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While New England may be the ultimate destination for leaf-peepers, it also brings thick tourist crowds. If you’re hoping to enjoy those autumn colors and a more tranquil experience, the good news is that you’ve got lots of other great options. From lesser-known spots in the United States to Europe and beyond, it’s worth planning a vacation around one of these destinations that offers fall color without the crowds.
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Mont Tremblant, Quebec
In the first half of October visitors can enjoy stunning autumn foliage around the Mount Tremblant area of Quebec in the Laurentian Mountains. Locals refer to fall in this spectacular region as “les couleurs,” which means “the colors” in French because they’re truly impressed with everything from golden birch trees to sugar maples creating dazzling hues. The soaring mountains, rolling hills and lakes in the area make it a popular destination for outdoor adventures like hiking and paddling, and you’ll find plenty of tasty cuisines to fuel up for them thanks to the diverse culture which include a mix of French, Irish, Scot and Amerindians.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is packed with tourists in the summer, but come fall, the crowds will have dissipated and you’ll be able to enjoy the magnificent cascades framed by autumn foliage. A once-in-a-lifetime sight, not only will you be able to capture breathtaking photos but enjoy the beautiful hiking trails almost all to yourself. It’s the perfect time to explore the rest of Croatia too, from Dubrovnik to Zagreb and the enchanting islands off the coast.
In North Wales, the mountainous region of Snowdonia is home to Snowdonia National Park and Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in the country. You’ll find plenty of impressive foliage and some 1,500 miles of scenic hiking trails to enjoy. The summit of Mount Snowdon can also be accessed via the Snowdon Mountain Railway in the heart of the park, where you’ll be able to gaze down at the blanket of color and feel as if you’re on top of the world.
Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills in South Dakota are transformed into a sea of gold-draped cottonwoods and aspens in autumn, and there are lots of great destinations to enjoy it, from Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park where you’ll see the dazzling hues against a backdrop of granite spires and abundant wildlife to Spearfish Canyon, where limestone cliffs meet dense forests of green, yellow, red and orange birch, aspen, oak and cottonwood trees, and the famous Wild West town of Deadwood nearby.
Door County, Wisconsin
While the word has gotten out a bit about the magnificent autumn foliage in Door County, it’s still a much quieter place to enjoy it than what you’d experience in New England. This 75-mile-long peninsula is sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Green Bay and is bursting in orange and crimson shades in the fall. The serene landscapes are ideal for photographers. Visitors can enjoy all sorts of fun activities during the season too, including harvest festivals and cruises on the lake to take in the hues from the water.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Home to more than 20 forested state parks filled with sycamore, aspen, birch, maple, oak and beech trees, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is absolutely jaw-dropping in October with its wide range of fiery autumn color. It can be enjoyed inland around cascading streams as well as along the shorelines of the Great Lakes, with the contrast of the sapphire water, white limestone cliffs and leaves vibrantly painted by Mother Nature creating especially memorable scenes. The town of Marquette makes a great base for exploring the region’s 300 miles of unspoiled forests, picturesque waterfalls and changing leaves.
Taos, New Mexico
The changing leaves of the aspens around Taos bring golden highlights to its beautiful surrounding landscape, exemplifying the state’s nickname, “The Land of Enchantment.” As an artist community, the many galleries here will be filled with paintings that reflect the surrounding mountains in the fall and there are tons of things to do for families. View the colors in person by traveling the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop from Taos to Eagle Nest and Angel Fire where you’ll witness aspens that range from luminous yellows to dark orange as well as golden and red cottonwoods. Keep an eye out for eagles, black bear and elk too. Yet another option is to hop aboard that will bring you to heights of over 10,000 feet for taking in autumn’s glorious hues.
An adventure travel mecca situated just east of the Cascades in Central Oregon, Bend offers lots for visitors who want to be more active. Look forward to enjoying brilliant blue skies, crisp fall weather and lots of spectacular color for enjoying activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, golf and much more. In town, you’ll discover a fantastic food and drink scene that includes a number of innovative, award-winning breweries.
One of the most magical destinations in Ireland, Killarney National Park is jam-packed with gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, towering forested mountains and castles. The massive wooded landscape boasts some of the country’s oldest native oak and yew woodlands, remnants of ancient forests, and early autumn is one of the best times to be here, with few crowds yet the trees will have burst into color. Enjoy it while paddling across the water or on one of the miles and miles of hiking trails.
Glacier National Park
Few tourists visit Glacier National Park in the fall as it’s a bit of a risk with the possibility of snow as early as September. With luck on your side, it will hold off until after mid-October. When that happens you’ll be able to see abundant wildlife with the animals out preparing for winter along with fantastic leaf-peeping. While park concessions are closed, some campgrounds stay open and there are accommodation options in communities nearby. One of the best ways to enjoy the color is to take scenic Highway 2, which travels along the park’s southern edge where larch trees are transformed into brilliant golds. Watch for all sorts of wildlife along the way like bighorn sheep, deer, elk, black bear and moose.