Mountains to fall in love with
El Capitan, California
The grande dame of Yosemite National Park (along with Half Dome to the east), El Capitan rises proudly from the western side of the Yosemite Valley. Its granite face appears near vertical – a result of glacial action that shaped many of the mountains within the national park. There are several trails suitable for all abilities that make for excellent hikes, especially when the gray granite mountains are contrasted by the changing foliage. Day-use reservations are currently required but expected to be phased out at the start of November.
Teton Range, Wyoming
A mountain range within the Rocky Mountains, the Teton Range is an icon of the Cowboy State. Stretching along the Idaho state line from north to south, the range is mostly within Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, named for the highest mountain in the range. There are almost endless possibilities for trekking and hiking here and trails range from easy walks that take a couple of hours to strenuous full-day climbs. If you’re visiting the park, don’t miss the stunning fall foliage against the snow-capped mountains viewed from Oxbow Bend (pictured). Note that some park facilities are currently closed.
Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to explore the stunning fall colors that take over Denali National Park and Denali mountain. Surrounded by unspoiled landscapes mostly enjoyed by bears, wolves, caribou and moose, it makes for unbelievable hikes. If visiting Denali, be mindful that it’s a true wilderness so you must be prepared. If you want to see the mountain itself, Reflection Pond is one of the most gorgeous viewpoints as Denali is mirrored perfectly in the still water.
Mount Washington, New Hampshire
At 6,288 feet (1,917m), Mount Washington is New Hampshire’s highest peak, dominating a verdant valley that bursts with color in the fall. However, if you’re not keen on a hike, you’re in luck. The mountain is home to the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, in operation since 1869. Brightly colored trains chug along the 3.5-mile (5.6km) track, at a 37% gradient at certain points. At the summit, you’ll have an hour to take in the views that on a clear day include five states, Canada and the Atlantic. The visitor center at the summit currently requires an advance reservation.
Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Another one for those not in favor of a hike, the breathtaking Skyline Drive is a dream road trip perfect for taking in the autumnal colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The serpentine route starts 75 miles (121km) west of Washington DC and follows the crest of the mountains. The narrow 1930s road winds through forests, meadows and steep slopes, and you might even spot white-tailed deer, bobcats or black bears. Take a look at the most beautiful road trip in every state.
Adirondack Mountains, New York
A few hours north of New York City, skyscrapers are swapped for mountain peaks, whose snowy winter caps melt into rivers and lakes come spring while in the fall the slopes are clad in shades of red, copper and yellow. Sidewalks are replaced with tree-lined paths and trails, suited for all abilities, that skip past meadows and waterfalls. If you’d rather turn it into a road trip, there are more than 15 scenic drives in the Adirondacks.
Mount Magazine, Arkansas
The highest point in the Natural State, Mount Magazine sits at 2,753 feet (839m), offering panoramic views across its namesake state park. One of the best ways to enjoy this forest-clad landscape is taking the Signal Hill Trail. The trail takes hikers straight to the top of Signal Hill, one of the two summits atop Mount Magazine. It’s an enjoyable 1.5-mile (2.4km) loop around the north and east parts of Signal Hill.
Pinnacle Mountain, South Carolina
Table Rock, rising to 3,950 feet (1,204m), is the backdrop of this breathtaking state park of the same name. But Pinnacle Mountain is the tallest peak entirely within state borders. There are over 15 miles (24km) of trails, including seven miles (11km) of mountain bike trails and plenty of opportunities to not only reach the summit, but also explore the rivers and valleys. Those looking for a challenge should pick the Pinnacle Mountain Trail. It lasts for some three miles (4.8km) with plenty of steep uphill stretches thrown in along the way.
Maroon Bells, Colorado
The Elk Mountains in Colorado are crammed full of inspiring viewpoints and winding trails that snake through the enchanting landscapes. Yet nowhere is quite like the Maroon Bells. The two peaks are the most well-known in the region – and for good reason. These soaring mountains are incredible to both climb and look at. The scene is especially serene on sunny days, when the two peaks and the fall colors are reflected in the still water of Crater Lake.
Mount Rogers, Virginia
The scenery of Grayson Highlands State Park is often compared to that of the Alps. Situated close to Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, it’s a paradise filled with mountain-fringed meadows, woodland and waterways and, best of all, it’s home to wild ponies who graze on the park’s grasses. There are 13 different hiking trails as well opportunities for biking and canoeing for those who prefer to take in autumnal mountain views from level ground. Discover the most beautiful state park in every state.
Mount Shasta, California
Mount Shasta soars from the Cascades to 14,179 feet (4,322m). While these head-spinning heights remain the reserve of the most daring climbers, there’s no reason why you couldn’t get a fine view of the peak from ground level. The road from Mount Shasta City offers a gorgeous view of the mountain and a 14-mile (22.5km) scenic drive showcases the most picturesque scenery around.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
The national park in which the Great Smoky Mountains, also known as the Smokies, are located, is the most-visited in the country. Stretching along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and covered in thick green forests, the towering peaks of the mountains are best seen from the highest point – Clingmans Dome. Rising 6,643 feet (2,025m), it’s the highest point along the Appalachian Trail and the observation tower is perfect for taking in the majestic scenery.
Cadillac Mountain, Maine
The highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park rises 1,530 feet (466m) above sea level. Within easy reach from the charming coastal resort Bar Harbor, the summit is the first place in the US that sees sunrise from 7 October through 6 March every year. The pink granite mountain slopes are clad with pine and spruce forests, with the scenic Summit Road carving its way along the northern and eastern side of the mountain until it reaches the top. Vehicle reservations are currently required for the Cadillac Summit Road.
Black Hills, South Dakota/Wyoming
A small and isolated mountain range, the Black Hills rise from the Great Plains of North America. With 5.4 million acres of pine forests, mountains, canyons, lakes and open grasslands, there’s plenty of peace and quiet here. There are several ways to explore these enchanting mountains, including hiking and biking trails as well as scenic byways. Take a look at secrets of the world’s most beautiful mountains.
Kenai Mountains, Alaska
While the temperatures might be a bit uncomfortable for an Alaskan hike, there are other ways to take in the raw beauty of the Kenai Mountains. A section of Alaska Route 1, also known as the Seward Highway, runs through several scenic spots like Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Mountains and Chugah National Forest on its route between Anchorage and Seward. The drive takes just four hours to complete, but you could turn it into a two-day itinerary to properly take in the jagged peaks, alpine meadows and even try to spot beluga whales in the water.
San Juan Mountains, Colorado
The Rockies might be Colorado’s most famous, but the San Juan Mountains have one of the best scenic drives in the world – the San Juan Skyway. Winding for 233 miles (375km) through the mountains, there are fascinating places to stop, from historic railroad town Durango to ski resort Telluride. But it’s the twists and turns, at some points revealing mountain-ringed lakes and at others bringing you to the edge of dramatic canyons, that’ll linger longest in your memory. The aspen trees are the highlight here as they turn an iridescent yellow come the fall.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
A destination that attracts plenty of leaf-peepers in the fall, the White Mountains and the dense White Mountain National Forest that covers the slopes are simply magnificent this time of year. One of the best ways to enjoy this scenery is driving the Kancamagus Scenic Byway. The road follows the path of the Swift River and hiking trails peel off the road and into the forest, offering a chance to combine a road trip with a hike or a casual stroll.
Wasatch Mountains, Utah
Too often Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and the state park of the same name get overlooked in favor of some of the state’s more famous names, but fall is an especially magical time to visit this quieter corner of Utah. The scenic trails wind through a protected area of forested peaks and rolling hills, covering 23,000 acres. There are also six canyons, mountain ski towns and backcountry hideaways to explore here too. Take a look at these common hiking mistakes and how to avoid them.
Cheaha Mountain, Alabama
Cheaha Mountain offers unparalleled views over the surrounding Talladega National Forest, which bursts into hues of rust and blonde once fall settles in. Many visitors favor sunset or sunrise hikes on the trails that wiggle through the forested park, which is punctured by waterfalls and scenic lookout points. There’s also a handful of campgrounds and cabins that are currently available with advance reservation.
Ozark Mountains, Arkansas/Missouri/Kansas
Simply known as the Ozarks, these mountains offer pristine rivers, cascading waterfalls and 75 miles (121km) of horse riding, hiking or biking trails. The isolated Buffalo River Trail is one of the best to take in the gorgeous fall foliage and if you’re lucky you might even see otters, bobcats and bald eagles. The mountains are surrounded by the Ozark–St. Francis National Forest that explodes in crimson when fall takes hold.
North Cascades, Washington
A section of the Cascade Range that spans western North America, the North Cascades are within a national park of the same name. The beauty here is undeniable – glacier crowns mountain peaks, forested trails lead to tall waterfalls and lakes are the color of creamy turquoise. Fall is one of the best times to visit these wild mountains as nature is bursting with color and there are opportunities to spot bears, gray wolves and more than 200 species of bird.
Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico/Colorado
You might associate fall colors with New England, but there is some leaf-peeping to be done in New Mexico too. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains and in the fall, the mountain slopes are turned bright yellow by the changing leaves of the aspen trees. One of the best ways to explore the scenery is by taking on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway – a picturesque driving route that starts in Taos and slices through the peaks. Check out the world’s most beautiful forests.
Mount Mansfield, Vermont
It’s no secret that Stowe in Vermont is perhaps America’s most famous fall destination but if you’re willing to hike, Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, supplies incredible vistas of the enchanting landscape. There’s also an option to zig zag your way up the mountain along the historic Auto Toll Road, originally completed for horse-drawn carriages to reach the hotel at the top, and the Gondola SkyRide. On a clear day, the autumnal scenery is simply incredible.
Catskill Mountains, New York
Located in the southeastern corner of the state, the Catskills have long been a sought-after destination for New Yorkers longing for nature. Those who venture here this season are rewarded with some of the best views of fall foliage. Other than the always stunning Catskills waterfalls, there’s the Catskills Scenic Trail, a multi-use trail that runs along the former Ulster and Delaware Railroad, and the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Discover crowd-free US spots to see the fall colors.
Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania
With the Upper Delaware River winding its way through the Poconos, this is a serene landscape to explore. There are several trails bisecting the mountains as well as several resorts dotted about. The eastern edge’s Delaware Water Gap has some of the best fall views in the area. Both PA 611 and I-80 will take you past the jaw-dropping scenery of the Gap while Rim Road, looping round the mountaintop, offers bird’s-eye views from the comfort of your car. This is the most scenic byway in every state.
North Georgia Mountains, Georgia
The Tallulah Gorge, carving its way through the mountains, is nothing short of spectacular in fall. Dramatically plunging to 1,000 feet (305m), the water carves its way through two miles (3.2km) of forest-covered rock. In fall, the woods are flecked with orange and yellow, and the hiking trails winding around the rim of the canyon offer spectacular views across burnt orange and blushing red foliage. Highlights of the park include the gushing Hurricane Falls, which is accessible via the Hurricane Falls Trail, a two-mile (3.2km) loop studded with scenic outlooks.
Chisos Mountains, Texas
A mountain range located in Big Bend National Park, Chisos, as they’re also known, form the heart of the park. Characterized by dramatic and seemingly endless landscapes, the park gives a feeling of complete isolation. Here, rivers have carved vast caverns out of limestone and the mountains sit surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert. There’s a seven-mile (11.2km) paved road that climbs into the mountain basin where an extensive network of hiking trails, ranging from half-mile (800m) strolls to challenging trails up to 14 miles (22.5km) long, start.
Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire
Located near the Massachusetts state border, Mount Monadnock is often named among the most-hiked mountains in North America. Rising 3,165 feet (965m) above thousands of acres of protected highlands, the view from the top reveals an array of fall colors covering the slopes and the landscape beyond. There are three trailheads leading to the summit and while all trails are quite steep and rocky, the most direct route reaches the summit in just over three miles (4.8km). Currently, reservations are required to hike the mountain. Check out America’s most amazing natural wonders.
Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
The highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains, Mount Mitchell rises 6,684 feet (2,037m) above sea level, overlooking its namesake state park and the Pisgah National Forest. A visit to the peak can easily be combined with a drive along the incredibly scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and on a clear day it’s possible to see as far as 85 miles (137km) from the top. It’s also possible to park your car at the State Park office and hike your way to the top. A strenuous climb – 2.2 miles (3.5km) long each way – it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Mount Rainier, Washington
There’s no arguing that Mount Rainier is of an epic size. With more than 130 trails snaking their way through the forested area around the mountain, there are plenty of opportunities to take in the stunning scenery. It’s located in a national park of the same name and Paradise, on the mountain’s south slope, is one of the most picturesque areas to take in the changing colors of the trees – explore it via an easy 1.7-mile (2.7km) hike along the Alta Vista Trail. Note that the visitor center here and ones throughout the park remain closed. Now take a look at the world’s most beautiful national parks.
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