There’s no other time of year quite like fall. Brisk, cool mornings give way to afternoons warmed by the sun, and the drop in temperature causes leaves to change from shades of green to a kaleidoscope of warm colors before winter sets in. The displays of color are different across the U.S., but they’re all brilliant when leaf-peeping season is at its peak. In the West, the reds, oranges and bright golden hues of the quaking aspens are dramatic against the backdrop of the mountains and the verdant pine, spruce and fir trees. In the Northeast – New England, for example – and other parts of the country where species like red maple and birch are prominent, the trees radiate with bold displays of yellows, deep reds, coppers and oranges.
Peak foliage season varies by region and by year, depending on the weather, so it’s best to check with local sources before you go. Many top destinations to view fall’s splendor have leaf and foliage reports, maps and trackers so you can follow the local predictions and current conditions – and arrive just in time for the best of the season. Some of these destinations will be familiar, while others are lesser-known locales where you can capture and embrace fall’s beauty. So, pack your jacket and jeans, then grab your camera for one of nature’s most spectacular spectacles.
(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park encompasses more than 47,000 acres along the rocky coast of Maine. Located about 160 miles northeast of Portland, the park boasts the diverse natural beauty of the Atlantic shoreline, including majestic mountains. The leaves traditionally start to change color in the higher elevations in Acadia around late September, but the real peak season falls in early October. This is when you’ll see the vibrant displays of oranges, reds and yellows, especially along the Acadia All-American Road, one of the best scenic drives to view the fall colors.
While visiting Acadia, plan to stay in the nearby coastal town of Bar Harbor, considered to be the gateway to the park. Bar Harbor Inn & Spa, situated along picturesque Frenchman Bay, is an outstanding choice for an overnight stay: The historic property offers impressive views of the water as well as Maine’s Porcupine Islands. While in town, take a whale watching tour and treat yourself to a traditional lobster dinner at Beal’s Lobster Pier.
McKenzie River Scenic Byway, Oregon
(Melanie Griffin/Courtesy of Eugene, Cascades & Coast)
The 34-mile McKenzie River Scenic Byway extends from the vineyards of the Willamette Valley to the forests of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, treating travelers and road-trippers to views of some of the Pacific Northwest’s most beautiful landscapes. Plan your visit for peak season when the golds and reds are most vibrant, usually in mid-October.
The McKenzie River is one of Oregon’s favorites for fly-fishing, so anglers will want to cast off for native redside rainbow and cutthroat trout along the way. Other highlights include stops at local farm stands, the historic Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery in Leaburg and the state’s second-longest covered bridge – Goodpasture Bridge, located in Vida. For an extended getaway that includes days spent fly-fishing, whitewater rafting and hiking to waterfalls, make reservations at the Eagle Rock Lodge, a romantic bed-and-breakfast in Vida.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Situated about 130 miles west of Boston and surrounded by mountains, the Berkshires are one of the most scenic places in Massachusetts to watch the colors change. During the foliage season, which usually starts in late September and hits its peak in mid-October, you can expect to see colors ranging from golden yellows to vivid oranges to deep reds. If you’re up for a hike, take the Stony Ledge trail from the Williamstown side of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in the Berkshires at nearly 3,500 feet. This route offers one of the best viewing points of the foliage from midway up the mountain.
Back on the ground, the Berkshires feature world-class arts and entertainment offerings alongside a deep-rooted food culture with many locally focused dining options. You can also explore the apple orchards and hops farms along the Berkshire Beer & Cider Trail. For accommodations, plan to splurge on a stay at Miraval Berkshires, which features a spa, golf course and daily activities like yoga classes and hikes.
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, Charlottesville offers spectacular scenery that’s perfect for viewing fall’s vivid hues. Mid-to-late October is when you’ll usually see the most dazzling red, orange and yellow leaves, but the colors can linger into early November, depending on the weather. Some of the best viewing spots with scenic overlooks are along the neighboring Blue Ridge Parkway and the connecting Skyline Drive in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
When you’re not leaf-peeping, plan to visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the former home, gardens and grounds of the third U.S. president. Travel along the Monticello Wine Trail to sample some of Virginia’s award-winning vintages at wineries such as Michael Shaps Wineworks, Barboursville Vineyards and Jefferson Vineyards. In the evenings, you can unwind over dinner – and enjoy live music on certain nights – at The Mill Room before settling in at the historic Boar’s Head Resort.
Payette River Scenic Byway, Idaho
Payette River Scenic Byway’s 112-mile drive in Idaho begins west of Boise and heads north on state Highway 55. Depending on the year’s weather patterns, peak leaf season in this area can arrive any time from the end of August to mid-October. Highlights along this route include whitewater rafting in Cascade and camping overnight in Lake Cascade State Park.
For an extended getaway, make plans to stay at Shore Lodge, a premier property in McCall. Situated on Payette Lake with the Idaho Rockies as the backdrop, this beautiful resort offers plenty of outdoor adventures to see the foliage. Try your hand at off-roading on an all-terrain vehicle or explore the shores around the lake by canoe or boat. You can also go hiking in Ponderosa State Park or relax in the soothing waters of nearby natural hot springs.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
(Courtesy of Visit Bucks County)
Bucks County’s picturesque country roads and covered bridges create the idyllic setting for viewing fall’s colorful palette. Located in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania and bordered by New Jersey and the Delaware River to the east, Bucks County has a rich Revolutionary War history and is known for its thriving cultural and arts community. Peak leaf season typically runs the last two weeks of October, bringing vibrant hues of yellows, oranges, reds and browns to the area.
For a scenic escape to the Pennsylvania countryside, make reservations at The Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm, a luxury bed-and-breakfast in Holicong. Then you can plan your brisk fall days exploring the shops and restaurants in New Hope or checking out the annual Scarecrows in the Village display at Peddler’s Village in Lahaska. Visitors may also want to take a self-guided driving tour of Bucks County’s 12 covered bridges or sip local wines along the Bucks County Wine Trail.
Fall in Cheyenne boasts golden prairie grasslands in the high plains and vibrant seasonal colors from the quaking aspens. Visitors can also take in the stunning palette of reds, oranges and yellows from the trees lining the streets of downtown Cheyenne; the best viewing for these begins in late September and usually peaks by mid-October. You’ll find even more brilliant foliage at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and the High Plains Arboretum, the latter of which features more than 60 species of trees and shrubs.
After leaf-peeping, don’t miss a visit to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, where you’ll find artifacts celebrating the history of the American West. The Cheyenne Frontier Days’ annual 10-day rodeo takes place at the end of July, but on your autumn visit you can enjoy the museum’s extensive collection – including the many frontier carriages it displays – and rotating exhibits. For outdoor adventures outside of town, head about 25 miles west to Curt Gowdy State Park and spend afternoons hiking, biking or boating. For accommodations in the park, you can rent a hilltop cabin or reserve a campsite and sleep under the stars.
French Lick West Baden, Indiana
(Courtesy of French Lick Resort)
Located in southern Indiana, French Lick West Baden is a resort community tucked into the hills of Hoosier National Forest that features some of Indiana’s best leaf-peeping locales. The yellows, oranges and reds are usually the most vivid from mid-October and later, with peak colors appearing at the end of the month. For active adventures to take in the colorful scenery, go hiking, mountain biking, zip lining or horseback riding. You can also hop on board a train ride into the forest on the French Lick Scenic Railway. When you want to kick back and relax, spend an afternoon sipping wine with a view on a Fall Foliage Wine Cruise on Patoka Lake, departing from Patoka Lake Marina and available on select autumn weekends.
There are three hotels to choose from at the historic French Lick Resort: West Baden Springs Hotel, French Lick Springs Hotel and Valley Tower. A must-see, no matter where you stay, is the stunning atrium at the West Baden Springs Hotel. Spanning 200 feet wide and constructed more than a century ago, this engineering feat was once known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” While at the resort, you can enjoy all of the amenities, including three golf courses, two spas and a Vegas-style casino.
The Mississippi River Valley, Minnesota
Colorful wooded bluffs, steep hillsides and quaint river towns are all highlights of the Mississippi River Valley region in southern Minnesota, best enjoyed on a leisurely drive. The nearly 90-mile route from the town of Red Wing to La Crescent also features scenic overlooks, including two must-see locations at Great River Bluffs and Frontenac state parks. This drive along the Mississippi River – part of the 3,000-mile Great River Road, which begins in Minnesota and runs south through 10 states to conclude in Louisiana – celebrates peak fall colors about mid-October.
As you take in the brilliant hues of russets, reds and golds along the way, be sure to stop for an afternoon snack at a roadside apple stand. Bird lovers may be eager to see the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, a city where you can grab dinner along with a beer and spend the night at Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast and Brewery. Further down the road, don’t miss the town of Winona, home to the small but impressive collection of European, American and contemporary works at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
Situated at 9,600 feet above sea level in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Breckenridge is one of the first places in Colorado to witness fall’s brilliant changing of the leaves. While the aspen trees’ golds, reds and oranges usually peak by mid-September, the season can linger into early October. For optimum leaf viewing, plan to drive the 22-mile Boreas Pass Road, which was originally a railroad before it was converted to host cars instead. Begin this route in Como and head north to Breckenridge.
While visiting the resort mountain town of Breckenridge, travelers can enjoy brisk fall days hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or fly-fishing surrounded by the beauty of the Rockies. And if you’re in town the latter part of September, you can don your best alpine gear and attend the festivities at Breckenridge Oktoberfest. For an extended stay with a view, reserve accommodations at The Lodge at Breckenridge. This 45-room property, nestled atop a forested cliff, is regarded as one of the world’s highest-altitude hotels at 10,200 feet.
Hudson, New York
Situated in the Hudson River Valley in Columbia County, approximately 120 miles north of New York City, Hudson is a small town that offers a distinct food, arts and farming culture. There’s also a unique history to explore, especially when it comes to architecture: Known as a “dictionary of architectural history,” Hudson boasts many well-preserved buildings from almost every major period in America. The area’s bounty of trees produce brilliant red, orange and yellow hues beginning at the end of September, with the peak viewing time around mid-October.
For a unique way to see the foliage, get a designated driver and plan a road trip around the Hudson Valley Wine and Craft Beverage Map, which features more than 100 wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries. After the drive, browse the town’s boutiques and antique shops, before checking into The Hudson Whaler Hotel, a beautifully restored property in the heart of downtown.
Nestled at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe is one of the most picturesque villages in New England. It’s also one of the best places to view the annual fall spectacle, with colors changing from mid-September through the end of October. Vermont is approximately 80% forested, with the largest concentration of sugar maples in the U.S., so you will typically see vibrant displays of red, orange and yellow leaves across the state. One of the prettiest drives to see the foliage is along Smugglers’ Notch pass through the Green Mountains in Smugglers’ Notch State Park.
If you’re planning for several days of leaf-peeping activities, a room at the Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Lodge can be your base while you ride a horse, rent a canoe or hop on the seasonal Stowe Gondola SkyRide to the summit of Mount Mansfield for unparalleled views of the surrounding scenery. Back in town, check out local breweries, including The Alchemist and the von Trapp Brewing Bierhall.
Fall is one of the most picturesque times to visit “The Scenic City.” Chattanooga is situated along the Tennessee River, between the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, providing plenty of options to view the splendor of colorful forests. Peak season, usually in early November, features trees showcasing brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. Nearby hiking trails offer some of the best close-up views, such as Rainbow Lake Trail on nearby Signal Mountain. For panoramic vistas overlooking the Tennessee Valley, ride the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. You can even book a sightseeing riverboat cruise along the Tennessee River on the Southern Belle.
For unique accommodations with easy access to outdoor adventure, reserve one of Treetop Hideaways’ two boutique treehouses located on the side of Lookout Mountain. If you prefer to stay in the city, check out Bode Chattanooga’s rooms and loft-style accommodations.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Set in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Bretton Woods is one of the state’s top destinations to view fall foliage. Leaf season typically reaches its peak in late September to early October – this time is when the most vibrant yellows, oranges and reds will paint the landscape across the mountains.
To enjoy the spectacle for several days, make reservations at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. This historic property sits at the base of the highest peak in the Northeast, giving guests a front-row seat to see the spectacle of seasons changing. During your stay, dash through the treetops on a zip line canopy tour, enjoy a scenic horse-drawn carriage ride or take a thrilling trip on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. You may also opt to take in the sights from high in the sky on a gondola ride and have lunch at the top of the mountain. Back on the ground, book a signature spa treatment and relax with expansive views of the Presidential Range, Crawford Notch and Mount Washington from the therapy rooms.
Lake Superior Scenic Byway, Wisconsin
This 70-mile route follows Lake Superior’s southern shore along the Bayfield Peninsula on state Highway 13 in Wisconsin. The Lake Superior Scenic Byway winds through harbor towns, fishing villages, orchards and farms. Expect to see views of sandy beaches, forests and the sparkling waters of this Great Lake. This route begins in the town of Barksdale; it heads north and then around the tip of the peninsula before ending in Cloverland, near the mouth of the Brule River.
Plan your drive for the first week of October when the area’s bright reds, golds and coppers are at their peak. Highlights along the byway include the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Gaylord Nelson Wilderness area, which are home an extensive collection of lighthouses. As a side trip, take a ferry ride from Bayfield to Madeline Island at the tip of the peninsula. Afterward, arrange for an overnight stay in Bayfield at the Old Rittenhouse Inn, a 20-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking Lake Superior.
Highlands, North Carolina
The picturesque North Carolina mountain town of Highlands sits at more than 4,100 feet in elevation on the Highlands Plateau in the Nantahala National Forest. Highlands sits in a temperate rainforest, so the vegetation is lush, and there are many waterfalls, rivers and lakes to explore in and around the area. Leaf-peeping season runs from the last week of October to the first week of November, and that’s when you’ll see leaves turning bright yellows and oranges, as well as deeper hues of red and rust. There are many active outdoor activities to enjoy in this region, such as hiking, fly-fishing and golfing, but the community also has a vibrant cultural arts scene. During your visit, check out the exhibits at The Bascom (a visual arts center) or events at Highlands Performing Arts Center.
While in town, reserve accommodations at Old Edwards Inn and Spa. This beautiful Relais & Chateâux property, located in the heart of the town, puts visitors within walking distance of the many restaurants and boutiques located on Main Street. If you extend your stay into November, don’t miss attending the Highlands Food & Wine festival early in the month.
Tunnel of Trees, Michigan
Known as the Tunnel of Trees, this 20-mile scenic route follows historic M-119 highway between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. The area’s canopies of golds, oranges and crimsons are on display typically from late September to mid-October. A few highlights include visiting the picturesque waterfront resort town of Harbor Springs and sampling authentic Polish cuisine at the iconic Legs Inn restaurant in Cross Village.
For accommodations, plan to stay at The Highlands at Harbor Springs. This resort offers many outdoor activities, including zip lining, horseback riding, biking and Segway tours. While at The Highlands, reserve a seat on the Heather Express chairlift: This excursion to the top of the mountain affords incredible views of Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs and the area’s beautiful fall foliage.
North Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
North Lake Tahoe, which unfurls across both California and Nevada, is surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, so there’s plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, including hiking, paddleboarding and kayaking. You can also opt to go boating or relax on one of the area’s many beaches. When it comes to viewing fall’s splendor, there are hundreds of miles of biking and hiking trails where you can see more than 10 different species of trees showing off their red, orange and yellow foliage. The best time to see the colorful leaves is from about mid-September to late October. Check out one of the best viewing spots to see the aspens’ rainbow of colors: Paige Meadows in Tahoe City. Other top leaf-peeping locales are Tahoe Meadows, Ellis Peak and Mount Rose Summit.
For a memorable getaway, book accommodations at the Resort at Squaw Creek at the base of Olympic Valley. Amenities at this luxury resort include a golf course with a view, a luxurious spa and various outdoor experiences, such as guided fly-fishing, mountain biking and backpacking.
The Ozarks, Arkansas
Situated in the northwest part of Arkansas, the Ozark Mountains are the perfect destination to explore the outdoors and take in the beauty of autumn’s palette of bright golds, reds and oranges. The transformation typically begins around the second week of October, and peak colors appear by late October.
One of the top spots to view the foliage is in the Buffalo National River area around the small town of Ponca. This beautiful wilderness destination in the mountains offers the opportunity to disconnect and get away from it all. While here, you can take time to hike or float down the river – all the while keeping an eye out for wild elk. Fall is when the bulls are battling to become king of the herd, so they’re especially active during this time of year. Plan to reserve one of the cabins in the mountains above Ponca. Vantage points from these properties yield incredible stargazing opportunities, as well as memorable sunrise and sunset views.
Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, Maryland
The scenic 38-mile drive from Emmitsburg to Point of Rocks runs along U.S. Route 15 in Maryland. Known as “hallowed ground” and considered sacred by some, this long stretch of road highlights significant Civil War sites and pristine natural areas, including Catoctin Mountain Park, home to the presidential residence of Camp David. The best time to make the journey to see the foliage on the Maryland route is between late September and early November, with peak season around mid-October.
One not-to-be-missed detour is a stop to see the 78-foot waterfall and gorge in Cunningham Falls State Park. If you’re after a challenging hike with great views, visitors say Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson can’t be missed. Afterward, travelers can spend time exploring the shops and restaurants in the historic city of Frederick. Book an overnight stay at one of the charming local B&Bs such as 10 Clarke – then, if you’re up for more fall fun, visit nearby Gaver Farm in Mount Airy. This seasonal business features a Fall Fun Fest with a corn maze and more than 65 attractions. You can get your fill of apple cider donuts and cider slushies in addition to picking your own apples, pumpkins and sunflowers.
Anchorage to Kenai, Alaska
The epic landscapes of Alaska are awash with vibrant reds, purples, yellows and oranges – and even snow-capped mountaintops – from late August through September as fall arrives in the Last Frontier. The autumn colors across the state’s vast wilderness, forests and tundra change quickly as winter approaches, beginning in mid-to-late August in the Arctic regions and lasting as late as October in southern areas like Tongass National Forest. This 150-mile drive on the Seward and Sterling highways from Anchorage to Kenai travels along two National Scenic Byways – and you’ll find many vantage points along the way to take in the jaw-dropping views and capture photos.
The first 50 miles of Seward Highway follow the Chugach Mountains and the shoreline of Turnagain Arm, where you may catch a glimpse of Dall sheep, beluga whales and eagles. From Tern Lake to Skilak Lake on Sterling Highway, you won’t want to miss the sight of the Kenai River’s teal glacial waters against the orange and yellow leaves, just as you come around the bend above Kenai Canyon. For a side trip en route, visitors can plan to stay at the beautiful Alyeska Resort, about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage. Be sure to save up enough energy to chase the aurora borealis in the wee morning hours as the northern lights dance across the night sky from August to April in Alaska.
The Poconos, Pennsylvania
One of the best ways to view the Pocono Mountains’ vibrant fall hues of reds, yellows and oranges is with a scenic drive along U.S. Route 6 in Pennsylvania. This road meanders through charming towns like Milford, Hawley and Honesdale, where you can take in autumn festivities that include the Hawley Harvest Hoedown and Honesdale’s Harvest and Heritage Days. Another optimal viewing spot is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area with its 70,000 acres of forests and wetlands, the two tallest waterfalls in the state, and more than 100 miles of hiking trails. The peak season for vibrant leaves in the Poconos depends on the region (north or south) and the progression of temperatures in the fall, but you can typically expect the best viewing from the last week of September through October. For up-to-the-minute information, check the fall foliage forecast on the Poconos Mountain website.
After a busy day of exploring, The French Manor Inn and Spa is the perfect place to kick back, relax and take in even more of autumn’s beauty. This luxury property sits perched atop Huckleberry Mountain in Newfoundland and offers spectacular views of the leaves’ kaleidoscope of colors.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The majesty of Mount Rainier, with its summit reaching 14,410 feet above sea level, is even more breathtaking surrounded by fall’s vibrant colors. While you can see the peak from miles around, a drive through Mount Rainier National Park can bring you up-close viewing of the spectacle. Top leaf-peeping areas include the White Pass Scenic Byway to the Chinook Pass via Bethel Road – if you have a high-clearance vehicle. Visitors may consider making a side trip to Cash Prairie to see Rattlesnake Drainage and Bismark Peak before venturing on to Timberwolf Mountain. Peak season to capture the brilliant crimsons, ambers and golds can vary, but it typically occurs between mid-October through early November.
While in the park, enjoy other favorite fall activities such as foraging for local mushrooms – chanterelles, hen-of-the-woods and matsutake, for example. You can also book an early-morning Elk Bugling Tour at Northwest Trek to see the Roosevelt elk sparring during their “rut,” or breeding season. For rustic accommodations to enjoy the great outdoors while visiting the park, reserve a cabin or campsite at Mounthaven Resort.
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