Plan a weekend escape or an extended getaway to see autumn's peak foliage.
There's no other time of year quite like fall. Brisk cool mornings give way to afternoons warmed by the sun and the changes in temperature create a kaleidoscope of colors before winter sets in. The displays of color are all different across the U.S., but they're all brilliant when leaf-peeping season is at its peak. In the West, the reds, oranges and bright golden hues of the quaking aspens are dramatic against the backdrop of the mountains and verdant pine, spruce and fir trees. In the Northeast, New England and other parts of the country, where species like maple and birch are prominent, the trees radiate with bold displays of yellows, deep reds, coppers and oranges.
Peak leaf season varies by region and by year, depending on the weather, so it's best to check with local sources before you go. Many top destinations to view fall's splendor have leaf and foliage maps and trackers so you can follow the local predictions and current conditions, and arrive just in time for the best of the season. Some of these destinations will be familiar, while others are lesser-known locales where you can capture and embrace fall's beauty. So, pack your jacket and jeans, and grab your camera for one of nature's most spectacular spectacles -- the changing colors of the leaves during fall.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park covers more than 47,000 acres along the rocky coast of Maine. Located approximately 160 miles northeast of Portland, the park boasts the diverse natural beauty of the Atlantic shoreline, including majestic mountains. Peak leaf season in Acadia traditionally falls within the first two weeks of October. This is when you'll see the vibrant displays of oranges, reds and yellows, especially along the Acadia All-American Road, one of the best scenic drives to view the fall colors. While visiting Acadia, plan to stay at the nearby coastal town of Bar Harbor, considered to be the gateway to the park. Bar Harbor Inn & Spa, situated along picturesque Frenchman Bay, is an outstanding choice for an overnight stay. The historic property offers impressive views of the water as well as Maine's Porcupine Islands. While in town, take a whale watching tour and treat yourself to a traditional lobster dinner at Beal's Lobster Pier.
McKenzie River Scenic Byway, Oregon
The 34-mile McKenzie River Scenic Byway extends from wine country in the Willamette Valley to the forests of the Cascade Mountains, treating travelers and road-trippers to views of some of the Pacific Northwest's most beautiful landscapes. Plan your visit for peak season when the golds and reds are most vibrant, usually in mid-October. The McKenzie River boasts some of the best fly-fishing in Oregon, so anglers will want to cast off for native redside rainbow and cutthroat trout along the way. Other highlights include stops at local farm stands, the historic Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery in Leaburg and the state's second-longest covered bridge in Vida, Goodpasture Bridge. For an extended getaway that includes days spent fly-fishing, whitewater rafting and hiking to waterfalls, make reservations at Eagle Rock Lodge, a romantic bed-and-breakfast in Vida.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Situated 123 miles west of Boston and surrounded by mountains, the Berkshires is one of the most scenic places in Massachusetts to view fall foliage. Peak season starts around Columbus Day weekend in mid-October, and you can expect to see colors ranging from golden yellows to vivid oranges and deep reds. If you're up for a hike, take the Stoney Ledge trail from the Williamstown side of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in the Berkshires at 3,941 feet. This route offers one of the best viewing points of the foliage from midway up the mountain. Back on the ground, the Berkshires features world-class entertainment, cultural offerings and a deep-rooted food culture with many locally focused dining options. You can also explore the apple orchards and hops farms along the Beer & Cider Trail. For accommodations, plan to splurge on a stay at Blantyre, a historic Relais & Châteaux property.
Located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia, Charlottesville offers spectacular scenery that's perfect for viewing fall's vivid hues. Mid- to late October is when you'll usually see the most dazzling red, orange and yellow leaves, but the colors can linger into early November, depending on the weather. Some of the best viewing spots with scenic overlooks are along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which includes Skyline Drive in nearby Shenandoah National Park. When you're not leaf peeping, plan to visit Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the former home, gardens and grounds of the third president of the United States. Then, travel along the Monticello Wine Trail to sample some of Virginia's award-winning vintages at wineries such as Michael Shaps Wineworks, Barboursville Vineyards and Jefferson Vineyards. In the evenings, unwind over dinner and enjoy live music at The Mill Room before settling in at the historic Boar's Head Resort.
Payette River Scenic Byway, Idaho
Payette River Scenic Byway's 112-mile drive in Idaho begins west of Boise and heads north on state highway 55. Depending on the year's weather patterns, peak leaf season in this area can arrive any time from the end of August to mid-October. Highlights along this route include whitewater rafting in Cascade and camping overnight in Lake Cascade State Park. For an extended getaway, make plans to stay at Shore Lodge, a premier property in McCall. Situated on Payette Lake with the Idaho Rockies as the backdrop, this beautiful resort offers plenty of outdoor adventures to see the foliage. Try your hand at off-roading on an ATV or explore the shores around the lake by canoe or boat. You can also go hiking in Ponderosa State Park or relax in the soothing waters of nearby natural hot springs.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Bucks County's picturesque country roads and covered bridges create the idyllic setting for viewing fall's colorful palette. Located in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania and bordered by New Jersey and the Delaware River to the east, Bucks County has a rich Revolutionary War history and is known for its thriving cultural and arts community. Peak leaf season typically runs the last two weeks of October, bringing vibrant hues of yellows, oranges, red sand browns to the area. For a scenic escape to the Pennsylvania countryside, make reservations at The Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm, a luxury bed-and-breakfast. Then, plan your brisk fall days exploring the shops and restaurants in New Hope or checking out the annual display of Scarecrows in the Village at Peddler's Village. You can also take a self-guided driving tour of Bucks County's 12 covered bridges or sip and savor local wines along the Bucks County Wine Trail.
Fall in Cheyenne boasts golden prairie grasslands in the high plains and vibrant seasonal colors from the quaking aspens. Visitors can also take in the stunning palette of reds, oranges and yellows from the trees lining the streets of downtown; the best viewing for these begins in late September and usually peaks by mid-October. You'll find even more brilliant foliage at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and the High Plains Arboretum, the latter of which features 60 species of trees and shrubs. After leaf peeping, don't miss a visit to Cheyenne's Frontier Days Old West Museum. The impressive collection of artifacts celebrates the history of the American West and the "World's Largest Outdoor Rodeo and Western Celebration." This annual celebration is a 10-day rodeo and western spectacle featuring parades, a cook off, a carnival, a Native American village and many other events. For outdoor adventures outside of town, head approximately 24 miles west to Curt Gowdy State Park and spend afternoons hiking, biking or boating. For accommodations in the park, you can rent a hilltop cabin with a view or reserve a campsite and sleep under the stars.
French Lick West Baden, Indiana
Located in southern Indiana, French Lick West Baden is a resort community nestled in the hills of Hoosier National Forest that features some of Indiana's best leaf-peeping locales. The yellows, oranges and reds are usually the most vivid from mid-October and later, with peak colors appearing at the end of the month. There are two hotels to choose from at the historic French Lick Resort, but a must-see, no matter where you stay, is the stunning atrium at the West Baden Springs Hotel. Spanning more than 200 feet tall, and constructed over 100 years ago, this engineering feat was once known as "The Eighth Wonder of the World." While at the resort, you can enjoy all of the amenities, including three golf courses, two spas and a Vegas-style casino. For active adventures to take in the colorful scenery, go hiking, biking or horseback riding. You can also hop on board a train ride into the forest on the French Lick Scenic Railway. When you want to kick back and relax, spend an afternoon sipping wine with a view on a Fall Foliage Wine Cruise on Patoka Lake departing from Patoka Lake Marina.
The Mississippi River Valley, Southern Minnesota
Colorful wooded bluffs, steep hillsides and quaint river towns are highlights of the Mississippi River Valley region in southern Minnesota, best enjoyed on a leisurely drive. The 88-mile route from the town of Red Wing to La Crescent also features scenic overlooks, including two must-see locations at Great River Bluffs and Frontenac state parks. This drive along the Mississippi River, part of the 3,000-mile-long Great River Road (which begins in Minnesota and runs south through 10 states to conclude in Louisiana), celebrates peak fall colors about mid-October. During the ride, enjoy the brilliant hues of russets, reds and golds. For bird lovers, be sure to stop at The National Eagle Center in Wabasha. Then, plan to stay in Wabasha where you can grab dinner and a beer, and spend the night at Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast and Brewery. Further down the road, don't miss a visit to the town of Winona where you'll find the small but impressive collection of European, American and contemporary works at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
Situated at 9,600 feet elevation in the heart of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, Breckenridge is one of the first places in the state to witness fall's brilliant changing of the leaves. While the aspen trees' golds, reds and oranges usually peak by mid-September, the season can linger into early October. For optimum leaf viewing, plan to drive the 22-mile-long Boreas Pass. This route begins on Highway 285 in Como and heads north to Breckenridge. While visiting, you can enjoy brisk fall days hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or fly-fishing surrounded by the beauty of the Rockies. For an extended stay with a view, reserve accommodations at The Lodge at Breckenridge. This 45-room property, nestled atop a forested cliff, is regarded as one of the world's highest-altitude hotels at 10,200 feet.
Hudson, New York
Situated in the Hudson River Valley in Columbia County, approximately 120 miles north of New York City, Hudson is a small town that offers a distinct food, arts and farming culture. There's also a unique history to explore, especially when it comes to architecture. Known as a "dictionary of architectural history," Hudson boasts many well-preserved buildings from almost every major period in America. The area's numerous trees produce brilliant red, orange and yellow hues beginning at the end of September, with the peak viewing time around mid-October. For a unique way to see the foliage, get a designated driver and take the self-guided Scenic Sips Craft Beverage Tour. This excursion features five different circuits with stops at breweries, wineries and distilleries in Hudson and throughout the county. After the drive, browse the town's boutiques and antique shops, before checking into The Hudson Whaler Hotel, a beautifully restored property in the heart of downtown.
Nestled at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, Stowe is one of the most picturesque villages in New England. It's also one of the best places to view the annual fall spectacle, with colors changing from mid-September through the end of October. Vermont is 76% forested with the largest concentration of sugar maples in the U.S., so there are typically vibrant displays of red, orange and yellow leaves across the state. One of the prettiest drives to see the foliage is along Smugglers' Notch pass through the Green Mountains in Smugglers' Notch State Park. If you're planning for several days of leaf-peeping activities, reserve a room at the Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Lodge. Then, go horseback riding, rent a canoe or hop on the Gondola SkyRide to the summit of Mount Mansfield for unparalleled views of the surrounding scenery. Back in town, check out local breweries, including The Alchemist and von Trapp Brewing Bierhall.
Fall is one of the most picturesque times to visit what's known as "The Scenic City." Chattanooga is situated along the Tennessee River, between the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, providing plenty of options to view the splendor of colorful forests. Peak season, usually in early November, features trees showcasing brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. Nearby hiking trails offer some of the best close-up views, such as Rainbow Lake Trail on nearby Signal Mountain. For panoramic vistas overlooking the Tennessee Valley, ride the incline railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. You can even book a sightseeing riverboat cruise along the Tennessee River on The Southern Belle. For unique accommodations with easy access to outdoor adventure, reserve one of Treetop Hideaways' two boutique treehouses located on the side of Lookout Mountain. If you prefer to stay in the city, check out Bode Chattanooga's rooms and loft-style accommodations.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Set in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Bretton Woods is one of the top destinations in the state to view fall foliage. Leaf season typically peaks in late September to early October. This is when the most vibrant yellows, oranges and reds will paint the landscape across the mountains. To enjoy the spectacle for several days, make reservations at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. This historic property sits at the base of the highest peaks in the Northeast where you'll have a front-row seat to see the show. During your stay, dash through the treetops on a zipline canopy tour, enjoy a scenic horse-drawn carriage ride or take a thrilling trip on the Mount Washington Cog Mountain Railway. You can also take in the sights from high in the sky on a gondola ride and have lunch at the top of the mountain. Back on the ground, book a signature spa treatment and relax with expansive views of the Presidential Range, Crawford Notch and Mount Washington from the therapy rooms.
Lake Superior Scenic Byway, Wisconsin
This 70-mile route follows Lake Superior's southern shore along the Bayfield Peninsula on Wisconsin State Highway 13. The road winds through harbor towns, fishing villages and orchards and farms. Expect to see views of beautiful sandy beaches, forests and the sparkling waters of Lake Superior. This route begins in the town of Barksdale, heads north and then around the tip of the peninsula, ending in Cloverland, near the mouth of the Brule River. Plan your drive for the first week of October when the area's bright reds, golds and coppers are at their peak. Highlights along the byway include the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Area, which are home an extensive collection of lighthouses. As a side trip, take a ferry ride from Bayfield to Madeline Island at the tip of the peninsula. Afterward, arrange for an overnight stay in Bayfield at the Old Rittenhouse Inn, a 20-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking Lake Superior.
Highlands, North Carolina
The picturesque mountain town of Highlands sits at 4,118 feet elevation on the Highlands Plateau in the Nantahala National Forest. Highlands is a temperate rainforest, so the vegetation is lush, and there are many waterfalls, rivers and lakes to explore in and around the area. Leaf-peeping season runs from the last week of October to the first week of November, and that's when you'll see leaves turning bright yellows and oranges, as well as deeper hues of reds and rusts. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy in this region, such as hiking, fly-fishing and golfing, but the community also has a vibrant cultural arts scene. During your visit, check out the exhibits at The Bascom (a visual arts center) or events at Highlands Performing Arts Center. While in town, reserve accommodations at Old Edwards Inn and Spa. This beautiful Relais & Chateâux property, located in the heart of the town, puts visitors within walking distance of the many restaurants and boutiques located on Main Street.
Tunnel of Trees, Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Known as the Tunnel of Trees, this 20-mile scenic route follows along historic M-119 between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. The area's canopies of golds, oranges and crimsons are on display typically from late September to mid-October. A few highlights include visiting the picturesque waterfront resort town of Harbor Springs and sampling authentic Polish cuisine at the iconic Legs Inn restaurant in Cross Village. For accommodations, plan to stay at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. This property offers many outdoor activities including zip lining, horseback riding, biking and tennis. While there, reserve a seat on the Heather Express chairlift. This excursion to the top of the mountain affords incredible views of Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs and the area's beautiful fall foliage.
North Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
North Lake Tahoe, which spans both California and Nevada, is surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, so there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, including kayaking and paddleboarding. You can also opt to go boating or relax on one of the area's many beaches. When it comes to viewing fall's splendor, there are hundreds of biking and hiking trails where you can see more than 10 different species of trees show off their red, orange and yellow foliage. The best time to see the colorful leaves is from about mid-September to late October. While there, check out one of the best viewing spots, Page Meadows in Tahoe City. Other top leaf-peeping locales are Tahoe Meadows, Ellis Peak and Mount Rose Summit. For a memorable getaway, book accommodations at the Resort at Squaw Creek at the base of Squaw Valley. Amenities at this luxury resort include a golf course with a view, a luxurious spa and outdoor activities, such as guided fly-fishing and rafting.
The Ozarks, Arkansas
Situated in the northwest part of the state, the Ozarks are the perfect destination to explore the outdoors and take in the beauty of autumn's palette of bright golds, reds and oranges. The transformation begins around the second week of October and peak colors appear by late October. One of the top spots to view the foliage is in the Buffalo National River area around the small town of Ponca. This beautiful wilderness destination in the mountains offers the opportunity to disconnect and get away from it all. While here, take time to hike or float down the river all the while keeping an eye out for wild elk. Fall is when the bulls are battling to become king of the herd, so they're especially active during this time of year. Plan to reserve one of the cabins in the mountains above Ponca. Vantage points from these properties yield incredible stargazing opportunities, as well as memorable sunrise and sunset views.
Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, Maryland
The scenic 38-mile drive from Emmitsburg to Point of Rocks runs along Maryland's Route 15. Known as "hallowed ground," and considered sacred by some, this long stretch of road highlights significant Civil War sites and pristine natural areas, including Catoctin Mountain Park, home to Camp David. The best time to make the journey to see the foliage on the Maryland route is between late September and early November, with peak season around mid-October. One not-to-be-missed detour is to see the 78-foot waterfall and gorge in Cunningham Falls State Park. Afterward, spend time exploring the shops and restaurants in the historic town of Frederick. While there, book an overnight stay at one of the charming local bed-and-breakfasts, such as 10 Clarke.
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Gwen Pratesi's love for food, travel and culture have taken her around the world to explore her passion. She has been a Travel contributor for U.S. News & World Report since 2016. Her website, Pratesi Living, is a James Beard Award Finalist in Journalism. She has won numerous awards for her travel writing, including a gold medal with the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). She is also the coauthor of the cookbook "Southern Heat: New Southern Cooking Latin Style."
Ms. Pratesi's freelance articles can be found on websites and in print in publications such as Forbes Travel Guide, Reader's Digest, USA TODAY, Cruise Critic, MSN, Yahoo!, Business Insider, World Travel Magazine and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine. She has been featured on other sites and in newspapers such as Huffington Post, Fine Cooking, Johnny Jet, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Los Angeles Times. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) and the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).
Originally from Philadelphia, Ms. Pratesi attended the University of Richmond. You can follow her travels on Instagram and Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.