Fall Foliage Hiking Tours

Historic pioneer cabin in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fall Foliage Walking & Hiking Tours

Enjoy the explosion of colors that spreads across American forests every autumn on unforgettable fall foliage hiking packages.

Planet Earth hosts annual natural events every nature lover must experience at least once in their lifetime. The list of must-see phenomena includes events like the Northern Lights of an Iceland winter, late summer salmon runs in Alaska, alpine wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains, spring waterfalls or February “firefall” in Yosemite National Park, Columbia’s Rainbow River transformation between July and November, Christmas Island’s rainy season crab migration and many more.

At or near the top of this list is the explosion of fall colors that sweeps across America’s Appalachian Mountains every autumn. Beginning in October, the transformation is sparked down south in Georgia and ripples northward through the 2,000-mile length of the mountainous Appalachian region. The wavy ocean of green forests becomes a kaleidoscope of alternative colors: oranges, reds, yellows, pinks, purples and more. Signaling the approach of winter, the fall foliage transformation is accompanied by shorter days, crisp temperatures, the first hints of chimney smoke in the air and bucolic fall traditions like pumpkin patches and apple picking.

Our fall foliage hiking tours make the most of this extraordinary time of year by helping guests experience the transformation as intimately as possible: on foot. We either stay in lodges and embark on daily hikes to amazing overlooks, waterfalls, meadows, lakes and more; or we head into the backcountry to completely immerse ourselves on backpacking trips. Check out the options below, and feel free to call us 7 days a week at 800-715-HIKE (4453) to learn more!

Why a Fall Foliage Hiking Tour?

There are many ways to experience the Eastern USA’s dramatic display of autumn colors. Most of us have seen stunning photos of highways rolling through orange, yellow and red forested mountains. Or perhaps a couple cuddling in the back of a horse-drawn carriage bumping along a dirt road, surrounded by overwhelming backdrops of fall colors. You can see the fall foliage from the seat of a bike, or the window of a hotel or even from the air when flying over the mountains.

So why a hiking tour to experience the fall colors? Because hiking is intimate, it is active, and it offers solitude.

As Edward Abbey famously said: “…the chief victims of the {industrial tourism} system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.

Hiking is humankind’s original form of transportation. Activity doesn’t get any more fundamental than walking through nature, and so by hiking we are connecting not just with the landscape but also with all the human beings who came before us. All those ancestors who were also awed by the fall foliage in their time. By boulder-hopping across a stream, zig-zagging through a forest, wandering across a meadow, or climbing a steep ridge line for views that you’ll remember forever – we are experiencing nature as all who came before us did.

In terms of practicality vs. philosophy, hiking offers visitors the opportunity to explore, to feel fulfilled physically and to escape the crowds that often characterize the national park experience.

When Do Fall Colors Peak?

Fall foliage begins in the Northeast (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont) in late September or early October and works its way south, ending finally in South Carolina and Georgia in late October or early November. Our tours focus on Vermont and North Carolina. We do our best to schedule our trip dates for the peak fall color season, but it is different every year and not an exact science. The consolation prize if  you miss the peak colors is days of hiking through wild and scenic Appalachian landscapes with pristine creeks, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife and a lot more!

What’s the Difference Between a Regular Tour and a Fall Foliage Tour?

All Wildland Trekking trips are all-inclusive, which means gear, meals, local transportation, permits and fees, emergency equipment and a professional guide are part of the package. This is as true for our fall foliage tours as it is for all others. What separates our fall foliage trips is that we do everything in our power to schedule the dates for the peak fall colors week or weeks. Also, the itineraries may be adapted for better viewing of the autumn colors display. Other than those differences, you can count on Wildland Trekking’s famous first-class service, excellent meals, carefully crafted itineraries and small group dynamics.

Should I Join a Backpacking Trip or An Inn-based Tour?

This is a common question, and is deserving of some serious thought. First, it’s important to understand that all Wildland Trekking trips are active, challenging adventures. Our inn-based tours still require long days of hiking, often with significant elevation gains and losses on variable trails. Showing up physically prepared to hike 4-8 miles per day for multiple days in a row is a prerequisite.

The main difference between these trip styles is the style of accommodations and the weight of our backpacks. On inn-based tours, our packs are a relatively light 8-12 pounds, and we return to hotels each night for showers, sleeping in beds, restaurant meals…etc. The downside of inn-based tours is that we don’t fully immerse ourselves in the wilderness, which can be incredibly rewarding and restorative.

On backpacking trips, we carry everything we need for the duration of the tour in multi-day backpacks (provided). We camp at night and your guide(s) will prepare all of the meals on the trail and in camp. Pack weights on backpacking trips tend to be in the 25-45 pound range, and significantly change the difficulty of a trip. Particularly the first day of a backpacking trip can feel quite difficult, but over the course of the tour most guests feel the difficulty eases. The advantages of a backpacking trip are that we are fully immersing ourselves in wilderness, we can find wonderful solitude, and we can fully focus on absorbing the magic of the fall colors without distractions.