10 Beautiful Late-Autumn Hiking Destinations
The weather may be getting a bit colder, but that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your hiking boots for the season. You still have plenty of fall left to head out into the countryside for some extended walks through America’s most stunning parks and nature reserves.
If you’re after some beautiful foliage, a challenging snow trek, or a journey through the desert, autumn is the best time of year. So what if you have to wear heavier socks and bring along a thicker jacket? The splendor of the natural world beckons you! Here are a few destinations and ideas to inspire you on your hiking adventures:
Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri
Who wouldn’t want to ramble through a forest named after one of America’s most beloved authors? The Mark Twain Forest, which rests inside the Ozark Plateau, is chock-full of hiking trails (742 miles, to be precise), wildflowers, game, fish, flowing water, hickory, oak and pine trees. There are also plenty of canoeing opportunities for those of you who prefer to paddle instead of hike. You can even trek on out to Greer Spring, where clean and clear water bubbles out of the earth. This is truly gorgeous country.
Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Oregon’s Willamette National Forest is a treasure that can be experienced any season of the year. With 1,700 miles of trails for you to explore, some at lower elevations, others at higher altitudes, this pristine wilderness offers up some exceptional autumn hikes. Rivers, streams, waterfalls and lush forests abound just below Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. If you’re a fan of tumbling water, you should definitely check out Sahalie Falls. While the weather here can be wet at times, all that extra moisture means an incredible growth of flora, and hence lots of fauna wandering through the forests.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall can be a real adventure. This is rugged countryside, filled with lots of backcountry trails, changing weather conditions, variable terrain, and tons of trekking action. You can hike along high ridges, and then drop down into old growth forests, or else try to bag some of the lower peaks. When the trees change color, it’s as if Mother Nature suddenly decided to splash buckets of vibrant paint across the landscape. The options here are seemingly endless, and the views awe-inspiring.
Grand Staircase, Escalante National Monument, Utah
Utah’s Grand Staircase is the perfect place for late-autumn and early-winter hikes. This 1.7 million-acre national monument in southern Utah is overflowing with beautiful desert scenery. You’ll find arching and snaking geological forms throughout the region, as well as waterfalls, terraced rocks and lots of desert sand. It’s a wonderful location to wander around and dirty up your hiking boots.
Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona
You won’t be disappointed by a visit to the Arizona’s Santa Catalina Mountains. These mountains, which are just north of Tucson, offer plenty of canyon and loop trails for you to explore, although you might have to work a little harder because of the moderate to steep elevation gains. The vistas across the desert here are spectacular, and come wintertime, you can even ski. Yes, snow skiing is actually possible in Arizona, on top of towering Mount Lemmon.
Cottonwood Spring, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Cottonwood Spring, located in Joshua Tree National Park, is the perfect place for an easy fall trek. The trails aren’t overly challenging here, but the flora, fauna and land formations you’ll be able to see during your short walks through Cottonwood Spring will be numerous indeed. Willow trees, bighorn sheep, waterfalls and interpretative trail hikes reward those who choose to make a trip here in order to enjoy the splendors of Joshua Tree.
C.M. Goethe Park, California
C.M. Goethe County Park is actually located in California’s state capital, Sacramento, on the bank of the American River. While this park might not be as awe-inspiring as Utah’s Grand Staircase, it's still a lovely natural paradise. It really is remarkable how some flowing water and a woodland can make you forget about the surrounding city. You can stroll along the river, hang out with wild deer and turkey, go rafting, or opt for a horse ride on one of the many trails winding through the park. It’s the perfect spot to get away from it all, without actually having to leave the city.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
When you drop by Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky, you’ll be treated to one of the planet’s most extensive cave networks. While there are some hiking opportunities above land as well, you’ll probably be spending most of your time underground. It doesn’t really matter what the weather is like outside. This is a great destination when the temperatures cool down or it starts to rain, because you can take shelter in the numerous caves. Any fan of stalactites and stalagmites will be extremely pleased by a visit here.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
The great state of Texas is home to Big Bend National Park. If you hate the cold but love hiking, you can’t go wrong here (unless you’re caught out at night). Big Bend National Park is home to big sky, cactuses galore, an amazing collection of rock formations, and tons of desert, mountain and river hiking trails, all located under the hot Texas sun. What more could you ask for? The wide variety this extensive patch of desert has to offer is truly remarkable. You’d be remiss if you didn’t swing by for a visit at least once during your lifetime.
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
Utah doesn’t disappoint when it comes to hiking opportunities, and Cedar Breaks National Monument is no exception. You can enjoy this park all year long. In the fall and winter seasons, you can either hike, or when the snow descends, cross-county ski across this amazing landscape. Colorful canyons, high elevation, dense forests and heart-pounding views define the region. Because the park is located at altitude (10, 000 feet), come prepared for the cold, and a hearty lung workout, should you choose to tackle some of the hiking and skiing trails carved out of the land at Cedar Breaks.