Hidden Lake during fall foliage in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
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Fall foliage around Hidden Lake in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania; Photograph by Gabby Salazar
Hidden Lake during fall foliage in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Finding Fall Off the Beaten Path: East Coast Leaf-Peeping Spots

Where are the best places near your home to immerse yourself in autumn splendor? Here are some off-the-beaten-path favorites on the East Coast.

The crunch of leaves marks my steps through a mosaic of yellows and oranges. In front of me, a maple glows red as the low sun filters through its canopy. I lift my camera, clicking the shutter before the light is hidden beneath a low-hanging cloud. Just a few minutes from my house in the suburbs, I’ve escaped to a small piece of wilderness and a moment of beauty.

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. It is partly the weather—the brisk breezes that make you feel alive—but it is mostly that fall feeds my thirst for adventure. Everyday scenes, from library parking lots to local parks, are transformed into novel landscapes when the leaves start to change. You don’t have to travel far to feel inspired.

As an outdoor photographer, I have chased fall color across the country, from the Great Smoky Mountains to the wilds of Maine. But, my favorite fall adventure spots are often the less-known locations–the hidden byways and the smaller state parks where the crowds are thin and the color is just as perfect. If you are hoping to go leaf peeping this year or just to take a hike, here are a few of my favorite spots for fall color on the East Coast, all just a few hours from big cities like Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia:

Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton, Pennsylvania
One of the best spots is a small state park in Northeast Pennsylvania, called Ricketts Glen State Park. It is arguably one of the loveliest state parks on the East Coast, and is best known for its Falls Trail, a 7-mile loop that goes past 21 waterfalls.

Each year, I try to make at least a day trip there, starting at dawn and ending at dusk.  Last year, I arrived before sunrise while mist was still hanging over the waterfalls. It can be chilly, so bring a jacket and plenty of food and water for a full day of hiking. You won’t want to turn around and cut the walk short – the trail just keeps getting better as you pass from one spectacular scene to the next

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey and Pennsylvania

Although the Delaware Water Gap can occasionally be crowded on the main roads, there are many dirt roads and trails with impressive scenery. You can drive on either side of the Delaware River, which serves as a state boundary. The New Jersey side gets very little traffic and has just as many hiking trails and overlooks. I love Hidden Lake on the Pennsylvania side and Worthington State Forest on the New Jersey side.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton, Pennsylvania

Hawk Mountain is most famous for the spectacular migration of hawks that can be seen from its peaks each fall, but the fall colors can be just as spectacular as the stream of birds. Just a few hours from New York and Philadelphia, it is full of great hiking trails and overlooks. The small roads that lead to the sanctuary are also picturesque with rolling fields and small barns.

In just a few weeks, all these destinations will be saturated with color. And, even if you can’t get to one of these locations, try exploring a small park near your home. Autumn will help you see a place with fresh eyes, even the same place you visit every day.

To see more of Gabby’s work, follow her on Facebook or on Twitter at @gabbyrsalazar.