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The leaves, they are a-changin’! Go soak up the colorful vistas and crisp feel of autumn trail-side on some of these fabulous fall hikes throughout the South.

Cloudland Trail to Roan High Bluff
Roan Mountain State Park, TN

Autumn on Roan Mountain is truly unmatched. I spent a weekend there every October for about 15 years. The park and its highlands straddle the North Carolina-Tennessee border and offer some biodiversity and staggering landscapes more reminiscent of Montana or Colorado at times. Famous for its rhododendrons (they even host an annual festival for them!), Roan Mountain shows off flora of all kinds. This hike — one of its lesser-trafficked gems — explores a mossy, fern-filled, and fairytale-like forest that suddenly spits you out onto a sun-soaked bald with feathery grasses, wildflowers, and thousand-mile views. Roan High Bluff is a rugged mountain towering 6,000 feet in elevation over the rolling valley beneath it. Though the hike gains just under 300 feet of elevation, you’re really high up, so prep and dress accordingly!

Cloudland Roan Mountain

There are many interesting stops along this trail including The Cloudland Hotel ruins and fern- and moss-drenched forests that feel straight out of a fairytale. Image: Stuart Yochem

This 2.4-mile out-and-back trail only has about 300 feet of elevation gain from the Roan High Knob Trail/Tollhouse Gap parking area to the fabled vista, and dogs are welcome on leashes. The hike begins at the ruins of The Cloudland Hotel — it was built in 1885 and has a slightly spooky feel in the fall! The trail is punctuated with soaring views from two overlooks along the trail and is most certainly a remarkable fall-ready and all-skill-level hike to add to your bucket list.

RELATED: 5 Southern Road Trips to Add to Your Bucket List

Rough Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Grandfather Mountain, NC

On the Grandfather Mountain portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway lies another picturesque hike to take during leafy autumn. There are two hiking options to explore Rough Ridge. One is longer and less crowded, and this one is shorter and more crowded but absolutely stunning for sunrise and at non-peak times. The 2.4-mile roundtrip hike crosses many types of terrain, from smooth, picnic-ready boulders, to knobby forest, to steep stairs and boardwalks. You can park and begin at either the Wilson Creek Overlook (Milepost 303.6 on the Parkway) or Rough Ridge Overlook (Milepost 302.8). The most spectacular boardwalk views are just a 0.3-mile, moderate walk with some rocky tread and a few steep steps. As you continue your ascent, each platform’s vistas engulf you. Take in the panoramic views of Grandfather Mountain and the foothills below. It’s truly spectacular. While there aren’t any official trail signs along the Parkway, this trail is very popular. Go early in the day or midweek to avoid the crowds.
Rough Ridge Blue Ridge Parkway

A perfect example of sweeping autumn views. Image: Lisa Gregory | @WildwoodBlessing

Caesars Head State Park
Cleveland, SC

Many trails through Caesars Head State Park (near Greenville, SC) offer stunning views of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. And there is something very special about this area in the fall that has nothing to do with leaves. The overlook trail is easily accessible and leads to an insane vantage point that is, at times, above the clouds! Along with its breathtaking panoramic views and highly concentrated collection of waterfalls, this park is also a primo viewing spot during “hawk watch,” the fall migration of thousands of hawks on their way to South America (from mid-September through the end of November). You might see other raptors above, too, like the area’s 150+ raven species, bald eagles, Mississippi kites, American kestrels, turkey vultures, and peregrine falcons. Mesmerizing clouds of thousands of birds — known as “kettles” — will fill the sky and are said to travel approximately 70 miles a day towards their winter destinations. Bring binoculars and invite your bird-loving loved ones.

Caesers Head

Caesars Head State Park and its “granitic gneiss” outcropping atop the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment offer breathtaking views year-round, but it’s especially magical when fall sets the trees ablaze with color. Image: VisitGreenvilleSC

After the easy walk to the lookout, pick another trail at Caesars Head, like the popular four-mile, round trip Raven Cliff Falls trail. A moderately difficult trail leads to the scenic overlook, where you can view the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls — it’s stunning amidst the fall foliage. There is also a 6.6-mile round trip hike to a suspension bridge that crosses the creek above Raven Cliff Falls. The bridge offers a unique view of the falls as they plunge deep into the mountain cove below.

RELATED: 5 Southern Leaf-Peeping Destinations: Where to Find Colors This Fall

Martha’s Falls @ Little River Canyon National Preserve
Fort Payne, AL

Alabama is home to the federally protected Little River Canyon National Preserve and its abundant scenic views and trails. Carved into the flat top of Lookout Mountain and plunging 600 feet down in some sections, Little River Canyon is one of the most spectacular landforms in this region. It’s one of the deepest canyon systems east of the Mississippi River and the deepest in Alabama. The preserve’s iconic 1.4-mile trail to Martha’s Falls (a.k.a. The Hippie Hole) is a must — even in the fall. When people aren’t soaking up the fresh water and sun, they’re soaking up the colorful hues. If you have a hankering for more, check these hikes out! Aside from its trails, the preserve has lots of adventure outlets like fishing, climbing, and world-class whitewater paddling. Pre- or post-hike, drive along Canyon Rim Drive (Alabama State Road 176), which hugs the rim of Little River Canyon and offers overlooks with far-flung views into the canyon.

Little River Falls Martha's Falls Alabama

Martha’s Falls (formerly called Little River Falls) are simply stunning in the fall! And there are trails of all kinds to explore beyond the falls hike. Image: Josh & Victoria McCool | @blendd.fam.adventures

May this season bring you plenty of fun hikes, tinged with fall colors!

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If you’re looking for even MORE outdoor destinations this fall, check out our Southern State Park Guide. The beauties listed there promise especially stunning views this season. 

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