unobstructed views of rolling hills covered in vibrant autumnal hues all the way to Lake Superior. Imagine yellow, orange, and red leaves punctuated by one of the great lakes of the USA. Hikers also get to view Hogsback Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Little Presque Isle from the overlook. Top of the World overlook is also a lovely spot for a picnic. Just make sure to catch it in good weather as rain and snow can make the hike unpleasant.
Viewing Season: mid-September to mid-October
There is no doubt that the northeastern part of the US is held in high regard during the fall. The area is frequently ranked highest on the list of the best places in the states to view fall foliage. On top of all the gorgeous hiking and autumnal hues, embrace the turning of the seasons with apple cider, pumpkins, and other festivities at one of the many fall festivals. Check out a list of fall festivals here.
The Waterbury Trail to Mount Hunger, Vermont
Length: 4.5 miles roundtrip
This popular trail offers an elevated hike and stunning panoramic views at the summit of Mount Hunger. Don’t let the name fool you, you will not be hungry for fall foliage views as the bald summit offers views in all directions. Embrace the gorgeous fall hues as you catch a glimpse of every peak in the Green Mountain Range. Expect some scrambling at the last bit of the hike.
Get a full fall experience in Vermont with Wildland Trekking’s Vermont Fall Foliage Tour.
Stowe Pinnacle, Vermont
Length: 3.7 miles
This out and back trail offers mixed hardwood forest, meadows, and various overlooks to a bald summit with fantastic views of the changing leaves. At the summit expect to be treated with views of Mount Hunger, the Green Mountains, and Mount Mansfield.
The Gorge Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York
Length: 7.1 miles
The most popular trail in Letchworth State Park, the Gorge Trail offers unparalleled fall viewing. Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ this trail walks along the Genesee River under lush canopies of ancient hemlock and sugar maple trees. The trail provides three distinct opportunities for viewing waterfalls with the Gorge being the final and most impressive. The waterfalls are lined with fall-changing trees and vibrant colors during the fall. Don’t miss this hike if you’re out east.
Viewing Season: depending on elevation, mid-August through mid-October
The Rockies are home to some of the tallest mountain peaks in the US and boast 100 peaks in their range. Many of these mountain peaks are over fourteen thousand feet and begin to change scenery earlier due to their elevation. Thus the Rockies fall show can outlast other areas on the list, as long as you’re willing to deal with the altitude.
Gem Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Length: 4 miles roundtrip
The initial section of the Gem Lake Trail passes through a boulder-strewn field, requiring caution during this section. Once through, the hike offers all the glories of aspens in the fall. Numerous boulder fields and giant rock formations abound along with views of the spectacular Longs Peak, Estes Park, and the mountains along the continental divide. The final destination is Gem Lake, a lake without an inlet or an outlet. Instead, Gem Lake is formed by trapped snowmelt and rainwater carved out in the granite basin.
Kootenai Falls, Kootenai National Forest, Montana
Length: 2 miles roundtrip
Hidden amongst the aspen and pine in Troy, Montana in the Kootenai National Forest is a magical swinging bridge across the Kootenai River. Imagine the hills around you covered in the bursting beams of yellow aspens trees as the mist arises to showcase the suspension bridge across the river. The bridge is 210 feet across and sits 100 feet above the river. Continue along the trail of fall frenzy towards the Kootenai Falls. This area is so beautiful it’s been in the filming of major motion pictures such as The Revenant and The River Wild.
For more information on peak season and the science behind how leaves change check out the Fall Foliage Map & Nationwide Peak Leaf Forecast. Have you turned into a “leafer” now? We hope to see you this fall traveling through the canopy of colors and vibrancy. Don’t miss this small window of magic!