Amazing Places

Where to Hike Through America's Best Fall Foliage

Fall is the best time of year to hike. Between the cool temperatures, diminished summer crowds, and typically less volatile weather, it's easier, more comfortable, and safer than other seasons. But the big draw? Otherwise beautiful views have been transformed into a spectacular landscape exploding with the reds, oranges, and yellow of fall foliage. Not everywhere produces the same show, though. If being wowed by the changing leaves is your goal, here are the best places across the U.S. to hike.

Related Video: Drone Footage of New Hampshire Fall Foliage

The Stowe Pinnacle, Vermont

With the region's abundance of maple, birch, and other deciduous trees, few places beat New England and the Northeast for the annual fall color show. One great way to see as much as possible is by heading north into Vermont and hiking the Stowe Pinnacle, in the ski town of Stowe. The short-but-steep 2.4-mile (3.9-kilometer) round-trip hike will quickly pop you above the treeline. Take in views of Mount Mansfield and the rest of the Green Mountains as well as the quaint Vermont countryside and the Stowe Valley from the rocky summit.

Timing: This far north, colors will start to appear in mid- to late-September and peak early in October, making northern New England one of the earliest spots in the country to catch the show.

Mary's Rock, Virginia

In the South, the colors come a little later, but the show is worth the wait. The rolling mountains and hills, coated in thick hardwood forests, turn into one of the most spectacular sights along the Eastern Seaboard. Walk through tunnels of gold-plated hickory, blazing red maples, and purple-red sumac along the 2.9-mile (4.7-kilometer) hike to the summit of Mary's Rock from Meadow Spring, on the Appalachian Trail. 360-degree views put the whole blazing park within sight.

Timing: Further south, the colors will just be picking up in early October, peaking later in the month. Watch for regular reports from the National Park Service once the season really kicks in.

Door County, Wisconsin

The peninsula sticking out into Lake Michigan on the eastern edge of Wisconsin is a hub of scenery, especially in the fall. Check out the region's oldest lighthouse — Pottawatomie Light — along the 5.2-mile (8.4-kilometer) Thordarson Loop to get a full tour of the vibrant trees all the way around Rock Island.

Timing: Leaves will start to change on the peninsula around the end of September, reaching a crescendo in early or mid-October. TravelWisconsin.com puts out a map with the color status on a county-by-county basis.

Goose Creek Falls, Idaho

Goose Creek Falls isn't the most popular, so you'll be treated to relatively empty trails by hiking to the 60-foot waterfall during foliage season. The 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) hike will take you through a mix of hearty Douglas fir, pine, and spruce, as well as vibrant shrubs and ferns that turn the understory shades of red and orange.

Timing: On the edge of the Rockies, this part of Idaho will start to see the colors change later in September, peaking around the same time a month later.

The Maroon Bells, Colorado

There's a reason they call it Aspen and there's a reason the Maroon Bells are some of the most photographed peaks in the country. Just the drive up the aspen-lined valley to the trailhead features some of the most spectacular leaf-peeping anywhere, as the trees turn a vibrant gold. Hike the 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) one way into Crater Lake at the foot of the peaks, which seem to get in on the action and adopt a red hue as well. The aspen groves lining the route are the real treat though. If you're lucky, a slight breeze will send the leaves fluttering in a mesmerizing golden dance.

Timing: Colors in the High Rockies change early and quickly. Watch for the first hints to appear in mid-September and be fully enflamed by early October.

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For an in-depth how-to for all the leaf-changing action, check out Lonely Planet's New England Fall Foliage Road Trip guide. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ryan Wichelns October 4, 2018

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