“Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air, the summer’s out of reach.”
— Don Henley, The Boys of Summer
It may be poor form to mention, but fall is on its way. Soon the forests will set themselves alight in a funeral pyre of tangerine and magenta, the grandkids will be filling their pencil cases, and the key lime pie will be replaced with pumpkin.
While some may lament summer’s end, the autumn has its own charms. Here are five beautiful places to admire the changing fall landscape before the chill of winter sets in.
In the US: Maine
If nothing else, Acadia National Park seals the deal for Maine as probably the best place in the U.S. to take in the fall colours.
Acadia is located predominantly on Mount Desert island, but this is no desert. The park’s granite peaks offer the perfect vantage point if you love a good view. You can stand on a hill and watch the rich, rippling blanket of woodland rolling out beneath your feet, or hike its well-trod carriage trails beneath the canopy.
But Maine’s attractions are manifold. It’s also the perfect state to canoe or kayak — and what better way to see the forests than by paddling through them? If you love quaint inns, Maine has you covered there as well, and there are plenty of lighthouses dotting the Atlantic coast, all the more evocative in autumn.
In Europe: Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is one of the old world’s best-preserved medieval cities. It’s like time somehow missed this place, with its swan-filled canals, stone bridges, storied churches, and centuries-old manor houses covered in vine growths. Once one of the wealthiest mercantile centers in Europe, the city has retained plenty of the splendor of its privileged youth.
Bruges (and Belgium in general) is badly underrated as a tourist destination. But to the extent it is overcrowded, summer is the busiest time of year. Fall is a shoulder season, making it an ideal time to visit. If you have a passion for bygone eras, or just want to see Bruge’s vines change color against the bold palette of its historic townhouses, spend September in Belgium.
In the US: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
Not just a national park spanning a mountain range and bleeding into two states, The Great Smoky Mountains are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Part of the world-famous Appalachian Trail also winds its way through the park.
It might be our number one pick, except that it’s the most visited national park in the United States, with more than 10 million guests every year.
There are hikes for walkers of all abilities, skill levels, and ranges of interest, camp sites, and plenty of history and geography to take in. With more than 850 miles of trail and unpaved road, you won’t have a hard time finding the perfect hike for your group — or idyllic places to stop and take a photograph of the autumnal reds and oranges mingling with the iconic fog that lends the area its name.
But be forewarned: that fog brings plenty of precipitation with it. This one of the most humid and rainy regions in the United States. If you’re discouraged by inclement weather or the probability of encountering other hikers, this may not be your stop.
In Europe: Bavaria, Germany
Autumn in the south of Germany is the perfect time and place to get lost on an alpine trail, explore a medieval castle, or sample enough beer and bratwurst to make you need a larger pair of lederhosen.
Probably the best way to explore Bavaria in the autumn is via car. You can use Munich as a home base — and cross Oktoberfest off your bucket list. Plus there are plenty of other fall festivals in Southern Germany, all within reasonable driving distance. Best of all, the alps are only two hours away by car. The sight of the leaves changing in the mountains is one that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
If you’re a fan of architecture, you’ll also find lots to tickle your fancy — Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace, and many more.
In the US: Southern California
Okay, so maybe you’re into the whole fall foliage thing, but not so excited about the fall temperatures. Good news: much of California remains quite warm (i.e. 80 F plus) right through October, so you can enjoy some autumnal sights without having to don your down jacket.
If you’re a wine connoisseur, fall is actually the perfect time to visit Napa Valley. The summer crowds clear out, and you’ll have more one-on-one time with the people who make your favorite vintages. Plus you’ll be treated to the gorgeous site of grape leaves changing hue. Why not skip the crowds and the trees and have the run of America’s premiere wine region this fall instead?
Wherever you’re off to this fall, we hope you get a chance to explore the magic of nature’s most dramatic transformations!