From the Catskills to the Colombia River Gorge, the leaves are changing
There’s something about the crisp, fresh air of fall that makes us ready for a road trip. If you’re itching to find some spots that really know how to do fall right from colorful drives to hikes full of fallen leaves, this list will get you started. Our travels have taken us to ski resort towns and lakeside villages, where you’ll find apple festivals, Oktoberfest celebrations, and tons of leaf piles for jumping in. We can’t wait to share our insider tips that will get you the autumnal experience you’ve been craving.
Best Places to See Fall Colors in Northeast US
Fall lingers a bit longer in Virginia than in the Northeast, and Williamsburg is a fantastic place to get your fall festivities on throughout the season. Visit the city for the gold, red, and orange hues, and stay for the historic and family-fun fall activities. Visit Busch Gardens for the annual Halloween event, check out Family Frights at Jamestown, hike or walk on the short trails of the coastal estuary at York River State Park, or just take a stroll along Colonial Williamsburg against the beautiful autumn backdrop.
If you’re looking for a spot to stay for a while, the Kingsmill Resort is a great spot to experience the area’s fall beauty. Rent a pontoon, paddleboard, kayak, or jet ski at Kingsmill’s marina to see the magnificent colors along the James River. If you prefer to explore by land, rent a bike and explore Kingsmill’s 2,900 acres of gorgeous fall-colored trees.
Shenandoah National Park, VA
Shenandoah National Park, located in Virginia, offers stunning autumn landscapes characterized by vibrant foliage. The park’s diverse range of deciduous trees, including maple, oak, and hickory, create a breathtaking display of red, orange, and yellow hues during the fall season. Drive along Skyline Drive, hike to Old Rag Mountain, and enjoy panoramic views.
Plan ahead, as the area gets a bit crowded around this time of year, attracting crowds who come to witness the colorful transformation. To be on the safe side, you can pre-purchase an entrance pass—and keep in mind that many campgrounds and lodges get fully booked on September and October weekends.
You can track foliage conditions thanks to weekly photos on the website and social media. Can’t get out there for an in-person peek? You can visit virtually through live webcams!
Blue Ridge Parkway, VA & NC
Spanning from Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the entire U.S. Climb to the overlook where the iconic 100-foot-tall Roanoke Star stands and see the fall color panorama from above. Don’t miss the 215-foot tall Natural Bridge, a limestone gorge carved out by Cedar Creek that can be found on the National Register of Historic Places (It was once owned by President Thomas Jefferson!). Prime leaf-peeping this year starts from the end of September through early November. You can see a more specific forecast on the website, broken down by time frames and elevations.
Litchfield Hills, CT
Feel the hint of fall in the air in this picture-postcard New England village. Follow the trail of leaves just bursting with color from the maple, aspen, beech, and birch trees dotting the landscape. Cross two of the state’s most picturesque covered bridges. Visit Kent, considered the #1 Fall Foliage Town in New England by Yankee Magazine and ooh and aah over Kent Falls, cascading into the river below. Stately mansions await you as well as the charming town green, perfect for a fall picnic. Head to the Litchfield Hills Ramble for a great place to see the Connecticut color changes. It’s also one of the first parts of the state to see color changes: Head up there in early October (estimated for October 3-8 this year) for peak viewing.
The Catskill Mountains, NY
Colorful changing leaves turn the Catskill Mountains into a multi-color work of art. From hiking to camping, there are many family-friendly ways your clan can enjoy the area. The Catskills area is divided into four sub-regions, with each offering different highlights in the fall: Northern Catskills (Greene County) offers outdoor recreation like mountain biking, hiking, and paddling. It’s also known for historical landmarks and being the birthplace of American art. Eastern Catskills (Ulster County) has a popping culinary scene and over 350 miles of trails, including the famous Walkway Over the Hudson. Southern Catskills (Sullivan County) offers diverse activities such as fly fishing, cute local cafes and distilleries, and flea markets. Western Catskills (Delaware County) is ideal for small-town experiences and discovering local food.
Fall foliage typically peaks in early October, providing opportunities for leaf-peeping through outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, and ziplining. Scenic drives offer stunning views of the changing leaves, and cideries in the region provide delicious apple-based beverages. Don’t miss out on the fall festivities, including Oktoberfest!
White Mountains & Lake Winnipesaukee Loop, NH
New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee deliver flamboyant fall foliage every September and October. In the White Mountains, take a scenic drive along the Kancamagus Highway, between North Conway and Lincoln. The Kancamagus is more than 26 miles of roadway for leaf peepers to enjoy the beautiful scenes. In the Lakes region, crystal lakes add some blue to the view near Winnipesaukee and Squam Lakes. The Lake Winnipesaukee loop is about 75 miles long. New Hampshire’s largest lake presents beautiful views across the water as you roam through charming towns and villages like Laconia, Wolfeboro, and Moultonborough. For foliage updates, check the New Hampshire Statewide Foliage Report or call the state hotline.
Fall in Vermont is a sight to behold! The brightest dark reds, fire orange, and brilliant gold colors can typically be seen around the last week of September and the first two weeks of October. The color shift start in the higher, cooler areas of the Green Mountains, spreading down into the Lake Champlain Valley and Connecticut River Valley, and moving from north to south across the state.
Located at the foot of Mount Mansfield, Stowe offers the perfect destination for a fall getaway. Surrounded by renowned fall foliage, you can hike the woodland paths, stroll the historic village, and take in some local Fall Festivals! Stowe is, in fact, called “Fall’s Color Capital.” Stowe offers something for everyone in the family, including guided tours, mountain biking paths, disc golf, zip-lining, and more. Good to know: If you’re fans of “The Sound of Music,” you can stay at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, which is owned and operated by the von Trapp family!
The Maine Highlands, ME
In mid-October, places like Bar Harbor become the center of activity for tourists who still want to take in some sea air while also seeing the gorgeous colors of autumn. There are beautiful family-friendly historic hotels to stay at in the area, and visitors can also enjoy everything from kayaking to whale watching at Acadia National Park.
For a total Maine fall foliage tour, head to The Maine Highlands. Start your journey in Bangor to explore Cascade Park and continue on to Maine’s largest lake, Moosehead, in Greenville. The Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway offers 89 miles of picturesque road, showcasing the East Branch Penobscot River and incredible vistas of Katahdin and the Appalachian chain. (Don’t miss out on some absolutely incredible waterfalls framed by the fall colors!) Leaf enthusiasts can visit the state’s official foliage website Maine Foliage to receive weekly reports, and see photos from throughout the state as the progression of color begins.
Acadia National Park, ME
Visit Acadia in the first few weeks of October for a stunning view of the fall foliage against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. At 47,000 acres, Acadia has a wide range of wildlife and foliage to explore—plus, it doesn’t get quite as crowded as some other Northeastern fall destinations! This is a good option for the more outdoorsy families, perfect for hiking and picnicking. Hike Park Loop Road for stunning views from Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak on the eastern coast of the United States. Plus, the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail is perfect for small feet: It’s paved and features restrooms and even a gift shop.
The Tidal Basin, Washington, DC
This man-made inlet to the Potomac River is most famous for the springtime National Cherry Blossom Festival but it’s just as spectacular in the fall. The over 3,000 cherry trees look just as stunning in their autumnal colors, displaying vibrant reds and yellows along the water’s edge around October and November. Since the area is known for its springtime displays, it’s often overlooked in the fall, which means you get to avoid the crowds and still enjoy the cherry trees—just wearing a different color. Get started near the Jefferson Memorial for a great view.
If your family are city-slickers, there’s good news: You don’t have to head into the wilderness to experience the beauty of autumn. You can enjoy the season right from the middle of Boston, where the historic surroundings give the color change a completely different atmosphere from what you’d find in the surrounding forests and parks. The 44 acres of the Boston Commons is one of the best places to find fall foliage, where over 1,000 oak, beech, chestnut, maple, and elm trees make it possible to see the changing leaves for a longer time frame than typical.
For peak views, head up to the View Boston observatory. The location boasts breathtaking views of the city and the highest roof deck in Boston. It’s set to be the perfect destination for leaf peepers this Autumn, allowing guests to experience a gorgeous 3D fall foliage show, sip on seasonal cocktails, and even create your own digital fall itineraries using interactive touchscreens.
The Berkshires, MA
The Berkshires in Massachusetts are a delightful destination for experiencing the fall season. This region is known for its rolling hills, charming towns, and cultural attractions. Take a scenic drive on the Mohawk Trail, featuring the famous Hairpin Turn on Route 2—a lookout point on the western summit that offers incredible views at over 1,700 feet above sea level. You can also travel along Route 8 to Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’ highest peak, for stunning displays of golden yellow, blazing orange, and vivid scarlet leaves. Once you’re done exploring nature, make time to visit some of the local museums and explore the quaint nearby villages, like Great Barrington (known by many as “the Brooklyn of the Berkshires”) and the artsy North Adams.
Best Places to See Fall Colors in the Midwest
Chicago Botanic Garden, IL
Who says you have to leave the city limits to be wowed by autumn colors? The Chicago Botanic Garden features 385 acres of gardens, with brilliant colors (on trees great and small) in the autumn. You’ll also find family fall activities like the night of 10,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns in late October, the Fall Bulb Festival in early October, and much more, from children’s activities to classes and workshops for the adults. Kids can grab seasonal bingo cards to spot some fall favorites.
Tunnel of Trees, MI
In the northwestern part of Lower Michigan, you’ll find the Tunnel of Trees—a 30-mile stretch of road that you can drive or bike. The trail starts in Harbor Springs and winds through charming towns and diverse landscapes before ending up in Cross Village. Along the way, you can also find attractions like Bear River Valley Recreation, Petoskey State Park with its unique Petoskey Stones, Bay Harbor’s beaches, and the quaint town of Good Hart.
Before you leave Harbor Springs, don’t miss the amazing farm/winery/cafe/brewery (yes, all of those things) right near the start of the famous Tunnel. Pond Hill Farm is open year-round and is a great place to stop for lunch or to pick up some fresh jams from the farm store. There are also trails to hike onsite.
Experience breathtaking fall foliage from unique vantage points by climbing the fire towers in Monroe County. Four towers offer stunning views: Lilly Lookout at Brown County State Park, Hickory Ridge Tower at Hoosier National Forest, McCormick’s Creek Tower, and Mason Ridge Tower at Morgan-Monroe State Forest. Besides these spectacular views, Bloomington is home to fall football, hiking trails, boat rentals on the county’s three lakes, and even hot air balloon rides for fall views from above!
Door County, WI
Take a break from the bustle at Door County’s serene getaway. Explore Peninsula State Park, visit orchards, catch live concerts, and indulge in local cuisine—all while taking in the autumnal colors created by the area’s mix of maple and cherry trees. When you’re not enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of the area’s local shops and restaurants, take a scenic drive along Highway 42 for breathtaking views of the colorful landscape against the backdrop of Lake Michigan.
Bordering Lake Superior, this little town is the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with lighthouses, waiting-to-be-explored sea caves, and outstanding kayaking. Bayfield is most famous for its Apple Festival, which will be taking place October 6-8, 2023, but there’s plenty of other fall fun to be had, from cruises, hiking, biking, or just checking out the cozy local shops, eateries, and accommodations.
There are also plenty of nearby orchards and farms to visit, with fall colors typically peaking in mind-October, offering a breathtaking display against Lake Superior.
Milwaukee is a trending destination year-round, but fall is when the city comes alive. Pumpkin spice lovers, rejoice: The city is home to one of the only pumpkin lagers in the world, made with real pumpkin and pie spice. Visitors of age can sip on the brew while kids munch on a different Wisconsin staple: cheese curds! You can catch a fall sports game or take a spooky stroll through Milwaukee with the Third Ward Ghost Walk or Shadow of City Hall Ghost Walk. The city comes alive in the fall: Stop by for concerts and performances (the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will be putting on a Nightmare Before Christmas concert on October 28-29!), wander through corn mazes and apple picking spots, and more. Fall colors typically peak in late September and early October.
Best Places to See Fall Colors in the Southern US
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, OK
Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, OK offers a magnificent display of fall color that stretches along the peaks of the Arbuckle Mountains. Visit Turner Falls, a breathtaking 77-foot waterfall that cascades into a natural pool below. Adrenaline junkies can take a zipline here, while adventurers can explore the trails and caves. Wind down after a day of fun at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area’s picnicking, fishing, and camping spots. Local farms and ranches have plenty of fall fun for families, from pumpkin patches to hay mazes. Prime leaf-peeping time is the last week of October and the first week of November.
Great Smoky Mountains, TN & NC
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spanning Tennessee and North Carolina, is renowned for its captivating fall foliage. The vibrant mix of maples, oaks, and hickories paints the landscape in vivid reds, oranges, and yellows. For optimal seasonal leaf viewing, head to popular spots like Cades Cove or the The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which offer biking, driving, and walking paths (depending on what you’re in the mood for. If you missed the peak season, you may find that the Newfound Gap Road, which rises up through several elevation levels, has a prolonged autumn season. And for a panoramic view of the yellow and red blanket below, head up to the Clingmans Dome observation tower located on the highest point in the park. Keep in mind that you won’t be the ones out to enjoy the views—autumn is a popular time for visitors, and some attractions do get crowded so plan ahead and try to make reservations in advance wherever possible.
Ozark National Forest, AR
The Ozarks are stunning in the fall, with many trails and drives for you to enjoy whether you’re exploring on foot or from the comfort of the family car. Hike along the Ozark Highlands Trail, enjoy scenic byways, and explore Blanchard Springs Caverns if you’re heading out by foot, or check out the Pig Trail Scenic Byway if you’re driving by. To enjoy the colors of the Ozark Mountains, head down Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway, a route that’ll take you from the West Gulf Coastal Plain, through the Ouachita Mountains and Arkansas River Valley, and into the Ozark Mountains.
Colors typically peak in late October or early November for central and western Arkansas, and early to mid-November for the southern and eastern sections. You can plan your trip thanks to weekly updates from the Arkansas Tourism’s network of color spotters!
Taos & The Enchanted Circle, NM
The southwestern landscape of New Mexico is a must-see in the fall, especially when driving around one of America’s most scenic drives: The Enchanted Circle. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is an 84-mile driving tour in Taos, New Mexico, encircling Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest point. The drive that connects the towns of Taos, Eagle Nest, Red River, and Questa—and you will find some truly spectacular views. Head down the Corrales Road Scenic Byway and breathe in the smell of roasting green chile in the fall. The Bosque’s 400 acres along ten miles of the river provide habitat for almost 200 species of migrating and nesting birds, making bird watching a favorite activity.
The fall foliage in the Taos Valley is stunning this time of year, featuring a mix of aspens and pine trees for a gold and green mountainscape. For some fun fall events, head down to Taos Ski Valley, where you’ll find activities for the whole family—even the family dogs! You can also participate in Oktoberfest and a marathon, or just enjoy the scenery with a chair lift and the Via Ferrata 100-foot skybridge.
Best Places to See Fall Colors in the Western US
Breckenridge, located just under two hours from Denver, sits at just over 9,000 feet elevation and that means the leaves change color here super early. Explore the gold rush history, take a guided mountain bike tour and breathe in the fresh mountain air.
Fall is a great time to visit as the ski and summer crowds aren’t there and you can enjoy special events like the annual Oktoberfest and the Breckenridge Film Festival.
The hiking and views can’t be beat, and there are a number of scenic drives, like the Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway, and Boreas Pass, both of which offers sweeping vistas of the changing aspens. (You can learn more about the history of Boreas Pass at the free Highline Railroad Park and Museum, just past the turn.)
Don’t feel like driving, but aren’t up for walking? Take the free Breckenridge Gondola up from downtown Breckenridge to the base of Peak 8 for a 15-minute birds-eye view of the trees.
Aspen, Colorado, is renowned for its stunning fall foliage. The town is surrounded by groves of aspen trees, which turn vibrant shades of gold and yellow during autumn. Expect vibrant gold and orange hues as the aspen trees change color. Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed mountain scenes in North America, offers breathtaking fall vistas, while the drive along Independence Pass provides panoramic views of the changing leaves.
Unlike other mountain towns, which tend to become sleepy when they’re not in season, Aspen remains active with various restaurants, shops, and attractions open through October. Expect to wind down surrounded by the beautiful mountainscapes and catch a live concert or art event.
Columbia River Gorge, OR & WA
On the Washington side, you can get up close and personal with some stunning color without having to stray too far from your auto. You can also check out some waterfalls, try the gentle 2.4-mile hike around Latourell Falls, explore the grand dame of Multnomah Falls, and make a stop in Corbett, or at the historic Vista House.
On the Washington side, you’ll have fewer waterfalls but more sweeping views. Check out the Goldendale Observatory and surrounding park for an unforgettable autumnal site.
Either way, you’re in for a treat as the seasons change in the Pacific Northwest, generally around late September to mid-October.
Carson City, NV
Nevada’s capital city is a great place to watch nature put on a vibrant show. Coupled with cooler temperatures, it’s the perfect destination to hike, bike, kayak, or fish as the days start to get shorter. One fantastic spot where everyone can immerse themselves in fall colors is Carson River Park, which features walking paths, a fishing pier, and a river access area. You can hike up to the top of C-Hill to get an incredible leaf-peeping view from above town, or take on the longer Ash to Kings Canyon trail, whose smooth, twisting road makes it a popular choice among both hikers and bikers.
You can catch a seasonal event like the fall wagon ride at Silver Saddle Ranch, stop by one of the local museums like the Railroad Museum and Children’s Museum, or check out the spooky offerings of the Carson City Ghost Walk. Keep an eye on the website for more seasonal, cultural, and art events.
Additional reporting by Amber Guitibier and Kate Loweth