It’s hard to be sad about the passing of summer when autumn’s cool weather and majestic colors make their way to the Blue Ridge. Whether you’re a paddler, climber, biker, or hiker, we have a trip for you that will revamp your faith in the beauty and power of nature. Here is your guide to Blue Ridge Autumn Adventures:
Russell Fork, Va./Ky.
Starting in southwest Virginia and running north through parts of Kentucky, the Russell Fork offers novice and advanced paddlers alike the chance to see some of the region’s most spectacular scenery. For newer paddlers, catch the whitewater releases in October to run the stretch from Flannagan Dam on the Pound River to the take out at Garden Hole, a great class II-IV run. For experienced creekers, try the class IV+ Russell Fork Gorge, which starts at Garden Hole and takes paddlers through a 1600-foot gorge of full-on whitewater.
Nolichucky River, Tenn.
Stretching for 115 miles through parts of North Carolina and Tennessee, this natural flow river typically has at least one section that runs year-round. The challenging and scenic class III-IV gorge of this river starts near Poplar, N.C., and ends eight miles downstream at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground in Erwin, Tenn. Playboaters especially should enjoy this run, as it offers multiple opportunities for surfing.
No Place Like Home (5.11c): Red River Gorge, Ky.
For sport climbers looking for a good challenge and some epic exposure, try this Red River Gorge classic. The 100-foot arête requires climbers to use a minimum of a 60m rope (although 70m is preferred). The run-out leading to the first high bolt can be intimidating but is manageable. If you’re feeling leery, bring a #4 Camelot and some slings.
Photo Finish (5.9): New River Gorge, W.Va
One of the most iconic climbs of the New River Gorge, this route affords climbers a chance to literally have a photo finish, so make sure to bring a camera. The 40-foot trad line is an extension of its neighbor, the 5.9 Super Crack. The surrounding Beauty Mountain area is a must-see when climbing in the Gorge and a great place to catch the sunset.
Bear Creek: Ellijay, Ga.
For advanced bikers, Bear Creek offers a challenging 10-mile loop that can give out-of-towners a true taste of the Blue Ridge. The trail is about 50 percent narrow singletrack and 50 percent doubletrack on old fire roads and can be started at a variety of trailheads sprinkled throughout the area. The final climb is rewarding for two reasons: one, for the stunning view at the top and two, for the beastly downhill spin that finishes up the loop.
Virginia Creeper Trail: Damascus, Va.
Family vacations don’t have to be painful. Grab the kids, dogs, and grandma for a cruise on the Creeper. No bikes? No worries. Hit up one of the bike shops in town for a rental bike and helmet as well as a shuttle to the top. The most popular section takes you from Whitetop Station back to your car in Damascus, a 17-mile downhill cruise that follows the scenic Whitetop Laurel Creek.
Cold Mountain: Pisgah National Forest, N.C.
Nestled in the Shining Rock Wilderness of North Carolina, Cold Mountain is known for more than its blockbuster claim to fame. At 6,030 feet, the climb to Cold Mountain is steep and traverses some of the region’s highest peaks. For a challenging 2-day hike, take the Ivestor Gap and Art Loeb Trails for an 18-mile taste of stiff climbs, unparalleled views, ridgewalks, and hollows thick with rhododendron.
Baughman Trail: Ohiopyle State Park, Penn.
If you’re driving through the area and want a challenging out and back hike, take the Baughman Trail to the Baughman Rock Overlook. The trail can be accessed from two trailheads, one near the Middle Yough takeout parking lot and the other at the Sugarloaf Snowmobile and Mountain Bike Area. The going gets tough pretty quickly, so be prepared for some strenuous hiking but some truly rewarding panoramic views of the Laurel Highlands and Ohiopyle State Park.