8 Great Fall Birding Trails

One of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth is upon us. Millions of birds are on the wing, covering thousands of miles across oceans and continents. Grab your favorite field guide and hit the road.
A small owl with backlit feathers sits among bare branches on a blue background,
Northern Pygmy-Owl. Photo: Adam Stunkel/Audubon Photography Awards

Great Washington State Birding Trail

This is one of the most detailed and ambitious statewide birding trails in the country. Created by Audubon Washington to celebrate the state's natural diversity, the trail is divided into seven distinct loops, each focusing on a different ecological region, and each with its own maps and site guides. East of the mountains, the Palouse to Pines loop explores grassland and desert country, with many oases that serve to concentrate migrating songbirds. Multiple loops connect parts of the mighty Cascades, guiding you to northern pygmy-owls, pine grosbeaks, varied thrushes, and other forest birds. The loops that meander along the outer coast and Puget Sound lead to tidal flats that host great concentrations of migrant shorebirds in fall. At some ports you can find offshore boat trips to pursue albatrosses, shearwaters, and other seabirds. A companion iPhone app can help you navigate. More info here

California Redwoods Birding Trail

Tucked away in the northwest corner of California are some of the most astonishing landscapes on the continent. This compact trail leads to 43 choice destinations in beautiful Del Norte County. At vantage points along the coast in fall you might look offshore and find such seabirds as rhinoceros auklets and marbled murrelets. On the shoreline, see a pageantry of whimbrels, willets, and other sandpipers marching across the sand. In the magnificent groves of iconic coast redwoods, some towering more than 250 feet in the air, pileated woodpeckers hammer on tree trunks, gray jays lurk, and endangered spotted owls roost in the secluded shadows. Farther inland, in cedar and fir old-growth forests at higher elevations, you might see flashy white-headed woodpeckers, roving flocks of Cassin's finches, or gangs of perky mountain chickadees. More info here.

Great Salt Lake Birding Trails

Much of Utah is desert—magnificent desert, with its own unique beauty. But in northern Utah the desert is interrupted by towering mountains and lush canyons. As if this weren't enough, some of the greatest wetlands on the continent ring the Great Salt Lake. These birding trails, created by the Wasatch Audubon Society, feature 49 destinations. The birding is good all year but especially in the fall, when staggering numbers of birds use this area as an essential migratory stopover. Early in the season, squadrons of American avocets, marbled godwits, long-billed curlews, and dozens of other shorebird species stride across the flats. The lake's open waters hold more than half a million each of Wilson's phalaropes and eared grebes during their peak fall migration, creating a stunning display. More info here

Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trail

With beautiful prairies, forests, and marshes, Wisconsin helped to inspire the great Aldo Leopold's love of nature decades ago. Along this birding trail, the state continues to inspire birders today. Divided into five ecological regions, the trail spotlights 368 sites, many of which are also designated Important Bird Areas. Explore the route during fall migration and you'll converge on natural corridors for southbound birds. Both the Lake Michigan and Mississippi-Chippewa rivers sections offer an abundance of choices for seeing massive movements. Warblers and shorebirds peak in early fall, followed by broad-winged hawks, peregrine falcons, and other raptors, and finally great flights of waterbirds. Tundra swans, canvasbacks, sandhill cranes, and bald eagles are among the birds that make Wisconsin unforgettable in late fall. More info here.

Southwest New Mexico Birding Trail

Sandwiched between Arizona and Texas, New Mexico is sometimes overlooked as a birding state, but it offers remarkable rewards—if you look in the right places. The southwestern region's wild and rugged backcountry holds particular gems. This carefully crafted trail hosts more than 40 of the best birding sites in the state, from quiet desert canyons haunted by crissal thrashers and rock wrens to mountain forests where summer resident olive warblers and hepatic tanagers mix with migratory birds from farther north in early fall. The easternmost points on the trail, along the Rio Grande, include isolated groves of trees that may swarm with Wilson's warblers and other migrant songbirds in fall and reservoirs that attract a surprising diversity of waterbirds. More info here.

Georgia's Colonial Coast Birding Trail

Woodland lanes lined with stately live oaks, glistening tidal flats thronged with sandpipers and terns, and broad, sweeping salt marshes where wading birds abound—these are just a few of the memorable landscapes waiting for visitors along the Georgia coast. Practically anywhere in this region can be good for birding, but to find the best of the best, binocular-clad travelers can focus on the 18 sites featured on this birding trail. Most of these locations are also designated Important Bird Areas, underscoring how vital they are to all sorts of migrating birds that stream by. Birds like black skimmers, clapper rails, and American oystercatchers may be found in every season, and fall migration brings many more, including piping plovers and varied songbird flocks. More info here

America's Wetland Birding Trail (Louisiana)

John James Audubon was profoundly influenced by his time in southern Louisiana in the early 1800s. Travel this remarkable trail and you will begin to understand why. Stunning natural habitats set the stage for 115 birding sites strung together in 12 distinct loops, where you will experience the region's birdlife and its rich Creole culture. Vast interior marshes teem with herons, egrets, ibises, and gallinules, proving that the name "America's wetland" is no idle boast. Along the coast, tidal flats and beaches host huge numbers of migratory sandpipers and plovers. Serious birders often visit the trail's isolated woodland patches near the coast, where odd stray birds from western North America sometimes show up in fall. More info here

New Jersey Birding & Wildlife Trails

Despite its small size, New Jersey's landscape is tremendously varied. These trails, created by New Jersey Audubon, focus on four distinct state regions. On the northwest section's Skylands Trails, see broad-winged hawks and flocks of colorful warblers moving along the ridges. The Meadowlands Trails beckon urbanites from nearby Manhattan, providing an easily accessible route to view short-billed dowitchers, great blue herons, green-winged teal, and even bald eagles. Farther south, the Pine Barrens Trails string together 120 wildlife areas in and around the million-acre Pinelands National Preserve. The Delaware Bayshore Trails culminate at Cape May Point, the world-famous birding hotspot at which thousands of migrating raptors pass by. Throughout the fall, northwest winds bring parades of high-flying travelers, from warblers and sparrows to peregrine falcons. More info here. 

An earlier version of this article contained an illustration by Noah Woods