Fall is America’s favorite season, and not just for the pumpkin spice–flavored everything. What we really go crazy for is the sun-catching yellow of the aspen, the deep reds of the maple, and the vibrant orange of the beech. Why settle for the leaves just outside your door? If you’re looking to up the wow factor on your leaf spotting this year, check out these cool ways to take in the scenery from coast to coast.
1. Float In A Hot Air Balloon
Imagine drifting — slowly and quietly — up, up, and away. At SkyVista Ballooning, you’ll float in a dream state for an hour, ensconced in a wicker basket and led by a pro who will point out features of the landscape below. Bloomington — in all its fall glory — spreads out before you. It’s a whole new way to get a bird’s eye view of the campus of Indiana University blanketed in beds of chrysanthemums and asters and framed by brightly colored trees. For a truly surreal experience, look for the gold spires of the stupas dotting the landscape of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.
2. Soar To New Heights On This Epic Gondola
The views on this free gondola rival anything you’ll see in Switzerland. As you glide up the mountain at 11 miles per hour, the jaw-dropping canyon views open up below. Aspens rain gold from the sky as you take in the San Juan Mountains, tree-covered mesas, and Bridal Veil Falls, the longest waterfall in Colorado. In the next 13 minutes, you’ll climb 1,700 feet to San Sophia Station, where you can hop off and see the best views of the town of Telluride. Then continue the ride down the other side of the mountain to Mountain Village Station for a whole different view of majestic beauty. Feel free to bring your dog (every other cable car is dog friendly). All cars are both handicap and stroller accessible.
3. Get 360-Degree Views From Atop A Native American Mound
Absorb the history of Ocmulgee Mounds, built in A.D. 900 by a group known as the Mississippians. The mounds rise up from a grassy field and are surrounded by soaring trees bathed in color. Get out your walking shoes and hike to the Great Temple Mound Complex, where the chief and second chief made their homes. Here, you will see an unchanged, natural vista. Or make use of the impressive visitor center, which chronicles the history of the tribes that inhabited the surrounding land. They will provide you with a map and driving directions to each of the mounds.
4. Walk Through An Enchanted Forest
The Chessie Trail, located on VA-631, is immersed in trees and parallels the Maury River, giving you peeks of sparkling water dappled by leaves of every color. Walk until you’re tired or challenge yourself to the full 7 miles — either way, it’s a showstopper. You will stroll over bridges, through dense forest, and right through the center of farmland (hello there, cows!).
After your hike, rest your weary bones at The Georges, a boutique inn in the center of this quaint, historic town. Just one block away, Lexington Carriage Company will settle you in a horse-drawn carriage to hear Lexington’s storied history while you clip-clop past colonial homes draped in deep red oak leaves.
5. Road Trip It
Memphis To Nashville
In just a little over 3 hours of non-stop beauty, this road trip makes for an excellent afternoon of fall splendor; or make a mini-vacay out of it by spending time in both cities. Start in Memphis, where you’ll find the best views in town at the rooftop bar, Beck & Call. Just look for the brand-new Hyatt Centric on the famed Beale Streat. It’s perched right on the banks of the Mississippi River, and a quick elevator ride takes you right to its swanky rooftop. Then cruise on the eye-popping I-40 East straight through the stunning Cumberland Plateau to Nashville, where the maple trees put on as good a show as the most famous country crooners.
After exploring Music City, ask for a top-floor room at the iconic JW Marriott, a luxury hotel with floor-to-ceiling windows and views as far as the eye can see.
6. Hop Aboard The Rocky Mountaineer
Denver To Moab, Utah
Nothing says romance and adventure like a train ride, and this one comes with changing terrain and sit-back-and-relax viewing through unobstructed glass domes. Peak season is October, when the Rockies explode with color and the canyons, deserts, and hoodoos provide a stark contrast. This luxury train travels for a few hours each day, giving you a chance to disembark, explore its stops, and sleep in hotel comfort. While on board, you’ll dine on gourmet food brought right to your seat, while your gracious hosts narrate your journey.
Pro Tip: Upgrade to Silver Leaf Plus, which gives you access to a comfortable lounge with an outdoor viewing area, premium alcohol, and wine pairings with dinner. Tack on a day at either end of your journey to explore the wildly different landscapes of Denver and Moab.
7. Paddle And Fish Your Way To Fall Beauty
South Bend, Indiana
Nothing but the sound of your paddle slicing through the water will disturb these picturesque views. Potato Creek State Park, just 12 miles south of South Bend, offers everything you need for a day on the water. Rent a boat at the dock of the 327-acre Worster Lake, where even the fish are colorful — northern pike, yellow perch, and redear sunfish. Too tired to go home after a day on the water? Reserve a cabin or a tent right there in the park and make a night of it.
If you want to paddle a bit faster, stay in South Bend proper and get your heart racing with urban whitewater rafting at East Race Waterway. The route runs right through the city and is bordered by a greenway filled with silver maple, scarlet oak, and sycamore trees.
8. Bike Around California’s Cutest Town
For cool temps and bursts of red, orange, and yellow, rent a bike at Lodi Cyclery and pedal through this charming oasis. The Lodi Lake Park bike path offers crystal clear reflections of the changing foliage.
Or ride into the very cute and very safe town for dining and shopping. Bike Lodi offers a free bike valet on Oak Street so you can secure your wheels while you browse. If you really want to explore, download the Ride Spot app, with featured recommendations and turn-by-turn directions. Ask the shop for their recommended fall routes, plug them into the app, and you’re on your way!
And while you’re in Lodi, be sure to stop in House of Coffees for their special fall drink, the Maple Leaf Latte.
9. Cruise On The Southern Belle
As you chug along in this old-school riverboat, you’ll quickly discover why this route is called The Grand Canyon of Tennessee. Mountains blanketed in color form the famous Tennessee River Gorge, and seeing it from the water takes it to a new level. Bring the whole family for this 3-hour excursion, complete with food and drink. Be sure to dress for the weather, as you’ll sit on open decks for better picture-taking.
Note: The Southern Belle does not have an elevator and has two flights of stairs.
Then take your group to Bode Chattanooga, a boutique, loft-style hotel where you can fit up to six people in a three-bedroom room. Tuck the grandkids into bunk beds under glow-in-the-dark stars, flip morning pancakes in your kitchen, then head out for another day of beauty.
10. See The Leaves Through A Wine Glass
Why take in all that beauty empty-handed? Healdsburg offers 26 wine tasting rooms — all a short, easy stroll apart — that will hook you up with glasses or bottles to carry out.
Visit Banshee tasting room right on Center Street in the heart of this adorable town, and ask for their Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir. With glass in hand, head to Fountain Square Plaza, a beautiful greenspace with free live music and the perfect place to picnic. Chic shops and galleries stretch out on the side streets bordering the plaza, all lined with golden rain trees, scarlet oaks, and trident maples. It’s a Hallmark movie come to life, with the added bonus of 70-degree temperatures and easy living.
Just outside of town, don’t miss The Spire Collection Alexander Valley. Here, peak fall colors are accented by rolling hills and vineyards bursting with grapes. Pour a glass of petit syrah, sit at one of the picnic tables shaded by glorious red oaks, and soak in the fall vista.