8 Best Places in the US to Watch Fall Foliage

By: Kathryn Casna

How will you travel this fall? If you’re considering a road trip, why not time your travels to coincide with some spectacular fall foliage? No matter how much traveling you’ve done in the states, seeing the United States covered in golds, yellows, oranges, purples, and reds is like seeing a whole new side to your spouse after decades of marriage. If you hit the right locations at the right time, your fall foliage drive will be beautiful, majestic, and breathtaking. Check out the following sites for foliage and have an experience you’ll remember for years and years to come.


8. Napa Valley, California

For fall foliage with a twist, why not visit California’s famous wine region? While many of the trees up in the hills change colors, the best place to witness fiery fall colors is right there in the vineyards. For travelers who have never seen the leaves on a grape vine change from yellows, to golds, to oranges to bold crimsons, it’s a stunning sight – made even better by fabulous bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and vintages that one of the world’s best wine-producing regions has to offer. Silverado Trail is always a great route to take for views of vineyard foliage against the backdrop of the Napa River. Or, book passage on the Napa Valley Wine Train and combine a love of wine, find food, and foliage for one unforgettable trip. Ripening grapes enjoy the crisp, cool evenings, and so will you after an Indian summer day in October.

Napa Valley - Autumn

7. The Driftless Region, Wisconsin

The Driftless Region in Wisconsin provides some of the most breathtaking fall foliage in the Midwest. Twisted oaks and wild hickories are ablaze in oranges and yellows, while basswoods add their own special hue as well. The loop around the Driftless Region provides a soothing 158 mile drive that starts and ends in Mineral Point. Heading north on Highway 23 to Baraboo will lead travelers to sumac and maple foliage. Highway 56, high up on the ridges that run from east to west in the area provides a bird’s eye view of the tops of trees. Choosing Highway 131 takes travelers from north to south through the Kickapoo River Valley for incredible river views. Or, simply take a guided tour of the Driftless Region to see several of these spots. Pinpointing the best time to visit, when the colors pop the most, is difficult, but the first half of October is a good bet.

Photo by: Terry McNeil / Wisconsin Trails
Photo by: Terry McNeil / Wisconsin Trails

6. Aspen and Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

There are so many ways to see the colors change in the mountainous region of Colorado. For starters, the affluent town of Aspen, where the nation’s one percent go to ski, turns into an explosion of oranges and yellows among evergreens and a background of purple-and-white-streaked mountains. Watching the breeze sail down the mountains and through the foliage is like watching a shimmering sea of fall colors. Alternatively, swing down around the south of the Gunnison National Forest to Gunnison, Colorado. Jump on Highway 135 and drive to Crested Butte and meet up with Kebler Pass Road. From there, Highway 133 connects near Paonia Dam. West Elk Loop Byway and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park are beautiful spots, too. Late September into late October is the best time to visit the largest forest of aspen trees in the country, so don’t miss out!

Gunnison National Park, Colorado

5. Upper Peninsula and Gold Coast, Michigan

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has an incredible 7 million acres of forest, over 100 different species of trees, and views of the vivid blue waters of Lake Superior. Or, if Lake Michigan is more your style, set off on a drive down the Gold Coast. Either way, a gorgeous changing of the seasons awaits. The Upper Peninsula has more than 20 forested state parks to choose from, featuring ash, sycamore, tamarack, beech, birch, aspen, oak, and maple. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is also home to moose, beavers, and white-tailed deer, which can be seen along Lake Superior and nearby areas. Or, take highway 2 to interstate 75 across Mackinac Bridge and head down the Gold Coast. This 100-mile route features charming coves, tiny fishing towns, and soaring sand dunes. Enjoy the bright and fiery maple and oak leaves against the green of fir, spruce, and pine trees.

Porcupine Wildness State Park, Michigan


4. The Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

The Cascade Mountains form a natural border between the states of Oregon and Washington in the Northwestern United States. The Columbia River cuts into them like a slithering snake, forming an 80-mile long gorge that’s home to some incredible fall colors, all with views of tumbling waterfalls, white rapids, and bubbling streams. Take in the bronze and golden hues of cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, twisted pines, Oregon ash, and firs – an incredible array of species, all with their own artistic interpretation of fall. Travelers can drive along the Columbia River on Interstate 84, or choose more adventurous and up-close ways to view the colors. Hike on gorgeous trails along the river’s edge or grab a kayak or raft and jump right in for some adventure. All-in-all, visitors only have about a month to watch the colors change, so planning trips from mid-September to mid-October is best.

Columbia River Gorge

3. The Adirondacks, New York

The Adirondacks is the largest natural wilderness region in the Eastern US and it consists of 6-million acres of beautiful forest made of both evergreen and deciduous trees. The area is home to oaks, maples, birch, and beech trees, so the combination of reds, oranges, and yellows is simply stunning. There are 13 scenic byways in the Adirondacks, but the Olympic, Adirondack, and Central Adirondack Trails are the most popular. The Olympic Trail connects Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario, but not before passing by the gorgeous Lake Placid along its 170 miles. The Adirondack Trail winds through 188 miles through the center of Adirondack Park. The Central Adirondack Trail consists of the 153 miles between Rome and Glen Falls. Head to the Adirondacks in mid-October to enjoy a hike through the foliage in the mountains, or stay in lower altitudes to pick your own apples and join harvest festival celebrations into late October.

Adirondack Mountains

2. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico

When it comes to watching the colors of the leaves change each fall, most people think of New England as the place to be, or perhaps the northwest. They don’t think of New Mexico, but forests to flourish in the northern part of the state. Deciduous trees like purple cinquefoil and golden cottonwoods are everywhere. Even the aspens in this area turn a darker orange than anywhere else in the U.S. For an atypical autumn scene, the 85 mile trek around Wheeler Peak, a 13, 161 foot mountain and the state’s highest point. Travelers would do well to begin in Taos, New Mexico and take Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway to Eagle Nest for the best views of the mountain. Continue on to Angel Fire and back into Taos to complete the loop. It might just be the most uniquely colorful way to spend the autumn season.

Photo by: Angel Fire Chamber
Photo by: Angel Fire Chamber

1. The Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are a subrange of the Appalachians and stretch from the southwestern corner of Virginia and down along the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Peaks rise to a height of 6,600 feet. There are hundreds of species of trees in the mountains, so gazers can enjoy the yellows of the American beech, the oranges of maple and sassafras, and the reds of pin cherry and ash as they populate the mountainside. Travelers who start their color-changing trip in Virginia can jump right on the Blue Ridge Parkway and catch fall foliage on dogwoods, sourwoods, and black gums as early as the end of September. Then, if you slowly make your way through the mountains into October and November, you’ll catch all the best colors as they pop. The best drives also include Newfound Gap and Cades Cove for views of foliage among streams, waterfalls, and panoramic views.

Autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains