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.
Read full bio
It won’t be long before that pleasant chill hits the air, and leaves begin to turn a variety of brilliant colors. If you haven’t made plans to take advantage of the beauty and wonderful weather this fall, these ideas are sure to offer plenty of inspiration. You’re spoiled for choice, from the picture-perfect landscapes in New England the famous Great Smoky Mountains, Adirondack Mountains, and Berkshires regions. Alternatively, opt for an epic road trip to the California coast or the towering peaks of Washington State. These are just some of the best destinations in the U.S. this fall.
One of the best places to find hikes with scenic fall foliage, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds through southern Virginia into North Carolina and culminates in Tennessee. It connects two national parks, Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains, and offers one of the most scenic drives in the nation. It’s especially scenic during the fall, particularly from about late September through the end of October. Just 75 miles outside Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park awaits with its 500 miles of trails just waiting to be explored. It boasts dense forests, ancient caves, soaring mountains, misty waterfalls and more. Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts changing colors that are unlike anything anywhere else on the planet. You’ll see golden poplars, maples in every crimson hue, scarlet sourwoods and orange sassafras all on display.
The Berkshires make for an easy fall weekend getaway from Boston and are ideal for leaf-peeping as well as for attending fall festivals. Lenox hosts the Apple Squeeze around the third weekend of the month while North Adams hosts the Fall Foliage Festival on the first Sunday of October. If you want to take a scenic drive, you’ll find lots of winding roads lined with golds, reds and the occasional deep scarlet hue, as well as quaint farms, tranquil lakes, and lush meadows. There are plenty of forgotten vestiges of the past throughout the region, from bric-a-brac stores and roadside cafes. For awe-inspiring three-state views, take the Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway in the southern Berkshires, heading to Bash-Bish Falls State Park.
The Adirondack Mountains boast some of the most fantastic fall foliage in the entire country, with rich autumn hues spread from mountain peaks to the valley. It offers a great escape for leaf fanatics, outdoor enthusiasts and even wine lovers, with numerous wineries and vineyards throughout the region. One of the nation’s hottest up-and-coming wine regions, the Adirondack Coast is home to wineries and cideries along Lake Champlain’s coast. You could take a wine tour, enjoy a scenic drive or bike ride to each winery and cider mill. If you just want to enjoy an autumn drive, the Olympic Trail that connects Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain is a fabulous one to take, with an explosion of fiery reds, brilliant oranges and golden yellow hues set among the forested landscape.
Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island is often ranked among the best destinations in the country for autumn foliage. It’s especially breathtaking along the 40-mile stretch of Acadia Byway, with its gorgeous wild coastlines and a wide array of brilliant colors in Acadia National Park. In addition to colorful mountains, the island has a temperate climate that’s often perfect this time of year, and it also boasts delectable harvest cuisine. Eden Farmers Market is bursting with apples, pumpkins, squash, and preserves, and so is Southwest Harbor. Oktoberfest brings a celebration that features microbreweries from throughout the state. One of the best ways to experience the scenery is to take a bike ride through the park, hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and then enjoy a seasonal dish at Red Sky Restaurant while enjoying the warmth of the fire.
Autumn is harvest time in the lesser-known vineyards of Monterey County on the Central Coast of California. This is an ideal season for following Monterey County’s River Road Wine Trail to the wineries that sit along the trail. As the area is famous as the “America’s Salad Bowl,” it’s a great place to pick up fresh local produce, like organic broccoli and heirloom tomatoes at the Farm. As the area often experiences what’s known as “Indian summer” this time of year, the fog tends to lift earlier along the coast, resulting in warmer weather and magnificent beaches that are ideal for taking a stroll on.
The Upper Peninsula is spectacular all year round, but there’s no finer time to be here than from about mid-September through mid-October. This is when this finger of land that juts into Lake Superior comes alive with a vibrant patchwork of orange, red, and gold hues that blanket the hills and ridges, forming colorful tunnels across the two-lane roads. Some of the best views can be found in and around Palms Book State Park, which also boasts a crystal clear, 40 ft-deep natural spring, and at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which is home to nearly 100 waterfalls.
The 80-mile Columbia River Gorge cuts into the Cascade Mountains to form a natural border between Washington and Oregon. While it’s a beautiful sight in any season, in the autumn, when cottonwoods, Oregon ash, firs and big-leaf maples begin to display their colors, it’s especially spectacular. The area also boasts hundreds of waterfalls, including one of the most famous in the U.S., Multnomah Falls. There are miles and miles of hiking trails throughout the region, as well as the opportunity to sample hand-crafted brews, go windsurfing, kiteboarding, parasailing, fishing and more. Due to its unique geography, the Gorge is also home to numerous vineyards and wineries, with pinot noir and chardonnay in the cool hills of the west end and its sunnier east-producing outstanding syrah and tempranillo.
The Amish communities in Central Pennsylvania offer an interesting glimpse of a simpler time as well as picturesque fall foliage. Pennsylvania Dutch Country, A.K.A. Lancaster, is especially idyllic in the autumn harvest season. The cooler weather is perfect for apple picking in the orchards, and you can pick up some incredible homemade baked goods, fresh produce, handcrafted goods and more at roadside stands or one of the many farmer’s markets. If you want to take the scene in from above, a hot air balloon ride offers a bird’s-eye view of the colorful landscape.
In Washington State, the Cascade Mountains are known as one of the best destinations for fall color. Leavenworth, which sits on its eastern slope, is a great place to base a stay, as it offers plenty of its own for an amazing autumn escape. During the last weekend of September, the Bavarian-style town hosts the Autumn Leaf Festival, and it celebrates Oktoberfest in a big way, typically over three weekends between late September and mid-October. There are also several autumn foliage routes that begin here, including Highway 2, which stretches all the way to the Greater Seattle Area where you’ll see bright yellow trees reflected in beautiful Lake Wenatchee.
Taos offers a little bit of everything in the fall. Not only is the weather often idyllic with its bright blue skies, but you’ll also find miles of trails in the surrounding mountains that are covered with aspens, ranging from luminous yellows to dark orange, along with golden and red cottonwoods. As a renowned art colony for over a century, the town itself is overflowing with things to do and see, including museums and galleries, with much of the art reflecting the stunning surrounding southwestern landscape. Just a mile north, Taos Pueblo, an ancient pueblo belonging to a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people, is a fascinating place to explore year-round.
Mendocino County is a jaw-dropping area in Northern California all year round and a favorite road trip stop along the Pacific Coast Highway. But in autumn, it explodes with color that even rivals places like Vermont. You’ll find everything from picturesque beaches and soaring redwoods to apple farms, vineyards, and a historic steam train that travels between Willits and Fort Bragg. If you’re looking for a pastoral retreat, the 15-mile-long Anderson Valley, which sits between Boonville and Navarro, is quiet, unassuming, and is home to Philo Apple Farm, which not only grows some 80 varieties of apples but rents out charming cottages.