12 wild places for fall colors off the beaten path

Dry Falls in Nantahala National Forest.

Flickr, Jim Dollar

Every year, autumn delights us with grand displays of color. And every year Americans flock to prime places to see magnificent landscapes filled with reds, oranges and yellows.

This year, we invite you to go on an adventure to locations where there are less crowds but just as many radiant trees. You can find great places no matter where you live but be sure to find out when you'll be able to see the most colors.

Here are some wild areas where you can witness the beauty of fall off the beaten path:


1. Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Georgia

A couple hours’ drive north of Atlanta is this forest filled with colorful hardwoods. At its edge are towns like Ellijay - known as "Apple Capitol of Georgia" with 10 pick-your-own apple orchards - and historical Clayton. Chattahoochee boasts 10 wilderness areas, so there are plenty of opportunities to explore. October is your best bet for a range of colors, but you can check out local webcams to be sure. (photo credit: Flickr, ChattOconeeNF)


2. Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, North Carolina

Of all of the places in America, the Great Smoky Mountains are the most renowned for rainbows of foliage in fall. Both of these forests have incredible wilderness areas, some of which are cared for by The Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS). Lover's Leap Loop Trail is a mile-and-a-half section of the legendary Appalachian Trail that leads hikers to panoramic views of the French Broad River and Blue Ridge Mountains. (photo: Cullasaja Cascade in Nantahala National Forest. credit: Flickr, Jim Dollar)


3. Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Mid to late October is the time to see Kentucky’s sugar maple, beech, birch and basswood trees alight with color. Daniel Boone contains Clifty and Beaver Creek Wilderness Areas. The Red River Gorge is a geological wonder beloved by both locals and rock climbers the world over. (photo: Great Gulf Overlook in Daniel Boone National Forest. credit: Flickr, treewoman8)


4. San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Many Coloradans will go looking for iconic quaking aspens in the popular Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, but there are many more gems in this state named for its color. In southwest Colorado, San Juan National Forest hosts Chimney Rock National Monument and three wilderness areas - as well as a proposed one at Hermosa Creek. Peaks and valley are filled with golden aspens and orange cottonwoods from September to October. Hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and camping await those looking for both respite and adventure. (photo: San Juan Mountains. credit: Flickr, Alex Berger)


6. Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Even arid Arizona has its hidden fall delicacies. You can hear elk bugling along the Weatherford Trail in Kachina Peaks Wilderness in the mountainous Coconino, where aspens start turning amber on high slopes as early as mid-September. Crimson sumacs and fuchsia maples peak around the second week of October, but remnants of reds and golds last as late as mid-November inside canyons. (photo credit: Flickr, Coconino National Forest)


7. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine

In fall White Mountain is a backpacker’s dream, with places like the iconic “Pemi” Wilderness lit up by sugar maples, white birches, and other hardwoods. Skip the roads and start hiking at Franconia, Crawford or Pinkham Notch. More difficult paths like Old Bridle Path/Falling Waters Trail will be less traversed. You can also paddle your way through, or take a full-day trip through on the historic Conway Scenic Railroad. (photo: Beaver Pond in White Mountains of New Hampshire. credit: Flickr, Howard Ignatius)


8. Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

With some of the state’s highest peaks and quietest trails, Green Mountain is at its best when its hardwoods become breathtaking vibrant. The rugged, 270-mile Long Trail is the oldest long-distance trail in the nation and it connects with the famed Appalachian Trail. Campers can also bring canoes to the Harriman and Somerset reservoirs. (photo: Texas Falls in Green Mountain National Forest. credit: Flickr, H Flannery)


9. Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas and Oklahoma

Arkansas’ fall foliage is America’s best kept secret. Colorful forests blanket the peaks and valleys of the Winding Stair and Rich Mountain ranges in Ouachita. Visitors can celebrate fall holidays as well by stopping by historical, military and Native American sites. (photo: Belle Starr Cave Falls in Ouachita National Forest. credit: Flickr, Jonathan Ball)


10. Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri

From mid-October to early November the hills of the Ozarks are brilliant with yellow, orange and red oaks, sweetgums and sugar maples. Visitors can explore Devil's Backbone Wilderness and hike hundreds of miles of trails, including three National Recreation Trails. The North Fork of the White River is ideal for seeing sycamore, elm and Ozark witch hazel by canoe. (photo credit: Flickr, Bhanu Tadinada)


11. Willamette National Forest, Oregon

On the western slopes of the North Cascades, Willamette is a prime spot for hiking, camping, fly fishing, and even taking a dip in natural hot springs. In fall, vine maples and fruiting huckleberry shrubs erupt into red amidst towering evergreens. The popularity of Three Sisters Wilderness - and its section of the Pacific Crest Trail - may prevent solitude, but there are other great destinations. The Fall Creek National Recreational Trail winds along a stream, offering views of maples, dogwoods, alders, hemlocks, and cedars angler. (photo: vine maples in Willamette National Forest. credit: Flickr, Tim Vocredit)


12. Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin

In the Northwoods of Wisconsin, forests burst with gold, scarlet, and auburn leaves, which are best viewed from the Penokee Overlook. Visitors can enjoy hiking, canoeing, fishing and mountain biking in the area, which includes Porcupine Lake, Rainbow Lake and Blackjack Springs Wilderness Areas as well as Anvil National Recreation Trail. (photo credit: Flickr, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)


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