The 10 Best Spots to Catch Fall Colors
Where to enjoy autumn's best views—on two feet or two wheels
’Tis the season for tangerine-tinted maples and oaks. Here’s where to get your leaf peeping on across the U.S.
The town of Aspen, Colorado, got its name for a reason. Endless stands of the namesake trees line the mountains that surround town. And they all turn yellow in the fall. Take in the foliage on foot on the Hunter Creek trail, easily accessible from downtown. You’ll wind along the Hunter Creek Valley with eventual views of the Maroon Bells. Or mountain bike the Tom Blake trail from Snowmass Ski Area for a flowy, mellow ride through a sea of trees.
Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Vermont is leaf peeper central this time of year, so escape the camera-toting crowds by heading far north to the Northeast Kingdom, where leaves explode in full fall colors between late September and late October (check the online forecasts to time your visit with the peak of the colors). Score a secluded cabin at Green Acres Cabins in Westmore, then scope the changing leaves by kayak on the nearby Clyde River.
You’ll catch the golden hues of maple, aspen, elm, and western larch trees around the mountain town of Whitefish, Montana, from mid September to late October. For the best viewing, hit up the 26-mile-long Whitefish Trail, which has multiple trailheads around the valley and is open to hiking, running, and mountain biking.
North Conway, New Hampshire
Take a scenic drive through the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire on the 34-mile Kancamagus Highway from Lincoln to Conway, a designated National Scenic Byway and a spectacular (albeit popular) spot for admiring the foliage. The road has a handful of national forest campgrounds if you feel like staying the night, but not much else, so fill up on gas and snacks beforehand.
Park City, Utah
Miles of trails wind through groves of tinted maple and aspen trees in Park City, Utah, at this time of year. For the best leaf peeping while mountain biking, try Jenni’s Trail, which begins at the base of Park City and zigzags up the mountain through sherbert-colored clusters. You’ll hit the Mountain Trail, which covers over 20 miles through aspen and conifer groves. Or check out the downhill mountain biking in the Canyons Village Bike Park for more sights of splendor.
Asheville, North Carolina
Head to the Pisgah Forest, a half hour outside of Asheville, North Carolina, for endless mountain bike trails and radiant autumn hues. Mid-October is primetime. Hike around Graveyard Fields for bright red and yellow leaves and tumbling waterfalls. Or ride your bike up the Cedar Rock trail and down Big Rock Trail in DuPont State Forest just after sunrise or at sunset for a hazy glow. From the top of the granite dome, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views. Afterward, stop for a bike tune-up and a pint of local ale at the Hub and Pisgah Tavern, a bike shop with a built-in bar.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Maine’s Acadia National Park comes alive each autumn, once the summer crowds bail and the trees turn a dark crimson. Make your base at the coastal town of Bar Harbor and take in the leaves via the 120 miles of hiking trails within the park (we like the Great Head Trail, which is short but has stellar views). Or take a whole new perspective with a scenic aerial tour in an open cockpit biplane (Acadia Air Tours offers flights starting at $75 per person).
Head to Galena, Illinois, three hours from Chicago, in mid to late October to catch this charming Midwestern town’s fall foliage at its finest. You can watch the sunset over the Mississippi River, take a stroll up Horseshoe Mound for a view across the state lines into neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin, or visit President Ulysses S. Grant’s home, with panoramic views of cornfields and canopies of golden trees.
The Catskills, New York
The best way to see the fall colors in New York’s Catskills region is to drive the meandering Catskill Route 30 along the Delaware River. You’ll drive 61 miles from Hancock to Grand Gorge through covered bridges, historical sites, and quaint villages filled with country stores, diners, and antique shops. Along the way, stretch your legs and soak in the colors in Catskill Forest Preserve.
Mid-summer, you’ll have to battle throngs of tourists in California’s Yosemite National Park. But by October, you’ll have campsites and trails all to yourself. Plus, that’s when the fall colors are at their prime. Score a permit to hike Half Dome, a 16-mile round-trip excursion with 4,800 feet of elevation gain and steep, metal cables on the final ascent to the dome. You’ll catch glimpses of fall colors at Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls en route and panoramic views of the entire Yosemite Valley.