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25 Best Places to Spot Fall Foliage in America

Photogenic doesn't even begin to describe these top fall foliage destinations across the country.

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Fall Foliage photo collagerd.com, Getty Images (10)

Fall foliage on display

When it comes to fall activities, leaf-peeping ranks No. 1. From small towns in New England to Yellowstone National Park, the United States brims with picturesque places to soak in the majesty of the fall season. There are colorful destinations that make great road trip pit stops and weekend getaways in every state. Regardless of where you live, it’s borderline inevitable that exquisite fall foliage exists within driving distance. Seriously, we can all but promise that an amazing leaf-peeping locale is even closer than you realize!

How we chose our top 25

Ready to start planning the best road trip to see fall foliage in autumn, a weeklong holiday, or even a quick overnight? We combed through countless reviews and hundreds of photographs to put together a cross-section of the best autumnal standouts for solo trips, couples’ getaways, and family vacation destinations. While the top requirement was vibrant fall foliage, we focused on locations that offered plenty for you to see and do. Whether you choose to stay at a five-star resort, a small-town bed and breakfast, or one in a long list of cute cabin rentals, a sublime seasonal escape awaits. But don’t just take our word for it. Keep reading to see for yourself.

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

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Best for: Beach lovers and wildlife enthusiasts

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

Highlights

  • You can take a horseback riding excursion on Hatteras Beach.

  • The trails at Currituck Banks National Estuarine Reserve take visitors into maritime forests and marshy areas.

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Niagara Falls Autumn SunsetOrchidpoet/Getty Images

Niagara Falls, New York

Best for: Families with kids

The city of Niagara Falls is a top-notch spot to witness Mother Nature working 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 in the rest of the region, making mid- to late-October prime time to visit. Keep the kids entertained as you road trip to the falls with these interesting waterfall facts.

Highlights:

  • Cave of the Winds, a tour that takes you close to the falls, is the top-ranked attraction for good reason. (Just remember to don a hooded raincoat.)

  • Hop aboard the Maid of the Mist for an up-close view of Horseshoe Falls.

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Best for: Nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts

Yellowstone National Park is marvelous year-round. With that said, photographers and nature lovers alike have argued that it’s one of many national parks that look even more striking in the fall. And there’s a plethora of visual evidence to support that claim. When autumn rolls in, the mountains are cloaked in a spectrum of colors, crowds dwindle, and wildlife abounds.

Highlights:

  • The Grand Prismatic Spring is among the most jaw-dropping sights on the planet.

  • With any luck, you might see male elk sparring.

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

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Best for: Families with kids

One of the most iconic and highly photographed tourist attractions in the Americas, Grand Canyon National Park is the definition of a bucket-list destination. Activities like a helicopter or train ride show the canyon in all its glory and are fun for the whole family. The best time to go? For our money, it’s got to be fall—specifically late September to early October, when the leaves turn the same color as the layered bands of red rock. Mild temperatures and fewer crowds are just an added bonus.

Highlights:

  • A helicopter ride provides an unforgettable perspective and really shows off the enormity of the Grand Canyon.

  • The Grand Canyon Railway departs the historic train depot in the town of Williams and runs along a scenic track to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon—one of the best train rides in America.

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Autumn on Big Mountain, Whitefish, MontanaCurran Edland/Shutterstock

Whitefish, Montana

Best for: Nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts

Big Sky Country is undeniably captivating. And Whitefish—the gateway to Glacier National Park—certainly fits into that category. Now’s the time to take a Montana road trip; the “secret season” brings clear skies, sunshine, and captivating colors. Aspen and tamarack trees turn a golden yellow in early October. Whether you’re keen on hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, or cycling, there’s no shortage of active things to do. Craving some R&R? Book a therapeutic massage or a restorative yoga class.

Highlights:

  • Glacier National Park is the ultimate outdoor playground.

  • The Whitefish Mountain Resort Bike Park encompasses more than 20 miles of trails.

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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

Best for: Relaxation seekers and outdoor enthusiasts

Lake Placid ranks among the most idyllic destinations 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 Trail scenic byway in early October to glimpse oaks, sugar maples, and birch trees. Love the lake life? Visit the prettiest lakes in every state.

Highlights:

  • There’s plenty of hiking. Adirondack Park outsizes Yellowstone National Park.

  • Mirror Lake is an absolutely stunning spot for kayaking, boating, swimming (though it’s a bit chilly in the fall), and waterfront fun.

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Smoky Mountain SunriseTony Barber/Getty Images

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Best for: Road trippers

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

Highlights:

  • For unsurpassed views, venture to the Space Needle, a 407-foot-tall observation tower.

  • A self-guided driving tour of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an unforgettable way to spend a few hours. Plus, it only costs $10.

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

Stowe, Vermont

Best for: Hikers and history buffs

With its unmistakable mix of fall foliage, history, and outdoor activities, Stowe is the epitome of an autumn escape. The best time to see tones of yellow, orange, and red? The tail end of September and throughout October. If your trip coincides with Halloween, don’t miss Emily’s Bridge, a historic and, legend has it, haunted covered bridge that makes for a spooky travel destination. After a day of exploration, warm up with a cup of spiced cider before hunkering down at the Brass Lantern Inn.

Highlights:

  • Rising 4,393 feet, Mount Mansfield is the tallest point in Vermont.

  • Walk along a former smuggling route in Smugglers Notch State Park.

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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

Best for: Romantics, history buffs, and relaxation seekers

New England is synonymous with the seasonal shift. The enchanting town of Washington in northwest Connecticut cuts a frame-worthy picture. Go in late September through early October, when the landscape erupts in scarlet, gold, and auburn. The small town’s historic and beautiful architecture, pastoral pursuits, delicious local restaurants, and romantic Mayflower Inn & Spa add to the appeal.

Highlights:

  • The Institute for American Indian Studies has fascinating exhibits, including a replica Algonkian village and a wigwam escape room.

  • Steep Rock Preserve is a hidden gem with diverse flora, riverside trails, and an old railroad tunnel.

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Autumn in the vineyardsCharles Wollertz/Getty Images

Calistoga, California

Best for: Romantics, oenophiles, and spa lovers

This laid-back town in wine country is prized for its hot springs, mud baths, and vineyards. So it’s the perfect place to relish vino tastings, relaxing spa rituals, 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 the Solage resort and spa. In advance of leaving for Calistoga, familiarize yourself with these wine terms you should know.

Highlights:

  • Wine and architecture coalesce at the Tuscan-style Castello di Amorosa winery.

  • The Petrified Forest is chock-full of trees that were “turned to stone” by the eruption of Mount Saint Helena.

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

Bristol, Rhode Island

Best for: Beach lovers and history buffs

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

Highlights:

  • The beauty of Blithewold’s mansion, gardens, and arboretum in the fall knows no bounds.

  • Hear about the British being intentionally misdirected to the Episcopal Church on a historic walking tour of Hope Street.

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

Kennebunkport, Maine

Best for: Fans of fresh seafood and the sea

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. Come for the panoramic autumn views and stay for the great restaurants, downtown shops, and the Seashore Trolley Museum.

Highlights:

  • For a mini coastal road trip, follow Ocean Avenue past the multimillion-dollar mansions with impeccable landscaping all the way to Walker’s Point, aka the Bush (yes, that Bush) compound.

  • Venture off the beaten path to Saint Anthony’s Monastery, which sits on a 66-acre estate with wooded riverside paths.

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Fall Colors are More Vibrant in the Higher ElevationsThe Washington Post/Getty Images

Oakland, Maryland

Best for: Families with kids

More than 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. And if you love autumn as much as we do, chuckle at these funny fall memes while sipping on your pumpkin spice latte.

Highlights:

  • Deep Creek Lake State Park is lovely (and infinitely less crowded) in the fall.

  • The Autumn Glory Festival, which includes parades, music, and more, kicks off on October 13 and is fun for kids.

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

Breckenridge, Colorado

Best for: Beer aficionados

Trade snow-covered slopes for kaleidoscopic summits and head to Breckenridge in the fall. You’ll be rewarded with golden aspens as far as the eye can see. Love a cold brew? Breckenridge hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the region. Youngsters will love the myriad parks and hiking trails. If you’re traveling with kids, try these ideas for a beautiful fall family getaway.

Highlights:

  • There’s an extensive trail network for hiking and cycling.

  • The panorama is particularly exceptional from Boreas Pass Road.

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The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in WisconsinHank Erdmann/Shutterstock

Fish Creek, Wisconsin

Best for: Relaxation seekers and history buffs

Need a weekend away to unwind? Fish Creek entices travelers with its fiery leaves, farmers markets, and autumnal activities. Major draws include Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Alexander Noble House Museum, and the tree-lined trails of Peninsula State Park, where you can discover a dazzling array of cedar, white ash, and sugar maples. Stay in a cottage rental or The White Gull Inn, one of the coziest inns to book during fall foliage season.

Highlights:

  • Plan a camping trip to wake up alongside the beautiful leaves. (Be sure to pack layers, as it gets quite cool.)

  • Cruise along the leaf-swept Door County Coastal Byway.

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

Lenox, Massachusetts

Best for: Shoppers, music lovers, and hikers

Travelers flock to the Berkshire town of Lenox for its blend of heritage and natural beauty. Starting in late September, the landscape is ablaze with red, yellow, and green. Admire the outdoor surroundings at Kennedy Park and Mount Greylock State Reservation. In addition to hiking, biking, and kayaking, go gallery hopping, browse antique shops, and catch a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For even more fun, check out these fall activities worth adding to your seasonal bucket list.

Highlights:

  • Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary covers more than a thousand acres along the slopes of Lenox Mountain.

  • The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, is a must-visit historic country estate and cultural center.

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old house and fall foliage in Fayetteville, West VirginiaSFP/Shutterstock

Fayetteville, West Virginia

Best for: Hikers and road trippers

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 of a town is complete without a scenic ride over the New River Gorge Bridge. For more inspiration on where to go, take a gander at these beautiful road trip photos.

Highlights:

  • Have a picnic lunch in the pretty town park.

  • The Historic Fayette Theater hosts live music and community productions.

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Small stream and waterfall in North GeorgiaBob Pool/Getty Images

Clayton, Georgia

Best for: Hikers, foodies, and music lovers

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, carve out ample time for Chattahoochee National Forest.

Highlights:

  • Hike the beautiful Bartram Trail.

  • Treat your taste buds to locally grown farm-to-table fare.

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Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Best for: Foodies, shoppers, and history buffs

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. Grab a grassy knoll and appreciate the splendid surroundings. If you’re road-tripping here, be sure to check this road trip checklist for your car before you depart.

Highlights:

  • Stroll along the picturesque waterfront.

  • The USS Albacore, a retired U.S. Navy research submarine, now offers tours and exhibits.

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Hood River, OregonGary Quay/Getty Images

Hood River, Oregon

Best for: Foodies, hikers, and fans of water sports

Located an hour east of Portland, at the intersection of the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Range, Hood River has an abundance of farm stands, breweries, wineries, and hiking routes. Add to those some quintessentially autumn activities—like apple picking and peeping leaves of the crimson maples that become vivid in mid-October—and it’s clear why folks flock here in the fall. Before you depart, read this guide to the perfect Oregon Trail road trip.

Highlights:

  • Hood River is one of the best places for windsurfing and kiteboarding.

  • Pull off the Historic Columbia River Highway and stretch your legs with a short, sweet, and stunning hike to Horsetail Falls.

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Autumn color in Big Cottonwod Canyon, Utahyoshimedia/Getty Images

Park City, Utah

Best for: Hikers and outdoor sports enthusiasts

Known as one of the best places to ski in the United States, Park City also has a lot to offer before the first snowfall. Travelers can marvel at the native trees—canyon maples, quaking aspen, scrub oak, and black hawthorn—either by foot, bike, or car. Fly fishing, kayaking, and rafting are also popular fall pastimes. Another reason to plan your trip during the off-season? Reasonable rates at luxe lodgings such as Montage Deer Valley.

Highlights:

  • Hot-air balloon rides depart daily at sunrise.

  • Early morning drives along Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway are breathtaking.

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Scenic View Of Trees On Field Against Sky During Autumn, Galena, United StatesShalini Joiner/Getty Images

Galena, Illinois

Best for: Adrenaline junkies

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-peeping to pumpkin and apple picking. For a totally unique perspective, board the ski lift to the summit of Chestnut Mountain Resort or opt for a zip-lining excursion. Rather stay local? Refer to this fall foliage map to learn when leaf colors will change in your area.

Highlights:

  • Sample handcrafted spirits—including bourbon, rye whiskey, vodka, and gin—at the family-operated Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.

  • The former home of Ulysses S. Grant showcases original furniture and other interesting artifacts.

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oconaluftee river in autumnrcimages/Getty Images

Cherokee, North Carolina

Best for: Bird watchers, campers, and nature lovers

The promise of lush landscapes, outdoorsy action, and Native American culture lures 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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Don’t miss more spectacular national parks photos that will leave you awestruck.

Highlights:

  • Spend a few days backcountry camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  • A walkway of earth, roots, and rocks leads to Mingo Falls.

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fall foliage in Jasper, Arkansassestevens/Getty Images

Jasper, Arkansas

Best for: Hikers and road trippers

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. Travel not on the agenda this year? Soak in the season (without leaving home) by looking at these stunning fall pictures from destinations across America.

Highlights:

  • Triple Falls definitely warrants a stop.

  • Emma’s Museum of Junk is a quirky, only-in-Jasper attraction.

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Autumn in Shenandoah National ParkJay Dickman/Getty Images

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Best for: Bird watchers, road trippers, and campers

It’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., sits a place as serene and stunningly beautiful as Shenandoah National Park. Steal away for a fall weekend to explore 200,000 acres of cascades, wetlands, commanding peaks, and leafy forests tinged with a fiery brilliance. Navigate the vast network of trails and keep an eye out for birds, deer, and black bears. Get inspired for your trip with the most incredible waterfall photos ever taken.

Highlights:

  • Sleep under the stars at one of the five campgrounds.

  • The beauty of the 105-mile Skyline Drive begs motorists to go slow and stop often.

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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

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