11 of the Best Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the U.S.
Watching lush greenery morph into a sea of warm hues that rival the sunset itself simply never gets old. And when it comes to fall foliage, New England is hard to beat—but there are plenty of lovely leaf-peeping locales in other regions of the U.S., too. Here are 11 of our favorite spots, from coast to coast.
1. Acadia National Park // Maine
Acadia National Park is such a hotspot for leaf-peepers that the National Park Service says “When is the best time to see fall colors?” is the most common question it gets about the park come autumn. (The answer is usually mid- to late October.) Luckily, there’s plenty of space to accommodate all those visitors. Cadillac Mountain—the East Coast’s tallest mountain—is an ideal place to view the foliage from above, while John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s 45 miles of carriage roads within the park are perfect for people who’d like a closer look at all the leaves.
2. Garner State Park // Texas
Garner State Park in Concan, Texas—about a 2-hour drive west of San Antonio—sends a strong message that New England doesn’t have a monopoly on autumnal hues. The Frio River is flanked by a lively mix of color-changing trees, from persimmon to cyprus, that make riverside hikes and picnics feel just as festive as the park’s traditional summer dances.
3. Buffalo River // Arkansas
When it comes to vibrant vistas during fall, pretty much anywhere in the Ozark Mountains will deliver. The Buffalo River, America’s first national river, runs through Arkansas’s portion of the range. In addition to the requisite hiking trails and overlooks (including the ever-popular Whitaker Point, a.k.a. Hawksbill Crag), the region also boasts the Buffalo River Canopy Tour, a system of interconnected ziplines that ferries you right through the foliage.
4. Catskill Mountains // New York
The Catskill Mountains offer a zipline tour, too—the longest in the country—which shows off the Empire State’s multi-colored canopy around Hunter Mountain in the northern part of the range. And if heights aren’t really your thing, the Catskills have just about every other opportunity under the sun: the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway for a drive-by experience; the hiking trails around Pratt Rock and Walnut Mountain Park (among many others); food tours and farmers’ markets for the more Epicurean adventurers; and tons more activities.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park // North Carolina and Tennessee
With more than 130 tree species, many of them deciduous, the Great Smoky Mountains put on quite a show as summer starts to fade. And because elevation varies so widely throughout the park, the leaves create something of an ombré effect. Those at highest elevations—from yellow birch to mountain maple—begin to change in mid-September, and the process progresses downward until hitting hickory, oak, and other low-elevation species several weeks later.
6. North Shore of Lake Superior // Minnesota
Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive runs along the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada. You can cruise straight up the coast for all 150 or so miles, catching the foliage from your car window, or you can stop at one of eight state parks you’ll pass along the way. That list includes Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Grand Portage State Park (where you’ll find Minnesota’s highest waterfall, High Falls). To see the coastline from a little higher up, check out Lutsen Mountains’ Summit Express Gondola, an aerial ride to Moose Mountain with opportunities to spot both the area’s impressive foliage and wildlife from afar.
7. Aspen // Colorado
Unsurprisingly, Aspen is home to many aspen trees, which turn the region into a golden paradise before colder weather draws skiers in droves. There are several opportune spots in the area to take in the scene, including Smuggler Mountain, formerly a mining site and currently known as “Aspen’s backyard.” The Maroon Bells, two 14,000-foot peaks in the Elk Mountains, are also especially spectacular against a backdrop of yellow leaves in the valley.
8. Pocono Mountains // Pennsylvania
Sure, you could drive through the Poconos in a regular car—or you could take a Slingshot, a three-wheeled motorcycle that’ll save you from having to crane your neck to get a good view of the colors from a car window. Slingshot rentals are just one of many ways Pennsylvania pulls out all the stops for nature lovers, especially during fall foliage season. You can also hop on a horse, hayride, train, or tiny private plane. (And, of course, hiking, camping, and other traditional activities are available, too.)
9. Stowe // Vermont
The village of Stowe, Vermont, consistently ranks high on lists of places with the best fall foliage, and for good reason. Leaf-peeping season is relatively long, from early September through mid-October, and the small-town atmosphere is about as close to Gilmore Girls’s Stars Hollow as you could ever hope to get. There’s even a Stowe Foliage Arts Festival to celebrate the area’s reputation as a prime autumnal getaway. As for where to stay, try the Trapp Family Lodge (as in the von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame).
10. Columbia River Gorge // Oregon
Head east from Portland for about 30 miles and you’ll hit the Columbia River Gorge, a national scenic area that really puts the gorge in gorgeous (sorry). You can snap photos of the dense foliage on a leisurely riverboat tour, watch the landscape whiz by while windsurfing, or just choose a hiking trail. If you opt to hike, keep an eye out for waterfalls. The gorge plays host to nearly 100, including Multnomah Falls, which gives J.R.R. Tolkien’s Rivendell a run for its money.
11. Door County // Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s Door County sits on a peninsula jutting out between Lake Michigan to the east and Green Bay to the west, and its foliage seems all the more radiant when juxtaposed against the water. Hiking trails and scenic drives abound, and there are two islands particularly worth visiting: Washington Island, a 5-mile ferry ride away; and Cana Island, on the other side of a causeway accessible by foot (or by complimentary hay wagon). Cana Island is also home to a 150-year-old, 89-foot-tall lighthouse that you’re welcome to explore (though getting to the observation deck does require climbing a 97-step spiral staircase).