Fall Hikes in the Eastern U.S.

Find the best foliage and trails for fall right here.
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Find the best foliage and trails for fall right here.

Dockery Lake Trail, Dockery Lake Recreation Area, GA

Zigzag along a rushing creek on this 6.8-mile out-and-back to an optional overnight on the Appalachian Trail. From Dockery Lake (rainbow trout fishing here), nab views across rolling Appalachian ridges. Parallel cascading Pigeon Roost Creek, crossing the year-round stream three times. At the Miller Gap turnaround (dispersed camping, no permit required), glimpse hardwoods transitioning to reds, oranges, and yellows by late September. Trip ID 5663

Taylor Hamilton, Blairsville, GA - “You’ll see 100-foot-tall white pine and hemlock in the area near the creek.”

High Ground Loop, Pinckney Island NWR, SC

Skirt six wildlife-packed ponds on this 8-mile loop on the Carolina coast. At .9 mile, reach Ibis Pond, home to its namesake waterfowl as well as great egrets and tri-colored herons. Continue through a maritime forest of live oaks, palmetto, and longleaf pines to overlook a salt marsh where bald eagles and osprey soar. Beware: Five- to 8-foot alligators lurk in Nini Chapin Pond (keep a distance of at least 20 to 30 feet). Trip ID 21273

Amy Ochoa, Hardeeville, SC - “You’ll start to see ducks, such as blue-winged teal, at Osprey Pond in September.”

Mt. Major, Mt. Major SF, NH

Glimpse the 70-square-mile, glittering Lake Winnipesaukee on this 3.8-mile loop to a 1,786-foot peak on the lake’s western shore. Climb through oak and birch to reach the summit ledge at mile 1.6; look north to see the first reds and yellows of fall creeping into the beaver ponds below (color peaks mid-October). Watch for hawks and vultures soaring overhead, then return to the trailhead on the hemlock-shaded Brook Trail. Trip ID 44888

Art Richardson, Alton, NH - “In fall’s lower humidity, the lake appears bluer, and you can also see Mt. Washington more clearly.”

Slippery Rock Gorge, McConnells Mill SP, PA

You’ll trace a whitewater creek through a 200-foot-deep gorge on this 11.4-mile
out-and-back. Hike through a hemlock forest to crest a ridge above the creek near mile 2; in mid-September, look for migrating sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks. Follow the gorge east to descend to the water’s edge. Turn around at Eckert Bridge, or continue on a 2-mile spur loop to see the park’s namesake 19th-century wood-and-stone grist mill. Trip ID 46995

Jake Weiland, Portersville, PA - “About a mile in, there’s a vista overlooking forested Hell’s Hollow Gorge from a few hundred feet above.”

Foothills-Double Oak Loop, Oak Mountain SP, AL

Cross an 80-year-old stone dam and crest a 1,260-foot peak on this 7.5-mile loop. Pass the pine-shrouded banks of Old Lake, where a waterfall cascades 50 feet from the dam on its southwestern edge. Look for migrating warblers, juncos, and buntings in the canopy as you ascend the spine of Double Oak Mountain. Snag a view of the surrounding ridges by taking the .5-mile spur at mile 7 to the Eagle’s Nest Overlook. Trip ID 18673

Emily Cook, Pelham, AL - “Look for reddish fox squirrels with black-and-white faces (they’re larger than other squirrels).”

Bragging Rights
Become a Saranac Lake 6er - Saranac Lake, NY
Go ahead, keep toiling away at the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. But while you’re working toward that lifetime achievement, add a new line to your hiking résumé this fall. Summit the six peaks surrounding upstate New York’s Saranac Lake, which requires only five treks totaling 29.3 miles (see next page, top). Start with the most rugged hike first: From the Scarface Mountain trailhead on NY 86, tag the 3,054-foot peak on a 6.8-mile out-and-back (bushwhacking required in parts). Only 1.8 miles east on NY 86, check 3,822-foot McKenzie and 2,864-foot Haystack off the list on a 12-mile, partly off-trail, rugged loop from the Haystack Mountain trailhead (take the Jackrabbit Trail from Haystack Mountain to tap McKenzie). Next, nab 3,353-foot Ampersand off NY 3 on a 5.4-mile out-and-back to views of azure Saranac Lake and the 4,000-foot High Peaks from a bald summit. After that, tag 2,874-foot St. Regis from NY 86 on a 1,266-foot, 3.3-mile climb (enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the High Peaks and the St. Regis Canoe Area at the summit). Bag 2,452-foot Baker last: From the Baker Mountain trailhead, this easy, 1.8-mile hike spits you out in the Saranac Lake village, where you can celebrate your accomplishment with an icy, locally brewed Saranac Pale Ale at Blue Line Brewery. Do the circuit in 24 hours or less, and you can add “Ultra 6er” to the résumé. Make it official Send your itinerary (complete with dates and times of summits) along with your contact information and $5 to the Village of Saranac Lake and receive a member number and 6er patch and sticker. More info: saranaclake6er.com/become-a-6er. Contact (518) 891-4150; saranaclake6er.com

Perfect Days

Tallahassee, FL
Ecofina River State Park
You’ll share this sparsely traveled, 9.5-mile loop with egrets, herons, and bald eagles as you pass through cypress forests and lush palmetto groves to a panorama of the Gulf of Mexico. Afterward, check out the art galleries and relax at a stylish beer garden in the vintage caboose-styled Railroad Square on your way back into town (railroadsquare.us).
Trip ID 7757

Portland, ME
Folly Pond Loop
Circle a glassy, 54-acre pond on this 8.4-mile lollipop loop through a hardwood-and-evergreen forest in Maine moose country (best chance for spotting at dawn and dusk). Afterward, stop in Ogunquit and chow down on oysters, clams, and butter-dunked steamed lobster at husband-and-wife-owned Beach Plum Lobster Farm (615 Main Street; 207-646-7277). Trip ID 8330

Pittsburgh, PA
Yellow Creek State Park
Watch for waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and great blue herons, on this 3.2-mile loop, which follows the rolling western edge of Yellow Creek Lake, named for its golden clay banks. Before heading home, rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboat to explore the 720-acre lake and fish for bass, walleye, muskellunge, and catfish ($6 to $10/hour; dcnr.state.pa.us). Trip ID 1022291

See This Now: Moose Rut
Catch 6-foot-tall moose clash windshield-size antlers in September’s annual rut, 15 miles outside St. Johnsbury. While the leaf peepers flock to Green Mountain National Forest, head to the Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area for a private viewing of the violent battles, as the bulls showcase their dominance to woo cows. From the Damon’s Crossing trailhead, head 1 mile north on the Bog Trail, winding through birch and spruce on the beginner-friendly path. Listen for the thundering of hooves as you crest into a boreal bog habitat, prime for unimpeded, 360-degree views of the head-butting (wear bright colors like orange during hunting season). Best viewing is early morning and dusk, during cooler temps. Contact (802) 241-3700; vtfishandwildlife.com