Leaf viewing is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty.
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 ten best fall foliage trips in the U.S.
When a world-famous town is named after a tree, you know it’s an extraordinary specimen. Aspen leaves turn a rich yellow hue in the fall and 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 Limelight Hotel is an ultra-modern mountain lodge that fronts Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Don’t let the sexy sophistication fool you; the hotel is moderately priced and welcomes both kids and pets.
The Catskills, New York
The 6,000 square miles in southeastern New York known as the Catskills are home to six major river systems, 35 mountain peaks 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 farmers 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.
Where to Stay: The Catskills are fabled for their charming B&Bs. For more of a retreat experience, head to the Inn at Lake Joseph, a 17-room country resort located on a private lake among 2,000 acres of wilderness.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Stretching 469 miles between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s winding path leads travelers along a scenic byway along the Blue Ridge Mountains. 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, and the region is enflamed in colors from that point on, peaking in the first couple weeks of October and slowing down toward the end of November.
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 views though, 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.
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Cut into the Cascade Mountains and forming a natural border between southern Washington and northern Oregon, the 80-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 or kayaking down the river.
When to Go: Mid-September to mid-October is the best time for fall foliage in the Columbia River Gorge.
Where to Stay: The historic Columbia Gorge Hotel has the hands-down best views of the gorge, including the 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall. Your stay includes breakfast at the hotel dining room, Simon’s Cliff House, one of the best restaurants in Oregon. Need more suggestions of where to stay? We’ve got a whole list.
Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
The maple, birch, and beech trees lining this 11-mile route 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.
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 stellar mountain views, Hacienda del Sol, features twelve southwestern-style rooms in four adobe buildings, most with 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 like the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, 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 323-room 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 the largest in the eastern 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 back) 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 October.
Where to Stay: Keweenaw, the northernmost part of the Upper Peninsula, is known for its historic lighthouses. Stay at the cozy eight-room Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn, which was built in 1917 and is the largest and last manned lighthouse on the great lakes.
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.
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.