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America is home to countless beautiful state parks, but if you’re hoping to immerse yourself in autumn’s most brilliant foliage, plan a trip to one of these.
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Letchworth State Park is jaw-droppingly beautiful in any season, but particularly breathtaking in autumn, and its three waterfalls, framed by all of that color look like something out of a painting. The fall colors dazzle along the 17-mile gorge that’s often referred as the “Grand Canyon of the East. It’s the ideal place to set up a picnic, or even better, take it all in from a bird’s-eye view in a hot air balloon with Balloon Over Letchworth.
In leaf-peeping season, Maine shines with its warm days and cool nights, and few crowds to battle. Add to that the show-stopping displays of yellow, orange and red that paint the mountainsides against a backdrop of evergreen, and it’s even more dazzling. Some of the best can be discovered at Baxter State Park, which some call the grandest state park in all of New England. It’s home to gorgeous cascades, rare alpine flowers and tranquil ponds, along with a myriad of trees that create a sea of color, especially earlier in the foliage season due to its higher elevation in northern Maine.
Franconia Notch State Park lies in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, and by riding the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway up to the 4,180-foot-high summit, you can take in one of the most awe-inspiring views in all of New England, blanketed in autumn colors. For more gorgeous vistas, hike along the Appalachian Trail, bike the park’s recreational trail, or take a trek through Flume Gorge. Be sure to visit Echo Lake Beach, where you can soak up the natural beauty of the lake from the sand, and rent a kayak or canoe to paddle around the shoreline for a different perspective.
Door County is one of the Midwest’s top autumn foliage destinations. By following Highway 57 around the lakeside of the peninsula, you’ll see what looks like it could be New England, with pretty lighthouses and white-frame buildings, tucked among the bursts of scarlet, gold, russet and vermilion that line the highways and form canopies over country lane. Head to Peninsula State Park, and you can enjoy vistas from the wooden viewing tower as well as the hiking paths, paved bicycling trails, hiking paths, a mid-19th-century lighthouse and a beach lined with cedar trees.
Mueller State Park is just a short drive from Colorado Springs on the west side of Pikes Peak, and it boasts miles and miles of hiking trails along with an abundance of wildlife and stunning fall foliage views. One of the best ways to take in the vistas is to take the Cheesman Ranch Loop hike, a 5.24-mile trek that winds through beautiful Aspen groves and lush, peaceful meadows. Another epic walk begins on the Outlook Ridge Trailhead, where you’ll hike the Outlook Trail to three separate spurs—Raven Ridge Overlook, Red Tail Overlook, and Lone Eagle Overlook to make up a 1.4-mile hike with lots of impressive views.
Renowned as one of the nation’s most beautiful lakes, Tahoe straddles the California and Nevada border in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, with its hues varying from an awe-inspiring Caribbean blue to emerald, while its surrounding shores feature 55 acres of long sandy beaches, forested areas and rocky coves. And, some of the very best autumn colors in this area can be found along Highway 89 between South Lake Tahoe and Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. In the fall, the quaking aspen and black cottonwoods along the General Creek Trail are simply breathtaking.
Vermont is renowned for its brilliant fall foliage, and Coolidge State Park may be at the height of it all. It’s one of the best spots in New England for fall camping with hillside sites providing stunning views that include dramatic mountain vistas of the Black River Valley and the Green Mountains. The park also offers access to miles and miles of hiking trails, both within the park and at nearby Okemo and Aitken State Forests.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is well-known for its awe-inspiring scenery, especially in autumn with its kaleidoscope of vibrant red, orange and gold hues spreading across the state’s northernmost point, with the peak season typically occurring 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, and while there are plenty of places to view fall colors in this region, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is arguably the best. With 60,000 acres of hardwood forests, practically endless Lake Superior shoreline and wild rivers, the park is one of the Midwest’s most vast wilderness areas that remain in the country today. It’s also home to nearly 100 waterfalls, including Bond Falls, one of the most splendid of all.
A visit to this 7,000-acre state park feels like an escape to a fall foliage retreat, but it’s an easy drive from Boston, just 10 miles outside of the city, covering parts of Quincy, Canton, Milton, Braintree, Dedham, and Randolph. Houghton’s Pond Loop is ideal for viewing foliage, with the vividly colored trees and leaves scattered across the ground. Head to the top of Great Blue Hill to view the Eliot Observation Tower and enjoy fabulous views of the skyline and surrounding mountains, ablaze with color.