The month of September is the time of year that signifies early fall. But if you're a hiker, September also means plenty of opportunities to cross a few day hikes off your bucket list. The weather becomes nicer and cooler, gorgeous fall foliage decorates national forests, and the mountain ranges offer panoramic views of fall color gradients everywhere. In short: it's hiking o'clock. But where are the best hikes in September? It depends on when you decide to go. The weather is changing across the country, and the trees may not yet be at full fall foliage. With that in mind, we've created a week-by-week guide for the best September strolls in America.
First Week of September
Are you looking for fall foliage on your September hike this early? We'll be honest, the pickings are slim in this first week. Outside of Wyoming, northern Minnesota, and parts of West Virginia, summer won't have released its grip on America's branches yet. We have to start with Wyoming. About half of the state is owned by the federal government for public use, so is it any surprise it's one of our country's hiking jewels? Grand Teton National Park is known for its impressive landscapes during September. Along with all the surrounding fall foliage, there is plenty of wildlife to add to all the colors you'll see. The weather stays consistent around the 70s, making exploring outside even more enjoyable for hikers looking to find oranges and yellows popping out among the evergreens.
Fair warning: We're going to do it. We're going to do the pun. If you're looking for superior fall hiking, look no further than Superior National Forest. (Sorry.) As far as we're concerned, this area in Northeastern Minnesota, just miles from the Canada border, is the ideal place to take an end-of-summer hike. The weather is still warm enough for a swim in Lake Superior or one of the forest's over 2,000(!) lakes and rivers.
Second Week of September
Have you heard of Franconia Notch? No, it's not some obscure type of knot. It's a New Hampshire state park in the White Mountain National Forest one of the Northeast's best-kept secrets and home to some drop-dead gorgeous fall hikes.
We have a couple of tips for you before you go. Even the most leisurely hikes at Franconia Notch require decent footwear, though, and you'll need to keep an eye on the weather. The skies in the White Mountains are notoriously finicky. As for crowds, Franconia Notch is still pretty busy in September. If you get there, get there early before the parking lots fill up.
Elsewhere, the second week of September is still a great time to hike around the Great Lakes Region. That's a vast area, so we'll hop around some of our favorites for you.
- We love Mackinac Island in the fall. Love it. This Michigan spot is perfect for a day hike since hiking trails make up 80 percent of the island! It's such a charming place, with boutique hotels nestled amidst fantastic fall foliage this time of year.
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park is another favorite Michigan hiking spot in the fall. We especially enjoy fall hikes that reward your journey, and the 10.2-mile jaunt to the upper and lower falls qualifies. If that's too much of a trip, we get it! There are more straightforward, paved hikes under two miles to each of the Tahquamenon Falls. There are plenty of options, letting you avoid crowds.
Third Week of September
You were probably waiting for us to mention Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The Rocky Mountains were waiting for the leaves to put on their autumn best! And now they're ready for you, in the third week of September.
Hiking this Colorado national park in mid-September means you'll get your fill of its popping, golden-yellow aspen trees. You could start at the lesser-known and lesser-crowded Wild Basin trailhead and follow it through the aspens while observing how the colors change with the elevation gain.
And this is where we recommend America's other colossal mountain range, Appalachia. I know, I know. Cliches! But by this point in September, the fall foliage range from West Virginia to North Carolina will reach peak fall levels. So, it's a great time to hike in the Daniel Boone National Forest. This eastern Kentucky area features more than 600 miles of trails. The best part is that they all mostly interconnect, letting you plan your own hikes according to your comfort. Along the way, enjoy the steep forested slopes on either side of your hike, adding that essential fall color to your day.
Fourth Week of September
California is generally known for its gorgeous weather all year round. Of course, some places can get hotter or colder than others depending on whether you're more north or south in the state.
But hitting Yosemite National Park during late September means you'll get to explore the area in the 50s and 60s, really taking in the views of awe-inspiring, giant sequoias in Merced Grove or the magnificence of the Nevada Falls. You really can't go wrong hiking out here this late in September.
But don't sleep on Idaho as September draws to a close. The southern part of the state will be in peak foliage season, and the temperature rarely rises into the 90s. Remember the Grand Tetons you read about earlier? Off to the west, in Idaho, lies over 1,200 miles of trails in the Boise National Forest. This is a prime wildflower spot, almost year-round, but especially in fall when rabbitbrush and berries thrive.
The fall colors here change every week, so this is a great spot to hike annually. We recommend the Mores Mountain Trail near Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. This popular summer hiking spot is less crowded in the fall, giving you a serene fall experience in the mountains of Idaho.
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