Illinois Canyon Trail, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Climb atop Lover’s Leap Overlook and you’ll wonder who set the Illinois River Valley on fire. Each fall, birches, poplars, and hickories erupt into waves of gold, punctuated by the reds of silver maples and white oaks. Get there via the Illinois Canyon Trail, which winds past the mouths of 18 sandstone canyons (budget time to explore) and through a corridor of evergreens and colorful oaks. Beware the poison ivy (which also turns red this time of year).
Mt. Cardigan, Cardigan Mountain State Park & Forest, New Hampshire
Sure, you can see brilliant fall colors all over New England through a windshield. But why leaf peep when you can leaf gape? From Mt. Cardigan’s bald, 3,136-foot summit, get a 360-degree panorama of the northern Appalachians enveloped with yellow, orange, and red sugar maples, golden-bronze American beeches, and yellow birches. Summit Cardigan on a 5-mile out-and-back. At the top, scan for color north to the White Mountains, northwest to the Green Mountains, and south to the Ragged Mountains.
Granite Mountain, Mt. Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Hike up, up, and away on this 8-mile out-and-back that climbs 3,800 feet to the top of 5,610-foot Granite Mountain. The reward for nearly a thousand vertical feet per mile? Wide vistas of the Cascades wearing golden yellow (and a lookout tower from which to view it all). From the Pratt Lake trailhead, take the Pratt Lake Trail 1.2 miles to the Granite Mountain Trail, then proceed northeast along the huckleberry-lined path (bright red this time of year; fruiting in September). From the rocky summit, see Rainier to the south and 6,259-foot Kaleetan and 10,420-foot Baker to the north—but you’re here for more than mountain views. Check out the hillsides for streaks of yellow larches and the valley floor for red huckleberry bushes.