Leaf viewing is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Squelching temps and sneaky new Covid-19 variants plagued the summer travel season with bummer after sweaty-mask-wearing bummer. But 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 the welcome change we all need this year.
This leaf-peeping season, take a fall foliage getaway that will refresh your spirits and feed your sweater-weather-loving soul. From the mountain maples in New England to the sassafras trees that shade the Blue Ridge Parkway, check your destination’s Covid-19 protocols, and then check out these stunning fall foliage trips around the U.S.
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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 an almost 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 in 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 more than 300-year-old marble fireplace inside this grand alpine lodge.
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 the 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.
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 golden tones of aspens in autumn make a picture-perfect contrast with the evergreens and craggy mountain peaks. While Aspen’s ritzy ski resort town 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 property, including 88 guestrooms, four WOW suites, and one Extreme WOW suite.
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.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway’s winding path leads travelers along a scenic byway along the Blue Ridge Mountains, stretching 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.
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.
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, it’s absolutely breathtaking when the firs, cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, Oregon ash, and twisted pines start to show their colors. Visitors can choose to take in the golden and bronze hues while driving along the Columbia River, hiking various 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.
Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
The maple, birch, and beech trees lining this 71-mile corridor bisecting Vermont put on one of New England’s most dazzling displays of color. 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.
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 19 rooms at this boutique hotel have balconies overlooking the tree-lined trail and the foliage flanking White River.
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 is Hacienda del Sol, which features 12 southwestern-style rooms in four adobe buildings, including kiva fireplaces and made-from-scratch gourmet breakfasts.
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, but the architecture of the highlands is only part of the draw 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.
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 when 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.
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 prime time for leaf-peeping at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Where to Stay: Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers more than a 100 campsites open year-round and a few rustic outpost cabins, each equipped with tables, chairs, wood-burning stoves, and sleeping accommodations. Central restrooms and showers are within walking distance.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is a dream fall foliage destination for the ruggedly self-sufficient. 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. All the other trees—including 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.
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.
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 varying personalities.
Highland Scenic Highway, West Virginia
This curvy drive winds through the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia’s Pocahontas County. The highway spans 43 miles of scenic vistas, passing by groves of maple trees and towering oak trees between the towns of Richwood and Marlinton. Expect to get out to explore the Falls of Hills Creek and the Cranberry Glades, but four easy-to-access overlooks make it easy to step out and take in the glory of the Allegheny Highlands during autumn.
When to Go: The colors of West Virginia’s fall foliage tend to peak in mid-to-late October, although some of the maples begin changing in late September.
Where to Stay: Cozy up at the Elk River Inn & Cabins in nearby Slaty Fork. There are eight guest rooms in the main inn and four cabins for rent that are set among the trees. The inn even offers fly fishing guides to help guests get the most out of their experience among the nearby rivers that flow through West Virginia.
Adirondack Park, New York State
The park covers a fifth of the entire state and is home to one of the longest fall foliage viewing seasons in the entire country. The leaves begin to turn in late September in the parts of the park—including the regions around Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake—and continue to spread through the park until reaching the Adirondack Coast and Lake Champlain in late October. Along with vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges from the variety of maple, cherry, and birch trees, visitors will find corn mazes, apple picking, and other iconic fall experiences set among the stunning multi-colored landscape.
When to Go: The leaves begin to change starting in late September and depending upon where you are in the six-million acres that make up this expansive park, you could still be seeing vibrant colors through the end of October.
Where to Stay: The Adirondack chairs set up along the shores of Lake Placid at the Whiteface Lodge are coveted spots during the fall season because of the reflections of fall colors glittering across the calm waters. The lodge features hand-milled timber and rustic luxury at its finest, with suites to sleep anywhere from one to 12 guests.
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, Idaho
Eastern Idaho has much to discover, especially during the cooler months of fall, but this one 28.7-mile loop gives new meaning to undiscovered beauty. Sure, you’ll likely pass lines of cars eager to catch the golden hews that glimmer through the dense evergreens, but you’ll also see two of the last undisturbed waterfalls in the West, the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. Unlike other falls that have been tapped out for more practical purposes (i.e., irrigation, hydroelectricity, etc.), these falls are untouched and flow wildly among their pristine settings. Find a quiet spot to pull over during this short hour-long drive, and you’ll be alone with the rustle of quaking aspens and the rushing of crystal river water.
When to Go: If you can hold off until mid-October, you’ll be rewarded with the most vibrant colors of the season, although leaves start changing as early as the first of October and generally can last until the middle of November.
Where to Stay: Yellowstone National Park is just a short drive East, but for the chance to sleep steps from the Snake River (one of the top-rated fly fishing rivers in the U.S.), you’ll need to book a suite or a cabin at the Angler’s Lodge in Island Park, Idaho. The cabins have a country chill vibe, but the private Jacuzzis are piping hot.
Old Frankfort Pike Road, Lexington, Kentucky
A quick trip to Lexington itself could suffice to satisfy your fall foliage cravings. This is a place where rugged landscapes like Raven Run Nature Sanctuary meet with centuries-old mansions and pristinely manicured horse farms. Plan to take it slowly on two wheels or four as you discover Kentucky’s Old Frankfort Pike Road. Known best as “Thoroughbred Alley,” this 16.9-mile stretch links Lexington to Frankfort with tree-canopy-covered roads passing by thoroughbred farm after thoroughbred farm. The sugar maples, orange osage, and dogwood trees make the landscape even more vibrant in fall as the leaves overhead change to yellow, crimson, and burnt orange. Although the drive is short, the pastoral portraits you’ll encounter on this breathtaking drive will likely change how you envision fall forever.
When to Go: Early September brings the first glimmers of fall, but you’ll want to hold off until mid or even late October to get the full fall experience throughout Lexington.
Where to Stay: Although it’s just 20 minutes out of the city, the Kentucky Castle will transport you to a European countryside estate, complete with castle accommodations and an actual apiary. There are no less than 15 accommodation options at the fairytale-esque castle, where a farm-to-table restaurant, a full-service spa (lavender treatments from plants grown onsite), and countless outdoor experiences (i.e., goat yoga, autumn picnics, equine meditations, etc.) await guests looking to soak in the 110-acres of regal grounds.
Arkansas Scenic Byway 7, Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Part of the beauty of this scenic byway (aside from its already natural beauty, of course) is that the sharp curves and winding corners force travelers to slow down and take in the absolutely stunning scenery. As the leaves change for fall, the landscape becomes more like a Thomas Kincaid painting, as the light bends and bounces off the sparkling rivers to highlight the reds, greens, oranges, and golden hews of the Ozark National Forest. This Arkansan road flows for 290 miles alongside the Arkansas River through both the Ozark and the Ouachita mountain ranges, starting in El Dorado and ending farther North in Harrison. Keep an eye out for Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs and the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks in Jasper as you pass by river birch, maple, and oak trees in varying shades of gold and red.
When to Go: The leaves begin to turn in the Ozark sections of this byway in early October (peaking in late October), but it isn’t until mid-November that the leaves hit their peak vibrancy in the southern and eastern portions of the route.
Where to Stay: The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs shines in the fall months, partly because it’s one of the most haunted hotels in America but mainly because the fall foliage surrounding this historic hotel wraps the place in a virtual autumnal blanket. Gourds line the driveway, and the ornate back patios and balconies provide the perfect setting for sipping local wines and gazing out on the leaves as they transform throughout the season.