Along with adjoining eastern Canada (and maybe the Midwest), the east coast of the United States lays claim to arguably the world’s most spectacular fall colors. Just why involves the complicated story of physical geography, climate zones, and even Ice Age histories (which help explain the region’s great diversity of broadleaf trees and shrubs). We want to celebrate some of the very best fall hiking destinations on the east coast!
Without further ado, here’s a (non-exhaustive) survey, ranked not by quality but by rough geography from north to south.
Coastal Maine Is Amazing For Fall Hiking and Food
One of the few destinations we’re profiling here that’s actually right on the coast, Maine’s mostly rugged Atlantic shores claim some of the East’s most dramatic leaf-peeping hiking destinations, where autumnal canopies blaze forth against a beautiful briny background. The east coast’s highest oceanfront hilltops put the scenery on a platter for you. Acadia National Park’s a celebrated choice, with multiple fine vantages such as Cadillac Mountain reachable by trail. The Camden Hills on the Midcoast make another excellent destination; don’t miss the fall-foliage prospects from, for example, Mount Battie. Another reason to go to Maine for a fall hike is the food. You’ll be hungry after your hike, so a Maine lobster roll or some seafood chowder to warm up and fill your belly. A trip to Maine isn’t complete without a few delicious meals.
Fall Hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s White Mountains are New England’s grandest mountain group, topping out above 6,000 feet in the section known and adored as the Presidential Range. Besides the sweeping scenery, they also deliver some of the best fall colors anywhere on Earth, with a prolonged show given the size of the chain and the major elevation range. Bag majestic summits on the Presidential Traverse while gaping at the colorful forests falling to either side or hike to the many waterfalls and cascades of the White Mountain National Forest, including in and around the wonderful Franconia Notch State Park, to combine whitewater flumes with fiery foliage. The best time for viewing fall colors is on the earlier end of the spectrum, from September through October.
The Catskill Mountains Provide Fall Hiking Splendor
Providing a slew of wonderful hiking trails within shouting distance of New York City and the leaf-peeping hotspot of the Hudson Valley, the Catskills look spellbindingly gorgeous clad in their maple, birch, cherry, beech, oak, and other hardwood hues. Here, too, dashing brooks and impressive pour-offs (not least the legendary Kaaterskill Falls) look extra-lovely with flaming fall colors. And you’ll find a surprising amount of old-growth remnants in the Catskills, too, in places such as the Mohonk Preserve and Giant Ledge big, full-of-presence tree ancients enhance your fall hiking experience.
The Metacomet Ridge
Stretching some 100 miles along the Connecticut River Valley from New Haven into Massachusetts, the great traprock battlement of the Metacomet Ridge is one of New England’s lesser-known scenic gems. The basaltic ledges and cliffs and diverse array of ecosystems provide both up-close and far-range views of the region’s superb fall foliage. There are countless places to hike along its length, from Connecticut’s Hanging Hills and Ragged Mountain to Massachusetts’s Pocumtuck and Holyoke ranges.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah’s rich spectrum of hardwood forests and beautiful Blue Ridge scenery make it one of the best national parks in the country for leaf-peeping odysseys, bar none. Hike up to the top of Old Rag or Stony Man for far-reaching views over autumn-burnished woods. You’re just about guaranteed to see some Shenandoah white-tailed deer in their peak, acorn-fattened fall condition—maybe even a magnificent buck with an eye-grabbing rack.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Linking Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, the roughly 470-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway displays downright epic vistas in the Appalachians. You can do world-class leaf-peeping from behind the steering wheel along this famous drive, of course, but you’ll also find exceptional hiking. The Blue Ridge Parkway has whopping fall-color vistas strung throughout, including such vantages as Black Balsam Knob, Fryingman Mountain along the Pisgah Ridge, and Grandfather Mountain, at just shy of 6,000 feet the zenith of the Blue Ridge proper.
The Great Smoky Mountains
We’ll end this tour at likely the most celebrated leaf-peeping wonderland in the Southeast. The Great Smoky Mountains exemplify the globally notable biological richness of the Southern Appalachians’ temperate forests, and a splendid variety of hardwood trees and shrubs play their part in a vivid and long-lasting color show amid some of the east coast’s most extraordinary topographic relief.
Crescent Moon Trekking Poles Enhance Your Fall Leaf-Peeping Hikes in the East
From the Jump-Off and Spence Field in the Great Smokies to the crown of Mount Battie in the Camden Hills, feast on the Eastern Seaboard’s magnificent fall colors with the help of our carbon-fiber and aluminum trekking poles, the perfect hiker’s companions!