Experiences
Best Fall Hikes for Crowd-Free Leaf Peeping

ArkansasMichiganNew HampshireUtahWashington

As sweaters emerge from closets and pumpkin spice lattes replace iced coffees, the last hints of summer have finally given way to fall. For outdoor lovers hoping for a last dose of Vitamin D and fresh air before winter takes hold, these under-the-radar hikes offer less crowded alternatives to popular routes for a more peaceful, meditative experience. From the Pacific Northwest to the Ozarks, we have you covered with these six trails nationwide: 

 

Black Angel Trail – White Mountains, New Hampshire 

For New Englanders wary of the foot traffic on Mt. Washington and along the Appalachian Trail, the White Mountains still offer plenty of room to explore in solitude. Hikers comfortable with mild bushwacking and less-than-exemplary trail signage — and who don’t mind losing cell service — will find calming streams, mossy boulders, and perhaps some unexpected company. Bring the bear spray. 

Although some sections have the traditional fall colors, this isn’t necessarily a hike for fiery hues. Go for the babbling brooks, the charming bridges, and meditative quiet. This is also a trail for hikers who enjoy a challenge; not recommended for beginners. 

Willing to trade your solitude for a little more maintenance? Try Echo Lake State Park, a more heavily trafficked network of trails with sweeping views and the kind of eye-popping color that, well, draws a crowd.

Artist’s Bluff in autumn with a view of Echo Lake.

    

Sylvester Trail – Moab, Utah 

A state known for its national parks and varied terrain, Utah attracts outdoor enthusiasts in every season. Although Park City, Sundance, and the Cottonwood canyons above Salt Lake City draw larger fall crowds with their colorful leaves and easy city access, the red-rock deserts of Moab have become increasingly popular, especially among hikers reluctant to pull out their jackets and mittens. (The mountains further North typically see their first snow in October.)

For a truly secluded hike, head 16 miles north of Moab to Castle Valley, a sliver of a city near Fisher Towers and the Mary Jane waterfall trail. These two popular landmarks are certainly worth a visit, but for a more secluded hike, we recommend Sylvester Trail, a wide, moderately challenging path with little traffic and its own kind of Moab beauty, including some of Castle Valley’s most interesting rock formations. 

Castle Valley Utah
Autumn overlooking the mountains in Castle Valley, Utah.

 

Spy Rock Overlook Trail – Ozark National Forest, Arkansas 

If leaf-peeping hasn’t brought Arkansas to mind, we invite you to peruse Ozark National Forest, a 1.2 million park that includes mountains, rivers, waterfalls and caverns. Fall hikes mean brilliant color from white oaks, sycamore trees, river birch and maples. Although a national forest isn’t exactly a ‘hidden’ gem, the network has plenty of secluded trails for a feeling of solitude.   

For a family (and dog) friendly outing, we recommend the short and sweet Spy Rock Overlook Trail, a 0.7 mile path offering 270-degree views, little traffic, and a chance to spot harmless wildlife. Reviews on AllTrails suggest that even the smallest leaf peepers will enjoy this one.  

As with most national parks, Ozark National Forest closed to visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic and has slowly reopened its trails. Check out the park’s official website for the most up-to-date information before planning a visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/osfnf/ 

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Ozark National Forest in Arkansas is one of America’s best fall hikes.

Grand Island Loop – Munising, Michigan 

Although popular in the summer with its sandy beaches and clear lakes, this moderately challenging trail becomes a calmer, though no less scenic, place to hike in the fall. Ideal for veteran hikers with the time to make a day of the trek, the 20-mile loop offers multiple overlooks with views of American beech, paper birch, striped maple and aspen trees. 

For a less strenuous hike, or for families with little ones, consider going counter-clockwise for the best views, or by savoring the hike over a couple of days. Midwesterners will know that this is just one of many fall gems across the region. Check back soon for updates as we add more of them to this list.  

East Channel Lighthouse on Grand Island – Munising, Michigan

 

Lake Chelan – Stehekin, Washington State 

Washington state has no shortage of hiking and biking trails, from Mt. Rainier National Park to the Northern Cascades. Although the sheer number of trails leaves little chance for traffic, veteran hikers looking for a fresh perspective may find it in the trails surrounding Lake Chelan in Stehekin, a charming town only accessible by boat, plane or foot. Ideal for hikers of all abilities, Stehekin offers easy, moderate and difficult routes, many of which are suitable for kids. Fall guests enjoy the quiet of the off-season and seasonal activities like apple picking at the Buckner Orchard. 

Stehekin sits on the northern shore of Lake Chelan.

Escapes Seen Here


More From The Journal

Sign up for weekly inspiration.