Leaf-peeping season is about to begin for many pockets of the country, making now the perfect time to plan your next great trip.
America is home to many beautiful places for marveling at the changing colors of the season, whether you’re up north, down south, or even out west. So bundle up, grab some apples and get outside to leaf-peep away at nature’s dazzling display.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Visit the beautiful Acadia National Park and scale Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain in the park and the tallest along the eastern American coast. Not only is this a prime place to view the sunrise, but the 27-mile Park Loop Road system that winds around the mountain offers views of the coastal forests and shoreline. Peak season for leaf-peeping is generally in mid-October, but the state has a fall foliage website that’s updated weekly, so you can determine the best time to visit. After you’ve had your fill of fall colors, head to the coastal town of Bar Harbor, full of history, shops and delicious restaurants.
The Catskills, New York
The Catskills are lovely in the autumn. View fall foliage in the great outdoors, or take a hike on one of the popular hiking trails in the Catskill Mountains. The area is also great for a scenic drive where you can see the historic covered bridges that date back to the 1800s. Be sure to see the many waterfalls in the region as well, with Kaaterskill Falls being the tallest cascading waterfall in New York State. A fall foliage report for the state can be viewed here.
Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania
For amazing leaf-peeping and a good time, head to the Pocono Mountains. Consult the fall foliage forecast before you plan your trip, and if you want to be extra sure the leaves are at optimal color, check out their live cameras. Visitors can take a scenic train ride or trail ride through the region or even an air tour to see the changing foliage. (You know you are going to a superb area for leaf peeping when they have a leaf peeping FAQ available.)
Mount Washington, New Hampshire
Mount Washington State Park sits atop the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast. The area offers expansive views of up to 130-miles on a clear day, surrounded by the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. If you are not looking to hike up the mountain, there is a scenic overlook with vehicle access. Note that the park (summit building) is closed from November to April. But another way up to view the area that is available through much of November is on The Mount Washington COG Railway, located in the White Mountains in Bretton Woods, N.H. This mountain-climbing train allows plenty of time to take in the views on either a historic steam train or an eco-friendly biodiesel locomotive.
Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina & Tennessee
Where better to see fall foliage than at America’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is home to roughly 1,500 black bears which can be viewed in Cades Cove, a popular area for touring that also offers an 11-mile one-way loop road that circles the cove for motorists. Fall color reports are available to guide your visit and offer prime viewing locations. The National Park Service also provides a guide to fall colors in the area.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Visit Shenandoah National Park to leaf-peep to your heart’s desire. Staff updates a fall color report each week so you can keep up with what the trees are doing. Visitors traveling by foot can hike on over 500-miles of trails, of which 101-miles are part of the Appalachian Trail. Motorists can take the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile National Scenic Byway, and see the park and beyond from one of the 75 scenic overlooks along the way. Or, experience the park on horseback, departing from Skyline Stables.
The Blue Ridge area, Georgia
Take a trip on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, beginning in Blue Ridge, Ga., in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The 26-mile trip takes you along the Toccoa River to a layover in the sister towns of McCaysville, Ga., and Copperhill, Tenn. These “twin towns” are located on the Georgia-Tennessee state line. Leaf-peeping opportunities are optimal, but you can also take a special Fall Foliage trip on the railway. If you’re in the area, be sure to see the Tallulah Gorge which has “whitewater releases” in November, when the kayakers show off their skills.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
At Lake Geneva you can do it all — and therefore, it makes a wonderful place to leaf-peep. Hot-air balloon rides are available by the lake, too: After all, where better to leaf peep than amongst the trees themselves? Or, take a Zip Line Canopy Tour which consists of “eight different zip lines, five sky bridges, three spiral stairways and a one-of-a-kind ‘floating’ double helix stairway which wraps around a breathtaking ash tree,” according to the tour company’s website.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a nice place to view fall foliage via its several trails, including the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. One great way to see the park is aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. For National Park Scenic trains departing out of Rockside station and Akron Northside station, upgrade to a Premium Upper Dome ticket for a three-hour continuous round trip adventure that allows you to view the foliage from a mostly glass ceiling. Other options include Bike Aboard! trains that run until Nov. 5, where you can bike the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and take the train the other way; as well as “Grape Escape” and “Ales on Rails” wine- and beer-tasting excursions.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Seven million acres of trees, Great Lakes shores, lighthouses, lakes and waterfalls make a perfect place to seek out beautiful fall colors. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers a plethora of outdoor activities including mountain biking, ATV trails, birding and four state parks. Not to mention, in addition to being able to leaf-peep, you can also see the Northern Lights.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Denali National Park encompasses six million acres of land with different forest types and North America’s tallest peak, the 20,310-foot Denali. Get outside and take a hike, go biking or search for wildlife. The park has sled dogs, too, and you can visit their kennels year-round. (Meet the litters of sled dogs here before you go.) Be warned: You might find pleasant fall weather or fresh snow and freezing temperatures, so plan ahead.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Visit Grand Teton National Park to see amazing wildlife, lakes and terrain. While leaves have historically “peaked” in late September, there are still sights to see. It’s currently the rutting, or breeding, season for deer, and male elk bugles can be heard — just look out for sparring matches. Note that hunting occurs in the park from mid-October through early December, so take precautions and wear orange or bright colors when visiting the park.
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Designated as a National Scenic Area, one can observe the canyon where the Columbia River flows through the Cascades. The area offers mountain biking, hiking, picnicking and scenic driving just to name a few activities. Ride the Mount Hood Railroad to see the sites, and take in all of the beautiful foliage. Book a Diamond Class ticket for the full experience, which usually means that you’ll be seated in the upper portion of their Sky Dome car with panoramic views.