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5 Appalachian Hiking Trails You Must Visit this Fall

Features & Advice | Patrick Clarke | October 09, 2015

5 Appalachian Hiking Trails You Must Visit this Fall

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Spanning more than 1,500 miles and more than a dozen states along the eastern U.S., there's no shortage of options when it comes to selecting a hiking trail within the Appalachian Mountains.

However with autumn in full swing, there are a handful of trails that stand out from the pack. 

Here are five Appalachian trails every hiker will want to visit this fall. 

Old Rag Mountain

Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is where you'll find Old Rag Mountain, a popular hiking trail but one better suited for experienced hikers.

The nine-mile journey requires patience, awareness and a decent amount of upper body strength, as hikers will have to navigate rocks as well as significant changes in elevation. Therefore, the key is to take your time and pack plenty of water and snacks.

"There are several ways to hike Old Rag, but the most popular is a circuit that takes you up the Ridge Trail, across the rock scramble to the summit, than down the Saddle Trail to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road and back to where you began," the National Park Service says. "The first two miles will be an increasingly steeper climb along a beautiful wooded trail. You are likely to see deer and other wildlife, as well as a steady profusion of wildflowers during the spring, summer, and fall. Watch for changes in vegetation as you gain altitude."

The trail will typically take seven to eight hours to complete, but the views of Virginia's foliage this time of year can't be beat.

Maryland Heights 

Unlike Old Rag Mountain, the Maryland Heights trails won't take hikers all day to complete. Nonetheless, the Overlook Cliff Trail's scenic overlook makes it one of the most rewarding trails in Appalachia.

From the top of the overlook cliff, hikers can take in breathtaking views of historic downtown Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and also acquire a bird's eye view of where the Potomac River meets up with the Shenandoah River. 

For a longer journey, hikers can check out the Stone Fort Trail, which features a ton of history. 

"Union engineers originally designed this fortification as an infantry blockhouse. The fort straddles the crest of Maryland Heights at its highest elevation— 1,448 feet. The fort was never completed, and by Sept. 1863, served as a commissary and storage area," the NPS states

Chimney Tops

Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park this fall should put Chimney Tops trail at the top of their list.

Despite a 1,400-foot gain in elevation, the four-mile roundtrip trail won't take all day to complete. Plus, along the way hikers will traverse streams, ascending and descending rocky trails, and be rewarded with a gorgeous view of Mount Le Conte.

"Chimney Tops is one of the few mountains in the Smokies with a bare rock summit," points out. "From its 4,800-foot summit, Mt. LeConte and Mt. Kephart will dominate the views towards the east, while Sugarland Mountain dominates the view to the west. On a clear day the Sugarlands Valley will be visible towards the north."

Don't let the low mileage fool you, though, Chimney Tops is a challenging trail that will require plenty of patience and energy.

Moose Cave, Mother Walker Falls and Screw Auger Falls

Maine's Grafton Notch State Park is the home of three simple and short trails that are perfect for casual hikers looking to get closer to nature.

The three routes combine to equal about one mile, but in that little distance you'll find waterfalls, gorges and canyons. The scenery here makes it a fantastic picnic spot, so don't forget to bring some snacks.

While you'll have to travel a short distance to get to the next trail, it shouldn't take all day to see each one. Begin your journey at Screw Auger Falls, trek one mile north to Mother Walk Falls and then conclude the hike at Moose Cave.

Just beware of any slippery rocks as moss is prevalent in this area.

Conashaugh View Trail

Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area boasts a plethora of enticing trails ranging from easy to difficult, and the Conashaugh View Trail is ideal for hikers looking to spend a relaxing day in the Pennsylvania wilderness.

The nine-mile trail is also open to horse riders so hikers are advised to remain alert (watch where you step).

The trail features plenty of stellar photo-ops, supplying close-up views of the Delaware River and the historic Marie Zimmermann Farm. But it's the foliage that is sure to inspire hikers to keep exploring. 

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