Fall is prime vacation time in the United States. The kids are back in school, the weather is no longer swampy, and there’s so much to see and do. But for an extra dose of the season, there’s only one activity that is king -- traveling to see the leaves change as summer shifts into fall.
We’ve rounded up the most famous U.S. fall foliage spots (I see you, New England) plus some off-the-beaten-path destinations for the ultimate autumn holiday.
Those Rocky Mountain highs are especially delightful during the transition from summer to colder weather. And it makes sense that a town named for a lovely tree would shine during the fall season. With its vibrant mountain energy, small-town charm, and beautiful landscape, Aspen is an easy addition to our list. Visit in late September or early October to see the peak color.
There’s a ton to do in the area besides skiing, from hiking to luxuriating in the nearby hot springs to exploring the Aspen Art Museum. For extra enchantment, consider luxe accommodations for your Colorado getaway.
Great River Road, Mississippi River Valley
Another top spot for fall foliage can be found in the upper Midwest along the mighty Mississippi. The river itself forms the border between the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and there’s an especially pretty stretch around Lake Pepin, which is the widest natural part of the river. From Bay City, Wisconsin, down to Nelson, Wisconsin, and from Red Wing, Minnesota, to Wabasha, Minnesota, visitors will delight in the stunning autumnal views. Consider driving all the way around the lake by crossing the bridges in Red Wing and Wabasha. Or, for a bird’s-eye view, venture to Alma, Wisconsin, and its Buena Vista Park Overlook on top of a river bluff.
The area is also home to the Great River Road Wine Trail and fabulous restaurants like Harbor View Café in Pepin, Wisconsin; it is only a short distance from the Twin Cities. Visit in mid to late October for the best leaf-peeping.
San Francisco Area, California
Best experienced in early November, the San Francisco area offers some lovely fall foliage. With Muir Woods, Yosemite, and wine country all close to the city, there are endless ways to customize your visit. And if you choose to visit Sonoma or Napa, early November is usually just past the peak tourist season. Why not pair the enchanting fall leaves with an earthy cab and a hike through a national park?
The city of San Francisco itself is home to many beautiful parks perfect for leaf-peeping. And with its unbelievable culinary scene, San Francisco is a great choice for foodies looking to enjoy some fall foliage.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
It’s no surprise that New England makes an appearance on our list of best fall foliage destinations. The state of Massachusetts offers plenty of beautiful places to see the leaves turn, but the Berkshires are truly special. The area is less bustling in the fall than it is in the summer, but there’s still so much to do. With its famous food and unique shopping, the region provides a perfect base for autumn exploring. Plus, it’s home to the highest peak in the state, Mount Greylock, for fantastic views of all the changing trees. Visit in early to mid-October to experience peak foliage.
Mid-Coast Region, Maine
Often overlooked in favor of Acadia National Park or Portland, the Mid-Coast region of Maine -- which winds up the coast from Bath, Maine, to Searsport, Maine -- is a winner in the fall. It’s the hidden gem of New England foliage routes. It’s a harder-to-reach destination because you can’t fly into it, but it’s worth the hassle to make the coastal drive during autumn. With its scenic seascapes, towering lighthouses, and quaint small towns, Maine’s Mid Coast provides an enchanting fall foliage experience.
Consider spending time in nearby Portland or Acadia on your trip. Late September to mid-October is the best time to see the leaves change in this region.
Brown County, Indiana
Early November is the best time to check out this central Indiana location. Brown County is home to Brown County State Park, which is the perfect spot for viewing fall foliage. For maximum convenience, the area offers a Leaf Cam that updates every 15 minutes so that visitors can scope out the scene beforehand. The variety of trees results in spectacular color; you’ll see oak, hickory, poplar, birch, dogwood, and maple trees.
Brown County is also very near Indiana University's pretty main campus in Bloomington, a walkable spot to enjoy the fall leaves.
Texas Hill Country
This 14,000-square-mile section of Texas boasts beautiful colors during the fall season. The whole area is lovely, but if you have limited time, plan to check out Lost Maples State Natural Area. With its huge maple trees and options for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities, Lost Maples is hard to beat. Plus, since the Texas Hill Country is considered to be where the Southeast transitions to the Southwest, you can experience two distinct types of foliage on the same trip.
With its central location in the Southern U.S., the Texas Hill Country is best experienced in early to mid-November. If you have extra time in the area, consider a visit to the thriving nearby cities of Austin and San Antonio.
Bennington County, Vermont
Another New England stunner, Bennington County, is home to five of Vermont’s famous covered bridges, as well as trees that truly shine in autumn. As Vermont’s oldest county, Bennington offers plenty of historical attractions, too. All five of its bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places. This area and its scenic rolling hills make an ideal backdrop for fall exploration. Visitors can drive to the covered bridges on stunning byways or hike in the area’s state parks and natural areas. Bennington (the town, not the county), Vermont, is also very near the Green Mountain National Forest. Southwestern Vermont is adjacent to the New York state border and close to western Massachusetts as well.
Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan
This “little finger” of the glove of Michigan extends into Lake Michigan. With pretty water views from both Lake Leelanau and the Great Lake, the area is perfect for fall foliage viewing. It’s best to drive the M-22 route to experience the beauty of the season. Leelanau is a popular summer destination -- it’s sometimes called the Cape Cod of the Midwest -- but it’s refreshingly less busy once the weather cools down. Consider a trip between mid-September and mid-October for peak color.
Traverse City, Michigan, is very near the peninsula, and offers lots of fun wineries; be sure to sample the region’s famous cherries as well.
Adirondack Region, New York
With one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the country, this northeastern New York gem deserves a look. The Adirondack Mountains are enclosed within the Adirondack Forest Preserve, the oldest conservation site of its kind in the country. There are more than 6 million acres to explore, and more than half of them consist of hardwood forests that are drop-dead gorgeous in the fall. The area offers opportunities for hiking, canoeing, fishing, birding, and more. Aim to visit in late September or early October for peak color.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Oregon’s wine region has more to offer than grapes. It’s home to the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which allows visitors to enjoy the fall foliage while getting their exercise in. Oaks, cottonwoods, and covered bridges make this an especially lovely destination. Plus, it’s near the hipster mecca of Portland, Oregon, which offers a large airport for travelers’ ease. You’ll most likely experience peak fall color during a late-October visit.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
In the shadow of the more well-known Wisconsin resort areas of Lake Geneva and Door County is the stunning Elkhart Lake. Just an hour’s drive from Milwaukee, this lovely lake is perfect for a fall foliage getaway, since it’s smack dab in the middle of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. There’s even an 80-foot observation tower at the nearby Marsh Park that helps visitors experience the beautiful leaves from up above. You’ll fall in love with this hidden gem!
Besides these amazing spots, there are many more exceptional leaf-peeping locations in the U.S. What are some of your favorites?