When the temps dip and the trees turn all shades of orange, it’s time to hit the trails
Leaves are changing color, and there’s a fresh autumnal smell in the air—what a good excuse to explore the great outdoors! Pull on your hiking boots, grab plenty of water, and perhaps a sweater too—because fall is the perfect season for hitting the trail with your little adventurers. From mountain rambles and forested strolls to historic walks and more, you can discover them all this fall.
Best Fall Hikes in the West
Cascade Springs | Provo, UT
Teeming with natural beauty and wildlife all year, Cascade Springs is especially nice in the fall. Boardwalk trails lead you over bridges and around the artesian springs, with waterfalls tumbling down limestone terraces into pools. Aspens, maples, and oaks provide the fall color. Watch out for moose!
Insider Tip: You’ll enjoy the journey as well as the destination—it’s a scenic drive up American Fork Canyon to get to Cascade Springs.
Mt. Rainier National Park | Pierce and Lewis County, WA
This dormant volcano erupts with color in the fall. Drive to Sunrise, the highest point you can reach by vehicle, in early fall and take the Mt. Rainier Gondola (with the whole fam, including pooch) to the summit of Crystal Mountain. You can hike along the ridge for beautiful views of Mt. Rainier amid snowmelt and fall sunshine (accessible only through September). Later in the fall try the Alta Vista, Naches Peak Loop, and Moraine trails. There’s lots of wildlife to spot, including friendly mule deer.
When you first think of Breckenridge, chances are you think of it as a premier destination for skiing and other winter sports. We actually think that the fall is really the ideal time to head to Breckenridge as its elevation makes it one of the first spots in the country to welcome autumn. The town itself sits at just over 9,000 feet in elevation and there are numerous hiking options nearby. We particularly liked driving up Boreas Pass Road to the Black Powder Pass trailhead. This hike takes you above the tree line and is perfect for seeing the whole area from above. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats and moose while you are there!
Castle Rock State Park | Los Gatos, CA
On a high ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Castle Rock State Park boasts amazing rock formations (called “bosses” by geologists). The best hike for families is the Castle Rock Loop which takes you through a mossy madrone forest. There’s easy bouldering for kids along the trail (no equipment needed) and you can take a short detour to Castle Rock Falls.
Hug Point Beach | Cannon Beach, OR
Slip off your shoes, and go for a hike along one of the quietest and most beautiful beaches on the Oregon coast. Skip rocks, and explore caves, coves, and waterfalls. Be sure to come at low tide—there’s more underwater life to see, tide pools to be discovered, and you can walk further down the beach. Low tide also reveals an old stagecoach trail (stagecoaches used to “hug” the edge to avoid the tides, hence the name of the beach). In the Portland area? Check out our recommendations for where to see fall colors.
Insider Tip: Dogs can slip off their leashes too! This off-leash beach means freedom for Fido and the kids.
Palomar Mountain State Park | San Diego County, CA
A nice escape from the bustle of the city, the cool forests and meadows of Palomar Mountain have a similar climate to the Sierra Nevada Mountains many miles to the north, making it a welcome change from the hot temps of this region. Start out on the easy Doane Valley Nature Trail—there are many forks on the trail (make sure you don’t get lost) connecting to other trails and more adventures. If you take the fork to the French Valley Trail you'll wander through woodlands and meadows to a waterfall. If you want to start the littles out on something easier first, check out Best San Diego Hikes for Kids under Five.
Insider Tip: The unusual climate means that some creatures here are unique to Palomar Mountain. Look out for the Palomar Banana Slug—sure, you can find their relatives in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest but these guys are the only banana slugs to survive in SoCal!
Coconino National Forest | Sedona, AZ
Arizona’s red rock country is breathtaking year-round, but it explodes with color in the fall. There are some beautiful hikes around Sedona, including the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon which takes you along the canyon floor by a stream and across stepping stones, and the Broken Arrow Trail which will lead you up to the Devil’s Dining Room sinkhole, Submarine Rock, Mushroom Rock, and more gorgeous vistas.
Insider Tip: Fall is the perfect time for hitting the trails in Sedona, as temps cool down, making hiking more pleasant.
Solstice Canyon | Malibu, CA
Your fam, including your four-legged kids, can hit the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Solstice Canyon Loop is a cool shaded canyon hike. Populated with local deciduous trees, you’ll be sure to spot some falling yellow and red leaves through the beginning of December. You’ll see the Keller House (the oldest stone building in Malibu), and the Solstice Waterfall and creek. There's lots to explore including the ruins of a 1950's ranch. Look out for alligator lizards on the trail! For other fall color hikes in the Los Angeles area, take a look at where to see fall colors.
Insider Tip: If you scramble up the rocky trail to the top of the waterfall in Solstice Canyon you’ll find some awesome pools, but please be careful!
Best Fall Hikes in the South
Caprock Canyons State Park, TX
Bats and bison make their home in Caprock Canyons State Park. Fall brings cool temps, perfect for hiking with the family, and if you can stay up late, there's amazing stargazing too. Try the one-mile Mesa trail, or take in a small section of the Caprock Canyons Trailway, which spans 41 miles, and crosses 46 bridges and a railroad tunnel.
Insider Tip: If you visit in early fall, you can catch the Mexican Free-Tailed Bats of Clarity Tunnel before they migrate south for the winter.
Great Smoky Mountains | NC, TN, GA
Each fall, the Smokies are awash with bright colors—this mountain range is home to over 100 native species of tree, many deciduous—making the Smokies one of the best places in the country to view fall foliage. Kid-sized hikes include Baskins Creek Falls and Schoolhouse Gap. You can see the sweep of color making its way down the mountains, as fall changes come first to the higher elevations, then gradually reach the foothills. For more Georgia fall color, check out: 3 Places to See Fantastic Fall Foliage
Insider Tip: Head over to the Smokies' fall color website to find the best time to hit the trail.
Best Fall Hikes in the Midwest
Glacier National Park | MT
Mid-September to Mid-October is a great time to visit Montana's glorious Glacier National Park—the summer rush of visitors is over, and the leaves of the larch trees are turning a beautiful shade. Rob Taylor, of 2 Travel Dads blog, recommends the Avalanche Lake trail in Lake McDonald Valley or Redrock Falls in the Many Glacier Valley. Avalanche Lake is a short hike where you'll cross over streams and walk through woods to the lake. Redrock Falls is a little more challenging, but you'll be rewarded with amazing views of the mountains.
Sand Run Park | Akron, OH
This Ohio park is full of history; the Portage Path running through it was once the western border of the United States. Today, you can follow that historic route, or take one of many other trails in the park. Look out for the plentiful wildlife (including screech, barred, and great horned owls and red, gray, and fox squirrels). You'll also spy some awesome fall colors.
Insider Tip: Take part in Summit Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree, which will take you to some amazing parks and trails—from caves and marshes to steep valleys and waterfalls. This annual event has been going since 1964 and encourages families to explore the many trails in their community.
Rock Cut State Park – Rockford, Il
So named because it was chiseled through the rocks by a river—this state park has lots of activities for the whole family year-round but is especially lovely in the fall when leaves are painted with red and gold. There’s a lot of wildlife to be seen, including deer, fox, muskrat, beaver, and woodchuck (perhaps you can find out how much wood a woodchuck can chuck). There are a few easy hikes in the park including one that loops around a lake. Nearby, you’ll find the town of Rockford—the place where pioneers once forded the fast-moving Rock River in their wagons. Here are some more colorful spots for fall family strolls in the Chicago area.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Munising, MI
15 miles of colorful sandstone give the towering cliffs of Pictured Rocks their name. You’ll find caves, arches, and unusual rock formations, all naturally stained by minerals from Lake Superior. This National Lakeshore has wonderful fall hikes that capture the beauty of both the cliffs and the changing of the seasons. The Chapel Trail Mosquito Falls Loop is a great hike for families with big kids; it takes you past two waterfalls and along part of the 42-mile Lakeshore Trail with spectacular scenery. It’s not recommended for the littles as the trail goes along the clifftops. Families have several nature trails and day hikes to choose from including hikes to waterfalls, shipwrecks, dunes, and the Au Sable Lighthouse.
Best Fall Hikes in the East
Staunton River State Park | Scottsburg, VA
One of the six original state parks that opened in 1936, Staunton River has a variety of terrain—from woodlands and meadows to the sandy shoreline of Buggs Island Lake. Much of the landscape is unchanged from the times when Revolutionary and Civil War troops camped here. There are several hikes to choose from but the best one to try with mini-hikers is the easy Tutelo Trail.
Angel Falls, Rangeley Lakes | Franklin County, ME
You’ll hike through a forest of sugar maple, American beech, and yellow birch to get to one of Maine’s highest and most spectacular waterfalls. Angel Falls gets its name from the shape the cascading water makes—some say it looks like an angel’s wings. This short hike follows mountain streams (you’ll have to scramble over boulders and do a bit of wading to cross them, but it's still family-friendly). Depending on how much water is flowing at the time you’re there, you may be able to make it to the base of the falls. If you do, look up for amazing views.
Insider Tip: “There’s gold in them thar hills” ... people used to pan for gold up here but the real gold in this forest is maple syrup‚ these sugar maples make syrup that's double the usual sweetness!
Wawayanda State Park Sussex and Passaic County, NJ
There are many easy trails along the wooded shoreline of this park (and one very challenging one—the Appalachian Trail). The Cherry Ridge Trail travels alongside Lake Wawayanda, across a stone bridge, by beaver ponds to a rare swamp of White Atlantic Cedar. The Cedar Swamp Trail will take you across the swamp on boardwalks and through rhododendron tunnels.
Insider Tip: Civil War buffs, look out for the ruins of a charcoal blast furnace used to produce iron for the Union armies. You might also spot mine shafts belonging to the abandoned Wawayanda Mine.