Stretching for 2,193 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail threads some of the East Coast’s wildest spaces – and during the fall, the epic footpath is a portal to some spectacular leaf-peeping spots. Here are just a few of the best fall hikes for leaf peepers to enjoy the best foliage this autumn.
Mount Greylock is among the highlights of Massachusetts’ 90-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The highest point in the state, the 3,491 peak has been enticing climbers for almost 200 years – and has even served as a muse for the likes of Herman Melville and Henry David Thoreau. The peak is the centerpiece of the Mount Greylock Reservation, the oldest wilderness park in Massachusetts, created in 1898 to protect the mountain from regional logging operations. Today, the Appalachian Trail threads the whale-backed peak, with 11.5 miles of the footpath traversing the 12,500 acre Mount Greylock Reservation. For a fall hike with unsurpassed foliage views, make the 7.2-mile out-and-back trek to the summit from Jones Nose. The Jones Nose Trail meets the Appalachian Trail after just 1.2 miles, on the crest of Saddle Ball Mountain – the first 3,000 foot peak on the trail north of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. From Mount Greylock’s summit, views extend to four different states and include Vermont’s Green Mountains, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and New York’s Catskills. For an overnight getaway, the historic Bascom Lodge is perched on the summit. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s, the stone-hewn lodge offers both shared bunkrooms and private rooms, with the season extending from May through October.
With more of the Appalachian Trail than any other state, Virginia’s 531-mile portion of the epic footpath is loaded with spectacular spots – but McAfee Knob still stands out. The craggy promontory jutting dramatically from the flanks of Catawba Mountain rewards hikers with 270-degree views extending to the Roanoke Valley to the east, Tinker Cliffs to the north, and the Catawaba Valley and North Mountain to the west. McAfee Knob, along with Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs, have also been dubbed Virginia’s “Triple Crown” of hiking, a nickname bestowed on a stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke bedecked with the trio of panoramic pinnacles. However, for day-trippers, the shortest route to McAfee Knob is the 3.2-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail from the Catawba Valley, but the recently opened Catawba Greenway provides another option for reaching the crag, and cobbling together a 10-mile loop.
Anchored by a dramatic mile-wide rift in the Kittatiny Ridge carved by the Delaware River, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is stunning in the fall. The 70,000-acre recreation area spread along between New Jersey and Pennsylvania is blanketed with oak-dominated hardwood forests, providing plenty of seasonal flourish – and the park’s panoramic mountain ridges offer a bird’s eye view of the river-threaded natural wonder. For hikers, the Appalachian Trail dishes up some of the protected area’s most spectacular vistas. For a photogenic taste of the park’s 28-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, tackle the 5-mile out-and-back hike to the summit of Mount Minsi. The 1,461 foot peak provides an expansive views of the Delaware Water Gap overseen by Mount Tammany, and along the way to the summit, hikers also skirt the shores of Lake Lenape, an idyllic spot to stop and photograph the fiery fall foliage.
A quintessential southern Appalachian bald, the treeless summit of Max Patch presides over North Carolina’s Cherokee National Forest. Once a grazing ground for sheep and cattle, the 4,629-foot peak’s summit is blanketed with expansive wildflower-sprinkled meadows, and is still maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. And, from the peak’s grassy crown, hikers get an unsurpassed 360-degree view dominated by the Great Smoky Mountains to the south and the Black Mountains to the east, capped by Mount Mitchell, the highest summit east of the Mississippi River. While there are shorter routes the summit, the Appalachian Trail also threads the treeless peaks, offering a bounty of options for day-hikers. To escape the crowds, climb Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail beginning at Lemon Gap. Along the 10.8-mile out-and-back trip to the summit the Appalachian Trail weaves through creek-threaded hardwood forests tufted with rhododendron. And, to the make the trip an overnight excursion, the Roaring Fork Shelter is just 1.9 miles north of Max Patch’s summit on the Appalachian Trail.
In the early 1800s, Glastenbury Mountain was fodder for the regional mining and timber trade. But, after the peak’s forests were clear-cut and regional extractive industries began to fizzle, the wilderness gradually bounced back. These days, the Glastenbury Wilderness is the second largest in Vermont, a montage of hardwood forests of spruce, fir, birch, and mountain ash capped by 3,748-foot Glastenbury Mountain. And, for hikers and backpackers, the Appalachian Trail cuts a path through the peak-rippled wilderness, sharing a path with Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail, the oldest distance trail in the country. For a sampling of the 22,425-acre wilderness area, hike the Appalachian Trail to the crest of Little Pond Mountain. The 11-mile out-and-back includes generous Green Mountain views from the Little Pond Lookout and the peak’s crest. For a longer overnight outing, continue 4.6 miles on the Appalachian Trail to the summit of Glastenbury Mountain. The refurbished fire tower perched atop the peak provides expansive views extending to the Berkshires in Massachusetts and New York’s Taconic range – and just below the summit, the Goddard Shelter provides a convenient spot for backpackers to spend the night.
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