14 Places to Hike this Fall in the South
Life by Foot: Hiking for Body, Mind, and Soul
Words by Nicholas Ireland
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love
— “Birches,” Robert Frost
Autumn. If you live in the South, it is as hopeful a time as the first signs of spring. Sourwood and sassafras are popping out aflame, and you get an occasional wisp of cool in an evening breeze. This is the time of year to lace up a sturdy pair of shoes and head for the woods.
Hiking can be a fantastic workout, and it does provide a welcome break from the treadmill and the miles of asphalt rolling under your bike tires. But it really is a different sort of activity altogether.
Even when hiking with friends, there is an acceptable silence that enriches and gives weight to intermittent conversation over the miles and hills. Most relationships will emerge stronger, more enriched.
I want to leave you with a few suggestions for day hikes around the Southeast. By “day hike,” I mean a hike that can be comfortably finished, with a sense of accomplishment, in a single day. Almost all of these suggestions can be adapted for a “moderate” hike (six to 10 miles of trail that can be covered in four to eight hours) or for something more challenging (10 to 20-plus miles of trail that only a fairly fast and experienced hiker would likely enjoy doing in one push). No matter which you select, you are sure to return to your car remarkably weary—and refreshed.
Little River Canyon National Preserve and Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
The Canyon trails are a little off the beaten path, so GPS may be your friend if you have a poor sense of direction. The trails are not well marked, but the flora, fauna, and the river are worth getting lost in.
DeSoto State Park
Though they form an intricate web that may be difficult to string together into a continuous hike, these trails will reward those with some map skills and a sense of adventure.
Oak Mountain State Park
With about 20 miles of designated footpaths and another 40 or so of biking and horse trails, there is enough to satisfy the most ambitious day hiker.
Mt Cheaha, AL
At 2,407 feet above sea level, hikers here get to enjoy the highest point in Alabama. Feel free to hit new heights to enjoy breathtaking sunsets, take the Fisherman’s trail around Cheaha Lake, or hike to Pulpit Rock for rock climbing and rappelling.
Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA
Crockford-Pigeon Mountain is well-loved by climbers for Rocktown, but there are quite a few good hiking trails up and down the mountain, and it is especially nice during wildflower season.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
This is unofficially the mother of all day hikes in Georgia. The waterfall, when abundantly fed, is marvelous and the gorge, especially in the fall, rivals anything in the Southeast.
Providence Canyon (Georgia)
If you’re going to “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon,” you’ll have the option of easier 2-mile walking trails to 7-mile rugged hikes. Either way, you’ll be greeted to the beauty of the steep canyon walls that makes Providence one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.
Tennessee / North Carolina
Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center (Chattanooga)
Positioned between the base of Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga Creek, this place has pretty much everything—broad gravel roads, flat trails, rocky paths that wind up to Sunset Rock, Cravens House, and Point Park. Those willing to endure a breathy ascent of Lookout can wind up to Sunset Rock and be rewarded with a spectacular view of the sprawling Tennessee/Georgia Valley.
South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland contains some gems of hikes up on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau near Monteagle. Caution may be in order for those who do not like hiking over large, slippery, wet, moss-covered rocks or steep scrambling into and out of the gorge.
Great Smoky Mountains
Go anywhere you like on their 850-plus miles of trail. For a long day hike or short overnight hike, try Newfound Gap parking lot north on the Appalachian Trail (AT) to Charlie’s Bunyan. For moderate hiking, park at Abrams Creek Ranger Station on the west end of the Smokies. You can make your own loop of any length, cool off in Abrams Creek, add a short out-and-back to the falls, and be back before lunch.
Looking Glass Rock (North Carolina)
From the rock outcropping, you will get a panoramic view of Pisgah National Forest. The trail to the top is only about three miles, but it gains over 1,500 feet of elevation and is well worth it.
Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina)
A deep forest you can get lost in with plenty of beautiful waterfalls accessible from trails at all skill levels. For those who don’t mind getting in the water, the area is known for white water rafting and kayaking.
South Mountains State Park (North Carolina)
With over 40 trails, an 80-foot waterfall and 3,000-ft of elevation, this state park allows hikers to choose the perfect experience for them. There are even trails designated for mountain biking or horseback riding.
Grayson Highlands State Park
Wild ponies, hiking suitable even for the beginner, and ample bouldering opportunity, and non-climbers will have a maze of rocks to explore.
Here’s the point. There is nothing incredibly remarkable about any of the spots mentioned here. They consist of soil, lichen, moss, rocks, water, trees. You can get that stuff most anywhere. Find your own local treasure. Share it with others. Enjoy the simple bounty it has to offer: communion with yourself, with the creation, and with all sorts of creatures, great and small.