Most people think hiking season commences in the spring and concludes after the summer, however, fall and winter are some of the best seasons to visit the trails – especially the national parks. The trails are less crowded than in the summer, which means you can take photos of scenery instead of tourists.
Fewer people on the trails mean you can hike at your own pace. There is less chance of stepping on the heels of a hiker in front of you, or having to speed up your pace because the group behind you is making a racket. You are also more likely to find an open spot to sit down and soak in the views from atop the peaks.
The beautiful display of color produced by the hardwood trees during autumn can’t be missed. From radiant red to golden yellow, the stunning mosaic of color is short-lived, earning leaf-peeping a top priority. The Appalachians provide some of the most magnificent views of autumn color in the eastern US.
The cooler temperatures make the long days of backpacking more comfortable. Instead of your clothing staying moist and sticky with sweat in the summer months from an intensely hot sun, and heavy, humid air, it is much cooler and drier in the fall. The brisk wind, common in the colder months, keeps the air circulating helping you to stay cool as your body builds up heat from hiking.
The shortened days also mean colder nights, which is often more comfortable for sleeping. And those chilly mornings gradually warm to a bright and sunny afternoon. This is when layering is a must.
The cooler air also makes your water stay cool, which is much more refreshing than sipping on warm water. And for a day hike, you won’t have to clumsily wedge ice cubes through the small opening of your hydration bladder.
You can leave the bug spray at home because there are fewer bugs in the wilderness. Of course, bugs don’t actually disappear and strangely reappear in the spring. Triggered by the shorter hours of daylight, many adult insects overwinter by moving to a warmer spot. Insects find hiding spots in virtually any place they can fit into, to protect them from the wind and stay hidden from birds and squirrels.
The fewer people on the trails, the more likely you are to encounter wildlife wandering about along the trail. The shorter day length also triggers wildlife to get busy before a long, cold winter. Flocks of birds make their journey south, squirrels and chipmunks gather food to prepare for winter, and other species, such as deer and elk, cover more ground for mating.
Don’t forget with Autumn comes hunting season. Be cautious if you are hiking in a location where hunting is permitted. Always wear bright clothing, such as an orange or red t-shirt or jacket, to make yourself visible to hunters.