As the days shorten and temperatures cool, people across the country begin to yearn for the natural beauty of fall leaves and the relaxation of a crisp fall hike. Consider these 10 unique U.S. destinations to experience a picturesque fall hiking trip.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Traverse City, Michigan
Perched along the scenic eastern shore of Lake Michigan, it’s easy to see why Sleeping Bear Dunes was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Said to be home to the largest moving dune in the world, the area created by glaciers is now an ideal location for fall hikes, thanks to its abundant sugar maple and beech forests, high bluffs and meadow. Don’t miss the at-times steep 2.7-mile Pyramid Point Trail for a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan from 400 feet above.
The River Trail
Falls Village, Connecticut
Each year millions of intrepid hikers tackle the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. If you’re not ready to commit to an all-day or longer hike in the wilderness, consider the River Trail, a 1-mile loop along the trail as it winds across northwestern Connecticut. As one the few wheelchair accessible portions of the trail, it’s an ideal choice for seniors or individuals with limited mobility to enjoy nature and beautiful fall foliage. Be prepared. Parts of the trail are moderately strenuous, but the effort is worth the challenge when you take in the spectacular views of the Housatonic River Valley.
Walden Pond State Reservation
Literary buffs flock to Henry David Thoreau’s home at Walden Pond, which is now a National Historic Landmark. For fall foliage lovers, the 335-acre park also presents a unique opportunity to explore the woods and trails that inspired the Thoreau’s most famous novel, “Walden.” Some trails are designated as “heart healthy trails” and offer easy-to-moderate hiking opportunities, conveniently located around the perimeter of the pond.
Crazy Horse Memorial
between Custer and Hill City, South Dakota
For a change of pace, hike to the in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, which measures 641 feet by 563 feet and is the world’s largest mountain carving. The Autumn Volksmarch, a 6.2-mile hike up to the carving of Crazy Horse’s face, is held the last weekend in September. The trail is only open at one other time of year—during the Crazy Horse Volksmarch on the first weekend of June, which organizers claim is the most popular organized hike in the United States.
The Brownstone Trail
Step back in time and hike along the historic railroad grade just south of the scenic city of Bayfield, Wisconsin. View the fall colors along with the expansive beauty of Lake Superior on this 5-mile trail. A short portion (.6 miles) is wheelchair accessible, and the entire trail is suitable for families and young children. While in the area, take time to enjoy the charm of downtown Bayfield.
The Ozark Trail
The Ozark Trail traverses hundreds of miles through the Missouri Ozarks and was specifically designed to support all types of hiking enthusiasts. Convenient trail shuttles service every portion of the trail, making it easy to get back to your vehicle after a day (or more!) of hiking. For exceptional fall foliage viewing, be sure to check out the Trace Creek segment of the trail. At the 2013 International Trails Symposium, Missouri was named “Best Trails State.”
Bradbury Mountain State Park
One of Maine’s five original state parks, Bradbury Mountain State Park boasts stunning geological features and exceptional fall colors. Take a guided fall foliage tour and bring the family—this easy one-hour hike covers just over one mile and is suitable for young children. Tour guides are on hand to answer questions about tree identification, leaf color, and more, adding an educational element to your excursion.
Crested Butte, Colorado
If you’re up for a bit of a challenge and are interested in seeing one of the most impressive and spectacular displays of aspen color anywhere, take this 5-mile hike in Gunnison County, Colorado. Located along the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, Kebler Pass presents an unparalleled opportunity to view breathtaking autumn scenery against an awe-inspiring backdrop of mountains.
Cook County, Illinois
Chicagoans don’t have to travel far from home to take in the spectacular autumn views—stay closer to home and join the 40 million visitors who enjoy the Forest Preserves of Cook County each year. Lace up your hiking boots and explore 300 miles of marked trails, lakes, ponds and woodlands. The Palos and Sag Valley portion of the Forest Preserves recently received a “Trail of the Month” award from “Runner’s World” magazine.
Isle Royale National Park
For the adventurous hiker seeking a challenge in a beautiful environment, try Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park. The 45-mile-long island, situated near the northwest end of Lake Superior, is truly a pristine wilderness of lakes, forest, and ridges, and offers miles of hiking trails, from short one-day jaunts to island-circumnavigating hikes that could keep you on the trail for weeks. The fact that wheeled vehicles are not permitted anywhere on the island adds to the timeless feel. Isle Royale is home to a unique ecosystem of wildlife, including moose, wolves, foxes, and a host of birds.