Each fall, scenic byways across the country swell with visitors savoring the crisp autumn air and brilliant colors of leaf-peeping season. As magical as National Forest scenic byways can be, many bike trails on those same forests can be just as awe-inspiring. If you’re leaf-peeping this season, consider switching four wheels to two and move at a slower pace as you soak in the autumn colors. Here are eight colorful rides you won't want to miss.

Photo by Susan Foster.

Lookout Mountain Loop

George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, Virginia

Peak color in late October

In the fall, you could bike just about anywhere in the Appalachian Mountains and be greeted by the vibrant colors of oaks, maples, and other deciduous trees that make up the region’s beautiful forests. But if you are looking for that classic view of mountain ridge after mountain ridge of fall color, try the Lookout Mountain Loop. From the exposed ridgeline, you will have amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley, the North River, and Trimble Mountain.

Photo by Justin Kulacz.

Government Trail

White River National Forest, Colorado

Peak color in early October

This 6.6 mile ride from the Snowmass Ski Area to the Buttermilk Ski Area near Aspen, Colorado, challenges riders with technical, rocky sections, and rewards them with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Along the trail riders can bask in the glow of golden aspen groves and feel the chill in the air as they make their way through rolling hills and lush meadows.

Photo by Amy Novotny.

Arizona Trail (Aspen Corner to FR 418)

Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Peak color in mid- to late October

The seven miles of the Arizona Trail from Aspen Corner to FR 418 in the San Francisco Peaks pass through some of the most spectacular fall scenery in the Southwest. This section of the trail offers an easy yet rewarding ride through Arizona’s picturesque high-country, taking riders through soaring aspen groves and alpine meadows with plenty of scenic overlooks in between.

Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

Wasatch Crest Trail

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah

Peak color in early October

The Wasatch Crest Trail is not only one of the best fall mountain biking experiences in Utah, but one of the best mountain biking trails in the country. The Wasatch Crest Trail follows the ridge between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Park City where riders can enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains before descending into Mill Creek Canyon. Once riders descend into the canyon, they are taken through miles of golden aspen groves and fiery currants, rose hips, and elderberry. This trail is challenging, but well worth the reward.

Photo by Amy Bult.

Upper Buffalo Headwaters

Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, Arkansas

Peak color in late October

This route is an International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) EPIC for a reason. The Upper Buffalo Headwaters presents riders with countless challenges and epic adventures as they traverse one of the most gorgeous landscapes in the Ozark Mountains. Top it off with the vibrant golds and reds of autumn, and you get a riding experience that can’t be beat. This is an intermediate ride through old-growth, hardwood forests with steep cliffs, majestic waterfalls and plenty of great views that will have you coming back for more.

Photo by Chelsea Murawski.

North Country Trail - Marilla Trailhead

Huron & Manistee National Forests, Michigan

Peak color in early to mid-October

Filled with tough climbs, amazing views, and tons of fall foliage, this nearly 30-mile Midwestern ride holds its own against Appalachian competitors. This section of the North Country Trail has some of the longest downhill sections of any trail in the area and while physically demanding, it is not technically difficult. Slow down and enjoy riding through majestic forests of poplar, maple, and elm or stop to take in the views at one of the many overlooks along the trail.

Photo by Tania C. Parra, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

Santa Ana River Trail (SART) 2E03

San Bernardino National Forest, California

Peak color in late October and early November

Don’t be too quick to write off Southern California when you are looking for fall color. This 13.7 mile stretch of the Santa Ana River Trail near Angelus Oaks, California is full of gold and red late in the season. The trail weaves through alpine hills and meadows, treating riders to dramatic cliffs, quite creeks, and stunning views of the Santa Ana River Valley. This trail is great for riders looking for variety and a bit of a challenge. End at Middle Control Road, or continue on to the Pacific Ocean and enjoy the Southern California coast.

Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

Cutthroat Trail

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington

Peak color in early October

Despite its nickname “The Evergreen State”, Washington is home to a diverse mix of conifers and deciduous forests that give the region its iconic mix of deep greens and bright yellows, oranges, and reds in the fall. This scenic 12-mile out-and-back climb up Cutthroat Pass treats riders to stunning views of the Cascades in their full autumn glory. On the way, you will pass Cutthroat Lake, and numerous groves of larches, a local favorite and one of the only conifers whose needles turn a brilliant yellow-orange in the fall. Most of the trail is easily rideable, but it does have some technical sections.

Know Before You Go

Before heading out on your next adventure, familiarize yourself with biking etiquette, safety, and Leave No Trace principles, and be prepared with a backup plan if trailhead lots are full. These are popular trails, so be sure to minimize your impact by only using open roads and trails and avoid user-created trails that can contribute to erosion, disrupt wildlife, and endanger rare or sensitive plants. Remember, we are all stewards of public lands, and together, we can preserve these incredible landscapes for generations to come.

Cover photo by Dan Zamostny.


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