Culture

How To Find That Perfect Fall Run

A guide to finding the best routes for running through fall's spectacular colors, from Maine to Colorado.

September is when many of us turn the page and start thinking about fall running. The changing leaves, crisp fall air, apple orchards and pumpkin fields are a feast for the running senses. This year, with many of the usual events on the fall running ‘calendar’ curtailed, it’s even more important for the psyche to experience the spiritual uplift of a classic autumn run. With that in mind, here’s the Great Runs fall running guide: What makes for a classic fall run, when and where to find it, and a sampling of some favorite fall routes.

What Makes For a Classic Fall Run?

In early fall, the perfect seasonal run could be an open road passing farm fields ready to yield their harvest, or orchards with their U-Pick signs and scent of fresh-baked cider donuts (good for a post-run treat!). As the leaves start changing, runners seek out routes that pass through those gorgeous fall vistas.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a place with mountain views, it’s a special treat to see the multi-hued carpet of leaves, working their way from green at the bottom to peak color in the middle. Running near the water can also be special, as leaves tend to change first at the water’s edge and give out a gorgeous reflection if the lighting is right.

Another favorite is the wooded run, ideally with peak colors framing the trail and the rustle of fallen leaves underneath. Runs that provided a needed shade canopy during summer heat transform into a bucolic fall run.

Runs in older, historic neighborhoods typically feature residential streets lined with heritage trees that are especially pretty in fall.

Timing Is Everything

Any run this time of year is a treat, but, generally speaking, the colors peak in early October in northern New England and near the Canadian border. The color line moves into southern New England and major northeast cities by late October, and the mid-Atlantic region by early November. In the Rockies, peak season ranges from mid-September to mid-October from north to south, higher altitudes to lower forests. You can use the slider at the bottom of this interactive fall foliage map to plan your ‘peak’ run!

Photo: smokymountains.com

Where are the Fall Running Hotspots?

The classic fall foliage routes are in areas that feature the types of trees that exhibit the most spectacular colors. That’s why New England and southern Canada are so popular in the fall, with their gorgeous sugar maple trees. And great routes may not be as far away as you think. Maine is sometimes considered overrated in fall, because of the prevalence of pines over deciduous trees, while interior Connecticut is an often overlooked destination for fall foliage.

Other favorite spots for fall foliage running are the Berkshires in Massachusetts, New York’s Hudson Valley, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minneapolis/St.-Paul and Duluth in Minnesota. Further south, the trees in the Great Smoky Mountains, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and cities such as Richmond, Charlottesville, Asheville, and the Piedmont Triad in North Carolina are especially pretty in autumn. In the Rockies, it’s magnificent to see the aspens and oaks changing leaves along mountain trails.

Some of Our Favorite Fall Running Spots

City Highlights

Here’s a selection of some favorite routes to enjoy the colors in major eastern cities. Peak foliage ranges from early October in Montreal to mid-November in the mid-Atlantic. For a more complete list, see Great Runs’ Fall Foliage Highlights category.

Montreal. The Olmsted-designed Mount Royal, accessible from downtown.

Ottawa. Gatineau Park features more than 100 miles of trails.

Burlington, Vt. Lake Champlain trails, Shelburne Farms

Autumn foliage reflection on Jamaica Pond in Boston. Photo: Getty Images

Boston. The Emerald Necklace is the must-do Boston foliage run. For a real treat, do the Minuteman Trail from Lexington to Concord.

New York City. Central Park is an oasis of color from late October to mid-November. In the ‘boroughs’, head to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

Philadelphia. The paths in Fairmont Park are a foliage treat in one of the largest urban parks of the country. The Philadelphia suburbs are also wonderfully lush and colorful in fall.

Baltimore. The Olmsted-designed Roland Park neighborhood is beautiful, or head to the NCR Rail Trail or Oregon Ridge Trail for leafy fall runs.

Washington, D.C. Our favorite fall route in D.C. is Rock Creek Park. Or, choose a section of the C&O Canal Trail near the city.

Richmond. Enjoy peak foliage on sections of the Virginia Capital Trail. The 60+ miles of paths in Pocahontas State Park are worth the 30-minute drive from Richmond.

Madison,Wis. Run the trails in the UW-Madison Arboretum from mid-September to October for an enchanting autumn jog that dazzles with firecracker trees, paths carpeted in golden foliage, and the gobbles of wild turkeys.

Mountain/Destination Highlights

Vermont: Pretty much the entire state is fall foliage capital USA! The leaves peak from early-to-mid-October, working north to south.

New Hampshire. Some favorite spots are in the North Conway region, a gateway to the White Mountains.

The Berkshires. Pretty much all of the routes in this part of Western Massachusetts are splendid in the fall. Among our favorites are a route combining Lenox and Tanglewood, and a ‘running tour’ of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Saratoga Springs. In this gateway to the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs State Park and Saratoga National Historical Park are leafy and gorgeous.

Hudson Valley. This is farm and orchard country, and it’s a treat for running in the fall.There are numerous long-distance bikeways and historic preserves with carriage paths.

Connecticut. As foliage peaks in late October, the interior sections can be especially pretty. Favorites include Devil’s Den/Weirs Farm, and some routes in the Litchfield Hills.

Acadia's Carriage Roads for fall running
Photo: Great Runs

National Parks. Particularly special in autumn: Acadia NP (do the carriage roads!), Great Smoky Mountain NP/Blue Ridge Parkway, and Shenandoah NP.

Colorado. Plan a route in Aspen or Vail for more open terrain to view the changing aspens and oaks at their best. Or view the golden Aspen on most any trails in Rocky Mountain National Park during their early peak season, like the 6 mile Cub Lake Loop.

The country offers many more spectacular fall runs, from aspen in the Absorokas of Montana to the red maples of Texas hill country. Some are probably in the tree-lined streets of your own neighborhood or a local or state park nearby. Take advantage of great cool weather, raise your eyes to the hills and trees, and enjoy these great runs.

Mark Lowenstein is Chief Running Officer at Great Runs, the ultimate guide to the best places to run in cities and destinations worldwide.