As we leave the hot, sticky days of summer behind us, there is nothing more refreshing than the cooler weather of fall.
The crisp air and changing leaves offers us a chance to leave behind the stress, cell phones (well, bring them for safety, but only use them to take pictures!), and responsibilities and take a moment to relax and reflect on what’s important.
Whether it’s at a local park trail or on a mountain path, we’ve got the best spots to do a little fall hiking and embrace this beautiful season.
They are truly inspirational.
The epitome of fall…
When you think of the best place to view fall foliage, you think of Vermont, right?
Just shake your head “yes,” because Vermont probably is the best place in the U.S. to hike in autumn.
Vermont is literally covered in great hiking spots.
Near Burlington, especially, you’ll find some great places to do some leaf-peeping.
Libby’s Outlook in West Bolton offers spectacular views after you’ve hiked around the Preston Pond loop, and the trails are easy to navigate for families.
Or hop in the car and drive the winding country roads to another nearby hiking favorite in the Green Mountains.
Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump are worthy hikes for the experienced, both over 4,000 feet in elevation. But there are plenty of more leisurely trails to enjoy with a thermos of coffee and some good company.
You can also see both of these peaks and several others if you summit Mount Hunger in the Green Mountains chain.
And from this glorious perspective, you can also see New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the distance and even the Adirondacks if the skies are clear.
However, it seems everyone knows this is the best fall hiking destination.
These trails can become very crowded with people scrambling for a glimpse of the heavenly panorama view. So if you’re wanting a more remote hiking spot, this may not be for you.
But just think, if you get lost or sprain something on a slippery rock, there will be plenty of help around.
And second place goes to…
Any guesses? Bueller? Bueller?
The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, of course.
The trees begin their colorful show in mid-September at the highest elevations, and spectacular fall views can be enjoyed through most of November.
While there are several amazing peaks in the Smokies, perhaps the most famous is good ole’ Rocky Top.
Working your way along this portion of the Appalachian Trail will bring you to Thunderhead Mountain, consisting of three summits, the first of which is Rocky Top.
Much of the trek up to Rocky Top is done on a portion of the famed trail, and you can invite your hiking companions to take part in an off-key rendition of the famous song.
Legend has it (that’s just an expression; this really happened) that some songwriters escaped to the Smokies to find inspiration for their new album in 1967.
The Bryants were a songwriting couple known for oldies like “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love,” but their newest songs all seemed depressing, even to them.
So in these inspirational surroundings, the couple wrote “Rocky Top” in ten short minutes so they could throw something more upbeat on their new record.
In fact, this mountain has provided inspiration for one of John Denver’s classics, the fight song for the University of Tennessee, and the state song. Way to go, Rocky Top.
So this hike is not only beautiful, but it also leaves you with stories to tell your friends and family.
Hiking to this peak will earn you the coveted conversation starter, “I hiked the Appalachian Trail” (you don’t have to say how much of it you hiked), and you can regale them with your knowledge of some American music history too.
Hike to a crater?
The Maroon Bells are two peaks in the Elk Mountains near Aspen, Colorado, and this destination offers a stunning hike through some of the best scenery in the nation.
Can’t you just imagine the crisp mountain air, the vibrant colors, and those glassy lakes set against the backdrop of the stunning Rocky Mountains?
It doesn’t get much better than this.
There are several trails available near the Maroon Bells, from easy to a bit more daunting, so there is something for everyone.
Take the kids on one of the beginner trails and stop for a picnic or some fishing.
Another family-friendly and very popular hike can be found on the Maroon Snowmass Trailhead. It’s a great starting hike for people not so sure about walking around on a mountain.
The full hike is a little over 3.5 miles and leads to Crater Lake and its incredible blue-green waters formed by glaciers long ago.
What’s in a name?
But if you want to hike in some real mountains, you’ll want to see the Enchantments.
Hiking this wonderland in Leavenworth, Washington is like visiting another world—the likes of which you might find in Narnia or some fantasy land.
But these hikes are not for the inexperienced, and likely too challenging for even older kids.
The “easiest” hike in the chain covers more than seven miles and rises to an elevation of 4,400 feet.
With magnificent mountain views, crystal-clear lakes, rapids, intricately-carved rocks formed by melting glaciers, and even herds of mountain goats, you may just encounter a fairy land hidden away on one of these trails.
In fact, you can expect perfection with a visit to Dragontail Peak, Inspiration Peak, Enchantment Peak and Perfection Lake.
The very first visitors to these mountains gave portions of this breathtaking area names like Aasgard, Leprechaun, and Sprite, just to name a few.
Sounds pretty magical, huh?
Hiking to the Upper Enchantments is a challenge for even the most physically fit, but the rewards are well worth any pain involved.
Who knows, you may just find a pot of gold at the top or an old fairy ready to grant your wish.
And remember, it’s all downhill from there…in the best way possible.
They’ve got it all.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia offers a multitude of hiking experiences for all levels and all interests.
With 311 square miles of forested parkland to choose from, visitors can go back time and again to blaze new trails and see the ever-changing scenery.
But fall is the perfect time to hike Shenandoah. As the leaves turn and the mountain air brings its chill, you will see wildlife everywhere preparing to hunker down for the winter.
(Just watch your back – Shenandoah is home to the black bear, and you don’t want to be the meal that gets him through his winter hibernation!)
The park is separated into districts – North, Central, and South – and each contains unique trails and geographic features.
The North District offers some very interesting historic areas discovered during archaeological research of the area, including burial sites and cemeteries.
The North is also rich in rock formations and contains Compton Peak, as well as the stunning Overall Run Falls, perfect to view colorful leaves cascading down into the water.
The Central District is perhaps the most visited location and includes shopping areas, lodging for extended stays in the park and several dining options.
And they don’t just offer beef jerky in a general store.
Skyland and Big Meadows Lodge, both in the Central District, offer “local, vegan, and gluten-free options,” in addition to traditional favorites prepared by the “culinary teams.”
Not your typical lunch stop after a long hike, but definitely something to remember.
The South District is a bit more remote for those looking to really escape into the woods, but offers trails that range from beginner to “very strenuous,” as is the case with the Riptrap Trail. Blackrock Summit offers great views of the entire park too.
Shenandoah also features plenty of areas to picnic, upscale visitor’s centers with films on the park’s history, and educational programs offered throughout the year for adults and kids alike.
Now, while those folks in Colorado and Washington State may say that the Blue Ridge Mountains are just “hills,” Shenandoah National Park really does have everything you could want in a family hike.
And with a portion of the Appalachian Trail – the hike of all hikes – running through Shenandoah National Park, this spot can’t be beat for hiking enthusiasts.
So don’t forget to take along the camera, plenty of water, and snacks. It’s always good practice when hiking in a remote area, but also comes in handy for an open-air picnic on a short trek.
And national “Take A Hike” Day is November 17th for obvious reasons. It’s the best time of the year to get out there and explore the glory of autumn.
Then when you get back home, you can take off those hiking boots and warm your tired feet by the fire with a hot beverage – spiked, of course. After all, you’ll deserve it after all that exercise!