The following first appeared at the start of Fall 2019. It appears again today, updated and tweaked, but relevant as ever as we head into the Fall 2022 hiking season.
From an astronomical standpoint, fall doesn’t begin until around 9 p.m. on September 22. That would be the autumnal equinox, that magical day when we have as many hours of daylight as dark.
In the psychic realm, however, fall begins with the passing of Labor Day, the traditional end of summer. Goodbye pool parties and cookouts, hello fleece and football. The trouble with the psychological version is that the heat tends to overstay its welcome, lounging about into mid-September, into late September, into October. Mentally, you’re ready for changing leaves and a chill heading out the front door. In reality, you’re still in flip-flops and shorts.
And so it goes, until that one day, usually in early to mid-October, when you head out the door one morning and — whoa! I need a coat. We may hit another day or two in the low 80s, but it’s pretty much 70s, then 60s, with the occasional “high” of 50 thrown into the mix. For the avid explorers among us, the cold air heats up our hiking genes. We want to get out and go long, to get our heart pumping, to savor the cool and quiet of fall. And there are so many great places in our part of the world to do just that.
In the Piedmont, for instance, the avid among us will ramp it up after Labor Day, the lingering 90-degree day or two be danged. By mid-October, we’re in mid-season form. Alas, that’s about when the promise of cool, colorful fall weather starts to come true, luring the the masses as well. When they’re headed through the front gate, we need to be hitting the trailheads off the roads less traveled. For instance:
- Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle. In 2019, when this post first appeared, the park’s website this time of year often warned of a 30-minute wait simply to park in the main, mountain-top lot. Today, on a fall weekend you can’t even drive to the top on a fall weekend, you have to take a shuttle from the base. But if you know about the park’s secondary entrances, there’s no trouble parking and hiking straight from your car. Say, from the Pinnacle Hotel Road access, which feeds the Mountain Trail at the base of the mountain, or the Boyd Nelson Road Access, where you hike beneath stately hardwoods on the Pilot Creek Trail (which connects with the Mountain Trail, as well as the Grindstone Trail, which will take you to the top).
- Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury. More parking may not result in a 30-minute wait to park, but it does means more people. But you’ll find nary a soul at the Flinchum Road Access, where the 3.6-mile Indian Creek Trail quietly escorts you to the park’s Visitor Center (where you can sneak past the throngs heading up to Hanging Rock and instead take the 4.2-mile loop to the quieter viewscape on Moore’s Knob.
- Umstead State Park, Raleigh. Umstead is among the most visited state park in North Carolina. That’s especially true come the cool, colorful days of October. Cars park out the Harrison Avenue entrance back to the I-40 entrance ramp, and can be found helter-skelter on either side of the entrance off Glenwood Avenue. Psst! The Lake Crabtree neighborhood entrance is where the action ain’t. Hike in the bike & bridle trail to the less trod segments of the Company Mill and Sycamore trails in the middle of the park.
- Crowders Mountain State Park, Gastonia. Shuttle buses? Please. The Boulders Access has fewer visitors and you can pick up the Ridgeline Trail and hike into another state (South Caroilina). How’s that for escape?
They’re eager for fall hiking as well in Charlottesville, at the base of Shenandoah National Park.
“The cooler mountain temperatures make for great hiking days, plus there’s no bugs,” says GetHiking! Charlottesville Hike Organizer Pepper Ernst.. “Also, the changing leaves are beautiful and as they fall the trails take on a new look as views that didn’t exist in the summer open up: a ridgeline hike that was a green tunnel in the summer can evolve into 360-degree, long-range views in the fall.”
Two of our favorite mountain destinations in early fall:
South Mountains State Park, less than an hour and a half from much of the Charlotte area, offers one of the closest mountain-like experiences to the Queen City. It also offers a good opportunity for solitude: most visitors to South Mountains, with more than 18,000 acres North Carolina’s largest State Park, don’t make it past High Shoals Falls, about a mile in; with more than 40 miles of trail, that leaves a lot of backcountry to your lonesome.
- Panthertown Valley near Cashiers may offer the most scenic variety of any spot in the state: mountaintop views, multiple waterfalls, mountain creeks and vast stands of pines, all in about 10,000 acres.
Remember, too, that you’re welcome to sign up for trips in GetHiking! Meetups outside your region. Our weekly enewsletter keeps you up on who’s hiking where. If you don’t already subscribe, you can do so by simply emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fall is almost here. Get ready to hike!
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Here’s a rundown of our GetHiking! Meetups. Feel free to join one or all!
Plan a plan for fall hiking
If you missed last week’s post, “Fall hiking: a month-by-month approach,” check it out. We offer advice on how get the most from the fall hiking season. Check it out here.