Bear Pen Gap, NC

Hit the Moun­tains-to-Sea Trail for the color show.

Backpacker - - CONTENTS -

Dial in your color set­tings. BLUE RIDGE PARK­WAY, NORTH CAROLINA

Sorry, sum­mer, the best hik­ing sea­son is now, dur­ing fall’s prime-time fo­liage. But don’t sleep through the alarm— the color is fleet­ing. Here, in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, the hard­woods go off be­tween the first and sec­ond weeks of Oc­to­ber, but the true leaf-peep­ing con­nois­seur knows there’s more to it than that. Be­cause you want to go when ground shrubs like sumac turn fiery red (sec­ond week of Oc­to­ber) and when the sun is set­ting (6:45 p.m. or so). If you can luck into low-hang­ing fog (roll of the dice), then it’s just about per­fect. The show will be es­pe­cially good on a thru-hike of the 1,200-mile Moun­tains-to-Sea Trail, but if you only have a day, try the 4-mile loop that circles Rough Butt Bald. From Bear Pen Gap (mile­post 427.6 on the Park­way), near where this photo was snapped, fol­low a user trail to the MST, which de­scends into the Blue Ridge’s val­leys along fall’s red car­pet. That de­serves a per­ma­nent place on your cal­en­dar. Con­tact nps.gov/blri

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