By Michelle Presley, ATC Digital Communications Manager

“Leaf” No Trace This Fall

October 5, 2023

As the crisp air of autumn arrives and leaves begin to paint the landscape with vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow, many outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The Trail, which stretches over 2,190 miles from Maine to Georgia, offers a remarkable opportunity to experience the beauty of changing fall leaves. Leave No Trace principles are for everyone who visits the Trail — not just long-distance hikers. This fall, brush up on your Leave No Trace knowledge so you can enjoy the changing colors and protect the Trail!

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Your journey on the A.T. begins before you ever set foot on the Trail. Before you go, check for Trail Updates and research regulations and potential closures. Be aware of weather forecasts, as fall can bring unpredictable weather. Make sure you have the appropriate gear, clothing, and navigation tools to safely find your way on the Trail during this season. 

Carpool to the Trail when possible and have a back-up itinerary. Fall is one of the busiest times on the Trail, and it’s not unusual for trailhead parking lots to be packed even during the week. 

When you’re planning your trip, be aware that weather changes throughout the year can drastically affect fall foliage. Check for peak leaf changing seasons near you

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Photo shows a hiker's boots standing on top of fallen red leaves

Photo by Paul “Sleeper” Houmann on the White Rocks section of the A.T. in Vermont

The A.T. winds through delicate ecosystems, and fall leaves play a vital role in maintaining the health of these landscapes. When exploring the Trail, stick to established paths and campsites to avoid trampling fragile vegetation. Refrain from creating new trails or disturbing natural areas.  

Looking for places to see fall leaves? Check out our interactive map, which allows you to find scenic overlooks, parking areas, and more.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Remember to carry out all your trash, including food scraps, wrappers, and any other waste. In the fall, it’s also essential to respect the fallen leaves as part of the ecosystem. Avoid disturbing leaf litter, as it plays a vital role in nutrient cycling and soil health.

Leave What You Find

Photo by Tom Scully along the Housatonic River

Resist the temptation to pick or collect leaves, flowers, or other natural objects. Leave everything as you find it so that others can experience the same beauty. 

Minimize Campfire Impact

Autumn evenings can be chilly, but building a campfire along the A.T. is not only against regulations in some areas, but also harmful to the environment. Fall leaves can be particularly dry, increasing the risk of wildfires. Instead, carry a portable stove for cooking and rely on existing fire rings where campfires are permitted. Be responsible with your fuel and fire management to minimize your impact on the ecosystem. Learn more about how you can prevent fall wildfires

Respect Wildlife

Wildlife on the A.T. may be more active during the fall as animals prepare for the winter months. Keep your distance from animals and observe them from afar. Refrain from feeding them, as human food can be harmful to their health. Never leave food unattended — even for a moment to check out a view or visit the privy — and pack out all food waste and trash, even dropped crumbs and compostable food like apple cores and orange peels.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Photo by Maurice Fliess in Harpers Ferry, WV

Fall is a popular time to visit the A.T., and you’re likely to encounter fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Be courteous and considerate of other hikers, respecting their right to enjoy the Trail as much as you do. Keep noise levels down, yield the trail to those going uphill, and practice good trail etiquette. At overlooks and vistas, enjoy the scenery for a moment and snap a photo, then move aside on a durable surface to let others enjoy the view. By fostering a sense of community and respect among Trail visitors, we can all appreciate the beauty of fall on the A.T.