Find a wooded trail in New England and you’re off to a decent start. The reds of the sugar maples, which enhance the golds of oaks, beech, and ash, bring hordes of tour buses to the region each fall. But the leaf peepers generally stick to the road, leaving the footpaths alone.
If you can’t make it to the Northeast, there are worthy second-tier alternatives. The Blue Ridge Mountains come ablaze in the fall with yellow and orange, as do the aspen-filled Rockies, and other scenic points in-between. These hikes provide Facebook-worthy views.
Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire
One of the state’s most thigh-busting hikes outside of Mount Washington and the rest of the jagged Presidential Range. You wouldn’t know it by the summit height (3,490 feet) but Mt. Chocorua's exposed rocky peak juts above the central New Hampshire skyline like an incisor, and offers views of glacial lakes and the White Mountains in every direction. Take the four-mile-long Brook Trail, which climbs 2,500 feet to the top
Stay: The Darby Field Inn (starts at $160)
Millbrook Mountain, New York
The Shawangunk Ridge, better known as the Gunks, isn’t just for rock climbers. Follow the three-mile-long trail along the famed cliffs here, and you’ll climb through maples and hemlocks roughly 1,200 feet to the summit of Millbrook Mountain, where you can look over the Hudson Valley and Taconic Mountains.
Stay: Mohonk Mountain House (starts at $135 a night)
Cold Mountain, North Carolina
Yes, this is the same Cold Mountain as in the book and movie of the same name. Cold Mountain resides in the untamed Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest. To get to the top, trek up the Art Loeb Trail, which gains 2,800 feet over 5.5 miles. Your reward is the 180-degree view of the Blue Ridge from a ledge just before the 6,000-foot summit.
Stay: The Lion and the Rose Bed and Breakfast in nearby Asheville (starts at $135 a night)
Mammoth Lakes, California
The dense groves of aspens, willows, and cottonwoods fringing the creeks and lakes of the Sierra Nevada make Mammoth Lakes and the nearby town of Lee Vining an impressive place to explore before the snow falls. Lundy Canyon, on the edge of Yosemite National Park, is the best spot to catch the fall colors. You can take the out-and-back trail, which passes several waterfalls, as far as your legs and time will allow.
Stay: Mammoth Creek Inn in Mammoth Lakes (starts at $105)
If there’s one place to see the aspens of the Rockies turn gold in the fall, it’s outside the town of Aspen, beside the rocky slopes of the 14,000-plus-foot Maroon Bells in the White River National Forest. To get the full foliage experience, take the well-trodden West Maroon Trail along the edge of Crater Lake. If you’re bold enough, you can switchback to the top of 12,480-foot West Maroon Pass nearly 6.5 miles later.
Stay: The Green Drake in nearby Basalt (starts at $89)