Local Fall Hikes in the Central U.S.
Check out our top fall hikes from Texas to Michigan.
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Pecan Flats, Inks Lake SP, TX
Transition through deep hardwoods, mesquite, juniper, and cactus-studded rock fields on this 4.9-mile loop. You’ll wander beneath 100-foot-tall pecan trees to traverse billion-year-old pink gneiss outcrops near mile 1.5. Reenter the woods on the latter half of the circuit, where intermittent views extend west across Hoovers Valley. Close the loop past red mulberries ripe for the picking come fall. Trip ID 545236
Sean Jones, Burnet, TX – “At sunset, it’s a little cooler and the fading sunlight brings an orange color out of the rocks.”
Daemonelix and Fossil Hills Trails, Agate Fossil Beds NM, NE
Combine two lasso hikes to glimpse fossils of prehistoric creatures that roamed Nebraska 20 million years ago on this 6-miler. Follow the 1.1-mile Daemonelix Trail past a petrified (hardened) sand dune to 6-foot-tall, earthen spiral formations (burrows of an extinct beaver). Two miles east (via the park road), climb the 2.9-mile Fossil Hills Trail to 3-inch-wide fossilized footprints of dinohyus, a toothy, 6-foot-tall, pig-like beast. Trip IDs 398172 and 399004
Mark Hertig, Scottsbluff, NE – “From the top of the Fossil Hills, you can see 10,272-foot Laramie Peak (WY) poking from the horizon.”
Little Clifty Creek Loop, Hobbs SP, AR
Undulate over colorful hills on an 8.4-mile loop in the heart of the Ozarks. In fall, late-blooming flowers—purple tick-trefoil, blue lobelia, and goldenrod—carpet the understory, while red-bellied and rare red-headed woodpeckers populate the oak-hickory canopy. Cross Little Clifty Creek via a bridge twice, then detour past a marshy pond (see remnants of a beaver dam) before closing the loop. Trip ID 22899
Al Knox, Rogers, AR – “September is hot, so hike in the cooler mornings—or wait until the second half of the month.”
Clark Lake Trail, Sylvania Wilderness, MI
Camp on the banks of a crystal-clear glacial lake on this 8.2-mile Upper Peninsula loop. Hiking counterclockwise, enter an old-growth hemlock and pine forest; look for salamanders hiding under rocks in damp depressions. Near mile 2.5, detour .3 mile to the secluded Birch backcountry site (permit required; $10/night) on a wooded peninsula. Fall asleep to wolves howling in late summer, then close the loop past a pristine swimming area on day two. Trip ID 7762
Melissa Simpson, Florence, WI – “The whole south shore of the lake is a huge sandy beach, great for watching loons.”
Chubb Trail, West Tyson/Lone Elk County Parks, MO
Follow rolling hills to the banks of the meandering Meramec River on this 7-mile shuttle hike. The first half could pass for an Ozark trek as it winds through cedar glades and past limestone ledges and boulders. At mile 4, enter Epstein Prairie, where reintroduced big bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass grow 6 feet tall by early fall (watch for bluebirds here). Continue to the river’s edge, then follow it to your shuttle car at Lone Elk Park. Trip ID 35003
Steve Tiemann, Wildwood, MO – “In September, you’ll see yellow composite flowers that look like sunflowers blooming in the woodlands.”
Bonham State Park
This 4.8-mile circuit meanders through bluestem prairie and patches of oak and eastern red cedar. In fall, spot native Eve’s necklace draped in strands of black seedpods. Then, channel your inner cowboy on a horseback ride along the wooded trails and creeks of nearby 250-acre Sleepy Sheep Ranch ($45/hour; ssrcountry.com/trail-rides).Trip ID 17002
Parallel the 100-foot-wide, hardwood-lined Great Miami River past a crumbling outcrop of 430-million-year-old dolomite (detour up one of the staircases to snag a closer look) on this 4-mile loop. On the way back, stop at Dayton’s first microbrewery in half a century for a pint of local, award-winning Broken Trolley Blonde Ale (thedaytonbeerco.com). Trip ID 27530
Glacial Park Conservation Area
Traverse gravel hills, cattail marshes, and leatherleaf bogs left behind by Ice Age glaciers that covered this 3,410-acre preserve on a 4.1-mile, figure-eight loop. Before returning to the city, pick your own peck of ripe honeycrisp, gala, and liberty apples at Woodstock’s All Seasons Apple Orchard (allseasonsorchard.com). Trip ID 7735
Faulkner Cave Historic Site, OK
“Take refuge from the sun underground—but leave the crowds to Alabaster Caverns. Venture 19 miles northeast to a private, cavern-riddled estate for an isolated, 3.8-mile lasso through a hidden tunnel. First, call the owner to arrange a reservation (info below). From the Short Ranch trailhead on Logan Road (lat/long: 36.928889, -98.948611), hike .1 mile northwest to the 15-foot-wide mouth of Faulkner Cave. Don a headlamp and follow an eroded meander of an ancient stream amid glinting gypsum for .3 mile. Ascend toward daylight, and exit through a 3.5-foot-wide channel. Above ground, continue north along the east ridge of the canyon to a 1,750-foot-tall natural limestone bridge. In the canyon, look for (but don’t take) arrowheads. Return to the cave via an old settler’s trail through cool sand in the canyon. Scramble back through the cave the way you came. Reservations Call Bob Short at (405) 203-3448.
This Just In
Wagmar State Wildlife Management Area, AR
More than 90,000 miles of waterways wind through the Natural State, offering world-class birding and fishing, relaxing soaks, and isolated paddling. Instead of visiting the well-traveled Buffalo National River, explore one of the latest additions to the Arkansas Water Trails network: the Bayou DeView Water Trail. Established in April, the 15.2-mile Bayou DeView route curls under 850-year-old cypress and towering tupelo trees. Ideal for beginners because of its mellow, flatwater paddling, the leisurely shuttle float begins at the Benson Creek put-in and ends at the Bank of Brinkley access point in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. (Enter the 550,000-acre Big Woods from an access point off AR 17 near Brinkley.) Look for blue herons, barred owls (below), and woodpeckers—including the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker, once thought to be extinct before being spotted here. Make it a day trip, or take the .8-mile spur at mile 6.5 to glassy, 21-acre Lake Hickson and camp overnight at one of the secluded sites. Cast a line for crappie, bream, or catfish and enjoy a camp-side fish fry. Contact (800) 364-4263; bit.ly/BayouDeView
It’s never too early to get kids outside! Encourage your little one’s curiosity in the outdoors by registering for a Monday morning, stroller-friendly group hike (with nature readings) on Houston Arboretum trails. Hikes occur every week from late August through May ($3/child). More info: bit.ly/TykeHikes
Your Michigan field scout
Melissa Simpson, 29, tackles more than 800 miles of Midwestern hiking every summer—on most of which she has her youngest child strapped to her back. “I love teaching my kids about the natural world, except I am terrified of caterpillars—not the best phobia for an outdoorswoman,” she says.