From Alaska's Anchorage and California's Sonoma Valley to New England classics like Rhode Island and Vermont, the U.S. is packed with leaf-peeping staples. But with international travel back on, there’s a dazzling U.K. woodland that can rival those stateside shows: The English countryside region known as Forest of Dean, which borders Wales, is 204 square miles of 20 million oak, larch, and beech trees that create a mosaic of southwest England’s Gloucestershire. Come autumn, copper and crimson leaves freckle this quiet woodland, creating a destination so captivating that Tudor kings once frequented these parts for tranquil holidays and pristine hunting.
Today, nature remains the star of the show. An amalgam of autumn experiences attract leaf peepers to the Forest of Dean, from a curated autumn drive to a forage-then-feast culinary experience—with luxe cabins beckoning for some serious R&R. Here’s how to plan the perfect leaf-peeping excursion abroad to the UK’s best fall-foliage destination, the Forest of Dean, and when to go for the best views.
When to visit
While late September is prime leaf-peeping season in many places stateside, England’s fall foliage hits a month later. Paul Rutter, a local tree specialist and woodland advisor for UK conservation charity Plantlife, says that while the leaf-turning dates are tough to predict, late October is a safe bet.
“October to November is around the time of most spectacular color, just before the leaves fall,” said Rutter, who spends autumn serving as the Forest of Dean’s “Chief Leaf Peeper.” Rutter’s favorite fall-foliage spots include the ancient hill fort atop Symonds Yat Rock and the Cyril Hart Arboretum, home to 200 tree species that radiate on a “bright, crisp, sunny morning,” he said.
Getting to this autumn wonderland is a breeze by car or train. If driving, the region is 45 minutes from Cardiff, two and a half hours from London, and 30 minutes from the Cotswolds. The closest train stations are Chepstow, just south of the forest, and Ledbury, northeast of the forest. Both stations connect with the National Rail service from major cities like London. Once you’ve arrived, you can hop from place to place via rental car, bike, or bus, although the latter takes a bit more legwork and planning. The easiest way to get around the region without a rental car? Hire a local guide.
What to do
Fall’s colorful leaves abound across the Forest of Dean, and so do the unique ways to see them. Adventure enthusiasts can get that adrenaline pumping with canoe, kayak, or standup paddle board excursions through the forest: Wyedean Canoe and Adventure Center rents vessels for trips down the River Wye, which snakes through the colorful woodland from England into Wales. (Riverfront establishment The Saracens Head Inn offers post-paddle pints at its water-view pub, complete with outdoor dining and locally sourced fare.) The area’s highest point, 970-foot May Hill, promises an astonishing panorama above the tree line, with up to 12 neighboring counties visible on clear days.
The forest’s own curated Leaf Peeping Drive is a classic way to see the stunning colors that meanders through 50 miles of ancient woodland between England and Wales. Stops include natural attractions like the Cannop Ponds, home to peaceful lakes and scenic hiking trails, and quaint Welsh town Tintern, known for its towering stone abbey on the banks of the River Wye (pictured).
A web of bike trails wind through the Forest of Dean, including the 11-mile Family Trail, a path that follows old railway lines and links charming forest towns. Rent wheels at the nearby Pedal A Bike Away shop. Or, try a new e-bike, available for rent through Wye-Bikes.
You won’t leave the Forest of Dean hungry—or thirsty. Snag a spot in autumn’s Forage and Feast experience (starting at $130 per person) at Harts Barn Cookery School, just outside the Forest of Dean. Alongside local culinary experts, patrons forage in the woods for fresh ingredients like nuts and mushrooms, then head back to the kitchen to prepare a creative feast using only the gathered items. The five-hour excursion is a delicious immersion into England’s autumn harvest, as is nearby Severn Cider, a cidery opened in 1956 that offers tastings and Ploughman’s platters in its serene woodland digs.
Where to stay
After a full day of leaf peeping, relax under a canopy of oaks and larches in one of the region’s cozy accommodations, like the new Hill Farm Tintern, an off-the-grid glamping getaway overlooking the Wye Valley. Accommodations include a forest-view villa or a rustic, and equally scenic, yurt (from $130 per night for both options). Overnights come with a choice of indulgent extras, including private sauna and hot tub sessions in the eco spa, locally sourced breakfast and barbecue packages, and a serene woodland yoga experience.
A brand-new glamping getaway, Hope Farm is a family-owned operation that introduced overnight stays (from $140 per night) in 2021. The farm is adjacent to the Forest of Dean, although its own miniature ponies, sheep, chickens, cats, and puppies—plus a flower farm with onsite floristry courses—may make it tough to step off the property.
Two upscale and adults-only retreats also await in the Forest of Dean: The Roost (from $275 per night) features luxe glamping cabins with wood-burning stoves, an outdoor Japanese hot tub, and a fire pit on the veranda that’s perfect for cozying up with hot cider beneath of a sea of autumn hues. And, taking luxury up a level is Hudnalls Hideout (from $550 per night, open through December), a dreamy A-frame treehouse nestled in Wye Valley woodland that radiates hygge—from a sleek indoor fireplace to its private flower-dotted meadow, not to mention an outdoor bathtub for soaking up those splendid views.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler