Just because it’s getting chilly outside doesn’t mean you gotta stay cooped up at home.
Fall is an awesome time to get out there and explore the great outdoors. The crowds are manageable, travel is affordable, and the pastel-colored hues of our nation’s astonishing foliage is proudly out on display.
And despite COVID decimating the 2020 travel scene, there's no reason you can't explore our fantastic fall foliage from the safety of your own car. Leaf peeping is one of the most COVID-safe travel activities--keep to your core group and leave the windows wound down to avoid spreading the disease.
So where should you go to make the most of this remarkable natural spectacle?
From coast to coast, the United States is a joyous place to explore during the fall. New England may well be the leaf peepers destination of choice, but other lesser-known opportunities abound.
The Green Mountains, Vermont
Vermont is an obvious choice for leaf peepers, and nowhere in the state is as grandiose as the coveted Green Mountain Byway. Officially known as Route 100, this 14-mile road traverses the spine of the Green Mountains, which are anything but green during the fall.
Take a detour down Route 108 into the heart of the mountains where hiking opportunities abound. If time permits, continue along Route 118 towards Montgomery to admire idyllic Vermont landscapes as you cross a series of picturesque cliffside bridges.
This tiny open-air cabin in Tanglebloom allows you to wake up beneath sweet foliage views, while an affordable nearby campsite called Misty Mountain Farm gets rave reviews. Those more interested in a charming hotel could stay at the quaint and historic ski resort town of Stowe.
Finger Lake in the Green Mountains, Vermont | © btvbill/Flickr
The White Mountains, New Hampshire
Ever wanted to hike part of the Appalachian Trail? Well, there’s no better time than now to discover New Hampshire's majestic White Mountains. Featuring an endless array of towering hardwoods, the region never fails to put on a glistening autumn display.
If an extended hiking trip doesn’t sound like your thing, opt for the novel Conway Scenic Railroad instead. The track passes gushing rivers and heightened vistas as it slowly chugs its way uphill.
Road trippers should head up the windy Kancamagus Highway, stopping off at any one of the countless lookouts and hiking trailheads en route.
The Pond of Safety in the White Mountains National Park | © U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr
The Sierra Nevada, California
West coast leaf peekers should make a beeline for Cali’s epic Sierra Nevada where yellow cottonwoods and aspens come alive in a magnificent autumn display.
Expect to marvel at an assemblage of jagged mountain peaks, crystalline glacial lakes, and rugged rock formations on the hikes that traverse this sparse region.
The Sierra Scenic Byway is by far your best automotive bet, featuring a plethora of picturesque lookouts such as Jackass Rock to soak up those foliage views.
Shaker Lake and Bridgeport Reservoir are both outstanding spots to camp. With a stark contrast between shimmering waters and vibrant autumn hues, they’re the ideal place to kick back and relax on your trusty Chillbo Shwaggins.
Golden aspens lining the road to Lundy Canyon, Sierra Nevada, CA | © Steve Corey/Flickr
Glacier National Park, Montana
Wedged on the border of Canada in remote northern Montana, Glacier National Park is a sight to behold at any time of year. But as fall springs into action, this landmark American wilderness adopts a life of its own.
Framed by a backdrop of snowcapped mountain peaks, the park’s ensemble of yellow aspens provides a splash of seasonal color. Evergreen pines and firs retain the status quo, while a host of foraging fauna can be spotted right throughout as they feverishly stockpile for the winter to come.
The aptly named Going-to-the-Sun Road allows drivers to enjoy the best vistas. Just don’t leave it too late as the route closes in the latter half of October.
En route, pitch a tent at the cozy Avalanche Campground for a quintessential parkland experience.
A river running through the Glacier National Park, MT | © 12019/pixabay
Aspen Valley, Colorado
Aspen may be best known for its ritzy winter ski resorts, but autumn is a fantastic time to visit this breathtaking high altitude region as well.
Backroads such as the remote Boreas Pass allow leaf peepers to enjoy the color-splashed scenery in relative isolation. On the other hand, there’s a damn good reason why famous routes such as Bear Lake Road consistently pull in the autumn crowds.
Keen to add some adrenaline to your foliage experience? Aspen boasts an exhilarating array of downhill mountain biking trails.
Camp at the secluded Kite Lake or grab an offseason bargain at one of the region’s numerous ski resorts. Worthwhile hikes include the Twin Sisters and Glacier Gorge Trails.
The trickiest part of Aspen is timing your visit as peak foliage varies with the altitude. Those coming in the third week of September could at least indulge in some beer, bratwurst, and bands at the cheerful Autumn Gold Festival.
An old farmhouse in the Aspen Valley, CO | © rauxyo/pixabay
The Enchanted Circle Byway, New Mexico
New Mexicans could satisfy their leafy cravings by cruising along the Enchanted Circle Byway. Straddling the sunkissed Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, many consider it to feature the finest fall foliage in the south.
Beginning and ending at the artistic enclave of Taos, this cruisy 85-mile route passes the volcanic cones of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument before winding its way through forested mountains. A diverse accumulation of oaks, cottonwoods, pines, and aspens make it a truly kaleidoscopic affair.
Pitch your tent just outside the bohemian town of Arroyo Hondo for uninterrupted mountain views and easy access to the Horsethief hiking and biking trails.
Alternatively, the quaint Red River ski resort town has dozens of lodging options, each of which offers competitive off-season rates.
Autumn leaves near Taos, NM | © Mark Seymour/Flickr
The Smokey Mountains, Tennessee
Left your leaf hunting expedition a little late this year? Then make your way to the Smokey Mountains where the show doesn’t even get started until mid-October. Best of all, it carries on well into November at lower elevations.
The quaint touristic town of Gatlinburg serves as the perfect hub to explore the region, boasting miles of multicolored foliage in every direction. Check out the raised walkways and lush hiking trails of Clingmans Dome for an aerial view. Next, cruise south down Newfound Gap Road for more autumn hues amid countless bubbling streams.
To the west, the Cades Cove Loop Road features a number of well-equipped campgrounds, lush hiking trails, and the same amazing foliage.
The view from Clingmans Dome | © Sauntering Photographer/Flickr
The Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Arkansawyers have the Ozark National Forest to explore, a grandiose mountainous park that spans 1.2 million acres in the north-west corner of the state. Come autumn, and the entire region transforms into a tapestry of vibrant earthy hues.
Fans of the hit Netflix show Ozarks needn't bother trying to find familiar places because the series is actually set in the Ozarks lakes to the north in Missouri.
Roadtrippers should give the state highways a miss unless they’re seriously pressed for time. After all, rocketing along at highway speed doesn’t exactly equate to a leisurely viewing experience.
Instead, choose your own adventure by navigating the park’s dizzying array of secondary roads. Criss-crossing their way throughout, these haphazard paved and dirt streets are a great way to get lost, especially considering cell coverage is spotty at best.
A sweet additional activity is soaking up the views on a waterborne vessel. Either pump up your trusty Don Poolio or hire a canoe at the nearby Norfork or Bull Shoals Lake.
Nestled in the thick of it all is the White Rock Mountain Recreation Area which offers stacks of hiking opportunities and sweeping mountain views.
A wooded hiking trails in the Ozark | © OakleyOriginals/Flickr
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Slicing its way through the Cascade Mountains, the 80-mile Columbia River Gorge serves as the border between Oregon and Washington. Consequently, it’s the ideal leaf-peeping destination for citizens of both states.
A mishmash of maples, cottonwoods, and Oregon ash burst into color from mid-September, converting the entire riverbank into a spectacle of autumn glory. Drive along the scenic byways on either side to appreciate the scenery or rent a kayak and float downstream for a unique point of view.
The whopping 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin Waterfall is worth sussing out. Further downstream, the Eagle’s Nest campground is pretty hard to beat.
Horsetail Falls at the Columbia River Gorge | © U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region/Flickr
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Sophisticated city slickers from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia flock to the Berkshires to indulge in refined galleries and upscale spas.
For us foliage lovers, a series of scenic mountain roads intertwine among its well-to-do hamlets, each offering a more dazzling display of color than the next.
One notable example is the Mohawk Trail. Passing picture-perfect waterfalls, quaint European style villages, and the notoriously sharp and tempting to drift Hairpin Turn, it’s a certifiable road tripper's dream.
Alternatively (or additionally), cruise uphill to the summit of Mount Greylock for extensive views of both the Green Mountains and the Taconic Range. The upmarket Bascom Lodge is a refined place to sleep at the peak. Down below, the Forest Platform provides first-rate camping.
A road in Massachusetts | © Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism/Flickr
Pumped up and ready to go? You should be.
In our honest and completely unbiased opinion, America offers some of the best autumn foliage on Earth.
So get out there and make the most of it by embarking on a leaf-peeping trip this fall.
- Tags: adventure america autumn camp camping color colors fall leaf peeping leaves nature outdoor relax river season travel weather