Catch Colorful Fall Foliage

Enjoy stunning fall colors from the back of your horse with our guide, including an exclusive listing of riding destinations from coast-to-coast.
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Enjoy stunning fall colors from the back of your horse with our guide, including an exclusive listing of riding destinations from coast-to-coast.

Riding through the crisp fall air surrounded by the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn foliage is one of the most glorious experiences you can have on horseback.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone Here’s the information you need to plan your trip, whether you wish to ride your own horse or leave him at home and enjoy a riding vacation.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone Here’s the information you need to plan your trip, whether you wish to ride your own horse or leave him at home and enjoy a riding vacation.

Fall is upon us. If you’ve always dreamed of riding through spectacular autumn leaves, now is your chance. Here’s the information you need to plan your trip, whether you wish to ride your own horse or leave him at home and enjoy a riding vacation.

Know Your Leaves

For the best experience riding in fall color, do your homework. Leaves turn color at different times, depending on the latitude and elevation. Tree type determines color variations and peak times.

The phenomenon of fall foliage happens only in deciduous trees — trees that lose their leaves in order to survive the winter. Evergreen trees — such as pines, spruces, cedars and firs — retain their leaves. (The mixture of evergreens and warm fall foliage can be stunning.)

To catch colorful fall foliage, you’ll need to find an area where deciduous trees grow in large numbers. And the trees must be of a species where the leaves turn yellow, orange, or red before they drop off, instead of just turning brown. The most colorful trees during the fall include certain species of oaks, hickories, birch, maples and poplars.

The duration of 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, at the most.

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.

Riding through the crisp fall air surrounded by the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn foliage is one of the most glorious experiences you can have on horseback.

Riding through the crisp fall air surrounded by the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn foliage is one of the most glorious experiences you can have on horseback.

A general rule: 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 early November. In the mountains of the West, September and October offer the most vivid colors.

Consider the Weather

With fall colors comes autumn weather. While clear, crisp weather is ideal weather for a fall ride, you may experience wilder, more unpredictable weather.

In the fall, New England is typically 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. While most fall days are pleasant and sunny, some New England fall seasons are also wet and chilly.

The South and Southeast are usually very comfortable during fall-foliage season, with dry, sunny days and temperatures in the 60s. However, hurricane season extends into late fall. A hurricane is dangerous and can tear leaves right off trees.

In the Rocky Mountains and the upper Midwest, fall weather can be glorious. Cool, crisp air is a mainstay, but this time of year also brings snowstorms and freezing temperatures.

Choose Your Adventure

You can choose to leaf-peep on a day or overnight ride close to home, or you can plan a longer road trip. Here are a few pros and cons of each choice.

* Close to home. The easiest way to see the colors of autumn on horseback is to go on a day or overnight ride close to home. If you live in an area where deciduous trees turn colors and drop their leaves in the fall, you just need to find a private facility or public land that allows horses and plan your trip. On the plus side, you won’t need to take time off from work, you’ll save money on gas, and you can plan your ride around your horse’s condition. You can also closely watch fall-foliage reports and trailer out on a day you know the colors will be at their peak. Of course, the con of staying close to home is that you’ll probably be seeing the same trees in your own neighborhood. It may not feel like much of an adventure.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone Try to avoid riding in areas that are popular hunting spots. If you do ride where hunting is allowed, wear a bright-orange vest.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone Try to avoid riding in areas that are popular hunting spots. If you do ride where hunting is allowed, wear a bright-orange vest.

* Road trip. If you’re looking to view fall foliage you’ve never seen before, a trip farther from home is in order. You can either bring your own horse or select a vacation destination where horses are provided. If you opt to take your own horse, book accommodations for you and your horse well in advance of your trip. Check the rules and regulations for your chosen destination. If you’d rather leave your equine friend at home, consider a riding vacation instead. A variety of ranches and outfitters are available in areas known for beautiful fall foliage and will provide you with a mount well-suited to the terrain.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone For the best experience riding in fall color, do your homework. Leaves turn color at different times, depending on the latitude and elevation.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone For the best experience riding in fall color, do your homework. Leaves turn color at different times, depending on the latitude and elevation.

Fall-Trip Tips

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you embark on a fall-foliage riding tour.

* Invest in fall riding wear. Fall weather can vacillate from warm to chilly, or dry to wet, depending on where you are and the time of day. Dress in layers. Tie a duster or rain slicker on your saddle’s cantle for sudden downpours.

* Prepare your horse. Fall is a great time to ride, because the air is cool, making trail trekking easy on your horse. If the summer heat has kept you from riding much, slowly build up your horse’s condition over a few weeks before you take him on a long fall ride.

* Pack your saddlebag.Carry a rain cover for your helmet, a jacket, gloves, lip balm, and sunscreen. And of course, don’t forget your camera or mobile phone. Consider investing in a waterproof cover for your device so it doesn’t get wet. Also pack a small thermos filled with a warm beverage.

* Trailer safely. Cool, fall days are perfect for trailering, but some days can be downright cold. If your horse will be traveling in a stock trailer on a cold day, or doesn’t have much of a winter coat, you might want to fit him with a light sheet while he’s riding in the trailer. Check road conditions before you leave; fall snowstorms aren’t uncommon in certain parts of the country. At your destination, park your trailer in a dry area so your horse doesn’t slip during unloading and loading.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone You can choose to leaf-peep on a day or overnight ride close to home, or you can plan a longer road trip.

Credit: Kent & Charlene Krone You can choose to leaf-peep on a day or overnight ride close to home, or you can plan a longer road trip.

* Watch for trail hazards. Trails in the fall can be a real joy. Young people are back in school, so you’ll run into fewer trail users. But fall can also bring seasonal trail hazards, including frost, slippery leaves, deep puddles, and thick mud. If it’s been raining, bridges can be wet and even icy, making it hard for your horse to keep his traction. Be aware of trail conditions, and ride slowly in areas with tricky footing.

* Watch for wildlife.Fall can be a busy time for wildlife. Autumn is mating season for deer, moose, and elk, Males can be more aggressive than usual. If you come across one of these animals on the trail, keep your distance. Bears are also more active in the fall as they prepare for winter hibernation in colder areas. Don’t let bears or any wildlife feel cornered. Most wild animals will run away from a horse unless they feel like they can’t get away.

Watch for hunting hazards. Fall is hunting season in many areas of the country. Try to avoid riding in areas that are popular hunting spots. If you do ride where hunting is allowed, wear a bright-orange vest, and apply bright-orange wraps to your horse’s head and legs. Avoid white tack, clothing, or gloves since a hunter may mistake a flash of white for a deer’s tail. 

Audrey Pavia (www.audreypavia.com) is a freelance writer based in Norco, California. She's the author of Trail Riding: A Complete Guide (Howell Book House) and Horse Health & Nutrition for Dummies (Wiley). Pavia rides competitive trail with her 9-year-old Spanish Mustang, Milagro.

Fall-Foliage Trail-Riding Destinations

 (Bring Your Own Horse)

PACIFIC REGION

Flying Horseshoe Ranch

Cle Elum, Wash.

www.flyinghorseshoeranch.com

Mountain Springs Lodge

Leavenworth, Wash.

www.mtsprings.com

Sierra Meadows Ranch

Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

www.sierrameadowsranch.com

www.mammothtrails.org

ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION

Cherry Creek Mountain Ranch

Hesperus, Colo.

http://cherrycreekmtnranch.com

Fish Creek House Bed & Breakfast

Whitehall, Mont.

www.fishcreekhouse.com

The Historic Triple B Ranch

Woodland Park, Colo.

www.triplebranch.com

Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast

Clark Fork, Idaho

www.huckleberrytentandbreakfast.com

Rhapsody Ranch

Westcliffe, Colo.

www.rhapsodyranch.com

MIDWEST REGION

34 Ranch Horseman’s Campground

Herod, Ill.

www.34ranch.com

4-J Big Piney Horse Camp

Waynesville, Mo.

www.4-j.net

4-Mile State Forest Trail Camp

Grayling, Mich.

www.dnr.state.mi.us/parksandtrails/

Bear Branch Horse Resort

Eddyville, Ill.

www.bearbranch.com

Ben’s Happy Trails

Otway, Ohio

www.benshappytrails.com

Brushy Creek Lodge & Resort

Black, Mo.

www.brushycreeklodge.com

Eagle Ranch Resort

Collins, Mo.

http://eagle-ranch.com

Elk Hill State Forest & Trail Camp

Vanderbilt, Mich.

www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/

Flying R Ranch

West Plains, Mo.

http://flying-r-ranch.com

Hay Creek Ranch

Nemo, S.D.

www.haycreekranch.net

Hayes Canyon Campground and Cabins

Eddyville, Ill.

www.hayescanyon.com

Huckleberry Stables & Cabins

Pineville, Mo.

www.huckleberrystables.com

Maplewood State Park

Pelican Rapids, Minn.

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/maplewood/index.html

Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail

Michigan Trail Riders Association, Inc.

Hale, Mich.

www.mtra.org

Midwest Trail Ride

Norman, Ind.

www.midwesttrailride.com

The Natural Gait

Harpers Ferry, Iowa

www.thenaturalgait.com

Outback Ranch, Inc.

Houston, Minn.

www.outbackranch.net

Palmquist Farm

Brantwood, Wis.

www.palmquistfarm.com

Panther Creek Trail Rides

Tuscumbia, Mo.

www.panthercreektrailrides.com

Ponderosa Campground

Pineville, Mo.

http://ponderosatrails.net

Spur of the Moment Ranch

Mountain, Wis.

www.spurofthemomentranch.org

SOUTH/SOUTHEAST REGION

Chunky Gal Stables

Hayesville, N.C.

www.chunkygalstables.com

Circle E Guest Ranch

Belvidere, Tenn.

www.circleeguestranch.com

EJ’s Cottages and Stabling

Dunmore, W.V.

www.ejcottages.net

East Fork Campground

Durbin, W.V.

www.eastforkcampgrounddurbin.com

East Fork Stables

Jamestown, Tenn.

http://eastforkstables.com

Faye Whittemore Farms

Jasper, Ala.

www.fayewhittemorefarms.com

Fort Valley Ranch

Fort Valley, Va.

www.fortvalleyranch.com

Horse Lick Creek Retreat

McKee, Ky.

www.horselickcreekretreat.com

Hungry Horse East, LLC

Ivanhoe, Va.

www.hungryhorseeast.com

Iron Mountain Horse Camp

Ivanhoe, Va.

www.ironmountainhorsecamp.com

KC Ranch Horse Camp & Trail Ride

Double Springs, Ala.

www.kcranchalabama.com

Lakeview Plantation

Fairfax, S.C.

www.lakeviewplantation.com

Lazy Gait Horse Camp

Carter, Ky.

www.lazygaithorsecamp.com

Leatherwood Mountains Resort

Ferguson, N.C.

www.leatherwoodmountains.com

Misty Oaks Farm

Mills River, N.C.

http://www.ncmountainvacationrental.com/

camping-north-carolina.htm

Orchard Cove

Townsend, Tenn.

www.orchardcovestables.com

Rocky Hollow Horse Camp

Troutdale, Va.

www.rockyhollowhorsecamp.com

Saddle Valley Campground

Jamestown, Tenn.

www.saddlevalleycampground.com

Shalimar Farm

Cass, W.V.

www.shalimarfarm.com

True West Campground and Stables

Jamestown, Tenn.

www.truewestcampground.com

MID-ATLANTIC/NORTHEAST REGION

Berkshire Equestrian Center

Richmond, Mass.

http://bershireequestriancenter.com

Buck N Horse Campground

Groton, N.H.

The Bunkhouse

Washington, Vt.

www.thebunkhousevermont.com

Cook Forest Scenic Trailride,

Dude Ranch & Campground

Clarion, Pa.

www.patrailride.com

Mane Stay Stables

Glenfield, N.Y.

www.manestaystables.com

Memory Lane Vacations

Andover, Maine

www.memorylanevacations.net

Pennsylvania Equine Directory

Schuylkill Haven, Pa.

www.paequinedirectory.com

Pure Country Campground

New Berlin, N.Y.

www.purecountrycampground.com

Sharon’s Horse Heaven

Butler, Pa.

www.sharonshorseheaven.com

Stepping Stone Ranch

West Greenwich, R.I.

www.steppingstoneranch.com

The Wagon Wheel Campground

Warwick, Mass.

www.thewagonwheelcampground.com

Fall-Foliage Trail-Riding Destinations

(Public Lands)

PACIFIC REGION

Bridle Trails State Park

Kirkland, Wash.

www.bridletrails.org

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Herman Creek Horse Camp

Hood River, Ore.

www.fs.fed.us/r6/crgnsa

Deschutes National Forest

Quinn Meadows Horse Camp

Bend, Ore.

www.reserveusa.com

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Vancouver, Wash.

www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/giffordpinchot/

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Cuneo Creek Horse Camp

Weott, Calif.

http://humboldtredwoods.org/cuneo_creek

www.reserveusa.com

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Blackpine Horse Camp

Leavenworth, Wash.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/okawen

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

Medford, Ore.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/rogue-siskiyou/

SOUTHWEST REGION

Carson National Forest

Taos, N.M.

www.fs.usda.gov/carson

Coconino National Forest

Little Elden Springs Horse Camp

Flagstaff, Ariz.

www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/

ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION

Glacier National Park

West Glacier, Mont.

www.nps.gov/glac

Grand Teton National Park

Moose, Wyo.

http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm

Idaho Panhandle State Forests

Line Creek Stock Camp

Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, Colo.

www.nps.gov.romo

San Juan National Forest

Durango, Colo.

www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan

MIDWEST REGION

Huron-Manistee National Forest

Marzinski Equestrian Trail and Campground

Wellston, Mich.

www.fs.usda.gov/activity/hmnf/recreation/horseriding-camping

SOUTH/SOUTHEAST REGION

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

North Carolina; Tennessee

www.nps.gov/grsm/

MID-ATLANTIC/NORTHEAST REGION

Catskill Forest Preserve

Bear Spring Mountain Campground

Downsville, N.Y.

http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24454.html

New Discovery State Park

Peacham, Vt.

www.vtstateparks.com/htm/newdiscovery.htm

Fall-Foliage Riding Vacations

(Trail Mount Provided)

PACIFIC REGION

Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

Solvang, Calif.

www.alisal.com

Bardy’s Trail Rides

Seward, Alaska

www.sewardhorses.com

Brasada Ranch Equestrian Center

Bend, Ore.

www.brasada.com

Denali Horseback Tours

Healy, Alaska

www.denalihorsebacktours.com

Flying Horseshoe Ranch

Cle Elum, Wash.

www.flyinghorseshoeranch.com

Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit

Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

www.mammothpack.com

Minam River Lodge

Joseph, Ore.

www.theminamlodge.com

M Lazy C Ranch

Lake George, Colo.

www.mlazyc.com

Mountain Springs Lodge

Leavenworth, Wash.

www.mtsprings.com

ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION

Bear Basin Packtrips, LLC

Westcliffe, Colo.

www.bearbasinranch.com

Blue Sky Sage Horseback Adventures

Big Piney, Wyo.

www.blueskysage.com

Colorado Trails Ranch

Durango, Colo.

www.coloradotrails.com

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa

Tabernash, Colo.

www.devilsthumbranch.com

Fantasy Ranch Horseback Adventures

Crested Butte, Colo.

www.fantastyranchoutfitters.com

The Historic Triple B Ranch

Woodland Park, Colo.

www.triplebranch.com

Laramie River Ranch

Glendevey, Colo.

www.lrranch.com

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

Red Feather Lakes, Colo.

www.sundancetrail.com

Vista Verde Ranch

Clark, Colo.

www.vistaverde.com

MIDWEST REGION

Hay Creek Stables

Red Wing, Minn.

www.haycreekstables.com

Hiddenbrook Peruvian Farm, LLC

Cambridge, Minn.

www.hiddenbrookperuvians.com

Liberty Valley Ranch

Gaylord, Mich.

www.libertyvalleyranch.com

SOUTH/SOUTHEAST REGION

High Country of North Carolina

Boone, N.C.

www.highcountryhost.com

North Mountain Outfitter

Swoop, Va.

www.northmtnoutfitter.com

Sandy Bottom Trail Rides
Marshall, N.C.
www.sandybottomtrailrides.net

Shangrila Guest Ranch

South Boston, Va.

www.shangrilaguestranch.com

MID-ATLANTIC/NORTHEAST REGION

1000 Acres Ranch Resort

Stony Creek, N.Y.

www.1000acres.com

Farm by the River

North Conway, Maine

www.farmbytheriver.com

Kimberly Farms

North Bennington, Vt.

www.kimberlyfarms.org

The Mountaintop Inn & Resort

Chittenden, Vt.

www.mountaintopinn.com

Mountain View Ranch

Danby, Vt.

www.mountainviewranch.biz

Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company

Ojai, Calif.

www.ojaivalleytrailridingcompany.com

Ridge Valley Riding Stables

Grafton, Mass.

http://ridgevalleystables.com

Top Notch Resort & Spa

Stowe, Vt.

www.topnotchresort.com

Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm

Waitsfield, Vt.

www.icelandichorses.com

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