9 Breathtaking Hikes to Experience the Best Fall Foliage Displays

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The most vibrant fall hikes you can take throughout the U.S. this season.

 

On our way to the cold depths of winter, there’s one thing to look forward to every year: the changing of the leaves each autumn. But you can’t experience fall when you’re stuck inside. This year, plan a hiking trip to experience autumn outdoors, at its most spectacular. 

When you add in waterfalls, stunning shorelines, and views for miles, fall foliage displays become a symphony of beautiful sights. Whether you prefer something strenuous or an easy walk that doesn’t even necessitate leaving the city, there’s a fall hike to fit your style—with breathtaking multicolored leaf displays practically guaranteed. 

Before you book your trip, check the fall foliage forecasts to be sure you’ll reach your destination when the leaves reach their peak. Once you’ve got the timing set, it’s just a matter of getting on the trail. 


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Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

This classic eight-mile hike is one of the most challenging in the park—but also one of the most beautiful come every autumn. Old Rag Mountain can take up to eight hours to complete as you “climb, slide, shimmy, and crawl your way across and around giant granite boulders,” the National Park Service says. At the top of Old Rag Summit, hikers can see up to 200,000 acres of forest as it turns dramatic colors of orange and yellow with the changing of the seasons. 


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Ocean Path Trail in Acadia National Park, Maine

Spend a few hours walking along Acadia’s picturesque coast. The two-mile, family-friendly hike meanders through some of the park’s most picturesque points. Be sure to bring a camera to snap photos of the coastline as the seasons change. There are several stopping points along the trail worth seeing: Thunder Hole, where water comes in and out of caves to make a sound like thunder, and Otter Cliff, where rocks form dramatic, statuesque shapes above the water.  


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Trail of Ten Falls in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

In less than nine miles, this trail has (as its name may suggest) 10 different waterfalls. The hike itself is fairly easy and takes only between three and five hours to complete. While the waterfalls may be the main draw of the trail, come autumn, the surrounding forest puts on a beautiful color show of its own. Several beautiful overlooks provide scenic points to watch the falls. Red autumn leaves look best reflected in the pools underneath the falls. 


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Bullhead Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

Not only is autumn one of the most beautiful times to visit Glacier National Park, it’s also one of the least crowded. While you’re enjoying spectacular views, you won’t have to fight crowds on the trail. To get the most of the autumn months, hike along Bullhead Lake for seven miles of kaleidoscopic fall colors. The trail is one of the best places to see the park’s aspens and western larches as they turn golden with the cooler season.


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Appalachian Trail in Mount Greylock State Reservation, Massachusetts

Greylock is the highest peak in all of Massachusetts. On a clear day, you can see as far as 90 miles away, making it the perfect place for taking in all the trees as they change color. The peak is also the ending point of the historic Appalachian Trail, which starts in Georgia and goes all the way up the Eastern Coast. Local legend has it that Herman Melville loved the mountain so much, it was one of his inspirations for penning “Moby Dick.”


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Lake George 12ster Trail, New York

If you’re up for a challenge, why not take 12? This intense hike along Lake George takes climbers up and down 12 mountain peaks and about 40 miles of trails. To complete the challenge, hikers need to register. If you finish the entire course in less than 24 hours, you can earn the title of “Ultra 12ster.” Rest assured: even if you hustle through the trail, there’s plenty of time to take in the autumn scenery on your way up and down the peaks.


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Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

Get to the heart of a forest autumn on this trail that meanders through the deepest parts of South Cumberland greenery. The 10-mile trail leads up to Ravens Point, where hikers will see endless hills of fall colors. On the way up, you’ll pass rock formations, waterfalls, gorges, and dense woodlands. Be warned: the trail can get pretty steep and you’ll want to be in good shape to complete it. But you don’t have to go it alone. Dogs are welcome. 


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Sentinel Dome Trail in Yosemite National Park, California

You only have to put in two miles of hiking to get to one of Yosemite’s best viewing points. The Sentinel Dome offers views for miles and miles—perfect for a crisp autumn day. There are almost 360-degree views from the point that extend beyond Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and a few peaks from the High Sierras. The views of backcountry are particularly beautiful in the fall.


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The Ramble in Central Park, New York City

If you prefer your hikes with a bit more easy access, spend an afternoon getting lost in the Ramble in New York’s Central Park. The wooded section of the park stretches across 38 acres and it’s so dense, you might even forget you’re in America’s most populous city. This section of the park is also known for its surprising biodiversity. There are more than 230 different species of birds in the Ramble and many different types of trees. Black Cherry trees, American sycamores, and several different types of oaks will all change into painted colors throughout the autumn.