The transition to autumn means cooler temperatures, heartier foods, harvest festivals, family gatherings, and leaves turning into beautiful colors. For many people – including myself – fall remains the most beloved season, not least because of nature’s stunning paintbrush.
There’s just something about that magical moment you realize the heat of the summer has broken, there’s a slight chill in the air, and the trees begin to give up their leaves for another year.
The US has some of the most gorgeous fall foliage destinations in the world, from those quintessential scenes in New England to less well-known gems like Door County in Wisconsin.
As those lively hues come in, leaf-peeping becomes a national pastime. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts flock to the key fall season hot spots. I read somewhere that one in four Americans will plan a yearly trip to see fall foliage. That’s a lot of peeping peeps.
Some travel agencies charge thousands of dollars for fall foliage tours. But you don’t need to shell out that cash to experience the country’s autumnal highlights.
With planning and foresight and some help from this article, you can explore the best places for fall foliage in the US. Now, all you need is a pumpkin-spiced latte!
What We Cover
- Best Places in the US to See Fall Colors
- 1. Scenic Route 100, Vermont
- 2. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
- 3. Aspen, Colorado
- 4. Catskills Mountains, New York
- 5. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
- 6. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- 7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
- 8. Smugglers’ Notch State Park, Vermont
- 9. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
- 10. Acadia National Park, Maine
- 11. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
- 12. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
- 13. Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, Arkansas
- 14. Kent, Connecticut
- 15. Enchanted Circle, New Mexico
- 16. Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania
- 17. Guardsman Pass Scenic Byway, Utah
- 18. Door County, Wisconsin
- 19. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
- 20. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- 21. Eagle Creek Park, Indiana
- What states have the best fall colors?
- Which month is best for fall colors?
- Best places to visit in fall, USA
Best Places in the US to See Fall Colors
1. Scenic Route 100, Vermont
The Scenic Route 100 in Vermont is a classic fall road trip. Running through the Green Mountains, the adventure starts in the southern part of the state and ends near Lake Memphremagog by the Canadian border. And if you’re a fan of covered bridges, this is the state for you.
Fall arrives in late September, but most visitors descend on Vermont from mid to late October. The state’s beautiful fall foliage is legendary, and this scenic drive is considered one of the country’s finest. The best way to experience it is to rent a car and follow the route from Heartwellville.
The road itself is just under 217 miles long, and it winds its way north through charming villages. This complete Vermont Route 100 itinerary will tell you everything you need to know.
The route can be accomplished in one day, but you’ll want to take your time, especially during Vermont’s peak foliage season. And you’ll never be short of places to stay. Try the Old Stagecoach Inn at Waterbury, a cozy 19th-century hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
A rural highland region, The Berkshires is renowned for its autmunal foliage. It is one of the best things to do in Massachusetts come fall.
The town of North Adams makes a great jumping-off point for exploring all this beautiful area has to offer. Early to mid-October is when you will want to go.
Just two hours from Boston, The Berkshires are the ideal weekend getaway from big city life. And North Adams is also a great spot for art lovers. The Massachusetts Institute of Contemporary Art is found here, one of the largest of its kind in the US.
Outdoors, you can follow the hiking trails on Mount Greylock and ascend to the highest point in the state. Cascades Trail offers a more forgiving gradient if you’d rather take it easy. And there are driving routes up the mountain so non-hikers don’t miss out on the views.
Just 40 minutes away, Shelburne Falls is an idyllic picture-postcard town that’s well worth a stop on any fall foliage tour. And the nearby Mohawk Trail offers even more leaf-peeping possibilities. For accommodation, try the Blooming Inn, which is close to the seasonal Bridge of Flowers attraction.
3. Aspen, Colorado
The key is in the name. Lined with aspens and birch that turn a magnificent gold, the winding route to the Maroon Bells outside of Aspen is one of the best things you can do in Colorado. Part of the White River National Forest in the Rocky Mountains, the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is a must-visit for foliage season.
Other Aspen locations for the best fall foliage include Smuggler Mountain, Hunter Creek Valley, and Independence Pass. Castle Creek Valley and Cathedral Lake are also great options for colorful scenery.
The Aspen leaf-peeping season is short but rich and vibrant. It starts in mid-September and ends just before October. For your best chance of success, I recommend visiting around the third or fourth week of September.
Although Aspen is perhaps more famous for its top Colorado ski resorts, it’s still a great place to see the autumn colors. Try the Mountain Chalet for some cozy comfort. And you can check out this article for more of the best places to stay in Aspen.
See Related: Best Romantic Getaways in the US
4. Catskills Mountains, New York
Rolling mountains, dazzling foliage, and plentiful activities await a trip to the Catskills in New York State. With almost three dozen mountain peaks above 3,500 feet, there are stunning views just waiting for you and your camera. It’s one of the best East Coast vacation spots in the US.
You will also love the charm of Catskills towns and villages, including New Paltz, Woodstock, and Livingston Manor. The most appropriate time to visit for the best autumn colors is mid-September and late October. The second week of October is the peak leaf season here.
Activities include golfing, birdwatching, camping, and mountain biking. There’s an abundance of excellent hiking trails, and the region is known as the birthplace of American fly-fishing. And all this as lively displays of fall foliage color surround you.
At just under three hours’ drive from New York City, the Catskill Mountains offer the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. The Catskill Seasons Inn at Shandaken is on the Catskills Scenic Byway and offers the perfect place to stay for hikers.
5. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
With over 80 miles of breathtaking scenery, a visit to the Columbia River Gorge is stunning at any time of year, but when Fall comes around, it can leave you speechless. Among the best things to do in Washington State during fall, it’s also shared with Oregon, as the state border runs through the Columbia River.
Located in the shadow of Mount Hood, the gorge is home to over 50 waterfalls. Waterfall-guided tours from nearby Portland are a great way to see them. Scenic E-bike trips are also popular. Don’t miss the stunning Multnomah Falls, which is the most visited and photographed natural site in the Pacific Northwest.
The ideal months for fall foliage are mid-October to early November. But leaves begin to change in early September. Driving the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor is one of the best places to view fall foliage in the gorge, and it’s not as busy in the shoulder seasons.
When I plan to see fall foliage, I try to stay as close to nature as possible. With that in mind, it doesn’t get much better than this riverfront cottage nestled on the Washington side. Imagine sitting in that hot tub in autumn.
6. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Making our own list of the most beautiful vacations in the US, Shenandoah National Park is known for its spectacular fall foliage colors. Here, you’ll discover over 200,000 acres of woodland with deciduous trees. It’s particularly attractive for cyclists, with the Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival held in October.
The best time to visit is the end of September to early October. That is when Swift Run Gap and Lewis Mountain explode with the fiery colors of autumn. Hike to Upper Pocosin, where you can see the ruins of the old Upper Pocosin Mission.
Take the Skyline Drive to get the best views of the colorful leaves. Try this self-guided audio tour that provides fascinating information from stop to stop. You will be amazed by the buttery yellow foliage of the hickories, the chili pepper-red oaks, and maple trees that burn scarlet before turning maroon.
The Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles before it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway at Afton. Hikers and anglers will enjoy a stay at the Grey Pine Lodge, which is just a short drive from where these two breathtaking thoroughfares meet.
7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 100 species of trees, most of which are deciduous. If you are looking for a place to enjoy a variety of fall colors, this is up there with the very best. It’s one of the most famous natural landmarks in the USA and one of the most diverse national parks in the country.
The fall foliage begins in mid-September and peaks in mid-October. You will be met by beautiful bright yellow birches, beeches, and poplar trees, the warm orange glow of red maples, and the fire of the scarlet oak. The colors run right through Thanksgiving, which makes GSMNP one of the National Parks to Visit in November.
You will also have the best vistas of coreopsis, asters, and black-eyed Susans along the Appalachian Trails and the slopes of Sugarland Mountain. You can drive the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or hike along the Big Creek for great views. Try this self-guided audio tour to get the most out of your road trip.
For an idyllic romantic getaway, head to this gorgeous retreat set in 22 acres of wooded parkland. Located close to the scenic Cades Cove, I’ll wait if there’s a better place to see fall foliage in the US.
8. Smugglers’ Notch State Park, Vermont
Smugglers’ Notch State Park takes its name from the infamous Smuggler’s Notch, a mountain pass formerly used for illegal activities. Originating from the War of 1812, a side-theater of the Napoleonic Wars, smugglers continued to use the narrow passage to transport their liquor from Canada to the US during prohibition.
The nearby town of Stowe is just a 13-minute drive away and has earned the nickname “Fall’s Color Capital.” Although a four-season town, the best time to visit is early September through late October, when the Green Mountains explode with color.
Stowe is located on the famous Vermont 100 route mentioned above, but it deserves an entry in its own right. Guided mountain bike tours are a great way to take in the scenery. And since this region has always been a hot spot for smuggling moonshine, beer lovers should try a Stowe brewery tour while in town.
The hills are alive with the sound of music in Smugglers’ Notch State Park. Stay at the iconic Trapp Family Lodge, which is owned and operated by the von Trapp family. Alternatively, the Green Mountain Inn offers a luxurious stay in the heart of Stowe.
See Related: Where to Stay in Stowe, Vermont: Best Areas & Places
9. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the world. It is a 469-mile route that winds along the Blue Ridge Mountains between the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. America’s longest linear park, it’s one of the best places to see fall colors every year.
The blaze begins in late September and peaks in mid to late October. You will be wowed by the shades emitted by dogwoods, sassafras, and maples. But there are over 2000 species of plant life in the region, so they’re not alone in putting on a show.
For getting up close and personal with the great outdoors, I highly recommend this guided tour with an expert naturist. Driving the Blue Ridge Mountains is all very well and good, but you need to stop and take it all in with a hike. And doing it with a pro will be even more memorable.
Towns are plentiful on the parkway and offer travelers ideal stopping points. Asheville is a great choice, with apple orchards, festivals, and countless hiking options. The Asheville Doubletree offers a great location, but if you’d like more options, read our guide on where to stay in Asheville.
See Related: Top-Rated Restaurants in Asheville, North Carolina
10. Acadia National Park, Maine
For a combination of rugged coastline, pristine inland lakes, and stunning fall foliage, look no further than Acadia National Park. Located on Mount Desert Island, Maine, you’ll find 47,000 acres of beautiful scenery, Atlantic views, and recreational areas begging to be explored.
The fall foliage hits Acadia National Park in late September and peaks in mid-October. Drive the Park Loop Road for the best views. You will see colorful canopies from birch, maple, and other tree species as you wind your way along.
Bar Harbor will likely be your starting point. You can enjoy a self-guided tour departing from the town, which takes in some of the best coastal hiking trails. Narrated bus tours are also available if you don’t fancy walking. For an alternative view, you can try a sailing cruise in the waters of Frenchman Bay.
I love the Canterbury Cottage Bed & Breakfast for a charming place to hang your hat. Located in the heart of Bar Harbor, it has bags of character, and everything you need is within walking distance.
11. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire offers some of the most beautiful autumnal colors in the Northeast. The forest covers 800,000 acres of land and is home to extensive native plant species that produce vibrant hues every year.
Running from Bath to Conway, the Kancamagus Highway stretches 34 miles through the White Mountains. It is the best fall foliage route for leaf lovers, with the show getting underway from early October onwards. This self-guided driving tour is the ideal way to explore it.
For the more adventurous, the White Mountain National Forest is not short of outdoor activities. You’ll find hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, ziplining, and caving available. Don’t miss the waterfall-dotted walk through Flume Gorge at the base of Mount Liberty – it’s one of the best hikes in New Hampshire. Echo Lake is also stunning during this time of year.
Just shy of Conway, the Kancamagus Swift River Inn makes a great base for visiting the White Mountains. The region also boasts some of the most intense stretches of the Appalachian Trail. Make sure you have a decent pair of hiking shoes if you’re in this part of New Hampshire.
12. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Michigan has one of the most extensive forests in the US. Four million acres of the state are covered with woodland, which guarantees a dazzling display of color every fall. Head to the Upper Peninsula, which borders three of the Great Lakes, with 24 state parks and the most dense foliage.
The best time to go is mid-September to mid-October, with peak foliage in early October. Species range from birch to maple, oak, sycamore, and tamarack. Tahquamenon Falls State Park, the Black River National Byway, Copper Peak, and the Porcupine Mountains are some of the best spots.
The latter, known locally as the Porkies, is one of the largest wilderness areas remaining in the Midwest. It offers over 60,000 acres of woodland, lakes, and rivers to explore. Don’t miss the stunning Lake of the Clouds overlook, which is also a popular spot for fishing.
You’ll also be spoilt for choice regarding accommodation, with camping, rustic cabins, cozy hotels, and even yurts on offer. Try this charming cabin with views of Lake Superior and just five minutes drive from the Porkies.
See Related: Things to Do in Detroit, Michigan
13. Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, Arkansas
Arkansas’ natural beauty is often overlooked – but it is genuinely breathtaking. One of the best spots is the Ozark Mountains, which covers over one million acres of land. This stretch of forested area has made Arkansas one of the best fall foliage tourist destinations.
Two forests combine to create this autumnal dream. Ozark National Forest and St. Francis National Forest on Crowley’s Ridge. You’re getting two for the price of one when you visit this enormous area of outstanding natural beauty.
You can drive through the forest for miles without losing shades of red and orange leaves. Oaks, hickory, and maples create kaleidoscopic vistas. Peak leaf-peeping season is in late October to mid-November, but the colors change from late September onwards.
The Ozark Highlands Trail is just one of the many spots to get out of the car and explore. This raised, one-bedroom cabin is secluded among the trees, and the trailhead is close by. But for something completely different, this delightful covered wagon in Oark is a truly unique experience.
See Related: Flyover States That Aren’t Boring
14. Kent, Connecticut
Just outside the Hudson Valley, on the border between New York and Connecticut, you’ll find this slice of autumnal paradise. Kent is a tiny village in Litchfield County, but it goes big when fall foliage season comes around.
The most brilliant shades will come during early October. Kent Falls State Park should be your first port of call, with its covered bridge and cascading waters. Pond Mountain Natural Area also offers peepers the chance to take in the stunning color schemes of this Connecticut corner. The Iron Mountain Reservation also has a pleasant hiking trail loop.
Kent sits on the banks of the Housatonic River, famous for fly-fishing and white water rafting. The town is also notable for its art galleries, boutique stores, and antiques shops. It makes a great fall foliage destination for anyone who enjoys hunting for the perfect gift for a loved one.
In a place this quaint, you would expect some wonderful places to stay. Kent does not disappoint, and this Victorian Suite offers vintage New England charm. Elsewhere, the Club Getaway offers rustic lodges with the backdrop of Kent’s breathtaking fall foliage.
15. Enchanted Circle, New Mexico
New Mexico might not instantly come to mind for leaf peepers. But the famous Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is well worth consideration. An 83-mile loop circling Wheeler Peak, it’s a wonderful autumn drive during foliage season.
The best time to drive the Enchanted Circle is late September to early October. Apart from the rich yellow and dark orange colors, you will also see purple, red, and yellow shades. These come from cottonwoods, oaks, aspen, and maples.
Located in the Carson National Forest, the circle links Taos, Questa, Red River, Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, and Taos Canyon. The loop will take around three hours to drive, but there are plenty of interesting sights and hikes to do along the way. I recommend you take at least two nights to tackle it.
Inn on La Loma Plaza offers a fine place to stay in Taos, just minutes from the Taos Pueblo World Heritage Site. This historic attraction sits just inside the Enchanted Circle loop, and should not be missed even if you focus more on the foliage. And try a Taos walking tour when you’re in town.
16. Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania
Otherwise known as Pennsylvania‘s Grand Canyon, the Pine Creek Gorge offers just under 50 miles of dramatic ravine. It’s located on the east rim of the 585-acre Leonard Harrison State Park, part of the wider Tioga State Forest.
The best time to see fall foliage is the first and second weeks of October. The transition begins in early September. But as with every destination on our list, the peak foliage season can vary from year to year. You’ll find an eclectic selection of species, including white pine, hemlock, sugar maples, red oaks, and beech trees.
The Turkey Trail Path is one of the most popular hikes in the region, which descends 800 feet to the bottom of the gorge. The trail is about a mile long, punctuated with beautiful waterfalls. For a longer trip, the Pine Creek Rail Trail is a 62-mile, well-maintained hiking, biking, and horseriding path.
Right in the heart of the creek, Tiadaghton Campground is a great place if you want to stay immersed in the spectacular scenery. For something with a little more creature comfort, the Canyon Creek Cabin is super cozy and just two miles from a Pine Creek trailhead.
See Related: Top Pennsylvania Slang Terms to Know
17. Guardsman Pass Scenic Byway, Utah
In a state more synonymous with arid landscapes devoid of trees like these famous parks in Utah, the Guardsman Pass Scenic Byway is a pleasing exception. The vibrant fall colors along this route between Park City and Midway will grab anyone’s attention.
Closed in the winter, the seasonal route boasts fiery red oak trees and brilliant orange maples in the fall. But it’s perhaps most famous for its golden aspens lining the roadside, offering enviable photo opportunities on this epic fall foliage road trip.
Situated in the Wasatch Mountain State Park, the best time to travel along the Guardsman Pass is late September and early October. At just seven miles long, it’s also the shortest scenic drive on our list. But there’s plenty to see and do in the area at any time of year.
Keen photographers might like to try a Wasatch Mountains photo workshop. It is ideal for perfecting your fall contributions to Getty Images. And for a place to stay, this secluded cabin is just one minute’s walk from the Wasatch Mountain State Park.
See Related: Best Resorts in Park City, Utah For All Seasons
18. Door County, Wisconsin
An often overlooked destination for fall foliage, Door County is one of autumn’s best-kept secrets. Sandwiched on a peninsula between the mighty Lake Michigan and Green Bay, this small corner of Wisconsin justly rewards its visitors.
Peak colors occur in mid-October, usually around the second week. In a state famous for agriculture, you’ll find a regular program of seasonal fall events, from apple picking to Halloween haunts. From corn mazes to farmers markets.
The drive from Sister Bay to Northport takes in some of the best fall foliage in Wisconsin. Head to the coastal wilderness areas of the Peninsula and Newport State Parks, Cave Point County Park, and the Mudlake State Wildlife Area for plenty of points of interest to keep you occupied. If you’re a fan of lighthouses, you’re in for a treat.
For a different perspective, try a kayak tour and see the gorgeous colors from the waters of Lake Michigan. It’s one of the best things to do in Door County. And for a beautiful base of operations, this stunning converted barn at Sister Bay is perfectly situated between both coasts.
See Related: The Restaurants in Door County
19. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the largest alpine lake in North America beckons you to visit. And surrounding the lake, you won’t be able to see the wood for the colorful trees.
Peak peeping occurs from mid-September to mid-October when over ten species of trees in the region begin to show off. Some of the best places to see fall foliage around the lake include Taylor Creek, Hope Valley, and Tahoe Meadows.
Lake Tahoe is the ideal fall destination for people who like to do other activities while exploring nature’s handiwork. A watersports hot-spot, sailing cruises are one of the best things to do at Lake Tahoe.
On the west shore of the lake, the Cottage Inn offers an almost edible gingerbread charm right out of a fairytale. But it’s the private beach that makes it a real winner. Check out this article for more of the best places to stay in Lake Tahoe.
See Related: Best Beaches in Lake Tahoe to Visit
20. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
An oasis of green space, wildlife, and waterfalls, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park sits between the bustling cities of Cleveland and Akron. Here, you’ll discover some magical autumn scenes across 32,500 acres of woodland.
To stand the best chance of seeing the peak colors, you should aim to visit the park in mid to late October. Red and sugar maples will display yellows, reds, and oranges. Oak, aspen, and silver maples will follow soon after.
Stroll the Brandywine Gorge Trail for some of the best fall foliage views. The highlight is the 65-foot Brandywine Falls, which offers a dramatic photo opportunity. Don’t miss the famous Everett Covered Bridge on the Perkins Bridle Trail. And there’s a scenic railroad if you’d prefer not to walk.
A visit to the Cuyahoga Valley is one of the best things to do in Cleveland. But why visit when you can stay there? This stunning barn conversion is right in the park’s heart and so charming you’ll never want to leave.
21. Eagle Creek Park, Indiana
So far, most of our entries have been scenic fall drives, wild wilderness locations, or large national or state parks. To mix things up, Eagle Creek is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. Located just outside Indianapolis, locals don’t have to travel far to get their fall foliage fix.
Eagle Creek Park offers nearly 4000 acres of woodland, with a large reservoir. The best time for a foliage trip is mid-October. The brilliant fall colors begin mid to late September and end in late November. The park is open from dawn until dusk and offers plenty to do for more active foliage hunters.
One of the best ways to experience foliage season isn’t from the ground. Eagle Creek offers visitors the chance to zip line through the tree canopy, giving you an altogether different perspective of autumnal colors. Plenty of hiking and biking trails also run through the park, and there’s a discovery center for naturally curious minds.
Nearby Indianapolis has all the accommodation options you could wish for. We’ve stayed in so many different places it’s hard to choose a favorite. But the Bottleworks Hotel has to be up there with the very best. If you’d prefer to remain outside the city, the Eagle Creek Retreat is right on the park’s edge.
What states have the best fall colors?
Many places in the US can boast outstanding fall colors. But the New England states, North Carolina and Virginia, would be my first picks on any list.
Which month is best for fall colors?
Fall foliage colors are dependent on temperature, moisture, and location. There isn’t a precise time to get the best experience, as it can vary.
October is generally regarded as the best month for peak foliage. Try this genius fall foliage prediction map from smokymountains.com.
Best places to visit in fall, USA
I think that almost any national park with deciduous trees will be a great place to see fall colors. But if I had to choose one destination in the entire country, there’s a reason Stowe in Vermont is known as the Fall Color Capital.