The United States has a wide variety of natural wonders that offer beautiful scenery all year long, but there’s a special magic in the air during the fall season. With America’s expansive set of national parks, it’s easy to find somewhere to watch the colors change while enjoying cooler temperatures, but there are plenty of spots for nature lovers to head to that don’t require a national park pass. For example, avid hikers will love the mountains of Denver, nature photographers will love the gardens in Asheville and urban explorers will find their oasis at one of the many city parks in Minneapolis.
Pack up your hiking shoes, climbing gear or bike and head to one of these seven cities.
Nestled in the Rockies, Denver has no shortage of scenic natural spots to enjoy during fall. The Denver Mountain Parks offer a variety of hiking trails and landmarks around the nearby foothills. Experience the acoustic wonder of Red Rock Amphitheatre, take in the view of the city of Golden from Lookout Mountain Park or see the bison herds at Genesee Park. A little further outside of town, make your way up Mount Evans, one of the “fourteener” mountains in Colorado that top 14,000 feet.
To get in touch with nature in an urban setting, stop by one of Denver’s numerous city parks. Visit the replica Mount Vernon Gardens at Washington Park, take a morning jog around Cheesman Park and learn more about astronomy at Chamberlin Observatory Park.
For an educational and family-friendly adventure, make the trip over to Morrison to visit Dinosaur Ridge. See real fossils up close, learn more about the dig sites and hike along the picturesque outdoor Ridge Walk for an afternoon of prehistoric excitement.
Asheville, North Carolina
No trip to Asheville is complete without a stop at Biltmore Gardens. There’s a reason this estate is so popular for weddings, with picturesque sights around every corner. Enjoy a memorable day by exploring the grounds, which are especially breathtaking during the fall season. Choose between biking, walking, horseback riding or a carriage.
Continue your tour of local gardens with a stop at the North Carolina Arboretum, which features a unique bonsai section in addition to the flowers. Head over to the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, where you can learn more about the local plants and native flora.
Scenic autumn hikes abound in the Appalachian hills near Asheville. Take in the panoramic views at Black Balsam Knob before you get in some climbing at Chimney Rock. Enjoy the challenge of hiking Craggy Gardens, which in addition to stunning foliage in fall, offers an array of flowers throughout the spring, including its signature rhododendrons.
Minnesota may be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Minneapolis itself should be known more for its expansive park system. With 197 different green spaces around the city, visitors are never more than six blocks away from a park, making it an ideal city to see the changing leaves of autumn. While there is a park for nearly everyone, Minnehaha Park is one of the oldest and best, featuring a beautiful waterfall and limestone bluffs.
Of course, there are still plenty of lakes to enjoy while visiting as well. The Chain of Lakes is a set of five bodies of water, all with waterfront access for shoreline fun. When fall turns to winter, there is still fun to be had along the water, as Lake of the Isles opens for ice skating and an exciting New Year’s celebration. All five lakes are part of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, where you can take advantage of 102 miles of hiking and biking trails.
For a local twist on autumn fun, head just outside the city to one of the many apple orchards. Pick your own fruit before getting lost in a corn maze at Afton Apple Orchard or AppleJack Orchard. While you’re there, be sure to take in the color changes of the leaves for some gorgeous photos.
South of Louisville, Mammoth Cave gives visitors a fascinating underground adventure showcasing the strength and beauty of nature. However, you can enjoy scenic natural spots even closer to the city.
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Iroquois Park offers a breathtaking view of downtown. The forest is all around, creating an interesting blend of the natural changing leaves against the modern city backdrop. The world-renowned Olmsted, known most notably for his work on Central Park, was also in charge of Louisville’s Cherokee Park and Shawnee Park, in addition to his numerous famous urban parks across the country.
Just outside of town, there are endless natural spots to enjoy. You can visit the butterflies or walk through the beautiful gardens at Bernheim Forest. For a more historic look at nature, explore the old trails and farms at Blackacre State Nature Preserve. Lie in a field full of wildflowers at Broad Run Park, then stop by Tioga Falls Park to take in the peaceful and calming sounds of the waterfall.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Walking along the shore of the Great Salt Lake is what many people think of when considering outdoor adventures near Salt Lake City, but it isn’t the only thing worth enjoying. After visiting Antelope Island, step up your hiking adventures and head to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. While the route is not open to its full proposed length of 280 miles yet, there is still plenty to explore along what used to be Lake Bonneville.
Within the city, Liberty Park offers a pond as well as the Tracy Aviary, where you can feed birds and learn more about their natural habitats. On the east side of town, the University of Utah’s Red Butte Garden has hiking trails along a creek, beautiful botanical gardens and an expansive arboretum. City Creek Canyon mixes golden foliage with a view of the city along the extensive hiking trails. Stop and take in the sight of the Utah State Capitol from the pathway.
Head out of town to Big Cottonwood Canyon for more strenuous hiking and rock climbing in the Wasatch Mountains. Pack a meal to enjoy while communing with nature at the canyon’s Storm Mountain picnic area.
Take your hikes to new heights by heading to Mount Hood, the state’s highest point. One of the most famous peaks in the Cascades, Mount Hood has several trails for hikers, including the Timberline Trail that circles the outside of the volcano.
If you’re not a fan of heights, take your hikes down into the Columbia River Gorge. Despite seeing extensive damage from the Eagle Creek Fire, many of the trails are back open for the public. Exploring the canyon will give you scenic views of more than 90 waterfalls, including the two tiers of the picturesque Multnomah Falls.
More interested in discovering foliage closer to the city? Just to the west of downtown, Forest Park has a fascinating mix of wildlife and vegetation close to the Willamette River. Watching the leaves change in the autumn gives the lush green park a colorful twist.
A nature lover’s trip to Boston wouldn’t be complete without stops at the historic Public Gardens and Boston Common, the first public botanical garden and oldest park respectively. Both scenic spaces are part of the city’s Emerald Necklace, an expansive chain of parks that runs throughout the area. The system also includes the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, the biking paths at Olmsted Park and Franklin Park and its 99 Steps.
Along the waterfront, you’ll find the Charles River Reservation, which offers scenic trails all year long. See the modern marvel of Charles River Dam juxtaposed with the natural beauty of the river basin.
If the fall colors within the city limits aren’t enough for you, venture out a short way from Boston to explore even more. The Battle Road Trail that connects nearby Lexington and Concord is perfect for history buffs wanting to see the route traversed by the Minute Men during the American Revolution. Head to the ocean to discover the salt marshes of Belle Isle Marsh Reservation and the hiking trails along the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Feeling ready to get out there, disconnect from the outside world and commune with nature for a while? Let Vacations by Marriott help and leave the planning to us so you can focus on picking the best new hiking shoes.