One of the best times of year is when the leaves transform into a kaleidoscope of color. While nature puts on a beautiful display in many places, there are some key spots where the fall foliage is especially glorious. Below are our top recommended destinations to soak in the splendor of the leaves and free travel plans for each place. Enjoy your autumn adventures!
This Oregon Territory, centered on the striking 11,245-foot peak of Mt. Hood, boasts extensive forested wilderness areas that transform into an elaborate display of color during October and November. The breathtaking vistas that surround the area are prime places to take pictures of these natural wonders. The crimson maple leaves become most vibrant mid-October and set the whole valley ablaze. While you’re here, take advantage of over 90 waterfalls throughout the region. Enjoy hiking, rafting, kayaking, and biking. There are three different mountain bike parks connected to Mt. Hood.
When you’re not adventuring in the outdoors, Mt. Hood Territory’s main streets feature farm-to-table dining, tax-free shopping with some charming local boutiques, and a stellar Tap Trail that offers a collection of beer, cider, and spirits options. The Heritage Trail may also interest you with its history museums, and there are lively outdoor walks to appreciate the arts with sculptures and murals.
You’ll find abundant farm stands, and the region’s Wine Trail offers an impressive variety of wines. You’ll even discover some classic autumn activities like apple picking.
Some of the best leaf peeping in the world is found on the Kancamagus Highway. It’s more than 34 miles of roadway that weaves through the White Mountain National Forest. Its picture-perfect vistas enable you to capture a symphony of reds, oranges, and yellows. The most stunning displays come from the red mountain maples and golden beech trees.
Bretton Woods in the White Mountains is one of the state’s most popular places for fall foliage. While you’re there, stop at the Omni Mount Washington Resort for lunch and enjoy the grand, historic property that has a breathtaking view of the Presidential Mountain Range. You can fly through the treetops on a zip line canopy tour, take the scenic gondola to the top of the ski mountain to admire the aerial views, or venture up the Mount Washington Cog Railway. You could also drive your car up the famous Mount Washington Auto Road, have a towering 6,288-foot-high view from the top of the mountain, and be able to admire the colors from as far as the eye can see.
Peak leaf season in this area in New Hampshire is typically late September to early October.
The Catskills are most animated in autumn – there are many of the region’s historic villages that host festivals during this time of year. Lavish farmer’s markets, pick-your-own orchards, and craft fairs are also featured during the fall.
While the Catskills may be known for the legendary Woodstock festival, it can add phenomenal fall foliage to its legacy. While you’re not marveling at the trees, enjoy fly-fishing, eagle watching, rails-to-trails hiking, and more. The surrounding rural landscape – all 700,000 acres of it – is a terrific outdoor getaway.
The award-winning cuisine offers a variety of delicious dining options, from cafés to pubs to world-class fine dining restaurants. While there are ample spots to satisfy your appetite, there are also plenty of places to quench your thirst. The Catskills Beverage Trail highlights hand-crafted beverages at the breweries and wineries in the region.
While there are a range of accommodations, the Catskills are most known for its charming B&Bs. A great time for leaf peeping is the last two weeks of September through October, and the second week of October is considered the peak.
Glacier National Park is a paradise for fall foliage. There’s something surreal about seeing the larch trees, which are deciduous conifers, turn bright gold before they shed their needles. The yellow larch contrasted by the evergreens with the monumental snow-covered mountain peaks beyond make for an unforgettable view. While the leaves of trees like maple, aspen, birch, and cottonwood turn between early and late September, the larch trees change color to yellow in mid-October.
Enjoy the views of the Continental Divide, blue-ribbon trout streams, and 400-foot waterfalls, and hike or bike on the endless trail systems. The best lodging options include a historic timbered lodge or backcountry chalet. Be on the lookout for the abundant wildlife in this area – you could see bighorn sheep, bears, mountain goats, and elk.
The small towns of Glacier Country have vibrant downtowns with thriving arts and culture. There’s a phenomenal lineup for eating and drinking – enjoy farm-to-table dining and over 50 breweries and distilleries.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Wytheville is surrounded by fall colors. This area boasts one of the most colorful and longest running autumn leaf seasons in the world because of the many elevations. The highest regions peak in early October and the lower elevations enter their glory in early November. Driving through the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best ways to experience the scenery. On a clear day, stop at one of the vistas and capture with your camera 50 miles of colorful autumn views.
Plan a hike while you’re in Wytheville – sections of the Appalachian Trail weave nearby. There are many other trails for hikers and cyclists. The best place for leaf peeping is on top of the 100-foot-tall Big Walker Lookout tower. Appreciate the bird’s eye view at 3,400 feet. Then, get some Country Store goods at the base of the tower before you leave such as local artisan crafts, candles, candies, jellies, and more.
Drive the scenic byway, and while you’re not admiring the leaves, stop at the historic farmsteads or look for birds. Enjoy a show at the dinner theater, tour renowned museums, and even experience an animal park safari. There are 70 restaurants in Wytheville, local breweries, specialty shopping, a boutique hotel, and an award-winning historic Bed & Breakfast. Come for the leaves, enjoy all the attractions, and take in the Southern charm.
Some of the most impressive arrays of color can be found at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While you’re there, check out the historic buildings and be on the lookout for wildlife – white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, groundhog, and turkeys are often viewed.
The best time to enjoy the leaves is during the last two weeks in October to capture the most captivating colors. Driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Highway 441 is a spectacular way to view all the scenery. There are many vistas that offer overlooks perfect for photos of the leaves. These scenic overlooks are most stunning on the stretch between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN. To get the highest view, drive to Newfound Gap and marvel at the fall foliage from 5,049 feet. Here you’ll also find the iconic Appalachian Trail if you want to take a hike. There are over 900 miles of hiking trails throughout this region! For another premium view, stop at the Space Needle, which is an observation tower that’s 407 feet tall. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is another terrific way to sightsee the sensational autumn show.
While you’re in the Smokies, visit the variety of restaurants in the area, eat your fill of Southern Appalachian fare, and stop at a distillery to sip the world-famous whiskey.
You can’t go wrong with these spectacular destinations during this beautiful time of year. Happy leaf peeping! For more inspiration and travel planning tips, check out our free travel guides.