Fall is one of my absolute favorite times of the year. As the weather gets cooler and the leaves start changing colors, everything feels more cozy and relaxing. There’s so much to enjoy about autumn that makes it easy to see why it’s such a beloved season for many people. But, my favorite is to enjoy fall foliage across the USA. It’s one of the best you get across the globe.
Why Fall Season is the Best?
One of the best parts of the autumn season is being able to get outside comfortably again after a hot summer. The cooler temperatures let you go hiking, camping, or apple picking without sweating buckets. Layering shirts, sweaters, and jackets is much more fun than wearing T-shirts and shorts all the time.
Another great thing about fall is the food. Favorites like pumpkin-flavored treats, hot cider, hearty stews, and fresh baked goods make their return. The apples used for baking desserts and pressing cider are at their peak ripeness too. There’s just something about cozying up with a mug of tea and a slice of apple pie that feels so right.
Fall is also an incredibly beautiful time of year, especially if you live near areas with vibrant fall foliage. Watching the green summer leaves transform into stunning shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown is amazing. The fall colors are like Mother Nature’s last hurrah before the trees go bare for winter. It’s no wonder people travel far and wide to leaf peep!
With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and all the harvest festivals that happen, fall has its own unique spirit. Football season starts, kids are back in school, and everything feels a little homier. During my childhood, some of my favorite memories were jumping in leaf piles, picking pumpkins, drinking hot cider, and curling up to watch movies under a blanket on chilly nights.
So if you ever find yourself not looking forward to the end of summer, just remember everything fall has to offer. It’s the perfect time to get cozy, enjoy nature’s beauty, indulge in seasonal foods, and make wonderful memories. That’s why I absolutely love the autumn season and can’t wait to talk about some of the best places to see stunning fall foliage in the USA to take in all the autumn magic.
In case, you want to see the most vibrant fall colors this season, here are the top 10 best places to see mesmerizing fall foliage in the USA:
1. The White Mountains, New Hampshire
Nestled in the northeastern United States, New Hampshire’s White Mountains offer some of the most brilliant fall foliage displays in the country.
Throughout the 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest, the green deciduous leaves on maple, beech, oak, and birch trees transform into a kaleidoscope of vibrant autumn hues starting in late September. For leaf peepers, this scenic New England destination should be at the top of your list to see sensational fall colors.
One of the top spots in the White Mountains for viewing the changing leaves is the Kancamagus Highway. This 35-mile National Scenic Byway stretches between Lincoln, NH, and Conway, NH along Route 112, passing through the heart of White Mountain National Forest.
Furthermore, the winding road serves up non-stop views of hillsides blanketed in yellows, oranges, and reds. Pulling over at one of the many outlooks lets you fully admire the beautiful fall scenery.
For postcard-worthy vistas above the autumn foliage, Franconia Notch State Park is a must. Hike up the moderate 3-mile Falling Waters Trail loop to be immersed in the brilliant colors all around you.
Stopping at the viewpoint overlooking the waterfall lets you take in the vibrant tones decorating the mountains and valleys. The incredible scenery makes it clear why New Hampshire’s White Mountains are revered as one of the best places to see spectacular fall foliage.
Peak foliage typically occurs during the first two weeks of October. Not to mention, the views over the colorful landscape are breathtaking.
2. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
Spanning across the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes alive each autumn with stunning fall foliage. Thanks to the diversity of deciduous trees like oak, maple, and hickory, the mountains ignite into a colorful blaze of yellows, oranges, and reds starting in mid-October. For an unforgettable fall foliage experience, the Great Smoky Mountains belong on your list of top places to see fall colors.
One phenomenal drive for taking in the fall scenery is the Blue Ridge Parkway. This national scenic roadway runs along mountain ridges and valleys, offering countless overlooks to admire the sea of autumn hues coating the rolling peaks and forests. Sections between Gatlinburg, TN, and Cherokee, NC especially showcase the bold colors.
For an up-close perspective, a day hike on the Alum Cave Trail near Gatlinburg. Along this moderate 5-mile round-trip trail, you’ll walk beneath a canopy of flaming fall foliage. Stop at outlooks like Inspiration Point for views across the colorful wooded mountains and valleys of the national park. There’s no better place to immerse yourself in the vibrant autumn beauty.
With gorgeous vistas around every bend, the phenomenal fall transformation of the lush Smoky Mountains makes it one of America’s top destinations to witness the brilliance of autumn. The vibrant colors sprawled over distant peaks and framed by scenic overlooks create unforgettable seasonal scenery.
Leaf change begins at higher mountain elevations above 4,500 feet as early as mid-September. The colors gradually creep down the mountains and reach the valleys by early to mid-October.
3. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Between Portland and Hood River, the Columbia River Gorge comes alive in a blaze of fall colors that have to be seen to be believed. Let me tell you, this up-and-coming leaf-peeping hotspot totally blew me away last October. It’s easily one of the most stunning places to take in autumn in the Pacific Northwest.
Driving the Historic Columbia River Highway is an incredible way to experience the fall magic. You’ve got sheer basalt cliffs on one side and the mighty Columbia River down below. On the slopes above, broadleaf trees like bigleaf maple, oak, and cottonwood paint the hills in dazzling shades of orange and red.
Definitely stop at the Rowena Crest Viewpoint – the panorama over the gorge cloaked in autumn was insane!
For a more immersive experience, I highly recommend hitting up a hiking trail like Eagle Creek. Walking under the golden canopy of leaves dropping all around you is so cool. And the views overlooking waterfalls sprayed by all the fall colors are totally picture perfect. The vibrance of the autumn foliage in the gorge completely exceeded my expectations.
So if you’re planning an autumn road trip to see fall colors in the Pacific Northwest, make sure the Columbia River Gorge is on your itinerary. The views of sheer cliffsides, mighty rivers, and wooded hills drenched in fall hues make it an absolute must-see. I’m telling you, it’s easily one of the most jaw-dropping places I’ve been to catch fall in all its glory!
Peak colors run from mid to late October in the gorge. You can extend your leaf-peeping adventure by driving the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway Loop which passes farms, orchards, and vineyards. There are also several wineries in the Columbia Gorge and on Mt. Hood that offer wine tasting among the autumn scenery.
4. Aspen, Colorado
When it comes to finding incredible fall colors, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Aspen. This charming mountain town is surrounded by scenic forests that positively light up in a sea of autumn shades each September and October. Let me convince you why Aspen needs to be on your leaf-peeping bucket list!
Driving the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop in peak foliage season is easily one of the most gorgeous drives in the state. The mountains and valleys are flooded with thousands of shimmering golden aspen trees that create jaw-dropping views. Stopping at the Maroon Bells overlook was incredible – that bright yellow blanket of quaking aspens set against the snowy peaks was so dreamy!
For an even better perspective, take the Silver Queen Gondola up Aspen Mountain as the leaves change. Seeing the bursts of autumn color across the hillsides and down into town from the gondola totally took my breath away. You can even hike trails on the mountain like the Ute Trail for an up-close look at the colorful foliage.
And you can’t beat Aspen’s charming New England-style downtown, lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants, all with the radiant colors outlining the mountains as a backdrop. Let’s just say that experiencing the fall season in Aspen exceeded my already high expectations. From the famous Maroon Bells to the vibrant trees surrounding the town, it’s a must-visit spot for catching breathtaking fall scenery.
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
Believe it or not, one of the most incredible places to catch fall foliage isn’t on the East Coast – it’s Glacier National Park! This rugged gem in northwest Montana has some of the most wildly vibrant autumn colors you’ll ever see. Let me convince you to add it to your leaf-peeping bucket list.
Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road is easily the star of the show in the fall season. This 50-mile alpine route winds up to Logan Pass at 6,600 feet, passing meadows and mountains that glow with golden larch and aspen trees starting in late September. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every pull-off had an incredible view!
For a more immersed experience, hike the Avalanche Lake Trail from mid-September to early October. Walking under waves of glowing autumn foliage with the crystal blue lake ahead is so gorgeous. Or climb up to Hidden Lake Overlook in September to have mind-blowing panoramas over forests swathed in yellows and oranges all to yourself.
The fall colors in Glacier totally took me by surprise with their beauty! From blanketing entire mountainsides to framing the most unreal aqua lakes, it’s some of the most insane autumn scenery I’ve ever witnessed. So do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t already!
6. Finger Lakes, New York
With all the hype around New England fall foliage, the technicolor leaves around the Finger Lakes can get overlooked. Let me tell you – this upstate New York region needs to be on your leaf-peeping radar! The hilly landscapes surrounding these slender lakes ignite into breathtaking autumn color.
One of my favorite drives is Route 90 heading north along Cayuga Lake’s west side. You’ve got the deep blue waters of the lake on one side and rolling hills decorated in burnt orange and yellow leaves on the other. The contrast is so striking!
For postcard-worthy scenery, head to Watkins Glen State Park. Hiking through the gorge there with leaves in wild colors like crimson cascading down the cliffs and into the stream was insane. Or just take a gander at the foliage mirrored on Canandaigua Lake or Seneca Lake – the reflections double the beauty!
The best part is you can easily pair leaf peeping with Finger Lakes wineries. Sipping local Riesling against a backdrop of blazing fall vineyards is pretty much perfect. So if you love wine and want fabulous fall colors without New England crowds, add the Finger Lakes to your list! The technicolor scenery surrounding these glacial lakes left me awe-struck.
Some recommended spots for leaf peeping include driving along Route 90 overlooking Cayuga, Owasco, and Skaneateles Lakes or hiking around the gorges and waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park. Ithaca, Geneva, and Seneca Falls also offer beautiful scenes along the rural towns and vineyards surrounding the lakes. Foliage season runs from late September into early November.
7. Arkansas River Valley, Arkansas
For stunning fall colors south of the Mason-Dixon line, look no further than Arkansas’ scenic River Valley region. Let me convince you that this under-the-radar spot needs to be on your autumn bucket list!
In late October, the hillsides blanketed in hickory, oak, and sweetgum trees along the valley glow in gorgeous shades of orange and red. Driving the Great River Road National Scenic Byway was jaw-dropping – I felt like I was swimming in autumn hues at every bend!
For the full immersive experience, I’d recommend paddling along the Upper Buffalo River at peak color. Floating right through the vibrant leaves carpeting the valleys reflected on the water was surreal. Or hike to the summit of Magazine Mountain and you’ll be surrounded by a sea of fall colors as far as the eye can see.
I’ll admit fall season in Arkansas totally exceeded my expectations. The dazzling foliage framing the Ozark Mountains and lining the Arkansas River is just incredible. So if you think the best leaf peeping is only in the Northeast, reconsider! The blazing colors in Arkansas’ River Valley will have you seeing autumn in a whole new light.
Outdoor lovers can take in the colors while paddling down the Arkansas River or hiking one of the many scenic trails. Some of the top spots to see the foliage are at Mount Nebo and Petit Jean State Parks or along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. Don’t miss driving up to the Lodge at Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas, for panoramic views too.
8. Catskill Mountains, New York
For incredible autumn beauty without the crowds of New England, head to the Catskill Mountains in New York. Let me tell you, this underrated spot just a few hours north of NYC is a leaf peeper’s paradise!
Driving along the Catskill Scenic Trail in mid-October was simply breathtaking. With its twists and turns, there were stunning vistas around every corner. Blazes of crimson and gold taking over the forested mountains against the backdrop of the Hudson Valley is something I’ll never forget.
For a more immersive experience, hike to Kaaterskill Falls or through the trails at North-South Lake Campground. Being surrounded by nothing but the vibrant fall foliage really lets you feel like you’re in the heart of autumn. And the views over the kaleidoscope of colors in the valleys below are insane!
So if you want a fabulous fall foliage escape from New York City without dealing with hoards of tourists, do yourself a favor and make the Catskills your perfect fall foliage destination in the USA! The mountains absolutely lived up to their reputation of turning into a real-life autumn painting. The vibrant scenery just can’t compare.
The peak colors are generally around mid-October. You can view the vibrant hues across the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountain Railroad or while indulging in farm-to-table cuisine and wine at area restaurants and vineyards. Certainly, It’s an easy getaway from the city to immerse yourself in the rustic fall scenery.
9. Black Hills, South Dakota
South Dakota may fly under the radar for fall colors, but the Black Hills region offers wonderful autumn scenery with fewer crowds. From late September to early October, the ponderosa pines, maples, aspens, and oaks decorating the Black Hills showcase brilliant golds and oranges.
For incredible autumn scenery off the beaten leaf-peeping path, look no further than the Black Hills of South Dakota. Let me convince you why this uncrowded spot needs to be on your fall bucket list!
Driving the Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park from late September into early October was awe-inspiring. Passing through narrow tunnels framed by bright yellow aspens and orange oaks was so unique! There are also incredible views driving the Wildlife Loop Road with golden meadows backed by the vibrant Fall colors of the forest.
To get up close, hike Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies. You’ll walk through groves of quaking aspens lighting up the trail in bold yellows. The panorama from the top over the sea of fall foliage in the valleys below is unreal!
The Black Hills surprised me with how incredible the autumn scenery was without the crowds. If you want breathtaking fall vistas and charming small towns to explore, put this spot on your list! The yellow and orange hues blanketing the ponderosa pines were absolutely spectacular.
Some of the most scenic areas include driving Iron Mountain Road between Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. You’ll pass through three narrow tunnels framed by colorful foliage. In summary, the 14-mile wildlife loop road in Custer is another top-leaf peeping drive with rolling meadows backed by forests in autumn hues.
10. Door County, Wisconsin
On the shores of Lake Michigan, Door County draws legions of leaf peepers every fall to its quaint small towns, orchards, and forests. In October, scarlet and amber hues take over the hardwood forests of maple, oak, beech, and birch trees. Scenic drives include the quiet country roads along the lake between Baileys Harbor and Gills Rock passing red barns and glowing trees.
Driving the quiet back roads along the Lake Michigan shoreline in early October is simply picture-perfect. Blazes of crimson and gold from maple, oak, and birch trees color the wooded countryside. In addition, the historic lighthouses and harbors dotted with little shops and cafes will make you feel like you’d step into an idyllic fall painting.
To get your fill of autumn treats, visit the county’s many orchards and farm stands overflowing with apples and pumpkins. In addition, hike or bike trails like those through Peninsula State Park to immerse yourself in the vibrant colors taking over the forests.
Between the rocky Lake Michigan shorelines, cute small towns, and hardwood forests glowing with autumn hues, it’s an incredible spot to welcome the season that left me wanting more. I can’t wait to return!
State parks like Peninsula and Newport offer hiking and biking trails through blazing fall foliage as well. Also, you can taste seasonal foods and ciders at the many farm stands and orchards. With cozy lakefront lodges and bed and breakfast inns, Door County makes for an idyllic autumn escape.
When is Peak Fall Foliage Season?
One question I get asked a lot is when the best time is to see those beautiful fall colors. Since autumn weather patterns vary, it’s not an exact science. But generally speaking, peak fall foliage works its way across the country starting up north in September, and gradually moving south through November.
In the northernmost parts of the U.S. like Maine, Minnesota, and the Rocky Mountains, expect peak colors in early September. Most of New England and the Midwest see their vibrant autumn hues in October. And by November, areas across the South like North Carolina mountains and Arkansas see their brilliant fall foliage.
I wish I could give you an exact date for when the colors will be popping in a given spot! However, here are some tips to make sure you hit peak season no matter where you travel:
Use foliage prediction maps and apps to monitor colors. Also, check local state tourism board foliage reports. Aim for trips between September-November depending on your location. But foremost, Be flexible – the weather really affects the leaves! Chilly nights and sunny days bring out the brightest colors.
No matter when you see the autumn show, it’ll take your breath away. That mix of yellow, orange, and red creating a sea of slow fire across the landscape is one of nature’s most amazing feats if you ask me. So, just grab a sweater and take an autumn road trip to witness one of the finest seasonal transformations there is!
In general, here are the approximate peak fall foliage times for popular fall foliage experiences in the USA:
- Northeast (New England, New York): Early-Mid October
- Southeast (Blue Ridge Parkway, Smoky Mountains): Mid-October
- Midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois): Mid-Late October
- Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Wyoming): Late September to Early October
- Northwest (Oregon, Washington): Mid-Late October
Tracking the fall foliage forecast can help you plan trips for the best color displays. There are great resources like SmokyMountains.com which provides up-to-date maps of the autumn colors across the country. Local state tourism boards also give weekly foliage reports during the season. Just be flexible, as an early frost or storm can diminish colors, while warm sunny days enhance them.
Tips for Viewing Fall Foliage in the USA
When it comes to making the most of all those gorgeous autumn colors, I’ve picked up some pro tips over the years. Let me drop some leaf-peeping knowledge to help you get the best views!
To make the most of your fall foliage adventures, keep these tips in mind:
- Head out early in the day – First, be an early bird. The lighting is prime in the morning hours, so start your leaf peeping nice and early. Those vivid hues really pop! Aim to hit scenic overlooks or trails right after sunrise.
- Travel mid-week – Second, avoid weekends if you can. Visiting popular spots on weekdays means you’ll skip the crowds. Tuesday through Thursday are ideal. You’ll have more breathing room to soak it all in.
- Make reservations – If traveling to popular areas like the Smoky Mountains or New England, book lodging and dining in advance.
- Have backup routes – If one area is packed, be ready to move on to plan B! Scope out multiple scenic drives and hikes ahead of time.
- Pull over for photos – Don’t try to take pictures while driving. Instead, safely pull over at scenic pull-offs.
- Bring layers and rain gear – Fall weather can be unpredictable! Dress in layers and be ready for rain showers.
- Walk, bike, or hike – Get deeper into forests by hiking or biking trails vs just driving through.
- Look up – Notice colorful leaves high in the canopy that you may miss from your car.
- Be present – Finally – be present. Appreciate the magical fall scenery in real-time instead of through your phone screen. It’s nature’s gift, so breathe it in!
Follow these simple suggestions, and you’ll be on your way to the ultimate fall foliage experience. And don’t be afraid to chase the colors across your area or the country. Leaf peeping is one of autumn’s greatest joys!
Extend Your Fall Foliage Trip
Many of the best regions to see fall colors also offer plenty of other attractions and activities. Here are some ideas to extend your autumn travels:
- Visit local farm stands and orchards – Pick apples and pumpkins or sample fresh cider and doughnuts.
- Take a harvest festival tour – Attend Oktoberfest, pumpkin festivals, corn mazes, or other seasonal events.
- Tour wineries – Sip wine and take in vineyard views on winery trails in Door County, the Finger Lakes, and more spots.
- Book a cabin or B&B – For a cozy place to stay amid the autumn scenery, opt for a lodge, cabin, inn, or quaint B&B over a basic hotel.
- Shop local – Browse galleries, boutiques, craft shops, and other businesses in the small towns and villages near peak foliage areas.
- Explore history – Take in the history and architecture in college towns like Burlington, Vermont, or Ithaca, New York.
- Opt for scenic train rides – Ride a train like the Mount Washington Cog Railway for amazing vistas over fall foliage.
- Don’t stick to the road – Get deeper into nature by kayaking, canoeing, or taking boat tours on lakes and rivers surrounded by fall colors.
Fall Foliage Trip Inspiration
Here are some sample fall foliage road trip itineraries across different regions of the country to spark ideas:
New England Fall Colors
- Boston – Stay in historic downtown, see changing leaves in Boston Commons park, dine at waterfront restaurants, tour Harvard, and walk the Freedom Trail
- Salem & Rockport – Visit Witch City sights, explore seaside Rockport’s galleries, shops, rocky coastline, and Bearskin Neck
- Portland & Kennebunkport, Maine – See lighthouses, walk the ocean pier, browse shops and galleries, dine at a lobster shack
- Kancamagus Highway & Mt Washington, New Hampshire – Drive this scenic highway framed by brilliant foliage, ride the Cog Railway up Mt Washington
- Stowe, Vermont – Hike through fiery foliage trails, sample maple ciders, and taste craft beers in this charming mountain village
- Acadia National Park, Maine – Hike and bike along trails speckled with fall colors and enjoy stunning vistas along this rugged coastline
Smoky Mountains Road Trip
- Asheville, North Carolina – Tour the magnificent Biltmore Estate surrounded by fall colors, browse artsy shops, dine at acclaimed farm-to-table restaurants
- Blue Ridge Parkway – Drive this scenic route through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park stopping at overlooks
- Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – Ride the scenic chairlift, walk through Cades Cove, visit the Dollywood theme park, and enjoy Southern food and hospitality
- Blowing Rock & Boone, North Carolina – See breathtaking views at Mile High Bridge, browse the shops and eateries in these high country mountain towns
- Chimney Rock State Park – Hike to the iconic Chimney Rock for panoramas over Lake Lure and experience the park’s incredible autumn scenery
Midwest Fall Colors
- Traverse City, Michigan – Taste local wines at vineyards along the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, sample cherry orchard treats, relax at lakefront lodges, and take in the vibrant autumn leaves surrounding the lakes and bays
- Door County, Wisconsin – Walk shops and sample apple pie in the lakeside villages, visit farm stands and orchards overflowing with autumn bounty, view brilliant shoreline foliage on the peaceful bay side of the peninsula
- Starved Rock State Park, Illinois – Hike among colorful canyon walls, stand under roaring waterfalls, and camp or stay in a rustic lodge at this scenic getaway less than 100 miles from Chicago
- Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – Unwind at this historic lake town featuring stately Victorian mansions and bucolic vistas of surrounding autumn forests reflected on the peaceful waters
- Holland, Michigan – Stroll this charming Dutch-influenced village lined with shops, cafes, and tulip gardens, and take a colorful vineyard tour along the Lake Michigan shoreline
Final Thoughts on Enjoying Fall Foliage Season
Crisp weather, beautiful scenery, and fewer crowds make fall one of the best times to travel in the U.S. Seeing incredible displays of autumn foliage can be on every nature lover and traveler’s bucket list. From the brilliance of New England forests to the vibrant colors out West, enjoy destinations ablaze with beautiful fall colors.
Use this list of top spots and travel tips to help plan your own fall foliage adventures. There are so many gorgeous places around the country to view the incredible transformation of fall leaves. However, be sure to book ahead for popular destinations and, pack for changeable weather. Also, take your time driving scenic byways and stopping to soak up the lovely views.
What are some of your favorite places to experience fall foliage? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about beautiful autumn destinations I should add to my travel wish list.
Well, last but not least, If you are an explorer by heart and love to travel, you can check out our budget traveling hacks post. If you love to travel solo, you must check out our post on how to stay safe while traveling solo.
If you happen to travel to Minneapolis, check out our blog Best Things to Do in Minneapolis.
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