Fall is a great time to get outdoors, enjoy creation and… exercise! The air is cool and crisp, public spaces are (generally) less crowded and, of course, those spectacular seasonal colors. Under amber aspens, maroon maples and ochre oaks, there’s no better time to hit the hiking trails and enjoy the wondrous beauty all around us.
If you’re heading out on the road this fall, you’d be remiss to not do a bit of leaf peeping! So with that, we’ve compiled a list that combines these two active yet relaxing, heart-healthy and soul searching activities in our Top Fall Hikes for 2023.
Sure, we could suggest the classics in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, or the stunning (but crowded) Maroon Bells outside of Aspen. But we’re going to suggest the lesser known Staunton State Park in Pine, CO. Located about 45 miles southwest of Denver, the park boasts grassy meadows, soaring granite cliffs and a rich diversity of wildlife. At over 10 miles roundtrip, this one is not for the faint of heart, but it’ll be well worth it when you witness the vibrant aspens, Lion’s Head peak and dazzling overlook to Elk Falls waterfall.
If you’re looking for something a bit less strenuous and friendlier to all ages, head over into beautiful Dillon, CO to the Tenderfoot Trail on Tenderfoot Mountain. With impressive views of the Tenmile Range Peaks and Lake Dillon, this hike is only about 2.5 miles long (with option to link up to other trail systems). Best of all and unlike most Colorado mountains, Tenderfoot’s best views are at the base of the peak.
When it comes to lists for fall colors or best hikes, Wisconsin often fails to make the cut. To be honest, we’re not sure why as the state boasts incredible autumn hues that rival the best in the nation, and hiking trails litter the state from Lake Superior down to the Illinois state border. About as far north into Wisconsin as one can go lies Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands in the stunningly clear waters of Lake Superior. Within the thick foliage of La Pointe, WI’s Big Bay State Park, you’ll find the Bay View Trail. At just 1.3 miles along flat coastline, this trail is easy-peasy and even features a wooden boardwalk to take in the autumn brilliance.
If you demand a bit more of a challenge on your hike (but still nothing like Colorado), head to Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, WI. Ancient seas and heavy glaciation formed the landscape here, resulting in kettles (depressions in the landscape), rolling hills and strikingly steep bluffs that are believed to be the oldest rock outcrops in North America. For these reasons, this area has been designated as one of the “Last Great Places” by the Nature Conservatory. Head to the top of the 1.7 mile long East Bluff Trail for truly inspiring views and saturated hues.
We’d be remiss to disclude Wisconsin’s famed Ice Age Trail, a national scenic trail located entirely within Wisconsin. The impressive trail weaves and winds for some 1,200 miles, passing through 30 different counties as it follows the edge of the last continental glacier in the state.
With one of the fastest growing populations in the nation, Idaho is gaining recognition for its natural beauties and boundless adventure. Head north into the majestic yet surprisingly unknown panhandle and you’ll find the region’s largest city, Coeur d’Alene, a town teeming with natural beauty. On the edge of gorgeous Lake Coeur d’Alene lies Tubbs Hill, one of the most iconic areas in northern Idaho. We recommend its Main Trail, an interpretive path that follows the shoreline over a 2.2 mile loop. This popular trail can be accessed from downtown Coeur d’Alene and is considered an “easy” hike for most, taking about an hour to complete.
Head south from Coeur d’Alene to find yourself at Sawtooth Lake, an alpine lake that rests at 8,435 feet above sea level. The Iron Creek trailhead is the most popular way to access the lake, and for good reason. The trail gains about 1,700 feet over 5 miles and takes most between 5-6 hours to complete a round trip, so it’s definitely for those looking for a challenge. But the rewards are worth the effort! Visitors are permitted to camp anywhere within the National Forest, so consider pitching a tent to break up your hike.
When it comes to fiery foliage, another often overlooked state is Virginia. Perhaps eclipsed by the rolling beauty of West Virginia or the epitomized leaf peeping of New England, Virginia is nonetheless home to exquisite terrain and awe-inspiring trails. Outside of Nellysford in the iconic Blue Ridge Mountains and near the peak of Humpback Mountain lies Humpback Rock, an iconic encapsulation of the landscape. Additionally popular for its camping and bird-watching, this moderate 4-mile loop can be completed in about 2 hours. Atop the precipice, hikers are rewarded with 360˚ views of explosive autumn hues. The southern section of Shenandoah National Park can be seen to the north while the densely forested mountaintops from the George Washington National Forest lie to the southwest. Be sure to take the obligatory picture from the top of the world!
For a different kind of hike, head into Charlottesville where you’ll find autumnal inspiration just about everywhere you look. From the city’s downtown mall to the plentiful wineries throughout, Charlottesville has been cleverly designed to preserve its natural grace. There is perhaps no better example of this than the grounds at The University of Virginia. Founded in 1819 by “The Apostle of Democracy” Thomas Jefferson, the prestigious university offers truly iconic sights as autumn colors pop throughout the famed Lawn, Academical Village and Rotunda. Combine your love of leaf peeping with your passion for history on this historical fall hike.
No list of fall foliage hikes would be complete without at least one New England state. So pack your RV, we’re heading to Vermont! The second-least populated state in the nation (behind only Wyoming), Vermont is home to the Green Mountain National Forest amid the Appalachian Mountain range. In Wilmington, VT, you’ll find the Mount Olga Trailhead, the beginning of a 1.8-mile loop that is generally considered an easy hike. Not only are the views here majestic as is, but the decommissioned fire tower at the summit now serves as a lookout, adding additional inspiration in full 360˚. From here, one can see the Berkshire Mountains in nearby Massachusetts, the slopes of Mt. Snow and a rich palette of warm autumn hues.
For the serious hiker, one could take on The Long Trail of Vermont, a 272-mile end-to-end trail that covers the entire state. The jewel of the Green Mountain National Forest, The Long Trail is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States and is a serious undertaking. But don’t worry, there are deviations that offer far less commitment. Take Shelburne Bay Park for example, a leisurely 2.5 mile loop that offers relaxing views of Lake Champlain. Just 7 miles from Vermont’s largest city of Burlington, it’s a picture-perfect frame of the American landscape.
Fall is truly a magical time of year. The sights, the smells and indeed the feelings bring a disposition of transition to our ever-changing lives. It is in these moments one ought seize the day, for life moves quickly through the beauty. So be sure to look around and take it in!