Leaves are changing color, and there’s a fresh autumnal smell in the air—what a good excuse to explore the great outdoors! Pull on your hiking boots, grab plenty of water, and perhaps a sweater too—because fall is the perfect season for hitting the trail with your little adventurers. To give you an idea of the adventures that lie ahead, we’ve rounded up the best autumn hikes in the country. From mountain rambles and forested strolls to historic walks and more, you can discover them all in the album below.

Rock Cut State Park – Rockford, Il

So named because it was chiseled through the rocks by a river—this state park has lots of activities for the whole family year-round, but is especially lovely in the fall when leaves are painted with red and gold. There’s a lot of wildlife to be seen, including deer, fox, muskrat, beaver and woodchuck (perhaps you can find out how much wood a woodchuck can chuck). There are a few easy hikes in the park including one that loops around a lake. Nearby, you’ll find the town of Rockford—the place where pioneers once forded the fast-moving Rock River in their wagons. Here's some more colorful spots for fall family strolls in the Chicago area.

Insider Tip: Your little hikers can do a spot of bird watching in this park. See if you can spot a Great Blue Heron and a Ruddy Duck. If you're REALLY lucky you may see the elusive Snow Goose!

Online: dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/

photo: Jimi M. via Flickr

Can you recommend a favorite fall hiking spot in your neck of the woods? Tell us about it in the comments below!

— Helen Walker Green