Catch Colorful Fall Foliage

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.

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.

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.

* 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.

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.

* 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 ( 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)


Flying Horseshoe Ranch

Cle Elum, Wash.

Mountain Springs Lodge

Leavenworth, Wash.

Sierra Meadows Ranch

Mammoth Lakes, Calif.


Cherry Creek Mountain Ranch

Hesperus, Colo.

Fish Creek House Bed & Breakfast

Whitehall, Mont.

The Historic Triple B Ranch

Woodland Park, Colo.

Huckleberry Tent & Breakfast

Clark Fork, Idaho

Rhapsody Ranch

Westcliffe, Colo.


34 Ranch Horseman’s Campground

Herod, Ill.

4-J Big Piney Horse Camp

Waynesville, Mo.

4-Mile State Forest Trail Camp

Grayling, Mich.

Bear Branch Horse Resort

Eddyville, Ill.

Ben’s Happy Trails

Otway, Ohio

Brushy Creek Lodge & Resort

Black, Mo.

Eagle Ranch Resort

Collins, Mo.

Elk Hill State Forest & Trail Camp

Vanderbilt, Mich.

Flying R Ranch

West Plains, Mo.

Hay Creek Ranch

Nemo, S.D.

Hayes Canyon Campground and Cabins

Eddyville, Ill.

Huckleberry Stables & Cabins

Pineville, Mo.

Maplewood State Park

Pelican Rapids, Minn.

Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail

Michigan Trail Riders Association, Inc.

Hale, Mich.

Midwest Trail Ride

Norman, Ind.

The Natural Gait

Harpers Ferry, Iowa

Outback Ranch, Inc.

Houston, Minn.

Palmquist Farm

Brantwood, Wis.

Panther Creek Trail Rides

Tuscumbia, Mo.

Ponderosa Campground

Pineville, Mo.

Spur of the Moment Ranch

Mountain, Wis.


Chunky Gal Stables

Hayesville, N.C.

Circle E Guest Ranch

Belvidere, Tenn.

EJ’s Cottages and Stabling

Dunmore, W.V.

East Fork Campground

Durbin, W.V.

East Fork Stables

Jamestown, Tenn.

Faye Whittemore Farms

Jasper, Ala.

Fort Valley Ranch

Fort Valley, Va.

Horse Lick Creek Retreat

McKee, Ky.

Hungry Horse East, LLC

Ivanhoe, Va.

Iron Mountain Horse Camp

Ivanhoe, Va.

KC Ranch Horse Camp & Trail Ride

Double Springs, Ala.

Lakeview Plantation

Fairfax, S.C.

Lazy Gait Horse Camp

Carter, Ky.

Leatherwood Mountains Resort

Ferguson, N.C.

Misty Oaks Farm

Mills River, N.C.


Orchard Cove

Townsend, Tenn.

Rocky Hollow Horse Camp

Troutdale, Va.

Saddle Valley Campground

Jamestown, Tenn.

Shalimar Farm

Cass, W.V.

True West Campground and Stables

Jamestown, Tenn.


Berkshire Equestrian Center

Richmond, Mass.

Buck N Horse Campground

Groton, N.H.

The Bunkhouse

Washington, Vt.

Cook Forest Scenic Trailride,

Dude Ranch & Campground

Clarion, Pa.

Mane Stay Stables

Glenfield, N.Y.

Memory Lane Vacations

Andover, Maine

Pennsylvania Equine Directory

Schuylkill Haven, Pa.

Pure Country Campground

New Berlin, N.Y.

Sharon’s Horse Heaven

Butler, Pa.

Stepping Stone Ranch

West Greenwich, R.I.

The Wagon Wheel Campground

Warwick, Mass.

Fall-Foliage Trail-Riding Destinations

(Public Lands)


Bridle Trails State Park

Kirkland, Wash.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Herman Creek Horse Camp

Hood River, Ore.

Deschutes National Forest

Quinn Meadows Horse Camp

Bend, Ore.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Vancouver, Wash.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Cuneo Creek Horse Camp

Weott, Calif.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Blackpine Horse Camp

Leavenworth, Wash.

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

Medford, Ore.


Carson National Forest

Taos, N.M.

Coconino National Forest

Little Elden Springs Horse Camp

Flagstaff, Ariz.


Glacier National Park

West Glacier, Mont.

Grand Teton National Park

Moose, Wyo.

Idaho Panhandle State Forests

Line Creek Stock Camp

Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, Colo.

San Juan National Forest

Durango, Colo.


Huron-Manistee National Forest

Marzinski Equestrian Trail and Campground

Wellston, Mich.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

North Carolina; Tennessee


Catskill Forest Preserve

Bear Spring Mountain Campground

Downsville, N.Y.

New Discovery State Park

Peacham, Vt.

Fall-Foliage Riding Vacations

(Trail Mount Provided)


Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

Solvang, Calif.

Bardy’s Trail Rides

Seward, Alaska

Brasada Ranch Equestrian Center

Bend, Ore.

Denali Horseback Tours

Healy, Alaska

Flying Horseshoe Ranch

Cle Elum, Wash.

Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit

Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Minam River Lodge

Joseph, Ore.

M Lazy C Ranch

Lake George, Colo.

Mountain Springs Lodge

Leavenworth, Wash.


Bear Basin Packtrips, LLC

Westcliffe, Colo.

Blue Sky Sage Horseback Adventures

Big Piney, Wyo.

Colorado Trails Ranch

Durango, Colo.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa

Tabernash, Colo.

Fantasy Ranch Horseback Adventures

Crested Butte, Colo.

The Historic Triple B Ranch

Woodland Park, Colo.

Laramie River Ranch

Glendevey, Colo.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

Red Feather Lakes, Colo.

Vista Verde Ranch

Clark, Colo.


Hay Creek Stables

Red Wing, Minn.

Hiddenbrook Peruvian Farm, LLC

Cambridge, Minn.

Liberty Valley Ranch

Gaylord, Mich.


High Country of North Carolina

Boone, N.C.

North Mountain Outfitter

Swoop, Va.

Sandy Bottom Trail Rides
Marshall, N.C.

Shangrila Guest Ranch

South Boston, Va.


1000 Acres Ranch Resort

Stony Creek, N.Y.

Farm by the River

North Conway, Maine

Kimberly Farms

North Bennington, Vt.

The Mountaintop Inn & Resort

Chittenden, Vt.

Mountain View Ranch

Danby, Vt.

Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company

Ojai, Calif.

Ridge Valley Riding Stables

Grafton, Mass.

Top Notch Resort & Spa

Stowe, Vt.

Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm

Waitsfield, Vt.


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