An insider's guide to the gorges that provide the most colorful leaf-peeping adventures.\r\nI\u2019ve been away from the Blue Ridge mountains for a while. This autumn, I\u2019m moving back, trading in the yellow aspens of Colorado for the color-filled palette of home. I\u2019m looking forward to fall here, this season of change.\r\nThere is perhaps no place more dramatic for viewing the foliage of autumn than from a gorge, as waterfalls slip over banks and rivers rush between mountainsides brushed in orange, yellow, and red.\r\nThe juxtaposition of change, fast and slow, is appreciated in the gorge. Rocks and rivers that have run over eons, shaping one another, in harmony with the leaves that have lived a year, have changed, just for the season.\r\nMore than a fall drive, these regional gorges, all of which are also national or state parks, national rivers, nature conservancy preserve, and federally designated wilderness areas, also offer an array of recreation options. From ziplining and horseback riding to hiking and canoeing, opportunities abound.\r\nPack a picnic, raft, bike, running shoes, selfie stick, paddles, and head out! Peak foliage change is weather dependent, so check online or call parks directly.\r\n\r\nNew River Gorge National River, W.Va.\r\n\u201cThere will be a breeze. Because you\u2019re so high up in the mountains here, there\u2019s always a wind blowing,\u201d says Mandy Wriston, Bridge Day Coordinator. \u201cYou\u2019ll chill a little bit, wait for the sunshine, take a fresh breath of air when the wind comes through, smell on it the leaves that are starting to decay. That smell-you know it's fall.\u201d\r\nOn Bridge Day, held annually on the third Saturday of October, over 80,000 people descend upon New River Gorge, the bridge bouncing slightly under their weight. BASE jumpers in halloween-like costumes take flight, torpedoing through the gorge towards the New River, rushing 800+ feet below. Spectators lean over to snap shots.\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s all this color\u2014the vendors, the BASE jumpers\u2019 crazy outfits, and amid all of that, the foliage. The fall leaves frame the whole picture,\u201d says Wriston.\r\nNot into crowds? Most other fall days, seekers of solitude can find that here, too.\r\n\u201cIt does not feel like a crowded park in most areas. I\u2019ve worked in lots of parks, like Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, that get lots of people and you don\u2019t get the access you do here. It\u2019s a big enough park, people can spread themselves out,\u201d says Public Affairs Officer for the park, Julena Campbell. Fall is one of her favorite times of the year.\r\nInsider tip: The day after Bridge Day is the most visited day for the park. If you\u2019re looking for a mix of fanfare and quiet, plan your trip a couple days leading up to and into Bridge Day.\r\nTopography: The park spans 70,000 acres. The Gorge is the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. The New River, one of the oldest rivers on the continent, continues to carve the gorge among the largest remaining area of Mid-Atlantic forest in the world.\r\nPeak viewing: Typically the 3rd and 4th weeks of October.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, climbing, picnicking, camping, fishing, birding, canoeing.\r\n\r\nGauley River National Recreation Area, W.Va.\r\nHigh waters and class V+ rapids are a thrill that many whitewater adventurers seek. They find both at the Gauley.\r\nThe Gauley River runs 25 miles, through a series of breathtaking gorges and valleys. Many like to soak in the views from the water, especially in autumn, when water is high and the trees are at peak.\r\n\u201cFall is known as Gauley season. The Dam on Summersville Lake is opened in the fall by the U.S. Army Corps and water comes tumbling out,\u201d says Public Affairs Officer, Julena Campbell.\r\nWith the waters come the people. \u201cTens of thousands flock for the release of the dam the first couple of weeks of September,\u201d says Campbell. The Gauley Festival ensues, 4 days of vendor booths and food.\r\nIt\u2019s also a great location for fishing or passing a day, sitting on the riverbank.\r\n\u201cAll of the typical eastern woodlands leaves are changing. The cooler temperatures are nice for hiking, picnicking and watching fall migration of birds,\u201d says Campbell.\r\nPeak Viewing: Third and fourth weeks of October.\r\nTopography: The Gauley River, used by Native Americans for 10,000 years, runs 105 miles through the mountains of West Virginia, before merging with the New River. Together, they form the Kanawha River, a tributary of the Ohio River.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Fishing, camping, whitewater paddling.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nLinville Gorge Wilderness Area, N.C.\r\nHiking Linville takes grit. Trails are primitive and strenuous.\r\n\u201cPeople come to Linville to get away from it all. That\u2019s the beauty of the wilderness area. It\u2019s totally different from our everyday lives now. We can get away from cell phones. We can sit by a river, can sit on a mountaintop, can clear our minds,\u201d says Lisa Jennings, Recreation Program Manager, with Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest.\r\nElevation changes over 2,800 feet, from floor to highest point. This makes for a long viewing season. \u201cYou can see fall color creep from the top to the bottom, starting early October at the higher elevations on north end, and towards the beginning of November, in the lower elevations. It peaks at different times.\u201d\r\nOne of Jennings\u2019 favorite autumn hikes is Babel Tower trail. \u201cIt\u2019s one of the less popular hikes. You go inside the gorge. Halfway down the gorge, you still have these really cool mid-range views, and an up close view of fall foliage.\u201d\r\nIf you\u2019re not up for a strenuous hike, Wiseman Overlook, located right outside the park (one exit south of Linville Falls entrance), provides views of the gorge, and also of Brown Mountain. Observations of strange lights, origin unknown, above Brown Mountain date back to Cherokee records. During the day, folks flock to the overlook for fall photos, and at night, to try to catch a glimpse of the lights.\r\nTopography: The gorge is formed by the Linville River bisecting Jonas Ridge and Linville Mountain. The river drops 2,000 feet, spilling into the valleys below. View rugged terrain, with rock formations and waterfalls.\r\nPeak viewing: Early October to early November.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Hiking, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, night sky photography, highlining.\r\n\r\nThe Breaks\/Russell Fork Gorge, VA & Ky.\r\nI\u2019m working on this article, asking my 2.5 year old if she wants to go to the Breaks with me this Fall.\r\nShe\u2019s enthustaitic about going, but also concerned.\r\n\u201cWhat\u2019s broken?\u201d she wants to know.\r\nI explain.\r\nShe listens. Thinks. Starts moving. She\u2019s got a plastic hammer in her hand, is looking for a wrench.\r\n\u201cI\u2019m gonna take my toolbelt to fix the mountain,\u201d she says.\r\nPine Mountain is the mountain she\u2019s referring to, a mountain almost completely unbroken along its length until the Russell Fork River \u201cbreaks\u201d through it by flowing through the gorge.\r\nIn the fall, visitors like to stand at State Line Overlook and take pictures of the two states-Kentucky and Virginia, side by side. The drive to the overlook provides some of the best fall foliage viewing in the park.\r\nElk, deer and black bears become more active around the park during this season.\r\nOne of the best ways to experience the park is by staying the night. \u201cScreech owls call out into the evening. You might not see them, but you\u2019ll hear them at night. Or, a lone coyote,\u201d says Shay Wilson, Marketing and Interpretive Programs Coordinator. The park has over 100 campsites, primitive to full hook up, as well as yurts.\r\nAnother way to experience the colors is the Canyon Rim Zipline. Installed in 2017, the 2,000-foot long line whizzes visitors through the gorge, in a Fall blur of red, orange, and yellow.\r\n\u201cIn October, many guests go whitewater rafting or kayaking on the Russell Fork River. From two of our overlooks, you can actually see the bright colors of the kayaks and whitewater rafts going down the river,\u201d says Wilson.\r\nTopography: The Breaks is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. Pine Mountain forms a 125-mile long border between Kentucky and Virginia.\r\nPeak viewing: Weather dependent, but typically the 2nd and 3rd weeks of October\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Twenty-five miles of hiking trails, whitewater rafting, ziplining, rock climbing, mountain biking, pedal boating and canoes, horseback riding, geocaching, birding, fishing.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nBig South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tenn., Ky.\r\nBig South Fork contains the second largest number of natural sandstone arches in the National Park Service (only Arches National Park in Utah has more).\r\n\u201cThere are 156 of them. They\u2019re beautiful. If you're in the Tennessee side of the park, and you want to check something out, go on the hike to see Twin Arches. It\u2019s a beautiful walk, right under arches,\u201d says Christopher Derman, Chief of Interpretation and Education for Big South Fork and Obed Wild and Scenic River.\r\n\u201c(Visitation) kicks up around the fall. People come because of the wide variety of foliage, the trees you can find here, in a wide kaleidoscope of colors, bright red of dogwood trees, yellows from maples and poplars, evergreen that stays green. There\u2019s a wide variety of colors that makes it appealing to leaf peepers,\u201d says Derman, using a name he fondly ascribes to fall visitors.\r\nThe park was established in 1974 to provide community access to recreation activities. \u201cIf you can name it, you pretty much can do it, hiking mountain biking, hunting, birdwatching,\u201d Derman says, \u201cto name a few.\u201d\r\n\u201cAnother great thing about Great South Fork is our visitation. We don\u2019t get a lot of visitors like other parks, and that's a big deal to visitors, who don\u2019t want to go to a park and be bumping into people all the time. Here, you can be on trail and not see anyone else the whole time,\u201d says Derman, who jokes that rangers from the Smokies come here for vacation.\r\nTopography: Big South Fork comprises 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau. The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River has, over eons, carved sandstone into cliffs, arches and chimneys, features visitors can observe throughout the park.\r\nPeak viewing: Early to mid-October.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Camping, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, hunting, mountain biking, paddling, picnicking, ranger-led Night Sky and Astronomy programs, annual Haunting in the Hills Storytelling Festival.\r\n\r\nLittle River Canyon, Ala.\r\nLittle River runs most of its length atop Lookout Mountain. Reaching depths of over 600 feet at sections, it flows through waterfalls, rushing past changing trees.\r\nFall is beautiful here. \u201cOak, hickory maple and poplar are some of the dominant species. Depending on the weather, we get oranges, reds, some yellows, and if we have a good year, if we have a lot of moisture, the leaves hang on and they all get together,\u201d says park ranger Larry Beane.\r\n\u201cLots of years, there are two peaks. One, mid-October. Then if there\u2019s a rain, it knocks off the first round, and the second week of November, there might be another peak,\u201d says Beane.\r\nThe park boasts over 100 rare plants and animals, including several species of caddisflies that have only been located here.\r\n\u201cThere are all kinds of beautiful flowers, and they bring the butterflies, and you can smell both the flowers and the leaves that are on the ground,\u201d says Beane. Late summer\/fall flowers include blazing star and coreopsis. \u201cI like it when they\u2019re all blooming\u2014it\u2019s a yellow and purple garden at some of the rock outcrops,\u201d says Beane.\r\nThe canyon itself starts with a 45 foot waterfall, Little River Falls. The flow varies seasonally, from 3 feet to 150 feet across. Within a mile of the fall, the river is 100 feet deep. Little River runs through a series of bluffs, cliffs, and rapids.\r\nThree waterfalls are located within the preserve: DeSoto Falls, Little River Falls, and the seasonally flowing Grace\u2019s High Falls, Alabama\u2019s highest waterfall, at 133 feet.\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s beautiful but it\u2019s unforgiving. I encourage safety, every chance I get,\u201d says Beane.\r\nTopography: waterfalls, canyon rims, sandstone cliffs.\r\nPeak viewing: Mid-October, and again, mid-November.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Hiking, fishing, playing in the river, picnic tables at most overlooks, hunting season in backcountry, horseback riding, educational programs at Canyon Center.\r\n\r\nTallulah Gorge State Park, Ga\r\nGo early. Early risers can obtain permits to hike the gorge floor. It\u2019s a tough but rewarding hike.\r\n\u201cYou have to cross the river. It\u2019s about knee deep moving water, with boulders that help you cross. You get wet on this hike. After that, you\u2019re hiking downstream in the gorge. It\u2019s all unmarked and primitive, flowing water, scrambling over boulders and fallen logs. After you hike \u00be of a mile, you get to Bridal Veil Falls, the only waterfall you can\u2019t see from above,\u201d says Interpretive Ranger for the park, Joell Zalatan.\r\nThe Interpretive Center issues 100 permits each day, except during water releases.\r\nEven if you\u2019re not an early bird, you can still get a bird\u2019s eye view of the gorge. Hike a rim trail, or walk the park\u2019s suspension bridge that sways 80 feet over the gorge, providing the sensation you\u2019re walking across air (it\u2019s been done; tightrope walkers have twice tiptoed across lines crossing the gorge).\r\nFall brings color to the gorge. \u201cPoplars give us bright yellow, there are lots of maples, with those brighter red colors, sumac gives that deeper red, oaks gives us orange and yellows,\u201d says Zalatan.\r\nIt is a place steeped in mystery and lore. \u201cThere are many stories and legends about Tallulah Gorge\u201d says Zalatan.\r\nShe tells a story about the Nunnehi people. \u201cThis wild country was inhabited by a race of little men and women living in the crevices of the rocks and under the waterfalls. These little people lured the Cherokee into a cave in the side of Tallulah Gorge. The entrance to this cave was called the Happy Hunting Ground because those who entered were not heard from again.\u201d\r\nTopography: Tallulah Gorge, almost 1,000 feet deep, stretches for two miles, across the 2,689-acre park. Tallulah Falls is a one-mile series of waterfalls.\r\nPeak viewing: Mid-October through mid-November. Insider Tip: Visitors can follow the GA State Parks Leaf Watch on Facebook to see how the colors are progressing and when the expected peak is.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Hike, kayak, picnic, ranger-led hikes, mountain bike, rock climbing. Check website for fall water release dates.\r\n\r\nCloudland Canyon, Ga.\r\nStay late. Sunset hikes are a must. Park staff leads weekly hikes from the West Rim lot. \u201cYou walk up a service road, not a road people normally drive, you are sitting on a rock, at the top of the mountain, with an unobstructed view looking at the sun going down at the other side of Sand Mountain,\u201d says Assistant Park Manager Woody Hughes.\r\nMorning is beautiful, too.\r\n\u201cIn the morning, especially in the fall, you are in the clouds here. You are able to stand in them, feel the cool air from the cloud, the moisture. The name fits. You can watch them roll out of the canyon. In the evening, they roll right back in. For the majority of the cooler months, you\u2019re actually above them, you can see the clouds below you.\u201d\r\nStart the next day with a drive along West Rim road. Stop at Main Overlook for a pic and picnic. Then, hike a trail into the canyon via Waterfalls Trail, a 600+ stair trail, leading to Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls.\r\n\u201cIn the fall, the leaves are changing as you\u2019re going down into the canyon. Walking amongst them, you immerse yourself in the colors of the leaves on either side. As you\u2019re going further down the stairs, more changes are apparent; it takes a little longer for those leaves at the bottom to change,\u201d says Hughes, \u201cYou get to witness it from the top down. One day everything is green, the next everything's changing color.\u201d\r\nTopography: Part of the Cumberland Plateau, Cloudland Canyon State Park is located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain. The gorge\u2019s deep, sandstone and shale canyon walls are cut by Sitton Gulch Creek.\r\nPeak viewing: Between October 1st and the second week of November.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: Hiking, caving, disc golf, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Campsites, cabins. Also, fall brings some unique recreation opportunities to the park, including a Catfish Rodeo and hayrides.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nJack\u2019s Narrows, Pa.\r\nFloat through fall. Two new community-owned river access projects on the Juniata River have opened up a section of the waterway to inner tubes, kayaks, canoes and rafts. The two launches, located at Mapleton and Mt. Union, bookend Jack's Narrows, the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania.\r\nThis gentle stretch of the river flows for 3.3 miles, through the fall foliage growing up the steep banks of the gorge.\r\n\u201cFall (and winter) are great times to visit to find peace and quiet. It\u2019s never crowded,\u201d says Ed Stoddard, Marketing Director for the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau. He suggests a float and hike combo. \u201cOur trails are always open."\r\nThousand Steps (actually 1,200 stairs) is the most popular fall hike. In the 1930s, workers placed boulders up the mountainside to aid their commute to and from nearby rock quarries. Today, hikers and runners take to the stairs for a heart-pounding ascent to the top of Jacks Mountain.\u00a0 \r\n\u201cWhen you\u2019ve done the hard work to get up there, climbed Thousand Steps, you get to the top, and you see the whole valley laid out before you, the fall color around you, you feel the crisp air, it\u2019s just a special place on earth,\u201d says Stoddard.\r\nTopography: Deep gorge and water gap, cutting through sandstone.\r\nPeak viewing: Late September into early October.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: bike, hike, run, paddle, float, fish, hunt.\r\n\r\nPine Creek Gorge, PA\r\nPine Creek Gorge, viewed from lookouts within Tioga State Forest, is a rainbow of color in the Fall.\r\nAutumn leaves tremble in the breeze, against a backdrop of canyon walls, themselves layers of gray, red, brown and green.\r\n\u201cI\u2019ve been there on days, stopped at the lookouts, and the fog is so thick, it looks like you could walk out across it,\u201d says Tom Oliver, Recreation Forester for the park.\r\n\u201cI would suggest checking out as many of the views as possible. Maybe even getting down into the canyon, by bike or from a hike from Leonard Harrison.\u201d\r\nOliver suggests the Turkey Path. \u201cIt goes all the way from the top to the bottom, pretty much at the heart of the gorge. Once you\u2019re down in there, and you can actually see just how high up the surrounding hillsides are, and the surrounding cliffs, it\u2019s pretty remarkable.\u201d\r\nHistorically, Native Americans used trails all around, but did not enter the gorge itself. There was superstition around the darkness of it. Now, between 30,000-40,000 visitors a year make their way to the canyon bottom to access Pine Creek Rail Trail.\r\nPine Creek Rail Trail is a converted railroad bed that weaves along the floor of the canyon for 62 miles, from Wellsboro Junction, to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. This highly popular, scenic trail is the perfect way to view fall colors.\r\n\u201cWe almost have two fall foliage peaks,\u201d says Oliver. \u201cThe northern hardwoods, maples, beech, birch, ash and cherries, those types of species change first. Mid-October to late October is the peak. Then, all the oak species after that will change. That\u2019s usually the first or second week of November. \u201c\r\nAlong the way, you\u2019re likely to see beavers, white-tailed deer, turkeys, river otters, and bald eagles.\r\nInsider tip: Two state parks, located on the northern end of the gorge, also provide great foliage viewing: Colton Point State Park to the west and Leonard Harrison State Park to the east.\r\nTopography: Forty-seven-mile-long gorge, with walls composed of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, and shale.\r\nPeak viewing: Mid-October to mid-November.\r\nRecreation Opportunities: hiking, biking, mountain biking, horse riding, picnicking, kayaking, fishing, hunting.\r\n\r\nMore Gorge-Ous Views\r\nMather Gorge, Maryland, is cut by the Potomac River. Hike Section A of the Billy Goat Trail; it follows the gorge from bellow Great Falls to Anglers Inn.\r\nBottom Creek Gorge, Virginia, a preserve maintained by the Nature Conservancy, has 5 miles of moderate trails, a lake, and the second highest waterfall in the VA. Also known for rare aquatic species.\r\nBald River Gorge Wilderness, Tennessee, comprises 3,791 acres of Cherokee National Forest. Bald River is a small, wild trout stream. It\u2019s a great location for fishing, hiking, picnicking.