10 Late-Fall Destinations for Trail Runners
Warmer-weather spots with killer trails to keep you going all autumn (and even winter) long
If you live at a northern latitude (or, like the Trail Runner staff, a relatively high elevation), your favorite trails may soon be covered in snow and ice. That doesn't mean singletrack season has to end, though.
Here are 10 great trails across the country (well, the southern half) that are at their peak in late fall, and some even stay runnable all winter long.
1. San Antonio, Texas: The Lost Maples State Natural Area
Located in Vanderpool, a small community a little over an hour west of San Antonio, this state park features 2,174 acres of forestland and boasts over 11 miles of rocky single- and doubletrack through the area’s famous grove of rare Uvalde bigtooth maple trees.
With peak foliage usually hitting during the last two weeks of November, plenty of viewpoints along the hilly and steep topography to see the fiery colors in action and streams and rivers to dip your toes into after a run, this park is definitely worth adding to your late-fall bucket list.
Vanderpool has a population of a little under 100, and is recognized as the “Cowboy Capital of Texas.” Take a tour of this piece of the Wild West after your run, and if that isn’t enough, spend an afternoon visiting the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum, which has over 50 motorcycles that date from the present all the way back to 1910.
2. Taos, New Mexico: Devisadero Peak
Carson National Forest, near Taos, sports over 1.5 million acres of land, hundreds of trails and five designated wilderness areas. One highlight is the Devisadero Peak Trail, a 6.5-mile loop that climbs a mix of technical, rocky terrain and smooth singletrack to offer sweeping views of Taos, the surrounding Taos mountains and the Rio Grande gorge below.
The trail gains a gradual 1,500 feet to reach the 8,304-foot peak, making it an accessible option to new and veteran trail runners alike. Make sure to check the weather before you take off—the elevation does draw snow starting in mid-to-late November, despite the warm and sunny weather that typically melts it.
Feel like something more strenuous? Try another of the trails that start from from the same trailhead. Or take a stab at Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at 13,161 feet, which features a 16-mile out-and-back with technical, alpine terrain and incredible views of the southern Rocky Mountains. Start early and pack crampons and a jacket if you’re facing down this beast of a peak—snow is basically a guarantee for late fall.
When you’re done, try exploring the galleries, museums and festivals in Taos, which feature the work of artists and photographers from around the world who are drawn to the rich mix of Native American, Spanish and Anglo-American cultures in the area.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee: Mount Le Conte via the Alum Cave Trail
Although the 11-mile round trip to the top of Mount Le Conte might seem like a long day, don’t be intimidated. The Alum Cave Trail is well worth the effort, famous for its geology (think arches, key holes, caves, overhangs and waterfalls) and open views of the surrounding mountains and river valleys. The trail works its way up to the ridge along a rocky ledge that, although technical at times, gains a substantial—but relatively gradual—2,763 feet. And the foliage of early November isn’t something you want to miss.
Mount Le Conte is the third-highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, at 6,593 feet, and although it is smaller than its Western counterparts, do not underestimate the elevation. Check the weather report and start your run early—thunderstorms, hail, ice and snow frequent the peak during the winter months.
Located just outside of the park and trailhead, the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. Explore the riverside trails around town, or take a ride up the Gatlinburg Space Needle to catch a unique, panoramic view of the mountains.
4. Lake Mead, Nevada: The Historic Railroad Trail
Located only 30 miles from Las Vegas, this historic trail, 7.4 miles round trip, rolls along the shore of manmade Lake Mead on its way toward the Hoover Dam. Although the desert can get blisteringly hot during the summer, it cools down perfectly for a late-fall trail run and offers views of the sweeping red landscape, glittering water and snaking gullies—and, if you're lucky, desert-dwelling wildlife like burros, bighorn sheep, jack rabbits and reptiles galore!
Because the trail was originally built as a railroad, then disassembled and opened as a public trail in 1995, it is pretty flat and gentle. If you’re looking for something a little longer or more technical, try scurrying along the nearby River Mountains Loop Trail, which leaves from the same trailhead, or hop onto the Wetlands Trail Connector or the Lake Mead Parkway Trailhead.
When you’re done, check out all that Las Vegas has to offer—gambling, concerts, poolside lounging, clubbing—or explore the Red Rocks canyons to the west for even more trail-running fun.
5. Blood Mountain Wilderness, Georgia: Blood Mountain Summit Trail
Despite its ominous name, this six-mile lollipop loop in northern Georgia is one of the most popular hikes in the state. The route, which overlaps with one of the most frequented sections of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, circles the 4,458-foot Blood Mountain summit, and looks out on the varied ecosystems of the eponymous wilderness from its rocky top.
In late October, you can see rolling oceans of bright reds, oranges and yellows in all directions. If you’re in need of a few extra miles, hop back onto the Appalachian Trail after you summit for an extended out-and-back of your choosing.
Only a couple hours south is the state capital of Atlanta. To learn about the city’s history, visit the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, dedicated to the life of the civil-rights leader. In downtown, stroll through the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park, constructed for the 1996 Olympics, which includes the extensive Georgia Aquarium.
6. Moab, Utah: Hidden Valley Trail
If you’re looking to get the full Moab wilderness experience while on a run, look no further—the Hidden Valley Trail offers a rocky but mostly flat trip through the arches, domes, spines and Native American petroglyphs that make the area famous, against a backdrop of the prominent La Sal Mountains.
The trail begins with a set of steep switchbacks, but levels out as it enters Hidden Valley. Two miles out, the trail meets with the Moab Rim Trail: either turn around there for a nice four-mile run or continue another three miles to the end of the Rim Trail, for a 10-mile out and back.
Although hot in the summer, the area cools down nicely around this time of year, making it a great trail-running destination all autumn long. Consider starting your run early so that you can spend the rest of the day exploring nearby Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park. There are also plenty of opportunities in the area for mountain biking, four-wheeling, rafting and hiking.
7. Pelham, Alabama: Oak Mountain State Park
Featuring over 51 glorious miles of singletrack, Oak Mountain State Park is Alabama’s largest state park and a haven for local trail runners of all levels. The park is located only 18 miles south of Birmingham and features everything from flat loops around Double Oak Lake to more technical climbs up rocky, 1,300-foot ridges. Frothing waterfalls and bubbling creeks decorate the trails as they wind through thick pine and hardwood forests.
Thanks to its southern latitude, the park usually has its peak foliage—and peak trail-running weather—in November. For post-run adventures, day-trip into Birmingham and explore the McWane Science Center or the Barber Motorsports Park.
8. Tampa Bay, Florida: Alafia State Park
Whether you’re a spring breaker in need of a detox or a local just looking to get out of the neon-signed city for some good old-fashioned exercise, Alafia State Park is your answer. With nearly 40 miles of single- and doubletrack snaking through 6,300 acres, this park—roughly an hour's drive from central Tampa, Florida—has terrain for runners of all levels. Clawing up coastal dunes, scrambling down rocky slopes, navigating snarled roots, splashing across creeks, cruising on flat, wide paths that roll through pine and hardwood forests—the options are pretty limitless.
Florida stays warm pretty much year round, so when you’re done with your run, take a dip in the multiple lakes or streams within the park’s limits to cool down. You can also rent a canoe or go fishing with the family. Feel like playing tourist? Head to Tampa Bay to enjoy all that the city has to offer, from incredible seafood to museums and amusement parks. And of course, there’s always the famous white-sand beaches if you’re looking for a relaxing day in the sun.
9. Laguna Beach, California: Crystal Cove State Park
If you’ve only ever seen southern California on TV, this park offers the chance to get your own authentic experience of the region. Away from the smog, the drama and the traffic of the Los Angeles, Crystal Cove serves up about 20 miles of singletrack, through 2,400 acres of mountainous coastal wilderness—as well as 3.2 miles of beach to run on to your heart’s content. If that isn’t enough, the park also connects with the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to the east for 40 more miles of running and exploring.
The elevated sea cliffs offer amazing views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and the dolphins and whales that frequent the coastline, not to mention the half-mooned white beaches that stretch out north to south, as far as the eye can see. Although the lack of tree cover can make running in the summer unbearably hot and dusty, late fall is the ideal time to explore the park without overheating—and to view the local flora and fauna, including wildflowers, golden grasses, rabbits, deer everywhere you look and the occasional coyote or bobcat.
When you’re done, hit up the beach, take a surf lesson, paddle around in the waves and apply plenty of sunscreen. You’ll wonder why you didn’t take this “running” vacation earlier.
10. Tucson, Arizona: Santa Catalina Mountains
The Santa Catalina Mountains, just north of Tucson in the Coronado National Forest, make an intimidating sight on the desert skyline, rising quickly from the 2,000-foot valley floor to 9,000-foot peaks. Don’t feel daunted—the Santa Catalina Mountains offer everything from super-technical, steep ascents to gentle, flat doubletrack through all types of terrains and ecosystems. From dusty deserts to thick forests and rocky alpine summits, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible exploring this area.
At eight miles round trip, the Sabino Canyon Trail is a perfect introduction to the area. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try the steep, 6.4-mile round-trip Ventana Canyon Trail, which climbs to a peak on the front range and ends beneath a huge rock arch with a spectacular view of the Tucson valley.
The home of the University of Arizona, Tucson is a lively city with plenty of great food, shopping and nightclubs all over, especially near campus, as well as a rich cultural history rooted in its 19th-century beginnings, reflected in the adobe buildings of the Barrio Historico neighborhood and El Presidio Historic District.
Corrections: This article originally stated that Tucson was the home of Arizona State University. In fact, it is the University of Arizona that is located in the city; Arizona State is in Tempe. Also, Alafia State Park is not a 10-minute drive from Tampa, as originally stated; from the city's southeastern outskirts, the drive is closer to 40 minutes, and from central Tamp it is about one hour.