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14 Uncrowded Fall Vacation Destinations in the U.S.

Fall is my favorite season, with the cool, crisp air, the fabulous aromas of cinnamon and pumpkin spice, and the brilliant fall foliage in hues of gold, red, and orange. While places like New England, the Great Smokey Mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Park are breathtaking, the popular autumn destinations also attract crazy crowds and heavy traffic congestion, something I’ve experienced more than a few times. If you’re like me and prefer to enjoy a more tranquil atmosphere, I’ve managed to scope out some of the best places for a fall getaway without the masses. These destinations not only offer breathtaking leaf-peeping but also a wide range of outdoor activities from hiking to apple picking.

Greenville, South Carolina Table Rock Mountain near Greenville, South Carolina
Credit: Table Rock Mountain near Greenville, South Carolina by © Sean Pavone - Dreamstime.com

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville is an ideal base for exploring Table Rock State Park, just a short drive away with epic hikes. The park’s namesake mountain provides the backdrop for gorgeous fall colors from below, but there are miles of trails like the Pinnacle Mountain Trail that connects to the Foothills Trail and nearly endless leaf-peeping possibilities. Right in town, Falls Park is a great spot to admire urban foliage while picnicking, while the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail is fabulous for biking, often named among the best in the country. After any activity, you might check out all the public art or take a self-guided brewery tour.

Laramie, Wyoming bull moose in autumn, Wyoming
Credit: bull moose in autumn, Wyoming by © Twildlife | Dreamstime.com

Laramie, Wyoming

Few people think of Wyoming when it comes to fall scenery, but the Snowy Range Scenic Byway is one of the most breathtaking fall drives in the United States, easily accessed from Laramie, about 30 miles west near the town of Centennial. You’ll be treated to some truly magnificent views, including bright yellows, oranges, and reds, with willows and aspens bringing lots of color that contrasts beautifully against dramatic granite peaks. Throughout the region, watch for moose, elk, and mule deer. Alternatively, opt for an exploration of Medicine Bow National Forest, where you’ll find beautiful fall foliage displayed in the expansive woodlands. Back in Laramie, the historic downtown with its well-preserved architecture reflects its Wild West heritage and role as a thriving college town. The University of Wyoming’s Geological Museum is worth a visit, too.

Great Basin National Park - Nevada Fall drive in Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Credit: Fall drive in Great Basin National Park, Nevada by © Arlene Hochman Waller - Dreamstime.com

Great Basin National Park - Nevada

Great Basin National Park is one of the country’s less-visited national parks, and in the fall, you’re likely to enjoy it with few others around. It’s renowned for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines and the Lehman Caves, with some of the most beautiful fall foliage, enjoyed on the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. The colors are out of this world, and visitors also have the opportunity to hike the second tallest peak in Nevada, Wheeler Peak, at 13,065 feet. The park is also home to what astronomers have called some of the last true dark night skies, providing incredible stargazing. The funky town of Baker, just five miles east on the border of Nevada and Utah, provides the closest base.

Fayetteville, West Virginia New River Gorge near Fayetteville West Virginia
Credit: New River Gorge near Fayetteville West Virginia by © Sean Pavone - Dreamstime.com

Fayetteville, West Virginia

One of the most charming small towns in West Virginia, Fayetteville is ideal for a fall getaway. Located right at the edge of New River Gorge National Park, you’ll have easy access to the myriad of vibrant colors, particularly from the New River Gorge Bridge that spans the river. There are many other places to enjoy the hues, like Lover’s Leap in Hawks Nest State Park and the Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock State Park. You can even marvel at a burst of color while flying through the forest canopy on a scenic fall zipline tour. In town, fall is the perfect time to enjoy delicious seasonal dishes in local restaurants, including plenty of pumpkin treats.

Copper Harbor, Michigan Overview of Copper Harbor in autumn
Credit: Overview of Copper Harbor in autumn by © Adeliepenguin - Dreamstime.com

Copper Harbor, Michigan

If you want remote, it’s hard to beat Copper Harbor, which sits at the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the best small towns in the Midwest, it’s set in a region that’s covered with forest and dotted with cascading waterfalls. Brockway offers a 9.5-mile drive with breathtaking views of Lake Superior and thousands of acres of the Keweenaw as the highest above-sea-level drive between the Alleghenies and the Rockies. The drive through the “tunnel” on US-41 is a must-experience, with the canopy of color extraordinary. There are many other activities to enjoy, from hiking to exploring the Delaware Copper Mine. On clear nights with aurora activity, this is also the perfect place to view the northern lights.

The Black Hills, South Dakota Spearfish Canyon
Credit: Spearfish Canyon by © Rinus Baak | Dreamstime.com

The Black Hills, South Dakota

There are so many great places to be in the Black Hills of western South Dakota in the fall – it’s impossible to choose just one. The best spot for viewing colorful foliage is Spearfish Canyon, where Roughlock Falls is framed by breathtaking colors around late September and early October. Aspens, birches, box elders, and Ponderosa pines frame the picturesque creek that carved the gorge. A bit further south in Custer State Park, fall is the time to witness the park’s buffalo roundup, which usually takes place in late September. Feel the ground rumble and watch the dusty fly with cowboys and cowgirls bringing in the herd. There are also some fabulous short hikes for fall color, including the short loop around Sylvan Lake.

Telluride, Colorado Telluride, Colorado
Credit: Telluride, Colorado by © Trackzipp | Dreamstime.com

Telluride, Colorado

Colorado is famous for its aspens that bring vibrant golden hues splashed across breathtaking mountains. While many head to places like Aspen or Rocky Mountain National Park, consider the picturesque Colorado town of Telluride, where you’ll be able to avoid the crowds and perhaps take advantage of discounts on accommodation that come in between the popular summer and winter seasons. The gondola runs from the end of summer through mid-October before taking a break until winter begins, bringing 360-degree views of the valley and mountains. Hiking will be even more memorable now, with the spectacular scenery made even more beautiful thanks to all the colors. Right around the start of fall, the Telluride Autumn Classic takes place over three days, not only featuring impressive vehicles of all types, like exotic and vintage cars, but lots of art to browse and live music to enjoy.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming Jackson Hole in the Fall
Credit: Jackson Hole in the Fall by © Cherylramalho | Dreamstime.com

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Fall is one of the best times to visit Jackson Hole, bringing the opportunity to avoid the big summer crowds and enjoy colorful foliage in Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park. It’s a gateway to a wealth of adventures, enjoyed with a crispness in the air, the changing colors of the aspens, and a dusting of snow on the mountain peaks. In early fall, typically through mid-October, hiking will be ideal, with countless scenic trails to choose from, and there are still opportunities to cruise the lakes in a boat. Through early October, you can still ride the aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain for a stunning bird’s-eye view. Be on the lookout for all sorts of wildlife, too, including moose.

Sonoma, California grapes on the vine, Sonoma winery
Credit: grapes on the vine, Sonoma winery by © Rusel1981 | Dreamstime.com

Sonoma, California

Sonoma is the heart of Sonoma Valley wine country, which is especially magical at this time of year, blanketed with yellow, orange, and red foliage that makes touring the area’s wineries and vineyards even more enjoyable. In October, the valley’s grapevines begin to transform from green to deep burgundy, dusty gold, and bright yellow, while the hills are often bathed with a golden glow. In addition to tasting and touring, you might hike the Bodega Head Trail, which boasts sweeping views of the bay and Pacific beyond. There will be lots of delicious cuisines to fuel all of your exploits, with restaurant menus reflecting the change of season, often highlighting the delights of autumn produce.

Sedona, Arizona Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona
Credit: Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona by © Adogslifephoto | Dreamstime.com

Sedona, Arizona

While summer is a great time to visit Sedona for a respite from the heat in sweltering Phoenix, fall is even better, with temperatures often in the 70s. Not only can you marvel at the famous red rock formations, but just outside the town, Oak Creek Canyon is lined with oak, maple, and sycamore trees with leaves that are transformed into brilliant colors from late September through mid-October. The West Fork Oak Creek trail and the Bear Sign Trail are fabulous treks for enjoying the gorgeous hues. The scenic drive on Highway 89A that runs through the canyon is worth the short trip alone. The canyon also hosts a 43-acre historic apple farm at the Pendley Homestead, and you’ll find many wineries and vineyards throughout the Verde Valley for touring and tasting.

Rochester, Minnesota Northwoods Apple Orchard
Credit: Northwoods Apple Orchard by Northwoods Apple Orchard

Rochester, Minnesota

Not many think about Minnesota when it comes to colorful fall foliage, other than those who live nearby, but it offers dazzling hues in the fall, including the area around Rochester south of Minneapolis. The leaves typically start to change around mid-September, with the color enjoyed until about mid-October. Just outside Rochester is Northwoods Apple Orchard, where visitors can enjoy apple picking, a corn maze, tractor rides, and even a petting zoo. It’s also very popular for its apple cider doughnuts.

Bend, Oregon Drake Park, Bend, Oregon
Credit: Drake Park, Bend, Oregon by © Lparker69 | Dreamstime.com

Bend, Oregon

Just east of the Cascade Mountains in Central Oregon, Bend has become a mecca for outdoor adventures in every season, with fall especially ideal for activities like hiking and mountain biking. There are also plenty of brilliant reds, oranges, and golds splashed across the landscape in places like historic Drake Park – home to Mirror Pond, where the trees cast a golden reflection on the still water with vibrant red and orange leaves scattered about. You might want to enjoy a bike ride on Mount Washington Drive followed by some brew hopping with Bend, renowned for its craft brew scene that includes a number of award-winning breweries.

Yosemite National Park, California Yosemite National Park
Credit: Yosemite National Park by © Haveseen | Dreamstime.com

Yosemite National Park, California

While summer brings hordes of visitors to Yosemite Valley to the point you might think you’re at a crowded amusement park, fall is ideal. Come in early autumn to avoid the risk of snow, and you can expect to enjoy a tranquil setting in Yosemite National Park for hiking the scenic trails, viewing the many waterfalls, and becoming immersed among enchanting trees. While many are evergreens, there are black oaks and big-leaf maples that will be turning brilliant shades of gold and yellow in October, framing the sights for some fabulous photo ops. The air is often crisp, and the sky bright blue, providing plenty of inspiration for photographers and artists of all types.

Dahlonega, Georgia Dahlonega, Georgia in the fall
Credit: Dahlonega, Georgia in the fall by © Jennifer Wolf - Dreamstime.com

Dahlonega, Georgia

The charming town of Dahlonega is nestled in the North Georgia Mountains, providing the opportunity to hike a myriad of trails while marveling at autumn foliage. The surrounding area is wine country, and fall is the perfect time for a winery tour with the chance to sample local wines while enjoying mild weather and fewer crowds. If you can be here on the third weekend of October, Dahlonega hosts the Gold Rush Days Festival, which celebrates its gold rush history. Not only is it the peak time for fall foliage, but visitors can enjoy 300 art and craft exhibitors and food vendors.

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