Last Chance: 10 Places to Backpack in the Fall

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  • Adam Broderick

Aspen, Colorado

Though the leaves may have fallen, the mountains just west of the old mining towns Aspen and Carbondale offer amazing backpacking. Hiking the Four Pass Loop from Aspen is a favorite. Climb over 8,000 feet from West Maroon Lake (the most photographed place in Colorado) and cross four passes, each over 12,000 feet. It gets cold up high (we’re talking serious snow), so prepare accordingly.

Eastern Sierra Nevada, California

The beautiful colors, alpine lakes and creeks of the Inyo National Forest offer up plenty of trails with ample water sources. Two favorite zones in the Inyo are up around Bishop Pass and the June Lake area near Mammoth Mountain.

Fishlake National Forest, Utah

Aspen trees grow in stands with single root systems, making them the second largest living organism in the world, next to Oregon’s honey fungus. One particular aspen stand in Fishlake, just a couple hours south of Salt Lake City, is the oldest living tree and also the heaviest known organism in the world. It weighs over 13-million pounds with all trunks and branches combined. To hike into the grove, head about 15 miles in from the Doctor Creek trailhead. For the best views overlooking the forest, head up to High Top, the highest point for miles.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Want the warmth and solitude of the desert without the brutal heat? Go in the fall. Canyonlands National Park has over 500 square miles of unique rock formations and endless canyons to explore by foot, and it’s only a half-hour drive from Moab. There are infinite ways to explore Canyonlands; we suggest hiking from the Island In The Sky District across the park to the adjacent White Rim. Hang out on the Colorado River if you make it down there.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Spend a long weekend hiking 30 miles of the Continental Divide Trail across Rocky Mountain National Park, just an hour-and-a-half from Denver. This is the best way to take in the park’s greatest vistas from up high while exploring its most colorful canyons down low.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia is namely comprised of many short day hiking trails, but numerous multi-day routes can be created by linking them together. For the best panoramic views and secluded hikes, take South Ridge Trail to summit Cadillac and Dorr Mountains. Then, climb Sargent, Gilmore and others in a single day before spending some time on the east side of Mount Desert Island where, ironically enough, alone time is rare—at least in summer.

Southern California

Aside from the PCT, most people don’t think of Southern California as a backpacking destination, overlooking it for cooler Norcal between June and September. Come October, however, hiking the high desert is quite pleasant. You can trek through recent wildfire burns, plus hardly anyone’s out and about. Wildlife also takes advantage of this nippier time of year, and frequent sightings justify a quick dash east from Los Angeles or San Diego.

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s White Mountains are a gem of the east coast. The Pemi Loop takes hikers 30ish miles up Mt. Bond, over high ridgelines with stunning views and near waterfalls in Franconia Brook Valley. When weather cooperates, the Adirondacks can be seen from some of these ridgelines over a hundred miles away.

Fall Creek, Oregon

The 14-mile Fall Creek National Recreation Trail is less than an hour drive from Eugene and makes for a great out-and-back weekend trip. Take your time hiking in, setting up a nice campsite along the creek, and following your path back out through a pine forest littered with maple leaves (if you catch them in time).

Adirondack State Park, New York

At six million acres, Adirondack is the largest park in the country and boasts more than 2,000 miles of trail and 46 peaks above 4,000 feet. We traversed the Great Range in the park’s High Peaks Area over a three-day weekend and bagged eight different peaks along the way: Gothics, Armstrong, Wolfjaw (Upper and Lower), Sawteeth, Haystack, Basin and Saddleback. Since leaves throughout the park peak at different times in October, one could spend the full month trekking and see new colors each day.

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