In northern New England, leaves begin to change from green to bright orange and yellow in mid-September. At first, only a few trees seem to realize autumn is arriving. Then, suddenly, the mountains transform into a kaleidoscope of colors, which spread down the mountains of New England into the Mid-Atlantic. Here are a few trails where you can immerse yourself in the finest foliage hikes in the region.
Forest Discovery Trail | Lincoln, N.H.
The Forest Discovery Trail, located off the Kancamagus Highway, is an area popular for fall foliage viewing. From the parking area, follow the trail to the junction of Forest Discovery Trail and the Riparian Forest Loop and turn left. A half-mile gradual ascent brings you to a clearing with views of Scar Ridge and Mount Osceola. Interpretive signs along the way explain forest succession. For a longer day, loop back and take the Riparian Trail, which passes through a riverside forest with lots of Canadian hemlock, or visit the Lincoln Woods and Greeley Ponds trails nearby.
Distance: 1.4-mile loop
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide Online
Camel’s Hump | Waitsfield, Vt.
The rounded peak of Camel’s Hump (4,083 ft.) is the highest in Vermont never to have a structure on the summit. Take the Monroe Trail on the west side of the mountain to view hardwoods such as red maple and paper, gray, and yellow birch. Farther along the trail, sugar maple, beech, balsam fir, and big-toothed aspen dominate the canopy. From the Monroe Trail, turn left on the Dean Trail to see a beaver dam on a small pond. Even before reaching the summit, the trail offers views of Mount Ethan Allen, the Worcester Range, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks. A 360-degree view of 20,000 acres of protected land, as well as Mount Mansfield and the Winooski River Valley, reward an arrival to the summit. On a clear day, you can see foliage colors all the way to Mount Washington.
Distance: 7.3 miles round-trip
Info: AMC’s Best Backpacking in New England, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); Vermont State Parks
Mount Grace State Forest | Warwick, Mass.
For a short walk with a 360-degree view, follow the Metacomet-Monadnock (M-M) Trail to the fire tower atop Mount Grace (1,617 ft.). Just 2 miles from the New Hampshire border, Mount Grace offers views of Mount Monadnock and hardwood forests with stands of red spruce. Once on the M-M Trail, turn right and follow it across Mountain Brook. Here, pink twin coral berries and red creeping partridge berries reflect the bright colors of the falling leaves. The dirt Fire Tower Road meets with the trail close to the summit. The view is limited on the ground, but is exquisite if you climb the 68-foot-tall tower.
Distance: 2.8 miles out-and-back
Info: Nature Walks in Central and Western Massachusetts (AMC Books)
Rock Spring Preserve | Scotland, Conn.
The scenic Little River Valley is particularly vibrant in fall. From the trailhead kiosk, follow the white blazed loop trail to the left through maples, ashes, and oaks on this 450-acre preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. In autumn, woodland asters bloom white, the black and yellow birches lose their golden yellow leaves, and huckleberry offers red foliage. Along the trail are also red maples, bitternut hickory, and black and white oak. Remnants of stone walls hint at the area’s agricultural past. A side trail, marked by yellow and white blazes, leads to a lookout area. After relaxing, return to the loop and follow it to the banks of the Little River, where red swamp maples reflect their bright color in the water. During the trip, you might also glimpse signs of beaver life, butterflies, many ferns, and wild sarsaparilla.
Distance: 3.6-mile loop
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); The Nature Conservancy
Bear Mountain State Park | Bear Mountain, N.Y.
Bear Mountain is home to some of the oldest stretches of the Appalachian Trail, and the trail’s iconic white blazes are visible along the route. Follow the Major Welch Trail from the parking area off Seven Lakes Drive. The ascent begins gently, but later rocky chutes make it more difficult. Along the way are glimpses of Canada Hill, the Hudson River, and the Popolopen Torne. Farther along the trail you’ll get views of the Bear Mountain Bridge and Long Mountain. Near the summit, stone stairs connect the Major Welch Trail with the Perkins Memorial Drive access road. The summit is open with sections of chestnut, oak, and maple. From the observation area, the town of Harriman and the Dunderberg and Timp mountains are visible.
Distance: 4.5 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes near New York City (AMC Books); New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
South Mountain Reservation | Millburn, N.J.
During the American Revolution, militia patrolled South Mountain to monitor British activities near Staten Island. Take the Lenape Trail from Glen Ave. and head right to reach Washington Rock, where George Washington allegedly watched the battlefield. Though there are no more redcoats, it is a great place to spy red foliage. From a lookout area, you can see the towns of Millburn and Springfield. Farther along the trail, a moderate hike brings you to a grassy forest area near the Maple Falls Cascades. After passing over several ravines, the trail reaches Hemlock Falls. From there, the Falls Overlook Trail offers a surprisingly wide view of the far side of the reservation. Descend the mountain following the River Trail along the Rahway River.
Distance: 5.2 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books)
Clopper Lake | Germantown, Md.
Seneca Creek State Park covers 6,300 acres and extends along the Seneca Creek to the Potomac River. From the visitor center, take the Great Seneca Trail then turn left at the intersection with the Great Seneca Creek. A deciduous forest of oaks, sycamores, maples, and beeches forms a canopy over the trail. Pass the intersection with Old Pond Trail, and turn left on to Lake Shore Trail following the blue blazes. As you loop your way around Clopper Lake, pines, cedars, hickories, and yellow poplars join the mix of other forest trees. Together they rim the lake, which reflects their myriad colors. Watch for hawks, ospreys, barred owls, and great blue herons flying overhead.
Distance: 4.5-mile loop
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. (AMC Books); Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Peak foliage begins to appear at AMC’s northernmost Lodges and Huts in late September, and then it begins its gradual migration south. Check out this chart of the estimated peak foliage dates at various lodges and huts—and plan your fall travels accordingly.
Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins (Maine)
Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins (Maine)
Carter Notch huts (N.H.)
Highland Center (N.H.)
Joe Dodge Lodge (N.H.)
Cardigan Lodge (N.H.)
Noble View Outdoor Center (Mass.)
Ponkapoag Camp (Mass.)
Mohican Outdoor Center (N.J.)
Info and Reservations: 603-466-2727