The 10 Best Fall Foliage Hikes, According to Photographers

We asked a handful of professional photographers where they most love to shoot fall color.

September 15, 2020
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Photo By: AllTrails

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Mount Jo Loop Trail, New York

There are scores of places to spot gorgeous color this fall, but some offer better image opportunities than others. We asked a handful of professional photographers from around the country where they’ve seen the best fall color. Gina Danza, a landscape photographer based in Tuscon, Arizona, recommends hiking up Mount Jo in the Adirondacks of New York. "You're able to see a majority of all the high peaks and foliage up there," she says.

Eklutna Lakeside Trail in Chugach State Park, Alaska

Jovell Rennie calls Alaska's Eklutna Lake the ultimate fall scenery, with stunning views of the mountains of Chugach State Park. “Since the lake is made up of glacier runoff, the icy blue tones offset fall’s typical warm tones to make for really unique color patterns,” he says. Rennie is a professional photographer with an Anchorage art gallery, where he’s also a creative strategist for a public relations company that works with travel companies and destinations across Alaska. Bonus: He says this is a great place for Northern Lights spotting, and the season has already begun.

Breakneck Ridge, New York

Danza says you should hit the Hudson Valley’s Breakneck Ridge early in the morning. It’s a steep but rewarding hike that offers views of the Hudson River, New York City and Storm King Mountain. “To have a special moment, pace it out early in the morning in the fall when there’s fog,” she says. On top of the amazing colors, “you can see the fog cut right through the top of the mountain.”

Pa'rus Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

James Kaiser, whose work has been published on the cover of National Geographic, recommends Zion National Park’s Pa’rus Trail, which is lined with Freemont cottonwood trees. “They’re a symbol of life in the desert, and when their leaves turn yellow, it’s a glorious reminder of the natural rhythms of the desert,” he says. The Pa’rus Trail is one of the park’s most accessible and is also wheelchair-friendly.

South Bubble Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine

Kaiser also recommends the South Bubble Trail in Maine’s Acadia National Park. “The view from South Bubble reveals everything that's unique about Acadia - the lakes, the mountains, the ocean and (of course) the amazing New England foliage — combined in perfect harmony,” he says. “On clear days, you can see dozens of pine-covered islands dotting the sparkling Gulf of Maine offshore.” Also in Acadia, Danza recommends the Beehive Loop Trail, which offers a panoramic view of the coast. “You’re literally able to see all the foliage along the shoreline of Maine,” she says.

Kenosha Pass, Colorado

Kenosha Pass is one of the most popular places to leaf peep in Colorado, thanks to its close proximity to Denver and huge aspen groves that turn gold in fall. Denver photographer Michael Ciaglo says the areas around the parking lot can get crowded, but you can find quiet areas if you’re willing to hike even a short distance along the Colorado Trail, which crosses the pass and runs 485 miles from Denver to Durango in the state’s southwest corner. Ciaglo also recommends hiking around the lesser-known mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor, which are west of Colorado Springs.

Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Old Rag is one of the most popular and strenuous hikes in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s absolutely worth it for the 360-degree views it offers of the Appalachian Mountains. Gabby Beckford, a travel photographer for PacksLight.com, says you’ll see lots of rock at the beginning of the hike, but once you top out the view is exhilarating. “The gray gives way to miles upon miles of the gradients of fall,” she says. “Virginia has a lot of high but rolling peaks, so the colors look even more beautiful as they change. Old Rag sticks out as one of my favorite hikes because of the contrast of rock on your way up and the sudden ocean of soft yellows and oranges once you summit.”

Eagle Rock Reservation, New Jersey

For stunning views of the New York City skyline and hikes through forests bursting with color, New Jersey photographer Azumi Baba Ndanani recommends heading to Eagle Rock Reservation. “It sits on the Watchung Mountains ridge line and has spectacular panoramic views of New York City once you reach the top of its trails and footpaths,” she says. The 400-acre park has many trails winding through its forests suitable for all ages, she adds.

Falls Creek Falls, Washington

In contrast to the Pacific Northwest’s dense evergreen forests, you’ll find deciduous trees with bright autumn colors around Falls Creek Falls in Washington, according to photographers Emily and Berty Mandagie. The reveal of the waterfall is really cool to experience, especially with a little bit of fog, Berty says, and Emily loves the contrast of leafy color against the PNW's iconic mossy rocks.

Black Elk Peak, South Dakota

Western South Dakota’s Black Hills region, traditionally Lakota Sioux territory, explodes with color in the fall. For a varied view that’s more than just leafy color, the Mandagies recommend hiking up Black Elk Peak. There’s a stone look-out tower at the top, which makes it worth the challenging hike. “You get 360-degree views of the rolling forest hills,” Berty says. You’ll also be able to see the back of Mount Rushmore.

Ice Age Trail, Potawatomi State Park, Wisconsin

Lauren Danilek, a freelance photographer based in Colorado, recommends the portion of Wisconsin's 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail in Potawatomi State Park. It's a great place for families to hike, she says, and much of the trail offers beautiful views of Green Bay. "It's the most fulfilling place to be during fall," she says. "The foliage smells, the water, the crisp breeze; this part of Wisconsin really has it all."

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