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Leaf-peep in the smokies with this AT fire tower hike (Frank Kehren)
Hike “alongside” whales
Wasatch Guardians: 10,200-footers Mt. Raymond and Gobblers Knob hog the view to the west. (Willie Holdman)
Pittsburgh, PA:Catch the eagle migration.
Golden eagle alert: The raptors swing through Colonel Denning State Park on their southward migration this month (peaking mid-October). Take the 2.5-mile (one-way) Flat Rock Trail through a hemlock corridor to the summit of 1,407-foot Blue Mountain for an open vista. Scan for the solo flyers coasting on westward winds (most often following cold fronts). Infobit.ly/ColDenningSP
Nashville, TN:Leaf-peep in the Smokies.
Above 4,000 feet, fall colors here peak mid-October: Find a foliage hot spot near you. Nashville See the red-blanketed Pigeon River Gorge from 4,928-foot Mt. Cammerer on an 11.2-miler (bit.ly/1014Cammerer). Charlotte Tag 5,842-foot Mt. Sterling on a 5.6-miler for a panorama of crimson old-growth (bit.ly/SterlingInfo). Atlanta or Greenville Nab a fire tower view (pictured) over golden trees on a 7.2-mile AT hike (bit.ly/1014Shuckstack).
Denver, CO:Lounge in a high-country hot spring.
Soak tired muscles in natural mineral pools while the iconic, brick-red Elk Mountains provide eye candy. A 9.1-mile hike gaining 2,500 feet along the Conundrum Creek Trail (#1981) lands you at the 100°F spa (don’t expect to be the only one there). If you stay the night, find a handful of established sites (first-come, first-serve) a quarter-mile back of the springs in the woods immediately off the trail. Go in October when the path is lined with yellow-gilded aspens and air temps drop into the 50s (ideal for hiking and soaking). Trip databit.ly/1014Conundrum
Jacksonville, FL:Spy alligators.
Gator Nation offers more than college sports. And now that temps are back in the low 80s, it’s the perfect time to tackle an easy 3-mile out-and-back through literal gator country in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Hit the La Chua Trail, a 1.5-mile boardwalk through marshes to an observation tower 50 feet above a karst sinkhole where the gators hang (look for the moving dark spots). Infobit.ly/PaynesSP
Seattle, WA:Hike “alongside” whales.
Glimpse some killer wildlife on San Juan Island this month before the resident orcas follow the salmon west in November. Head out on the 1.3-mile path around Lime Kiln Point State Park to hit the best on-land viewing spots (overlooks at mile .2 and near the lighthouse at mile .4). Or, paddle north along the coast from Friday Harbor (learn more: sanjuankayak.com). Infobit.ly/LimeKiln
Salt Lake City, UT:Walk beneath yellow aspens.
Hit the slopes this month—before the first snow blankets them in white. The Wasatch Crest Trail links Big Cottonwood Canyon (home to Solitude and Brighton ski areas) and Mill Creek Canyon (home to Canyons Resort) via a 10-mile route through the Wasatch National Forest. Hike it in October, when the aspens gild the scene with their eye-popping golden leaves. From the Guardsman Road trailhead, head north for a 10-mile out-and-back to Desolation Lake, an aquamarine pool (rimmed with sandy beaches) at 9,000 feet. Or, go for the adrenaline junkie’s option: Grab your mountain bike and link the Wasatch Crest and Midmountain Trails for a 26-mile loop through The Canyons and Park City. Infobit.ly/WasatchCrstTrl
Milwaukee, WI:Go on a Halloween night hike.
Trick or treat? Take the kids to the Norskedalen Nature Center in Coon Valley on October 25 for the Great Pumpkin Walk, a half-mile nighttime hike through a jack-o’-lantern-lined corridor. Braver souls can test their nerves with Ghoulees in the Coulees on October 24 and 25; pass spook stations hidden within the dark woods on the same path. Then, warm up and calm down with hot cider and storytelling at the Bekkum Homestead back at the nature center. Info Register online ($10) at bit.ly/halloweenhike14
It’s officially autumn, which means hike-now foliage. Keep tabs on your local woods by calling the Forest Service’s fall color hotline at (800) 354-4595; extensions 1 through 9 redirect to specific regions.