Skip to main content

5 spectacular fall hikes on the Appalachian Trail

The best spots to hike on this well-known trail in autumn

Male hiker walks along cliff with view on Appalachian Trail, Maine.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Stretching for 2,193 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail threads some of the East Coast’s wildest spaces — and each year, millions of people hike at least a portion of the trail (and approximately 1,000 people manage to hike the entire length).

During the fall, the epic footpath is a portal to some spectacular leaf-peeping spots. In fact, fall is one of the best times to hike the Appalachian Trail, as the lush green of the forest turns into a riot of autumn colors. Here are just a few of the best fall hikes for leaf peepers to enjoy the best foliage this autumn.

Autumn road on Mount Greylock.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

Mount Greylock is among the highlights of Massachusetts’ 90-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The highest point in the state, the 3,491 Mount Greylock 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. It’s 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, and it is a great place to hike the Appalachian Trail in fall.

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.

Northbound on Appalachian Trail, McAfee Knob VA.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

McAfee Knob, Virginia

Containing more mileage of the Appalachian Trail than any other state, Virginia’s 531-mile portion of the trail 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, has also been dubbed Virginia’s “Triple Crown” of hiking, a nickname bestowed on a stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke. 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 top and cobbling together a 10-mile loop.

Vast View Mt. Minsi.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mount Minsi, Pennsylvania

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 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.

The Appalachian Trail at Max Patch Bald west of Asheville, NC.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Max Patch, North Carolina

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 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 to 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 rhododendrons. And, to 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.

Glastenbury Mountain, Vermont
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Glastenbury Mountain, Vermont

In the early 1800s, Vermont’s Glastenbury Mountain was fodder for the regional mining and timber trade. But, after its forests were clear-cut and the mining industry 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.

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.

Appalachian Trail
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Be prepared

One of the keys to having a great fall hike on the Appalachian Trail is to be prepared for anything. Besides making sure you have a camera in your pack, you should also be prepared for unpredictable weather, especially in the Northeast, where a sunny day can turn into freezing rain in no time.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it’s not uncommon to have snow on sections of the trail in New England in September or October. That’s why when you set out to hike the Appalachian Trail in fall for a foliage hike, you should have the proper gear for inclement weather, even if the sky looks clear.

Dressing in layers is the best way to stay ahead of the weather, so you can easily regulate your body temperature as you warm up during your hike. Make sure you have a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece-lined hat, gloves, and a raincoat in your pack, so you’re ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

Now get out there and enjoy fall!

Editors' Recommendations

Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
Camper van vs Class B RV: How to choose which to buy for your outdoor adventures
Class B RV vs Camper Van - who ya got?
Man building a campfire in front of a Winnebago Ekko Springer camper van.

If you would love to go on road trips and experience the best national parks, there is no better way to do it and still feel comfortable like you’re at home than camping in an RV. Let’s be honest: You will enjoy sleeping on a cozy bed in an RV with an air conditioner more than in a moist and chilly tent. It’s also easier to prepare your meals in an RV because of the refrigerator, and you don’t have to worry about packing and unpacking your camping bags every night or morning. 

However, the big RVs can be a headache if you're driving through low-hanging bridges or tight spaces. They’re also more expensive to fuel and maintain compared to smaller-size vehicles. Alternatively, you could choose a Class B RV or a camper van if prefer an RV that strikes a balance between rural camping and big-city adventure. But the question is — what’s the difference between a Class B RV and a camper van? And which one should you buy?
A Class B motorhome is built with all the camping amenities

Read more
How to make nutritious and delicious trail snacks: Your DIY guide
DIY trail snacks are less expensive and better for the environment
Date and cashew bars

Knowing how to properly feed yourself to stay energized throughout the day is essential to success on the trail. Whether you're out hiking for the day or on a multi-day thru-hike, nutrition will make or break your trip. There are loads of trail snacks on the market that you can take in your pack, but if you hit the trail every day, these can be costly.

We all want to be a bit more environmentally conscious. As outdoor enthusiasts, we have a much closer connection with the natural environment than most. Even some of the more environmentally aware companies still wrap their snacks in plastic packaging, and many snacks come individually wrapped for convenience. Save yourself money and look out for your environmental footprint in one move by learning how to make your own trail snacks at home. Here are six of our favorites.
Raisin, cherry, and honey flapjacks

Read more
Dust off your gear, it’s time to hit the trail: The spring hiking tips you need
These tips will keep you safe and comfortable on the trail
A person hiking

I don't know about you, but I love the fact that spring is here, and I can hit the trail again. I went out the other day without having to load up in all of my outdoor layers and enjoyed a trail run along some snow-free tracks. It's that time of year when you can dust off your hiking boots, dig out your trekking poles, and start to make some hiking plans. But spring isn't all sunshine and dry tracks. A little like fall hiking, spring trails can be muddy, and some of the wettest, coldest days I've had on the trail have come in springtime. Maybe it's not quite a time to pack away all that warm gear after all.

Spring is changeable. That's what I'm getting at. It's perhaps the toughest time of the year to pack a hiking pack because, on any given day, you might need to change layers four times. The days are long enough to get a good hike done, but you can still find yourself caught out after dark if you're not careful, and once that sun drops, the temperature goes with it. In return, though, spring rewards us with those golden hours at sunrise and sunset — the outdoor photographer's dream — raging waterfalls as the snow melts off, and the sounds and sights of nature coming back to life after a winter's hibernation. It's great if you get it right, and if you follow our spring hiking tips, you won't go far off track.
Dress and pack accordingly

Read more