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The 15 Best Fall Foliage Trips in the U.S.

Leaf viewing is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty.

The beauty of seasons is that they change, and the jewel-toned colors that seem to brighten and glisten as summer turns to fall are arguably the most beautiful change of all. Whether you call it leaf-peeping season or simply fall, the changing colors around the nation are enough to inspire a fall foliage getaway. From the mountain maples in New England to the stunning sassafras trees that shade the Blue Ridge Parkway, check out our picks for the 15 best fall foliage trips in the U.S.

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PHOTO: Cody Haskell/Shutterstock
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Guardsman Pass Scenic Byway, Utah

The drive from Park City to Midway in the Heber Valley takes less than one hour by car, but during autumn expect to spend longer to make the most of the numerous scenic turnouts and photo ops along the way. Fiery red oak trees and golden aspens line the route along this scenic mountain pass, where a 9,700-foot elevation puts travelers at the ideal viewpoint above the verdant alpine meadows and hot pink hues found in Wasatch Mountain State Park.

When to Go: The leaves begin changing colors in September, but they are at their best late September through early October along this scenic mountain pass.

Where to Stay: The Waldorf Astoria Park City is set among more than 7,300 acres of scenic mountain terrain. Take in the cool mountain air along the more than 300 trails that wind through the resort’s acreage or warm up by the 300-year-old marble fireplace inside this grand alpine lodge.

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PHOTO: Jon Bilous /Dreamstime
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The White Mountains Trail, New Hampshire

This 100-mile scenic byway rounds around New Hampshire’s Presidential Mountain Range, where covered bridges and cider stands guide passengers through the region’s festival of fall colors. Brilliantly red mountain maples and golden beech trees highlight the base of Mount Washington, where a quick climb up the historic Mount Washington Auto Road puts travelers at the summit of the impressive 6,288-foot mountain to take in a birds-eye view of the wilderness below.

When to Go: The fall foliage season is short in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where September marks the beginning of leaf-peeping season and mid-October begins the transition to the wintry season that earned these mountains their name.

Where to Stay: The Omni Mount Washington Hotel’s ideal location within the White Mountains has attracted presidents, celebrities, and poets throughout its storied history, but its fall when this grand dame hotel fills with leaf peepers seeking the best views of the region. Suites with private balconies or patios are available for taking in the mountain views, but the ultimate on-resort experience is on the eight-passenger Bretton Woods Skyway Gondola that carts guests to the Rosebrook Lodge for a scenic 12-minute ride above the fall foliage.

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PHOTO: Sky Sajjaphot/Shutterstock
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Aspen, Colorado

When a world-famous town is named after a tree, you know it must be an extraordinary place. Aspen leaves turn a rich yellow hue in the fall and quite literally shimmer in the breeze when the sun hits them. The gold tones of aspens in autumn make for a picture-perfect contrast with the evergreens and craggy mountain peaks. While the ritzy ski resort town of Aspen is the place to see and be seen in the winter, it mellows during the autumn months.

When to Go: Aspen season is short. It kicks in during mid-September and peaks at the end of the month. The first week of October offers some decent viewing, but beyond that, there will be more leaves on the ground than on the trees.

Where to Stay: The W Aspen was the first new hotel to open in 25 years when it opened its doors in 2019 at the base of Aspen Mountain. The ski-in, ski-out hotel offers some of the best views in the city, where rooftop firepits warm guests as the cool mountain air brings the scents of fall to the top of this 88-room property.

 

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PHOTO: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock
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The Catskills, New York 

The 700,000 acres in southeastern New York known as the Catskills are home to six major river systems, 98 mountain peaks—35 of which are over 3,500 feet—and the famed Woodstock festival. A year-round destination, the Catskills are at their most vibrant in the fall when yellows, oranges, and reds electrify the thickly wooded hillsides. Locals and visitors alike savor the fall harvest, when many of the region’s historic villages host festivals and craft fairs alongside the bountiful farmer’s markets and pick-your-own orchards.

When to Go: The last two weeks in September through mid to late October are prime time for fall foliage in the Catskills, but the second week of October is considered peak leaf-peeping season.

Where to Stay: The Catskills are fabled for their charming B&Bs, but the 24 luxury cabins at Piaule have guests sleeping among the trees themselves. Set among 50 acres of wooded forest, the fragrant wooden cabins feature sliding glass walls that open to the natural setting beyond while posh linens and furnishings from the Piaule housewares line keep the setting cozy.

 

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PHOTO: Dave Allen Photography/Shutterstock
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Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s winding path leads travelers along a scenic byway along the Blue Ridge Mountains as it stretches 469 miles between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once the weather begins to cool in the fall, the road ignites in an intense palate of bright yellow, vibrant red, and brilliant orange as the dogwoods, sassafras, and red maples begin to change hues. Many towns along the way offer quaint spots to stop for photo ops, but the charming town of Asheville offers a bigger fall experience for visitors, with nearby apple orchards, countless festivals, and great fall hiking options up to Looking Glass Falls and Rainbow Falls.

When to Go: Late September ushers in the first inklings of fall, but the region is enflamed in colors as it peaks in mid to late October.

Where to Stay: The rooms and suites at the Hyatt Place Asheville Downtown provide some of the best views of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the city. For the ultimate peeping point, head to the eighth floor to the hotel’s speakeasy-style rooftop bar to grab a local craft brew and sit back to watch the colors change even more dramatically as the sun goes down.

Related: 10 Reasons to Visit the Shenandoah Valley This Fall

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PHOTO: Jason Busa/Shutterstock
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Acadia National Park, Maine

Pristine inland lakes and craggy coastlines set the stage for the brilliant fall performance that happens each year in Acadia National Park. Five scenic byways run through the region, but it’s the Schoodic National Scenic Byway that offers the most quintessential Maine scenery. The route winds through 27 miles of coastline, passing through quaint fishing villages and lighthouses among the scarlet-hued blueberry barrens and beneath colorful canopies of maple, birch, and poplar trees.

When to Go: The fall colors begin their grand transformations in late September, but it’s not until the first and second weeks in October that the colors shine in full force across Acadia National Park.

Where to Stay: Located just minutes from the scenic Acadia National Park Loop Road, Terramor Outdoor Resort’s luxurious nature experiences are unrivaled. Guests can choose from five tent types within the 60-acre resort, where days are spent soaking in the natural beauty by hiking or kayaking and evenings are spent stargazing beneath the vast night sky—where the Milky Way shines the brightest it does anywhere east of the Mississippi.

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PHOTO: Freebilly Photography/Shutterstock
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Columbia River Gorge, Oregon 

Cut into the Cascade Mountains and forming a natural border between southern Washington and northern Oregon, the 85-mile Columbia River Gorge is already a sublime sight. Come fall, when the firs, cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, Oregon ash, and twisted pines start to show their colors, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Visitors can choose to take in the golden and bronze hues while driving along the Columbia River, hiking a variety of trails, or rafting and kayaking down the river.

When to Go: The earliest leaf changes can be seen in early September, but it’s not until mid-to-late October when the colors of fall are on full display in the Columbia River Gorge,

Where to Stay: The historic Columbia Gorge Hotel has the hands-down best views of the gorge, including the 207-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall, while the Society Hotel Bingen offers a lesson in luxury inside its renovated schoolhouse halls.

Related: Need more suggestions of where to stay? We’ve got a whole list.

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PHOTO: Monika Salvan/Shutterstock
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Green Mountain Byway, Vermont 

The maple, birch, and beech trees lining this 71-mile corridor bisecting Vermont put on one of the most dazzling displays of color in New England. The drive from quaint Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, to Stowe, one of the most famous ski resorts in the east, passes through two state forests and three state parks. In Stowe, the ski area gondola offers a bird’s-eye view of the forested slopes and easy access to hiking.

When to Go: The northern Vermont leaf observation season begins the second week of September and peaks the first week in October.

Where to Stay: In Stowe, the Topnotch Resort sits on 120 acres overlooking Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain at 4,393 feet. An impressive trail system surrounds the property, perfect for hiking and horseback riding.

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PHOTO: Golden Ratio Photos/Shutterstock
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Indianapolis, Indiana

It doesn’t take a trip outside the city limits of Indianapolis to enjoy the beauty and bounty of Indiana’s boldest fall colors. Indy is home to one of the largest city parks and a series of urban trails that pass over and beside rivers, greenways, and state parks makes it possible to explore the fall colors by foot, on wheels, or even up in the air. Zipline through the fall trees themselves at Eagle Creek Park, canoe past vibrant reds and yellows along the White River, or bike beneath the tree canopy of Monon Trail to get immersed in the seasonal displays throughout the city.

When to Go: The season begins in mid-late September and continues through the end of November, peaking in mid-October when the colors are in full force.

Where to Stay: The Hotel Broad Ripple is set amongst mature trees at the base of the Monon Trailhead. Many of the nineteen rooms at this boutique hotel have balconies overlooking the treelined trail and the foliage flanked White River.

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Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico 

The dazzling 83-mile loop starting and ending in Taos has become a fall foliage pilgrimage for aspen aficionados. Here, the aspens turn not only yellow but also dark orange. The route encircles 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point, and the mesas and mountain vistas offer a unique southwestern perspective on autumn color. While aspens steal the show, there are also purple cinquefoil and cottonwoods in fiery shades ranging from bright red to yellow.

When to Go: Late September to early October offers the most vibrant colors along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.

Where to Stay: A romantic B&B in Taos with spectacular mountain views, Hacienda del Sol, features twelve southwestern-style rooms in four adobe buildings, most with kiva fireplaces and made-from-scratch gourmet breakfasts.

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PHOTO: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
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Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania 

The covered bridges, rolling hills, and picturesque small towns were enough to inspire artists and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright over the years. The region is home to four Frank Llyod Wright houses and countless other stunning structures like the , but the architecture of the highlands is only part of the draw as the area once the fall season sets in. Pennsylvania boasts a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in America, and it’s here that harvest festivals and autumn wine tastings are set among a backdrop of bright reds, oranges, and yellows from the changing dogwoods, black gums, and scarlet oaks.

When to Go: The leaves begin their changes in mid-September but will hit their peak colors around mid-October.

Where to Stay: Whether you arrive by car or by air (the resort has its own airstrip on the property), the first glimpses you get of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort will take your breath away. During fall, this 2,000-acre resort becomes a haven for luxuriating among the autumn leaves, whether with a rejuvenating treatment at the Woodlands Spa and Holistic Healing Center or with a glass of wine from Pennsylvania’s largest private wine cellar.

 

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PHOTO: Sidhu50/Shutterstock
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Upper Peninsula, Michigan 

Michigan’s state forest system is one of the largest in the U.S., encompassing nearly 4 million acres. Take your pick from one (or more) of the Upper Peninsula’s 20-plus forested state parks. Ash, aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak, sycamore, and tamarack are the stars of this densely forested peninsula sandwiched between three Great Lakes. The tranquil waters, ranging in color from azure to navy, visually enhance (and reflect) the trees’ already brilliant fall colors.

When to Go: The best time to take in the fall colors of the Upper Peninsula is mid-September to mid-October, with the peak happening in early October.

Where to Stay: The ferry to Mackinac Island is almost a time machine back to a time where horses and bicycles provided the means for transportation. No cars are allowed on this idyllic island, so guests of the island’s Grand Hotel are transported via horse-drawn carriages from the ferry docks directly to the impressive 660-foot-long porch. Spend the afternoon playing lawn games among the fall colors or settle into a rocking chair with a cocktail to watch the sunset from the hotel’s birds-eye perch over the island.

 

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Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri 

Central Missouri’s popular summertime lake getaway becomes even better in the fall when the crowds disperse and the temperatures pleasantly drop into the sixties. The surrounding Ozark Hills are at their most scenic come fall when the forests ignite in shades of scarlet, gold, mahogany, and russet. Experience the color explosion while hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding at Missouri’s largest state park. Or take in the fall foliage on a yacht, at the wineries, during a round at one of the lake’s championship golf courses, or on a twenty-five-mile scenic drive.

When to Go: The last two weeks of October are the indisputable prime time for leaf-peeping at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Where to Stay: Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers 186 campsites open year-round and 10 rustic outpost cabins, each equipped with tables, chairs, wood-burning stoves, and sleeping accommodations. Central restrooms and showers are within walking distance.

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PHOTO: Wildnerdpix/iStock-478497616
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Glacier National Park, Montana 

For the ruggedly self-sufficient, Glacier National Park is a dream fall foliage destination. By the end of September, many of the park’s concessions have closed for the season, guests have gone home, and you pretty much have the entire park to yourself. This is one of the best places to see larch trees—deciduous conifers that turn bright gold in the fall before losing their needles. Yellow larch intermingled with evergreens set against the backdrop of the massive snow-covered peaks of the Continental Divide make for perhaps the most dramatic autumn scene in the U.S. Plus, wildlife abounds, with elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bears making their preparations for winter.

When to Go: Larch trees change color in mid-October. Everything else—maple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, and huckleberry—turn between early- and late-September.

Where to Stay: Most of the area’s notable properties close by late-September. The comfortable Grouse Mountain Lodge, located 25 miles away in Whitefish, is open all four seasons and offers exceptional on-site dining.

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PHOTO: Jeff Folger (CC BY-ND 2.0)/Flickr
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Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, Massachusetts

Stunning displays of fall color greet visitors driving along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, but it’s the journey through coastal communities and porches prettified with pumpkins that sets the backdrop for this memorable drive. This 90-mile route stretches between Salisbury and Lynn, passing through hemlock groves, magnolia swamps, and beech trees as it winds past Gilded-Age mansions and First Period houses. Unlike the dense forests of the Berkshires, this coastal byway fall foliage hangs on a bit longer, offering colorful scenery well through October.

When to Go: The coastal region of Massachusetts generally peaks around the second and third weeks of October, but the fall colors will linger through the end of the month.

Where to Stay: The town of Salem is synonymous with autumn activity (namely Halloween), and the Daniels House B&B provides a cozy respite for basking in the fall colors and New England charm of this historic town. Marked as one of the oldest B&Bs in the nation, the Daniels House was recently restored and renovated to offer four rooms with personalities all their own.

4 Comments
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jeanwhite4596 September 19, 2021

You have got to be kidding me.   I live in Indianapolis, and while it is a fact the city was once a deep forest and has more than average trees and green lawns and meadows, I'm not sure I'd consider it a destination for fall color.  
When I want fall color, I head south to Brown County. Now THERE is a destination.
Everyone in Indy heads south in the fall. Nashville (IN) can get pretty crowded but the back roads are spectacular. There are winding, hilly leafy roads enough to satisfy anyone, with artisanal studios both in Nashville and scattered about the county.  Lake Monroe is the largest in the state and there are a number of other lakes.  But why am I telling you this?  It's crowded enough already.

S
sunshinewalls1147 September 13, 2021

Not one single mention of West Virginia. Blackwater falls, Droop Mountain, Beartown, and even the train rides  are amazing views of the leaves!

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Linda9195 September 13, 2021

Not to detract from the beautiful areas suggested in your article about best places for fall foliage, but I think it was a big mistake to leave out the beautiful Adirondack Park. I live on the southern boarder of the Adirondack Park and a simple trip to the grocery store is breathtaking!!