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24 Best Places to Spot Fall Foliage in America

Photogenic doesn't begin to describe these top leaf-peeping destinations across the country.

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County Covered Bridge near Greenfield, New HampshireDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

The autumn leaves

No matter what’s going on in the world, one thing you can always count on is stunning fall foliage. From Stowe, Vermont to Yellowstone National Park, the United States is packed with places to soak in the majesty of the season. No matter where you live, there’s bound to be a beautiful and colorful destination within driving distance. (Road trip, anyone?) In fact, a fabulous leaf-peeping locale might even be closer than you realize! Follow these 15 road trip planning tips for a perfect journey, no matter where you’re headed.

Bodie Island Lighthouse Outer Banks Cape Hatteras North Carolinadigidreamgrafix/Getty Images

Outer Banks

The Outer Banks region is famed for shipwrecks, wildlife (among the few places in North America where you can still spot majestic wild horses roaming free), and sandy stretches that invite lazy summer days. This idyllic group of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina also makes a fantastic fall getaway. Autumn brings a patchwork of colors to the Outer Banks. Uncrowded beaches and excellent fishing also make the list of off-season selling points of an Outer Banks road trip.

Niagara Falls Autumn SunsetOrchidpoet/Getty Images

Niagara Falls

The city of Niagara Falls is a top-notch spot to witness Mother Nature work her magic. This family-friendly destination in New York State has flourishing forests, gushing waterfalls, and unique vantage points (such as Goat Island and the Rainbow Bridge) to feast your eyes on fall foliage. Due to its unique microclimate, the leaves change later than the rest of the region, making mid- to late-October prime time to visit. Pack these 25 best road trip snacks and you’ll never have to settle for junk food.

Steam rising from thermal hot springs and geysers. Bison grazing. At Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.Cheryl Ramalho/Getty Images

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is marvelous year-round. That said, photographers and nature lovers alike have argued—and there’s a plethora of visual evidence to support—that it’s one of many the national parks that looks even more striking in the fall. When autumn rolls in, the mountains erupt in a spectrum of colors, crowds dwindle, and wildlife abounds (you might even see male elk sparring).

Grand Canyon National Park, North rimGuy Heitmann/Design Pics/Getty Images

Grand Canyon National Park

One of the most iconic and highly photographed tourist attractions in the Americas, Grand Canyon National Park is the definition of a pilgrimage-worthy destination. The best time to go? For our money, it’s got to be fall—specifically late September to early October when the colorful leaves turn the same color as the layered bands of red rock. Mild temperatures and fewer crowds are an added bonus.

Autumn on Big Mountain, Whitefish, MontanaCurran Edland/Shutterstock

Whitefish, Montana

Big Sky Country is undeniably captivating. And Whitefish certainly fits into that category. The “secret season” brings clear skies, sunshine, and an abundance of captivating colors. Aspen and tamarack (also known as larch) trees turn a golden yellow in early October. Whether you prefer canoeing or cycling, there’s no shortage of things to do. Afterward, get some rest at the Garden Wall Inn. Take a gander at these beautiful road trip photos for more inspiration on where to go.

A panoramic view of Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York, on a sunny autumn day with colorful fall foliage on the mountains in the backgroundFrank1Crayon/Shutterstock

Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid ranks among the most idyllic spots in America. So it should come as no surprise that this upstate retreat holds a top position on our list. Lakes, mountains, and unspoiled forests contribute to the postcard-worthy panorama. By mid-fall, the deciduous trees shine in all their glory. Drive along the 170-mile Olympic Byway in early October to catch a glimpse of oaks, sugar maples, and birch. Ready to hit the open road? Clock some miles on one of these scenic road trips that showcase fall foliage.

Smoky Mountain SunriseTony Barber/Getty Images

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Situated on the doorstep of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg impresses with its high-altitude attractions and awe-inspiring scenic splendor. Mother Nature puts on a sensational show that lasts from early October to mid-November. For unsurpassed views, venture to the Space Needle, a 407-foot-tall observation tower. Planning a spur-of-the-moment trip? These cozy cabins are ideal for a last-minute weekend getaway.

Overlooking a peaceful New England community church and village in the autumn., Stowe, Vermont, USADonLand/Shutterstock

Stowe, Vermont

With its unmistakable mix of fantastic foliage, New England charm, and outdoor activities, Stowe is the ultimate fall escape. The best time to see tones of yellow, orange, and red? The tail end of September. (We advise calling Vermont’s Seasonal Hotline at (802)828-3239 to confirm.) After a day of exploration, warm up with a cup of spiced cider before hunkering down at the Brass Lantern Inn. Discover more of the best places for New England fall foliage.

Abstract background of colorful beautiful autumn leaves and branches in their natural environment. Orange red and green leaves and blue sky. Photograph with sharp blur Jaione_Garcia/Shutterstock

Washington, Connecticut

New England is synonymous with the seasonal shift. Washington, in northwest Connecticut, ups the ante on picturesque. Go in late September through early October when the landscape is cloaked in scarlet, gold, and auburn. Historic architecture and pastoral pursuits up the appeal. Make a weekend of it and book a room at the Mayflower Inn & Spa, which made our list of the 50 incredible places you can actually spend the night.

colorful autumn vineyard in Calistoga California early morning with the sun breaking thru the fog in the backgroundWollertz/Shutterstock

Calistoga, California

This laid-back town in wine country is prized for its hot springs, mud baths, and vineyards. It’s also the perfect place to relish vino tasting and leaf-peeping. Start the day with a trek through the redwoods, maples, and black oaks at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. After an afternoon of sipping world-class chardonnay, retreat to the posh comforts of Calistoga Ranch. Don’t forget to brush up on these essential wine terms before you go.

Autumn trees reflecting on river in Bristol, Rhode IslandRaymond Louis RS/Shutterstock

Bristol, Rhode Island

Located 35 minutes from Newport, the quaint town of Bristol boasts historic architecture, relaxed ambiance, and seasonal festivals. Foliage chasers will enjoy Blithewold Gardens and Colt State Park. Take a break from gawking at the gorgeous landscape to meander through the downtown area. Nearby, you’ll find one of the 14 beaches that are even better in the fall.

Dinghy on lake with fall foliage near Kennebunkport, Maine in autumnLamar Sellers/Shutterstock

Kennebunkport, Maine

Most people associate Kennebunkport with lobster shacks, ocean vistas, and pristine beaches. But summer isn’t the only time to plan a trip. This seaside stunner is also fabulous come fall. Crimson and gold treetops arrive in mid-October. Temperatures in the 50s only enhance the experience. Kennebunkport also has many great restaurants and the Seashore Trolley Museum.

Muddy Creek falls in Swallow Falls State Park in Maryland USASteve Heap/Shutterstock

Oakland, Maryland

More than just crab cakes and seafood boils, Maryland overflows with Mid-Atlantic charm. And it’s not just the summer season that wows. The town of Oakland delights leafage fans with vibrant shades of copper, vermilion, and gold. Venture to Swallow Falls State Park for a close-up look at towering ancient hemlocks and pines.

Colorful Colorado Autumn. Colorado October Landscape, United States.welcomia/Shutterstock

Breckenridge, Colorado

Trade snow-covered slopes for kaleidoscopic peaks and head to Breckenridge in the fall. You’ll be rewarded with golden aspens as far as the eye can see. And the panoramas are particularly exceptional from Boreas Pass Road. For beer enthusiasts, Breckenridge hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the region. Youngsters will love the myriad parks and hiking trails. Traveling with kids? Try one of these 10 ideas for a beautiful fall family getaway.

The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse overlooks the waters of Green Bay in Lake Michigan. Today the lighthouse is located in Peninsula State Park, Door County, WisconsinHank Erdmann/Shutterstock

Fish Creek, Wisconsin

Need a weekend away to unwind? Fish Creek charms travelers with its fiery leaves, farmers’ markets, and autumnal activities. Highlights include Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Alexander Noble House Museum, and the tree-lined trails in Peninsula State Park, where you can discover a dazzling array of cedar, white ash, and sugar maples. Why not stay in a cottage rental or one of these cozy inns to book during peak fall foliage season?

Tanglewood Music Center in Autumn, Lenox, MassachusettsJoseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Lenox, Massachusetts

Travelers flock to Lenox for its blend of heritage and natural beauty. Starting in late September, the landscape is ablaze with red, yellow, and green. Appreciate the outdoor surroundings at Kennedy Park and Mount Greylock State Reservation. There’s also plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and kayaking. For even more seasonal fun, check out these things to add to your fall bucket list this year.

Autumn sun rays on fall foliage at Glade Creek grist mill at Babcock State Park near Fayetteville WVSFP/Shutterstock

Fayetteville, West Virginia

Did you know approximately 78 percent of West Virginia’s total land is forested? By mid-October, Fayetteville is awash in harvest hues. There are numerous trails plus a cute shopping district and terrific restaurants. Of course, no fall trip to this gem is complete without a scenic ride over the New River Gorge Bridge.

Small stream and waterfall in North GeorgiaBob Pool/Getty Images

Clayton, Georgia

Between the kids starting school and getting into the swing of things, many folks find it difficult to get away in September. Not to worry. We’ve got some good news on that front. Clayton is a scenery-packed getaway until late October! Listen to live bluegrass music, chow down on authentic barbecue, and visit Barker’s Creek Mill. And, of course, be sure to carve out some time for Chattahoochee National Forest.

Autumn in Portsmouth, New HampshireDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Brilliant fall tones are pretty much guaranteed in Portsmouth. Beyond that, the pedestrian-friendly downtown is lined with indie boutiques and excellent eateries. Strawbery Banke Museum depicts life as it was centuries ago. Seeking a foliage fix? Set your sights on Prescott Park. Nab a grassy knoll and appreciate the splendid surroundings. These are the things you must check on your car before your next road trip.

Hood River, OregonGary Quay/Getty Images

Hood River, Oregon

From beaches to craggy peaks, Oregon has it all. Set an hour east of Portland, in the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River is chock-full of apple orchards, farms stands, and hiking routes. Add to that recreation and the arrival of crimson maples in mid-October, and it’s clear why folks flock here in the autumn. Prefer to stay local? Refer to this map that tells you when peak fall foliage will arrive in your area.

Fall sunrise in Park City, Utah, USA.Johnny Adolphson/Shutterstock

Park City, Utah

Renowned as a ski mecca, Park City also has a lot to offer before the first snowfall. Travelers can admire the native trees—canyon maples, quaking aspen, scrub oak, and black hawthorn—either by foot, bike, or car. Fly fishing, hiking, and hot air balloon rides are also popular fall pastimes. Another reason to plan your trip during the off-season? Reasonable rates at lux lodgings such as the Waldorf Astoria Park City.

Shops along main street, Galena, IllinoisSuzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Galena, Illinois

Before the bitterness of winter strikes, Galena delivers crisp temps and some of the finest foliage in the Midwest. Quintessential autumnal activities run the gamut from leaf peeing to pumpkin picking. For a totally unique perspective, board the ski lift to the summit of Chestnut Mountain Resort or opt for zip lining excursion 75 feet in the air. Craving more heart-racing outdoor adventure? Consider one of these 11 epic vacations for adrenaline junkies.

Tanawha Trail, North Carolina. Great colors of trees leaves.Nodir Tursunzade/Shutterstock

Cherokee, North Carolina

The promise of lush landscapes, outdoorsy action, and Native American culture lure travelers to Cherokee. On the itinerary? Take your pick of fly fishing, tubing, bird watching, or kayaking. Learn about the deep roots of the Cherokee people at Oconaluftee Indian Village. For optimal vegetation viewing, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Don’t miss more spectacular photos of U.S. national parks that will leave you awestruck.

Buffalo River near Jasper, ArkansasBOB WESTON/Getty Images

Jasper, Arkansas

With the backdrop of the Ozark Mountains, this tiny town is big on scenic beauty. Between mid-October and early November, Jasper beckons travelers with its intense shades of jade, burnt orange, and carnelian. Make a point to drive through the Arkansas Grand Canyon, where flaming hues are on full display. Triple Falls also warrants a stop. Travel not on the agenda this year? Soak in the season (without leaving home) by looking at these stunning pictures of autumn across America.

Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay Cohn is an avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents and writes about travel for Reader’s Digest as well as USA Today, Fodor’s, Travel + Leisure, Brides and PureWow. Beyond travel, she covers a variety of lifestyle topics including beauty, wellness and design. Her work has also been published on Well+Good, Elle Decor, Martha Stewart, Domino and Mindbodygreen. Follow her on Instagram @lindsay_cohn