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How to Find the Perfect Fall Run

by Mark Lowenstein

The changing leaves, crisp fall air, apple orchards and pumpkin fields are a feast for the running senses. 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. For some favorite fall routes, start with our FALL RUNNING HUB.

What Makes For a Classic Fall Run?

As the temperatures start to cool and the trees start showing color, the running mentality shifts from the beaches and boardwalks of summer to the views and vistas of autumn. In early fall, it could be an open road passing farm fields yielding 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 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 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. Areas that provide a needed canopy for summer shade transform into a bucolic fall run. Another fall running tip: running in older, historic neighborhoods. These residential areas typically feature streets lined with older heritage trees that are especially pretty in fall. Click on our ‘gorgeous residential’ keyword, or  ‘fantastic neighborhoods’ category to find these neighborhoods, grouped by location

Timing Is Everything

Any run this time of year is a treat, but if you’re looking to time it just right, it’s helpful to consult a foliage map to see when colors are expected to peak in different regions. 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. Use the slider at the bottom of this interactive fall foliage map to plan your ‘peak’ run!

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. One tip: Maine is overrated in fall, because of the prevalence of pine 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 (where peak season ranges from mid-September to mid-October from north to south).

Some of Our Favorite Fall Running Spots (we have running guides for each of these areas!)

City Highlights

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

Montreal. The Olmsted-designed Mount Royal, accessible from downtown.
Ottawa. Gatineau Park features more than 100 miles of trails.
Toronto. The Beltline Trail has lovely colors in Autumn.
Burlington, VT.  Lake Champlain trails, Shelburne Farms
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 Fairmount 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.

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. See this list of favorite foliage routes in VT.
Eastern Townships. Just east of Montreal — very similar to terrain to Vermont!
The Laurentians. Mountain area an hour north of Montreal
New Hampshire. We have a guide to some favorite spots in the North Conway region, which is a gateway to the White Mountains, and this list of favorite fall routes in NH.
The Berkshires. Pretty much all of our routes in this part of Western Massachusetts are splendid in the fall. Among our favorites are a route combining Lenox and Tanglewood, and our ‘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.

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

Colorado. Use our running guides for Aspen and Vail to plan a route in more open terrain, to view the changing aspens and oaks at their best.

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