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Favorite Fall Hikes, Part 4: The Warmer States

Autumn color will peak soon on trails in many northern areas of the U.S., but let's not forget that there's some great fall hiking down south, too. It's not all about red and yellow leaves here—in some places, fall is simply that blissful time when you can finally turn off the AC and reconnect with the outdoors.

Let's check in now with the staff of warmer-weather REI stores for their fall hiking suggestions. For more ideas, see the previous REI Blog posts on early-season fall hikes and other scenic fall trails (part 2 and part 3 of our series). We'd love to hear about some of your favorite trail suggestions, too.

Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, CaliforniaCALIFORNIA
Falling leaves and shady oak woodlands make autumn a fine time to hike the 3-mile Earthquake Walk at Los Trancos Open Space Preserve. This Bay Area park sits on a high ridge overlooking the Santa Clara Valley and is a favorite of hiking enthusiast Steve from the REI Saratoga store. The trail includes interpretive markers pointing out evidence of the San Andreas Fault and the big 1906 earthquake. Next door is the equally beautiful Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, so consider visiting both and making a day of it. Photo courtesy of Midpennisula Regional Open Space District.

Farther south, San Jacinto Peak (10,834') has long been a popular destination for Southern California peakbaggers. Lyndie, the outreach specialist from the REI Tustin and Huntington Beach stores, suggests experienced hikers try a lesser-known approach to the summit, the Seven Pines Trail. In fall, you may even have this trail to yourself. Lyndie enjoys the trail's cool forest, old-growth manzanita and creek crossings. The trail briefly joins the Pacific Crest Trail before branching off to the summit (12.6 miles roundtrip). Be sure you are map-and-compass savvy before attempting this, since routefinding can be a challenge in places.

At the far northern tip of Georgia lies Vogel State Park, home to several beautiful hiking trails. One favorite fall trip recommended by Stace, a veteran hiker from the REI Atlanta store, is Bear Hair Gap, a 5-mile loop trip. Start at the 0.2-mile nature trail, which features stunning flora identified with informational plaques. The main trail is marked by green blazes and crosses numerous creeks. A short spur trail near the halfway point leads to wonderful views of Lake Trahlya and Brasstown Bald. Want more? Stace recommends adding a 1-mile walk around the lake topped off by a picnic lunch.

Bear Hair Gap, Ga.

Great Falls, Va./Md.MARYLAND
For a pleasing mix of scenery, history and exercise, head over to Great Falls Park. Located along the Potomac River just 15 miles west of D.C., the park preserves a small section of the  historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal—the historic lifeline of local communities and businesses. Heather, a dedicated hiker from the REI Columbia store, recommends the view-laden Billy Goat Trail for beginners. The park gets busy on weekends, so arrive early. It's also a popular place to start a bike ride along the canal towpath.

South Mountains State Park, N.C.NORTH CAROLINA
Just 90 minutes west of Charlotte lies South Mountains State Park, a favorite of Mitchell from the REI Pineville store. "It's the perfect place to get a true feel of the Appalachians," he says, noting that the area is still close to the Piedmont region and much easier to access than other area mountains. Highlights of the park include the 80-foot High Shoals waterfall and the views you can enjoy from nearly 3,000 feet above sea level. Mitchell's insider tip: Visit during the week, if possible. If you stay quiet, you may spot deer and other wildlife. Photo courtesy of Mitchell Sharp.

When the brutal summer heat finally relents, Bruce, a hiker and state "highpointer" from the REI Henderson store, heads to Fletcher Canyon in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. The 4-mile roundtrip hike with 850 feet of elevation gain is notable for the small stream that suddenly appears and disappears again underground just as abruptly. Very cool. This area of the canyon is lush and green, but nearby you enter a dry and twisting slot canyon with high, narrow walls that are only 6 feet wide in places. Be wary of stepping on slick rocks and definitely avoid this hike when rain is forecast.

Fletcher Canyon, Nevada

For a little taste of New England deep in the heart of Texas, visit the Lost Maples State Natural Area southwest of Austin. Ky, the outreach specialist from the REI Austin store, says this orphaned collection of bigtooth maples provides "the epicenter of fall colors" in the area. Learn the amazing natural history of how these "lost maples" ended up surviving in the region and enjoy a series of footpaths (11 miles total, with some steep sections) suitable for day hikes or even a backpacking trip. While drought has stressed some of the trees, the park's website says the leaves should start changing in the next 3 weeks or so. Photo courtesy of Chase A. Fountain.

Lost Maples State Natural Area, Texas

For fans of urban trails, you can't do much better than the James River Park System in the heart of Richmond. Wade, an avid hiker from the REI Richmond store,  notes, "What Belle Isle lacks in wilderness, it compensates with views of the James River and the downtown skyline across the water." The park's proximity to the National Park Service-run visitor center at Tredegar Iron Works, Brown's Island and the Haxall Canal make this hike great for locals and tourists alike. For an added challenge, hike the Buttermilk Trail just off the pedestrian footbridge.

James River Park System, Virginia

Got boots? For all your fall hiking gear needs, check out the Keep Hiking This Fall page. For a list of what to bring, print out our day hiking checklist.

Below: Hikers at Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, California. Photo courtesy of Midpennisula Regional Open Space District/Strether Smith. 

Posted on at 2:37 PM

Tagged: Autumn, Fall, Georgia, Hiking, Nevada, North Carolina, backpacking, california, maryland, texas and virginia

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While Great Falls in Maryland is nice, I think there are much better hikes in Maryland that offer an even better view. Take for example Catoctin State Park/Cunningham Falls. Those are very beautiful hikes that are often overlooked because they're not close to the DC. I think someone coming for a great hike would get a better experience out them, while the "touristy" hiker would rather prefer Great Falls.

Just my two cents!

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Steve T

Thanks for the suggestion. It's always good to have several trail options depending on how much time and energy you have that day.


I am the organizer for a meetup backpacking group in the Kansas City area i.e. Mid-America-Packing-Seniors. Here, we have within a day's drive some great backpacking opportunities....Ark and Okla. during the winter months and Colo and the pan handle of Neb. during the summer....who could ask for a better place....fall colors in the Ozarks and Ouachita Mtns are great.....


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