Fall marks the final months of the year during which hiking can still be a regularly enjoyed activity. Once winter hits, forget it—unless you’re into snowshoeing, in which case enjoy, you legend. While summertime adventures up mountain sides and down riverbanks possess their own sun-soaked charm, the refreshing breezes and crisp air that come with autumnal hikes are unbeatable. And, of course, the fire colored foliage.
There’s nothing quite like looking down from the summit of a mountain or across an expansive valley and getting an eye full of the most vividly orange, yellow, and red leaves you’ve ever seen smattered beneath a bright blue sky. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience such a thing it probably momentarily took your breath away. If you haven’t, it’s a new ritual you need to add to your yearly activities roster, stat. Below are five of the best places to go for flaming fall hikes in America, and they span from coast to coast. Considering right now is prime foliage viewing time, a weekend trip might be in order.
Perhaps one of the most famous places for a festive fall hike, Stowe is located in northern Vermont near the best of Mount Mansfield. If you want to be able to choose from hundreds of hiking trails that’ll take you to views of breathtaking foliage as far as the eye can see, this is the spot for you. Sugar maples, oak trees, alder trees and more can take credit for the speckling of orange, green, yellow, and crimson leaves that overtake the Green Mountains and have rendered it such a seasonal sensation.
Maroon Bells, Colorado
Colorado boasts some of the most breathtaking hikes in the country year-round but in the fall, the Maroon Bells, two peaks in the Elk Mountains, are where it’s at. Located about ten miles west of Aspen, the aptly named maroon-colored mountains are both fourteeners (their summits reach an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) and therefore draw novice and expert adventurers, alike. At the bases of the Maroon Bells sits a gorgeous lake with crystalline waters that serve as a mirror for the symphony of colors that surround it every season. (It’s an excellent spot to see wildflowers during spring and summer.) In the fall, this means you’ll get to see twice the amount of blindingly bright aspen trees that grow around the circumference of the lake and up its surrounding mountainscape.
Zion National Park, Utah
Fall foliage within a desertous landscape? Absolutely, and quite unique foliage, at that! Located in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is beloved for its steep red cliffs, which form the dramatic Zion Canyon and tower on either side of the Virgin River. While this isn’t a spot that’ll give you a seemingly infinite view of flaming foliage, the cluster of burnt orange oak trees here and dappling of bright yellow cottonwoods there will appear striking against the park’s pinkish terrain and severe bluffs. Wander past whooshing waterfalls, marvel at one of Zion’s jewels, the Emerald Pools, and cross your fingers that you’ll wander into a hidden maple grove.
Jackson County, North Carolina
Located in North Carolina between Cashiers and Highlands, Jackson County is home to Whiteside Mountain, which boasts some of the highest cliffs in Eastern North America. The mountain’s signature two-mile hike will reward you with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and on a clear day, you’ll be able to see all the way to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. During autumn, the towering peaks will turn into gigantic waves of brilliant foliage, with slats of dark gray rock cutting in here and there. This time of the year also boasts another special spotting for visitors in the area—a giant, perfectly harmless bear. From mid-October through early November between 5:30-6:15 pm, visitors standing on the Rhodes Big View Overlook will be able to see a giant bear-like shadow creep out from behind Whiteside Mountain and over the treetops as the sunset progresses.
June Lake, California
Arrestingly scenic during any season, June Lake turns into an especially magical destination during autumn, when its bright blue waters become rimmed with yolky yellow aspen trees. Located against the southern rim of the Mono Basin at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas, it’s a magnificent Californian gem where freshwater and jagged mountains collide. Go for an easy walk around the lake’ s perimeter or start off somewhere that’s a bit more arduous and end once you reach its pristine waters. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the contrast of colors you’ll be rewarded with.