Art Loeb Trail, North Carolina
Black Balsam trailhead to Shining Rock Wilderness; 8.6 miles, loop
The Blue Ridge Mountains have the East's highest peaks, at over 6,000 feet, and this trail, starting from the Black Balsam parking lot, takes you straight to a 360-degree vantage point of the most dramatic ones, including Cold Mountain. In late fall, the hillsides are awash in reds and oranges. "Most people do this as an out-and-back, but it's better to make it a loop by using the Ivestor Gap Trail," says Jennifer Pharr Davis, owner of Blue Ridge Hiking Company. The trail will put you beneath the forest canopy rather than above it, and if the timing's right, the leaves will rain down on you.
Après Hike: It's an hour's drive to Asheville along the ridiculously scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, a worthy pursuit even without the legendary baby back ribs awaiting you at 12 Bones Smokehouse.