When we think of fall, we think of fall color, we think of hiking.

Which is curious, because when we’re looking for great color, we tend to look for it on trails along water. Creeks, streams, ponds, lakes — the colors of autumn seem to have extra sizzle along their banks. So … wouldn’t it make sense to view fall color from the water?

Indeed. For whatever reason, some riparian spots seem more prone to projecting the raspberry reds, lemony yellows and orange oranges of the season. Here’s a quick look at five paddles, in the Piedmont and at the coast, where you’ll enjoy fall a little bit more. Maybe because of the color, maybe for other reasons. We give you a quick snapshot of the paddle, then a link to our online guide of more than 220 adventures where you can find details on how to turn this virtual escape into reality.

1. Merchants Millpond
Merchants Millpond State Park

The tan-to-firey orange of the bald cypress and brilliant scarlet of the tupelo gum create a stunning show unlike what you’ll find in the Piedmont. The color is all the more intense highlighted by the dark, tannic waters of a millpond swamp, the bright green mats of duckweed that float about, and the cloudless blue skies so common this time of year. Rent a canoe for $5 an hour and quickly let the color on this 760-acre millpond envelop you as you make your way through this maze  of color. It’s easy to lose yourself at Merchants Millpond — literally. Be sure to keep an out for the color-coded trail makers designating the 12 miles of paddle trail. One of the state’s top adventure bargains made even more irresistible in autumn.

More info here.

2. Mountain Island Lake
Latta Plantation

Mountain Island Lake, like most of our favorite natural spots to paddle, was, ironically, the result of rapid development, in this case to meet the growing hydroelectric and drinking water needs of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. Because of its role as a water source, the surrounding 61 miles of shoreline along this 3,281-acre lake are brimming with the healthy hardwoods that give a Piedmont forest its autumn glow. Already, the sourwoods and dogwoods are red beacons along the banks, their brilliance underscoring the color’s subliminal suggestion to stop and wait. You likely won’t speed through the yellows of oaks, sycamores and hickories, opting instead to slow and proceed with appreciative caution. Access? Five ramps ease you into a variety of paddling options.

More info here.

3. Dan River
Stokes County

Like the notion of paddling beneath steep cliff faces on one side of the river and lush forest on the other? It’s a trip you normally don’t associate with the Piedmont — unless you’re familiar with the Dan River, which snakes down from Virginia and runs through North Carolina’s border counties. That run includes a stretch along the north edge of the once-mighty Sauratown Mountains, which even today rise more than a thousand feet above the surrounding countryside. The Preserve and Park Run which borders both Hanging Rock State Park and the thousand-acre Hammer-Stern Wilderness Preserve offers color both up close and, when a break in the forest allows, up the slopes of the looking Sauratown mountains.

More info here.

4. Zeke’s Island
The Basin

It’s not so much about the color along the barrier islands but the chance to experience a last gasp of warm weather minus the departed summer crowds. It’s also a chance to paddle one of the healthiest estuaries in the region, an area of tidal flats, salt marshes, shrub thickets maritime forests, dunes and beach. The 1,635-acre Zeke’s Island National Estuarine Research Reserve is a nursery to fish, shrimp, crabs, clams, and oysters, while the Atlantic loggerhead and green sea turtles, federally protected threatened species, nest on the site’s open beaches. The opportunity to experience Zeke’s Island in the quiet of fall makes it an extra special seasonal paddle.

More info here.

5. Bear Island
Hammocks Beach State Park

Again, while you will see some color in the maritime forest on this three-mile-island’s east end, that’s not the key driver for a fall paddle. If you’ve been to Bear Island from Memorial Day to Labor Day, you’ve likely made the trip via the park’s mass transit system, a ferry that runs as often as every 30 minutes, depositing scores of sun worshippers a short walk from the park’s beach-based bathouse. In October, the ferry only runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday; from November through March, it runs not at all; the only way to the island is by boat. In your case, via canoe or kayak on the 2.6-mile paddle trail. Picture yourself alone (or nearly so) on a North Carolina beach on a sunny, 70-degree day and you’ll understand why Bear Island makes our list.

More info here.

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For more adventures, check out our online guide to adventure, here.