Catch Fall Color

Ready to ride through spectacular fall color? Plan for safety and com­fort.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY AUDREY PAVIA

F or trail rid­ers, fall is a glo­ri­ous time of year—crisp, cool weather, bright-blue skies, and trees burst­ing with au­tumn splen­dor. Here’s ev­ery­thing you need to plan your fall-color excursion, whether it be a day ride, an overnight ad­ven­ture on your own horse, or an eques­trian va­ca­tion at a farm or guest ranch. (For an ex­clu­sive list­ing of spe­cific fall-rid­ing des­ti­na­tions, eques­trian va­ca­tions, and guest ranches, go to Horse­


Be­fore you head out on a fall-rid­ing ad­ven­ture, find out when the leaves are ex­pected to change color at your desti­na­tion. Leaves turn color at dif­fer­ent times, de­pend­ing on the lat­i­tude, el­e­va­tion, weather, and tree type. Check re­ports on the Web site for the park or na­tional for­est where you plan to ride, or con­tact the re­sort or out­fit­ter you plan to visit.

To catch peak fall fo­liage, pin­point an area where de­cid­u­ous trees grow in large num­bers. The phe­nom­e­non of fall fo­liage hap­pens only in de­cid­u­ous trees—trees that lose their leaves to sur­vive the win­ter. The most col­or­ful are cer­tain species of aspen, oak, hick­ory, maple, birch, and poplar.

The time be­tween when a leaf turns color and when it drops off the tree is rel­a­tively brief. Most trees don’t hold their col­or­ful leaves for more than two weeks. A storm can knock the leaves from the trees pre­ma­turely, mak­ing the fall-color sea­son par­tic­u­larly short.

Peak-color dates de­pend upon sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing the cur­rent tem­per­a­ture, and the pre­vi­ous sea­sons’ weather pat­terns. A warm, wet spring; a mod­er­ate sum­mer; and a fall with warm, sunny days and cool nights make for the best fall col­ors. Drought can se­ri­ously af­fect the col­ors’ tim­ing and vi­brancy.

The higher the lat­i­tude, the ear­lier fall leaves change color. In New Eng­land and the up­per Mid­west, the leaves are typ­i­cally at their peak color in mid­dle to late Septem­ber or early Oc­to­ber, de­pend­ing on the weather. In the cen­tral Mid­west and North­east, the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber usu­ally shows the best col­ors. In the South and South­east,

the best col­ors ap­pear in late Oc­to­ber or early Novem­ber. In the moun­tains of the West and South­west, Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber of­fer the most vivid col­ors.


Thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of cli­mate and flora, top fall-color re­gions in the con­tigu­ous United States of­fer an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the best of au­tumn from the back of a horse. But even ar­eas of the coun­try less known for their fall fo­liage have re­gions where the trees give one last ex­plo­sion of color be­fore they drop their leaves for the win­ter.

Here’s an at-a-glance guide to fall color in six re­gions of the coun­try. Pa­cific Re­gion. While Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton are known for their deserts and semi-arid re­gions, they also boast some of the most beau­ti­ful—and col­or­ful— moun­tains in the coun­try. The Sierra Ne­vada Moun­tain Range stretches some 400 miles north to south on Cal­i­for­nia’s east­ern side. The Car­son Range spur lies pri­mar­ily in Ne­vada. The Sier­ras of­fer aspen groves that glow yel­low among ev­er­green forests in the fall. Pack sta­tions take rid­ers on mul­ti­day trips into the back­coun­try dur­ing the late spring, sum­mer, and early fall. Guided day rides are also avail­able through var­i­ous out­fit­ters in the Sier­ras out of Mam­moth and Lake Ta­hoe.

Al­though Ore­gon is known for its ev­er­greens, about one-third of the state’s trees are de­cid­u­ous oaks, maples, alder, and larch. This makes for beau­ti­ful color from late Septem­ber to early Oc­to­ber. Sil­ver Falls State Park, Mount Hood Na­tional For­est, and Wal­lowa-Whit­man Na­tional For­est are among the best places to see Ore­gon’s rich fall col­ors.

Wash­ing­ton is renowned for its stun­ning moun­tains, and along with those beau­ti­ful peaks come great fall rid­ing. At lower el­e­va­tions, head to rid­ing trails in Alpine Lake Wilder­ness, Colville Na­tional For­est, and Mount Spokane State Park.

“All of our trails are through the woods and have a vi­brant show of fall col­ors,” says Erin Boyd, horse pro­gram man­ager for Moun­tain Springs Lodge in Leav­en­worth, Wash­ing­ton. “Vine maples are prom­i­nent in our woods and have a vi­brant show of yel­low, red, and or­ange as they change col­ors. The con­trast of the ev­er­greens along­side the vi­brant fall col­ors is breath­tak­ing. The mild weather and amaz­ing fall col­ors make it my ab­so­lute fa­vorite time of year to ride.”

South­west Re­gion. Known mostly for

scenery is stun­ning, and the fall col­ors are vi­brant and plen­ti­ful.”

Just to the south­east, North Carolina is home to the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, where fall fo­liage is at its peak from the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber to late Oc­to­ber.

“The Blue Ridge Moun­tains are fa­mous for the amaz­ing fall col­ors that grace our beau­ti­ful ridges and val­leys,” says Ab­bie Hanchey, man­ager of Leather­wood Moun­tain Re­sort in Fer­gu­son, North Carolina. “The trail sys­tem that is in­ter­twined through­out our re­sort has been dubbed some of the great­est rid­ing in the South­east. The beau­ti­ful trails skirt high ridges and wind along moun­tain streams that are as beau­ti­ful as they are pris­tine.”

North­east/Mid-At­lantic Re­gion.

New Eng­land and the states the lie just south boast some of the most spectacular leaf-peep­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the United States. With forests made up pri­mar­ily of oak and maple, leaves turn color here in early fall, putting on a show that draws vis­i­tors from around the coun­try.

“Guests at our ranch trek out from the inn and wind through pas­tures, for­est, and 11 acres of 200-year-old sugar maple stands along the Saco River, all with panoramic moun­tain views,” says Charlene Browne, man­ager of Farm by the River Bed and Break­fast in North Con­way, New Hamp­shire. “What a kalei­do­scope of fall crim­son color!”


Trail-rid­ing safety is im­por­tant all year, but fall of­fers its own unique chal­lenges. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Con­sider tack and gear. Ride with loop reins, rather than split reins, to de­crease the chance that you’ll drop a rein while rid­ing. Ac­cus­tom your horse to the feel of pom­mel and can­tle bags, so he’ll calmly carry your rain slicker and gear. Prac­tice trail eti­quette. Rid­ing in the fall means bask­ing in na­ture’s beauty, but it may also mean shar­ing the trails with other trail users. Ask moun­tain bik­ers to slow down or walk their bikes as they pass you. Re­quest that hik­ers step off the trail so you can pass. Be aware, too, that your horse might be fright­ened by back­pack­ers—he might not be able to make sense of a hu­man with a large pack on her back. If your horse starts to panic, ask the back­packer to stop and speak. Of­ten, hear­ing a hu­man voice come from the “mon­ster” will help a horse re­al­ize there’s noth­ing to fear.

Go slowly. One of the pret­ti­est parts of the fall scenery is a trail blan­keted with col­or­ful leaves. The down­side of those fallen leaves is that they can make the trail slip­pery—es­pe­cially if they’re wet. Keep your pace slow when walk­ing on leaf-cov­ered trails.

Photograph with care. You’ll likely want to cap­ture the beauty of your fall ride. Only do so on a well-trained, quiet, re­li­able mount.

TOP: “All of our trails are through the woods and have a vi­brant show of fall col­ors,” says Erin Boyd, horse pro­gram man­ager for Moun­tain Springs Lodge in Leav­en­worth, Wash­ing­ton. “The mild weather and amaz­ing fall col­ors make it my ab­so­lute fa­vorite...

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