12 Stops on the Ultimate Fall Foliage Road Trip

There’s no better way to fall into fall (ahem) than by viewing the colors of the season. You don’t have to trek to the Northeast to satisfy your urge for leaf peeping. We've rounded up a dozen cities and parks across the country that boast eye-popping fall foliage—no Instagram filters necessary!

1. Michigan // Upper Peninsula

Michigan Upper Peninsula fall foliage
Michigannut/iStock via Getty Images

Some 7 million acres of forest make the Wolverine State’s upper half perfect for fall color viewing. With a spin through Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, along the edge of Lake Superior, you can also catch sight of deer, moose, and black bears.

2. Maine // Acadia National Park

This site’s 47,000-plus acres are so popular with leaf peepers that Maine’s state foliage website offers updates on the current conditions. (The best times are generally late September and early October.) For prime fall color and ocean views, head to the top of Cadillac Mountain—at 1528 feet, it’s the tallest on the North Atlantic seaboard.

3. Vermont // Stowe

Stowe, Vermont fall foliage
Patrick from Barrington, RI, Moretown, VT, United States, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Hues of gold, orange, and red cover this mountainside town from late September through mid-October. You can tour the area by boat, canoe, bike, horseback, gondola, or even dogcart. Double your entertainment by scheduling a visit for the first weekend of October when the city holds its annual Oktoberfest celebration.

4. New York // Lake Placid

Fall foliage, Lake Placid NY
diane cordell, via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0"

Nestled in the state’s Adirondack Mountains, this city offers sugar maples, American beech, and yellow birch trees. The best time to go: the second weekend of October during the aptly named two-day Flaming Leaves Festival. In between lawn games and blues bands performances, you can take a chairlift to the top of the nearly 400-foot ski jump for choice views.

5. Virginia // Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park fall foliage
Katy Cain/National Park Service, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For top-notch picture snapping, cruise the 105-mile stretch down the park’s Skyline Drive. To ensure an optimal viewing experience, the speed limit is only 35 miles per hour and there are 75 overlooks you can stop at to take in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

6. Tennessee // Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park fall foliage

More than 100 species of trees (including scarlet oaks, maples, and hickories) make this spot along the North Carolina border the most visited national park in America. After driving the 11-mile Cades Cove loop, head over to the popular tourist town of Gatlinburg, which is chock full of breweries, wineries, and even moonshine distilleries.

7. Colorado // Aspen

Aspen Colorado fall foliage
kanonsky/iStock via Getty Images

The town is literally named for its abundance of aspen trees—which turn a golden yellow come mid-September. For stunning views, take a shuttle to Maroon Bells, the two most photographed peaks in the Elk Mountains.

8. New Hampshire // Portsmouth

Portsmouth, New Hampshire fall foliage
capegirl52, Flickr // CC BY-SD-NC-ND 2.0

You can catch the colors in this New England town by car (drive the 18-mile oceanside Coastal Byway), boat (try a 2.5-hour river cruise) or foot (wander the 10 acres of the Strawbery Banke living history museum). Visit New Hampshire’s foliage tracker to determine when to plan your visit. Hint: aim for mid-October.

9. Oregon // Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge fall foliage, Oregon
Michael Matti, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Every October, the firs, cottonwoods, and twisted pines in this canyon, which cuts through Oregon and Washington, turn golden. Book a room at the charming, antique-style Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa to spy views of the trees—and the 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall—from bed.

10. New Mexico // Taos


Kevin Eddy, via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The yellow and orange aspens are the highlight of the 83-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop (which surrounds Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest point). But leaf lovers can also catch a glimpse of some reddish cottonwoods. Post-drive, visit 1000-year-old Taos Pueblo and marvel at the remarkable adobe structures.

11. Montana // Glacier National Park

Going to the Sun Road fall foliage in Glacier National Park
Photosbyjam/iStock via Getty Images

Your best bet to check out the yellow larch and red maples is a 50-mile stretch called Going-to-the-Sun Road. But early snowfalls mean portions of the drive close as early as mid-October. You can also head to Flathead Lake, which offers the opportunity to partake in another local tradition: huckleberry picking!

12. Minnesota // Stillwater

Stillwater Minnesota fall foliage

Take a trip back in time when you visit this city on the Wisconsin border. Board a 1890s paddlewheel riverboat and photograph the trees as you cruise the St. Croix River. Then, make vino the old-fashioned way at the September Grape Stomp Festival and crash at one of the town’s many bed-and-breakfasts.

Eagle Creek's Durable Caldera Line of Suitcases Can Digitally Track Your Travels

Eagle Creek's Caldera line of bags comes in both black and green.
Eagle Creek's Caldera line of bags comes in both black and green.
Eagle Creek

I always have a little anxiety when I check a suitcase for a flight. What if it gets damaged, or worse—lost?

Eagle Creek is taking on both challenges with its new Caldera line of suitcases. Thanks to a polycarbonate back shell and a body made of recycled Cordura poly that is tear-, abrasion-, and water-resistant, the bags are lightweight but tough.

They’re also full of smart details: reflective, water-resistant zippers; a proprietary system that keeps the handle from being crushed; personalizable rubber side handles; side straps with aluminum hardware that can be tucked away; and a “coat keeper” that allows you to secure your coat to the top of the bag as you’re rolling through the airport.

The Eagle Creek Caldera Wheeled Duffel.
The Eagle Creek Caldera's "coat keeper" in action.
Eagle Creek

But the thing that really got me excited about the Caldera line is TripSync. Each bag in the Caldera line is equipped with an NFC chip that allows you to report your bag if it’s lost and tracks your trips for a cool digital reminder of where you've been.

Eagle Creek sent me the 100-liter wheeled duffel to test, and I brought it along with me on a trip to Israel. I wasn’t able to check out TripSync (which was still in beta at the time of my trip) but here’s how it works: First, if your phone requires it, download an app that will read the NFC chip. Then, hold your phone near the luggage tag, which will launch a video describing the features of your bag and how to care for it. (There’s also a handy diagram that will tell you which Eagle Creek packing cubes you need, and the way to orient them, to get the most space out of your bag.)

After the video, you’ll sign up for an account. Don’t forget to register your bag—it’s the only way you can report it as lost if it goes missing. You may also need to adjust your settings to allow TripSync to get your location so it can accurately track your travel.

Before you check your bag or hop on the plane, scan your bag and make sure you’re logged in, then click “start trip.” After that, you’ll need to scan your bag and click “add stop” or “end trip” to log your travels. (These steps are important—the bag isn’t actively being tracked by GPS, so trip length is based on the points you log and determined by “the most direct path between the points,” according to Eagle Creek’s website. “The total miles traveled between each point you create become your total miles traveled for that one trip.”)

If you need to report your bag lost, you do so by logging in and clicking the “report lost” button. When someone finds the bag, all they need to do is scan it with their phone to contact you; none of your information will be revealed. When your bag is back in your hands, you can mark it as found.

Eagle Creek Caldera luggage.
If your bag gets lost, whoever finds it just has to tap their smartphone on the ID tag and you'll be contacted.
Eagle Creek

Though I wasn’t able to try TripSync, I was still impressed by the physical features of the bag. The bag is durable as promised, and spacious—I had plenty of room for everything I wanted to bring, with space to spare for souvenirs. (The suitcase is also expandable via a zipper, but I didn’t have to use that feature this time.) Thanks to the sturdy handle and rugged wheels, the bag handled great both empty and when it was fully loaded, both on smooth streets and uneven terrain. And as a person who struggles with what to do with her coat when wheeling all of her luggage through the airport, I found the coat keeper to be especially helpful. I can’t wait to take the bag on another trip to try out TripSync for myself.

If you’re not in the market for a carry-on or checked suitcase, Eagle Creek also has a Caldera backpack as well as a convertible bag that can be both worn as a backpack and rolled like a traditional carry-on suitcase.

The bags come in black and green; they start at $279 for the backpack and go up to $569 for the four-wheeled 100L model. You can buy them on EagleCreek.com.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Enchanting Places That Align with the Vernal Equinox

A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On Thursday, March 19, the vernal equinox heralded the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient civilizations built calendars and observatories to track the movements of the stars and mark this monumental time. Now, people still partake in a variety of traditions and rituals to honor the day when light and dark become equal. To take your celestial celebrations to the next level, here are 10 places that align with the spring equinox.

1. On the vernal equinox, a massive snake appears on the temple at Chichen Itza.

Legend says that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Maya city of Chichen Itza receives an otherworldly visitor: Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity. On these days, a shadowy snake slithers down the side of the god's namesake pyramid. As the temple darkens, a single strip of light stretches from the top of the northern staircase to the snake head resting at the bottom, creating the illusion of a wriggling reptile.

2. A beam of light illuminates a petroglyph within Arizona’s Boulder House each vernal equinox.

The Boulder House in Scottsdale, Arizona, looks like a strange home wedged amid a jumble of rocks. But it’s actually a modern house built around a sacred Native American site. The Empie family, who bought the parcel of desert land in the 1980s, commissioned architect Charles Johnson to transform the cluster of 1.6-billion-year-old boulders into a functional house. Johnson crafted a unique structure, incorporating the rocks into the house’s foundation and preserving the prehistoric carvings. On the equinox, sunlight pierces between two boulders in the unusual abode, striking a spiral petroglyph on the wall to create a dazzling piece of home decor.

3. On the vernal equinox, a group of Moai on Easter Island stare directly at the sunset.

Seven Moai gaze face toward the horizon
On the equinox, these Moai stare directly at the setting sun.
abriendomundo/iStock via Getty Images

People aren’t the only ones who pause to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon on the first day of spring. On Easter Island, at a sacred site called Ahu Akivi, a line of seven Moai—the island’s giant, mysterious heads—gaze directly at the point at which the sun sets in the sky on the equinox.

4. Each vernal equinox, light drenches a petroglyph-filled cairn at Loughcrew.

The hills of Loughcrew, one of Ireland’s four main passage tomb sites, are crowned by 5000-year-old megalithic structures. At dawn on the equinox, sunlight fills Cairn T, a passage tomb carved with astoundingly well-preserved examples of Neolithic art. As the light dissolves the darkness, the cup marks that dimple its walls and the symbols adorning its back stones blaze into view. The illumination lasts for about 50 minutes, giving observers ample time to take turns squeezing into the cairn.

5. On the vernal equinox, light streams through one of the Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples.

The Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples on Malta’s southern coast are archaeological wonders. They were built between 3600 and 2500 BCE and are believed to be among the world’s oldest freestanding stone buildings. Not much is known about the people who created these megalithic masterpieces, though it’s clear they constructed one of the temples with an eye to the heavens. On the equinox, the sun streams through the South Temple’s main doorway, flooding the structure’s major axis with light.

6. On the vernal equinox, the sun sits directly atop the main temple at Angkor Wat.

Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat would be a magical experience any day. Crowds hush as colorful hues paint the world’s largest religious structure with a gilded glow. Dawn at Angkor Wat is even more special on the equinoxes. Then, the sun rises behind the main temple before briefly seeming to balance on its tip like a fiery halo.

7. On the spring equinox, the sun rises through the entrance to Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Stonehenge has inspired replicas around the globe—including as far away as New Zealand. Stonehenge Aotearoa, which opened in 2005, was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. The structure is an astronomical tool for observing the local skies, and blends modern astronomy with ancient starlore. If you stand in the center of the circle on the Southern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, you can watch the sun rise directly through the Sun Gate, two carved pillars that flank the entrance to the henge.

8. The shadow of the intihuatana at Machu Picchu disappears at noon on the equinox.

A curious stone structure stands atop a temple at Machu Picchu. It’s one of the rare surviving intihuatanas that wasn’t demolished by the Spanish conquistadors. This “hitching post of the sun” is believed to have been an astronomical tool. At noon on the equinox, the granite pillar’s shadow briefly vanishes. Unfortunately, the invaluable object now looks a bit battered. In 2000, a crane toppled into the intihuatana during the filming of a beer commercial, smashing part of it.

9. At sunrise on the spring equinox, the sun bursts through the door of a temple at Dzibilchaltún.

Sunrise at Dzibilchaltún
Each equinox, the sun appears within the door of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
renatamsousa/iStock via Getty Images

Though now reduced to a medley of ruins dotting the jungle, Dzibilchaltún was once the longest continually inhabited Maya administrative and ceremonial city. The star attraction here is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building named for the mysterious human-like figures discovered inside. At dawn on the equinox, the sun shines through the temple’s main door. It’s believed the sacred structure was aligned with the equinoxes to mark the beginning of the planting season and the end of the harvesting season.

10. The 'Woodhenge' at the Cahokia Mounds aligns with the sunrise on the equinox.

During the Mississippian cultural period, Cahokia's population exceeded that of London. In addition to giant pyramids, the North American city also featured circles of wooden posts, since dubbed “Woodhenge.” The wooden markers were likely used to track the sun’s movements. One of the posts aligns with the equinoxes, as well as with the front of Monks Mound. On sunrise on the equinox, it looks as though the sun is emerging from the enigmatic earthwork.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER