Top Ten Rail-Trails for Fall Foliage

We team up with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to pinpoint ten perfect rail-trails for experiencing fall's changing colors.
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Fall colors in Telluride
ENJOY THE SHOW: Fall colors in Telluride, Colorado  (courtesy,
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For more specific details about trailheads and driving directions to the trails listed in this article, plus to discover some 15,000 miles of other pathways in all 50 states, visit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's

Each year, the crunch and crackle of autumn inspires outdoor enthusiasts everywhere to begin their quest for nature's boldest foliage. And as trees flash their colors, there are few better seats for the show than on a rail-trail. To help kick off a fall-foliage tour, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has put together a sampling of prime pathways for leaf-seekers.

10. Galloping Goose Trail, Colorado
The Galloping Goose is a long, full-day ride that will see you gaining significant elevation as you delve deep into Colorado's Uncompahgre National Forest. The glow of the region's famous aspen trees notwithstanding, this 20-mile-long trail is surrounded by the splendor of snow-capped Rocky Mountain peaks (in fact, don't wait too long to ride the Galloping Goose, as it quickly morphs into one of the area's first skiable cross-country trails as early as October). Located southwest of the mountain-biking mecca of Telluride, you won't want for amenities—from bike rentals and supplies to local intel on the best side trails and that perfect cup of pre-ride joe.

9. Silver Comet Trail, Georgia
In the days before the car was king, the luxe Silver Comet passenger train worked this route as part of its duties between New York and Birmingham, Alabama. Today, it's a scenic and well-maintained multiuse trail that connects Smyrna, Georgia, on the outskirts of Atlanta, with the State Line Gateway Park on the Georgia-Alabama line. You might also plan on visiting for the ribbon-cutting ceremonies on September 27, 2008, to mark the connection of Georgia's Silver Comet Trail with Alabama's Chief Ladiga Trail—and the advent of a new outlet for 100-mile rail-trail days.

8. Carrabassett River Trail, Maine
On foot, on a bike, or even just in a car, Maine's Carrabassett Valley is one of New England's most scenic plots. Mix in a sea of golden-flamed aspens, crimson red maples, and purple-hued Joe Pye Weed each fall, and you've got the makings of the perfect weekend escape. The 6.6-mile Carrabassett River Trail (also called the Narrow Gauge Pathway) winds along the Carrabassett River between the town of Carrabassett and the popular four-season resort of Sugarloaf. Although it's mostly uphill on the way out, the downhill cruise back will offer lots of breathing room to enjoy the scenery. Peak foliage hits mid- to late October, spelling eye-popping colors but also caravan-loads of leaf-peepers (another prime reason to get off the road and hit the trail).

7. Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, Washington
Seattle's 17-mile Burke-Gilman Trail is definitely no diamond in the rough; some 2,000 people use the trail each day, at least a third of them bike commuters. However, come fall it's a sure bet that most of these bikers will be mixing business with pleasure as they savor fall's colorful sweep, which usually strikes between late October and early November. With the higher precipitation in this part of the world, the leaf-peeping bonanza here is shorter—but still worth the wait nonetheless.

6. American Tobacco Trail, North Carolina
Here in the former heart of U.S. tobacco country, this rail-trail follows the path of rail lines that once supplied the factories of the American Tobacco Company. These days, a healthier procession of bikers, inline skaters, and horseback riders use three interconnected sections of mostly paved pathway to slice though the thickly forested countryside between Durham and west of Raleigh. Fall generally peaks a little later down here in the South, although the show is no less enjoyable despite that late arrival.

Published: 15 Sep 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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