Sorry, summer, the best hiking season is during fall’s prime-time foliage. But don’t sleep through the alarm—the color is fleeting. Here, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the hardwoods go off between the first and second weeks of October, but the true leaf-peeping connoisseur knows there’s more to it than that. Because you want to go when ground shrubs like sumac turn fiery red (second week of October) and when the sun is setting (6:45 p.m. or so). If you can luck into low-hanging fog (roll of the dice), then it’s just about perfect. The show will be especially good on a thru-hike of the 1,200-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but if you only have a day, try the 4-mile loop that circles Rough Butt Bald. From Bear Pen Gap (milepost 427.6 on the Parkway), near where this photo was snapped, follow a user trail to the MST, which descends into the Blue Ridge’s valleys along fall’s red carpet. That deserves a permanent place on your calendar.