K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Fall is the season I always look forward to. It’s just around the corner, signaling a relief to summer’s heat replaced by crisp, cool sweater weather, while pumpkin patches and corn mazes open, apple trees are ripe for picking, and landscapes are transformed from green to brilliant shades of golden yellow, burnt orange, and scarlet red.
Having traveled throughout the country in addition to living in many different regions, I’ve enjoyed a variety of leaf-peeping experiences from California and the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest, New England, and the South. While there are many fabulous spots for viewing fall foliage, these destinations offer some of the most dazzling displays of color in the U.S.
Vermont’s Green Mountains are a mecca for serious leaf peepers in the Eastern United States. Driving the highways and byways that wind through mountains and valleys, you’ll see glorious hues of violet-red pin cheery and yellow alder leaves and blazing orange and red maple trees. The most brilliant autumn foliage occurs with a long stretch of warm, sunny days combined with cold overnight temperatures. Driving the Green Mountain Byway from Waterbury to Stowe, you’ll pass peaceful meadows, farms, and charming villages, ending with the state’s highest colorful peak at Mount Mansfield. Stay at one of these vacation rentals for the perfect fall escape.
Door County is one of the Midwest’s best fall foliage destinations. Follow Highway 57 down the Lakeside of the peninsula, enjoying bits of New England with picturesque lighthouses and white-frame buildings along with bursts of scarlet, gold, russet, and vermilion that line highways and form canopies over country lanes. Peak colors usually arrive about the second week of October, lingering well into the third week during a good season. You’ll find numerous things to do in its charming towns as well as apple orchards to go apple picking along the way.
The Blue Ridge Parkway offers one of the most scenic drives in the country, but it’s at its best during the autumn months, particularly from the end of September through the end of October. Winding through Southern Virginia, then North Carolina, and culminating at the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, visitors can see scarlet sourwoods, orange sassafras, golden poplars, and maples in every crimson hue on the spectrum. They are all on display before a lush, emerald canvas of southern Appalachian conifers. A great way to kick off this spectacular road trip is to attend the Annual Fall Foliage Festival Art Show, held during the first two weekends of October in the quaint community of Waynesboro, located at the beginning of the parkway.
The magnificent fall foliage show put on in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee begins in early October, with the transformation starting in the higher elevations working its way down to the lower elevations as late as mid-November. Gatlinburg, a small town in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, offers an excellent destination for leaf enthusiasts to base their stay with miles and miles of landscapes ablaze like Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the state. Visitors can also visit Newfound Gap Road to view a brilliant tapestry of colors from 1,400 feet above sea level. The 11-mile loop around Cades Cove winds past beautiful foliage surrounded by streams, waterfalls, and more gorgeous vistas.
Leaf peeping throughout the Berkshires usually begins around the first of October. This region boasts what’s arguably the most magnificent displays in the Northeast, with winding roads lined with golds, reds, and occasionally deep scarlet hues while passing quaint farms, serene lakes, rivers, and meadows with a backdrop of mountain summits. Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway in the southern Berkshires is a popular 35-mile stretch, and at Bash-Bish Falls State Park, you’ll find amazing three-state views of a landscape dotted with crimson and gold.
This spectacular finger of land jutting into Lake Superior offers a kaleidoscope of vibrant red, orange, and gold hues across the state’s northernmost point. The peak season typically occurs during the last two weeks of September into the first two weeks of October. An array of fall’s gorgeous hues blanket the hills and ridges, forming colorful tunnels across winding two-lane roads. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has some of the most glorious colors and nearly 100 waterfalls, including Bond Falls, one of the most splendid of all, but you might make a road trip out of it and travel all the way to Copper Harbor.
The Adirondack Mountains are the largest natural wilderness region in the Eastern U.S., offering a wonderful, tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also one of the best places in New York for a stunning array of fall foliage. The 170-mile Olympic Trail connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain offers the best of the best, with oak, maple, birch, and beech trees exploding with brilliant orange, fiery red, and golden yellow hues among the forested landscape. Peak colors arrive in higher elevations about mid-September, while lower lands around the lakes are usually at their best during the first two weeks of October.
In the state’s southwestern corner, the Black Hills region of South Dakota is blanketed with color in the fall, from bright golden Aspens, elm, ash, and oaks to the fiery reds of sumac and maple trees. Several impressive scenic drives pass some of the area’s best fall foliage, including Spearfish Canyon State & National Forest Service Scenic Byway, located just 15 miles west of the famed Wild West town of Deadwood. It offers beautiful forest views and all the colors of its spruce, aspen, pine, oak, and birch trees, winding its way through limestone cliffs and waterfalls.
The White Mountain National Forest offers a dazzling array of colors in fall in New Hampshire, with the picturesque town of Conway at its heart. From here, you can easily enjoy the short hike to Sabbaday Falls, just a half-mile from the trailhead. Or, soak up the magnificent views of Mount Washington just north. Riding the Conway Scenic Railway that departs right from town is a great way to enjoy some of the area’s most scenic landscapes, including the famous Crawford Notch with yellow, orange, and red hues that will be at their peak from late September through most of October.
The Catskill Mountains offer extraordinary vistas in the fall when the landscapes are blanketed with tangerine, red, and gold hues, peaking around early to mid-October. It will be a kaleidoscope of color, ideal for drives on the 52-mile-long Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway as well as enjoying the region’s charming small towns like Windham, known as the “gem of the Catskills.” It has a picturesque downtown with a historic main street lined with unique boutiques, specialty shops, galleries, and locally-owned restaurants.
New Hampshire is one of the best places on the planet to view the brilliant reds and golds of autumn. At higher elevations, the most impressive colors are found inland and away from the coast, like the Lakes Region, which includes Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, Lake Ossipee, Mirror Lake, Newfound Lake, and Lake Winnisquam. The area is protected from the harsh coastal winds and doesn’t rise more than 600 feet above sea level, providing the best chance for a long leaf-peeping season, typically from late September through late October. Heading out on a kayak or canoe on any of the lakes here brings some of the most breathtaking views, with red maples along the water’s edge reflected into the water. Plus, there’s no shortage of fall activities in this New England state.
Bar Harbor is frequently found among lists of the best places in the U.S. for fall foliage, with the especially jaw-dropping hues of autumn found along the 40-mile stretch of the Acadia Byway, where visitors can enjoy magnificent wild coastlines along with an array of colors in Acadia National Park. On Mount Desert Island, leaves start to turn in September, though peak time is typically mid-October and can be anywhere from the first to the third week of the month. Want to explore the outdoors? Hit the trails on foot or on a bicycle, and be prepared for an abundance of color, particularly atop the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
With more than three-quarters of West Virginia forested, you’ll find no shortage of picturesque fall colors throughout the state, with a wide range of red, orange, yellow, and brown hues. Mid to late October is usually the best time to experience it and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, located just an hour from Washington, D.C. in the Eastern Panhandle, is one of the most ideal destinations for autumn foliage. Hiking the miles of trails provides the best views, with the less than one-mile-long Jefferson Rock hike offering especially incredible vistas overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Rangeley Lakes region in the western mountains of Maine includes soaring peaks and more than 110 lakes and ponds, a stunning scene that’s even more jaw-dropping from late September through mid-October when the maples showcase cherry red leaves, the leaves of white ash trees turn scarlet and birches boast golden yellow hues. Mooselookmeguntic Lake, a 16,000-acre lake that’s just a couple of miles off the famous Appalachian Trail, has a 60-mile long shoreline that will be bursting with color while offering a tranquil spot to paddle in a canoe or kayak. There are abundant moose in the area to watch for too. In fact, its long name is an Abnaki word that translates to “moose feeding place.”
Litchfield Hills in Western Connecticut is a picture-postcard New England destination set at the foot of the Berkshire Mountains. Driving Route 7 along the Housatonic River from New Milford to Cornwall, you’ll see a vivid palette of autumn colors with the explosion of maple, aspen, beech, and birch trees dotting the landscape, in addition to crossing two of the state’s picturesque covered bridges. Along the way, you’ll come to the village of Kent, which is one of the best places to see fall foliage in Connecticut. It offers several interesting antique shops, art galleries, and outstanding eateries. Kent Falls State Park is home to the state’s highest waterfall, with a scenic trail leading to its summit.
Colorado is well known for its gorgeous display of fall foliage, with aspens that blanket mountains across the state with incredible hues of golden bronze and dazzling yellow. There are few better places to experience it than the posh mountain town of Aspen on the road to Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in North America, peaking at more than 12,000 feet above sea level. Jagged mountain peaks soar into bright blue skies above a beautiful array of fall colors. If the drive is too harrowing for your nerves, you can take a shuttle from Aspen to Maroon Bells to view the spectacular autumn scenery with rocky peaks reflecting into Maroon Lake – which is not a bad alternative!
This sensational route passing from the western Cascades through the largest lava flow in the Pacific Northwest to the high desert climate of the eastern Cascades has a wide array of colors. Due to significant environmental changes, you’ll have a chance to view yellowing big leaf maples against a green backdrop of Douglas firs, golden aspen near ponderosa pine, and red vine maples set side-by-side in dark lava fields.
The 80-mile Columbia River Gorge, cutting into the Cascade Mountains to form a natural border between Washington and Oregon, is a beautiful sight any time of the year. But in the fall, it’s exceptionally breathtaking when cottonwoods, Oregon ash, firs, and big-leaf maples begin to display their colors. Take a scenic drive along the Columbia River to view the golden and bronze hues and hundreds of waterfalls, hike the miles and miles of trails, or hit the water in a kayak, canoe or boat. The second week of September through mid-October is when colors typically peak.
Exemplifying the state’s nickname, “The Land of Enchantment,” Taos is beautiful year-round, but autumn brings out its most stunning beauty. With many artists calling this northern New Mexico town home, art galleries reflect the surrounding mountains in the fall, making them fun to browse before or after leaf-peeping. The best autumn foliage can be seen along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop from Taos to Eagle Nest and Angel Fire, with colors ranging from luminous yellows to dark orange and golden, along with some red cottonwoods. While enjoying the vibrant scenes, keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife, including eagles, black bears, and elk.
Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style town located on the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains and one of the best destinations in the state for fall color. Several autumn foliage routes start here, including Highway 2, which stretches to the Greater Seattle area, with vivid yellow trees reflected in Lake Wenatchee, just north of town. Heading south on Highway 97, you’ll find the forests of Blewett Pass covered with brilliant red huckleberry bushes, aspens, and cottonwoods. The colors here can be good as soon as late September, although they usually reach their peak during the first two weeks of October.