The Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness makes a great objective for anyone who wants to get away from the crowds and loves pristine old-growth forest. The wilderness area contains almost 6,000 acres of old-growth forest and is one of the largest protected wilderness areas east of the Mississippi River. Great care is taken in protecting the trees here, the largest of which rises over 100 feet above the forest floor and are over 400 years old. Some of the larger hemlocks have been afflicted by the hemlock woolly adelgid and have been felled using explosives to mimic natural causes due to ice or storms. The trees are then left to decay naturally to maintain the untouched feel of the forest.
Due to the great protection of the forests here, the fall colors are amazing from mid-October to mid-November. A great variety of trees can be seen including poplar, hemlock, red and white oak, basswood, beech, and sycamore. At higher elevations (over 5,000+ feet), trees will start to change in the second week in October, and the changes will work their way down to the valley floor at 2,600 feet. Peak times for viewing the most complete colors from Stratton Bald and the Hangover would be late October or the first week in November.
The hike itself starts at Joyce Kilmer Road at the main Memorial Forest Trailhead. Hike along the Memorial Forest Loop until the trail opens up along the left side and climbs into the forest. There will be a short off-trail section through mild brush that will connect to the main trail (this off-trail section would be more of a bushwhack in the summer). Once on the main trail, turn right and continue until you reach the intersection with Stratton Bald. A water source and many tent spots exist along the bald, and it makes a perfect place to camp.
The following day takes you along the ridge back to the Hangover intersection, which is a very worthwhile detour for the views over the whole valley to the north. Take the Jenkins Meadow Trail back to the trailhead and walk up the road back to where you parked before. It’s possible to proceed off-trail to cut out the road walking, but this would be more difficult to navigate than the off-trail section at the start your trip.