Autumn is the time of year when our favorite hikes become even more breathtaking -- alight with the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of fall.
WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES FOR FALL COLORS IN COLORADO?
In other seasons, leaves appear green, due to chlorophyll (the pigment that allows them to capture sunlight and produce nutrients), however the arrival of cooler temperatures and shorter days signals the tree to stop producing it. This is when -- to our delight -- the other colors in the leaves begin to show.
While there are many great places to soak up the amazing sights of autumn, we've selected a few great hikes around the country (as well as one we couldn't resist abroad) where you can fully immerse yourself in the fall season. On these trails, you have the chance to enjoy not just magnificent colors, but also majestic waterfalls, views of surrounding mountains and towns, alpine lakes and the refreshing smell of damp earth.
Before you head out, it's worthwhile to note that you can predict the intensity of fall colors based on the weather. While low temperatures above freezing and rainy or overcast days can amplify them, early frost will dampen the shades. In addition, a little research on the types of trees can also help you predict what you'll see. The Arbor Day Foundation provides a list of tree species and their hues. For instance, the bald cypress is known to turn orange-red in the fall, while the black tupelo will show many colors including yellow, orange, bright red, purple and scarlet.
Skyline Trail: Babcock State Park: Danese, W.Va.
Beginning at Manns Creek Picnic Area, this flat, four-mile out-and-back trip will take approximately two hours. This is just one great hike in a 4,127-acre park with 20 miles of trails (click here for a trail map). The many paths can take you through Manns Creek Gorge, as well as past streams and a working gristmill.
Enchantment Lakes, Washington
The traditional path to Enchantment Lakes is trail 1553. It starts at the Snow Lakes trailhead about four miles outside of Leavenworth, Washington, and will take you on a grueling 10-mile hike with 6,000 feet of elevation gain. For this reason, many people choose to take two cars and park one at each end of the trail. You can also camp overnight and awake to the sight of an alpine lake and gorgeous yellow autumn leaves on the surrounding larch trees.
Appalachian Trail: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rather than tackling the entire 2,200 miles of this National Scenic Trail, you can opt for a small but spectacular section within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drive to the parking area at Newfound Gap and take the Appalachian Trail to Indian Gap. The 3.4-mile roundtrip will give you a taste of this historic route and allow you to see beautiful fall foliage.
Sherman Peak: Bear River Range, Idaho
At 9,682 feet, Sherman Peak is the highest mountain in this region and therefore provides the best view of fall colors in the area. It can be accessed via the Bear River Range Highline Trail from the parking area near the trailhead off Eightmile Creek Road. In total, it's a 3.5-mile hike to the summit.
Trail of Ten Falls: Silver Falls State Park, Ore.
The eight-mile Trail of Ten Falls in Silver Falls State Park will take you past a series of gorgeous cascades accented with the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of fall. Day-use permits are required year-round and can be purchased at the park entrance booth.
The Stowe Pinnacle Trail: Vermont
The first week of October is the best time to do this moderate hike in northwestern Vermont. The steep, 2.8-mile-long trail will deliver you to a bald summit with views of the Green Mountains (including the famed Camel's Hump and Mt. Mansfield) and the Worchester Range to the west, as well as Hogback Mountain to the southeast.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail: Devil's Lake State Park, Wis.
Devil's Lake State Park is one of nine Ice Age National Scientific Reserve units. On the scenic trail, you can find incredible glacial features and breathtaking views that highlight some the best autumn colors in the Midwest. While the entire loop is 13.7 miles, you can also take the 4.5-mile Sauk Point Trail or 1.8-mile Roznos Meadow Trail.
May Lake: Yosemite National Park, Calif.
This family-friendly hike starts at the Snow Flat trailhead and covers 1.3 miles. Because it's a relatively easy jaunt, you can expect not just the beautiful granite peaks and sparkling blue waters of Yosemite, but also the crowds. Still, the view of May Lake below 10,000-foot Mount Hoffman makes this popular hike worth the (short) trek.
Hoenderloo Forest Walk: Hoge Veluwe National Park, Netherlands
We know, we know -- this isn't exactly a trip you can do over the weekend. However, our shout-out to Hoge Veluwe National Park is a reminder that there are incredible locations across the world to see beautiful foliage. If you find yourself in the Netherlands in the fall, try the forest walk starting at the Hoenderloo entrance. In total, this trail is approximately 11 miles long, but from September 1-30 (the mating season for deer in the park) visitors are only allowed to walk about 8.5 miles of the trail.
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