Fall is heralded by many comforting signs — apple picking excursions, the arrival of pumpkin spice lattes and hayrides at the local pumpkin patch.
But nothing says fall more profoundly than brilliantly colored leaves and the crisp chill in the air that makes you grab a sweatshirt as you head out the door. No matter where you live in the U.S. there is bound to be gorgeous autumn hike within reach.
If you’re itching to bundle up and head to the mountains, here’s a look at 11 of the most amazing hikes that showcase autumn in all her golden, umber, and crimson glory.
1. Sugarloaf Mountain Hike near Dickerson, Maryland
Lose yourself in a thick, oak canopy that offers a kaleidoscope of fall foliage. As this mountain is the closest one to DC, avoid the crowds by hitting the Northern Peaks trail and enjoying a cozy afternoon picnic at the White Rock overlook.
In addition to the impressive oaks, you’ll also run into lush ferns and an abundance of Mountain Laurel. Be sure to wear sturdy footwear due to the amount of exposed rock that leaves loose rock and quartzite along the trail. If you like to catch a glimpse of wildlife while you hike, be on the lookout for groundhogs, hawks, squirrels, cardinals and even the occasional rattlesnake or bear cub.
2. Dry Creek Falls Hike near Portland, Oregon
Nestled in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, this hike promises a 75-foot waterfall and lush, gold maple trees. The hike is most impressive from mid- to late October. The trek lasts about five miles round trip, beginning just below the Bridge of the Gods before spanning the mighty Columbia River and running along the Pacific Crest Trail for just over two miles.
Hikers will fall in love with the lush, mossy woods and brilliant autumn colors. Even though this trail is easy for even small hikers to master, it’s typically not crowded. This is a delightful autumn adventure that can become a beloved family tradition.
3. Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Share the stunning fall colors with your best friend while hiking in Massachusetts. Ravenswood Park offers more than 600 acres of trails, carriage roads and woodlands that are completely dog-friendly. A hike in Ravenswood Park will be moderate, but offers a secret garden feeling made up of shrouded hemlock groves, a huge variety of tree species and a magnolia swamp.
There are several serene spots to share a picnic or simply enjoy the peace and magnificence of nature. If you want to expand your hike, consider taking part in the wild mushroom forage or enjoying the view from the overlook to Gloucester Harbor . The park is open from sunup to sundown, and offers stunning views and rich colonial history.
4. Mount Monadnock near Dublin, New Hampshire
While there are plenty of impressive hikes to choose from in the Granite State, Mount Monadnock should move to the top of your list. Known as one of the most climbed mountains in the world, this mountain is renowned for its remarkable fall colors. In fact, this natural wonder can be mistaken for a sold-out rock concert on busy weekends like Columbus Day.
To avoid the throng, venture onto a less-traveled path via the Birchtoft Trail. You can access this hidden gem near the eastern base of the mountain, and will be rewarded with beautiful views along the edge of Gilson Pond before climbing uphill to the Monadnock summit. Once you arrive, sit back and take in the remarkable Boston skyline along with the brilliant autumn leaves. This is New Hampshire hiking.
5. Mishe Mokwa Trail near Los Angeles, California
Located in the Santa Monica Mountains outside Malibu, this is one of the best places to hike in L.A. The Mishe Mokwa Trail is a moderate hike that will lead you to an autumn paradise under a secluded oak grove at Split Rock.
One of the best things about this hike, is that fall lasts through early December. If Halloween has already passed and you haven’t made it into the mountains, don’t sweat it. You can take in the large variety of local deciduous trees from early fall until nearly the start of the new year.
6. Poet’s Ledge in the Catskills, New York
This remote Catskills hike is best in the fall. Not only will you encounter stunning old growth trees, but you’ll also enjoy three 50 to 100 foot waterfalls along the way. The whole hike is just over six miles round trip, but the expansive view at Poet’s Ledge is well worth it.
Along the path you’re likely to encounter wildlife, as this isn’t a trail that usually draws large crowds. Deer can be found along the trail and the abundant blueberry bushes attract bears looking for a treat. Pay attention to slippery rocks along the path and look out for yellow trail markers near milepost 2.63. This is your signal to veer right to the impressive vista of Poet’s Ledge.
7. Crabtree Nature Center Hike near Chicago, Illinois
If you’re looking for family-friendly hiking trails near Chicago, then this is the answer to your prayers. Birdwatchers will thrill at the number of feathered friends you can spy and the vast marshland offers a great contrast to the dazzling fall leaves. The center rehabilitates injured birds, so your chances of getting a good look at anything from a vulture to a Great Horned Owl are pretty good.
The Phantom Trail offers lovely fall flowers and the occasional frog. This hike is kind of like cheating, because you don’t have to venture far from the city to feel like you’ve been transported a million miles away. It’s a great day adventure for kids and you won’t have to look too far to find a restroom. If you’re looking for a mountaineering experience, this will fall short. But it’s a perfect introductory experience for curious kids of all ages.
8. Stewart Falls Hike near Sundance, Utah
Perfect for those who want to take in the fall colors with the whole family, this hike in Provo Canyon definitely delivers. You’ll be dazzled by the bright colors of delicate aspen trees as you navigate alpine meadows and meandering creeks to reach the cascading falls.
From the base of the falls you can take in Sundance Resort and the great expanse of Provo Canyon. To avoid larger crowds, try to sneak away to this awesome autumn spot in the middle of the week.
9. Peak to Peak Hike in Woodstock, Vermont
This annual event offers a variety of hikes and walks for the whole family to enjoy. Strategically held in October each year, this hike showcases Vermont’s famous sugar maples, 400-year-old hemlocks and miles of historic, woodland carriage roads.
Guided hikes to the tops of Mount Peg and Mount Tom are available, but hikers are welcome to explore on their own. The first 100 to scale the top of both mounts, completing the Peak to Peak Challenge, receive a special prize. But before you scramble off to claim your reward, be sure to pause and take in the remarkable views of surrounding hills and valleys from the top of Mount Tom.
10. Sleeping Bear Dunes near Glen Arbor, Michigan
Thrill to the autumn-hued birch, beech, and maple trees dotting the 100 miles of designated trails along Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Depending on the trail you choose you can enjoy fields of wildflowers, views of lush forest or high vistas overlooking dunes and lakes.
No matter where you go, though, you will be confronted with some of autumn’s most spectacular colors. The Windy Moraine Trail will lead you to an impressive view of Lake Michigan as well as views of the Glen Lakes and the rich woodlands that surround them.
11. Lost Valley Trail in Buffalo National River, Arkansas
What could be better than an invigorating fall hike that leads to a secluded cave? This hike is full of contrasts, from the brilliant green moss that sets off red and yellow leaves to the understated waterfall that conceals the cozy cave. Even though the cave is only around 200 feet long, you still need a flashlight to find your way.
Along the path you’ll encounter hollowed out trees, rustic stone stairs and a natural bridge over a small waterfall that tumbles into a crystal blue pool. This autumn hike gives you a sense of traveling back in time to a place where you just might run into the Headless Horseman. Lovers of fall foliage and spooky tales will be equally delighted.
No matter where you call home, there is bound to be an invigorating autumn hike nearby where you can experience fall in all its spectacular glory. If these amazing hikes aren’t close enough to home, take a look around your local area to find hidden, fall gems that are just waiting to be discovered.