10 visit-worthy places where the leaves actually change color
towns, cities, and state parks where dazzling fall foliage will be in full effect
Published Aug 24, 2016 5:00 AM
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by Marni Fogelson
Leaf-peepers, get out your planners. We’ve got fall foliage destinations on each coast (and in between) for those of us who watch in awe as nature celebrates the changing seasons with a riot of colors. Fall foliage peaks throughout September and October, depending on the region, so you can hit up multiple places this fall if you have the freedom to hit the road (or the skies). Even if you eventually get tired of looking at the mesmerizing array of leaf and tree colors, there are plenty of other reasons to visit these dazzling sites. New England may have the biggest reputation as being a must-see fall foliage destination (and several places on our list are from that part of the country), but there’s plenty of fall foliage love to go around, including in some places we may have skipped over previously for vacation options (Babcock State Park in West Virginia, we’re looking at you!).
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville residents are avid lovers of the outdoors, and they have the fall harvest celebration to prove it. Between music, art, beer and cider, and chili festivals, check out one or several of Asheville’s many scenic drives (including the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Waterfall Byway, and Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway). There are hundreds of waterfalls and thousands of miles of hiking trails near Asheville, making it an ideal getaway for the weekend warrior. Be sure to spend some time at the famous and expansive Biltmore Estate, which includes an impressive house, gardens, conservatory, winery, farm and more.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Unless you want to join a polar bear club, the Maine water may be a little too chilly for your liking. Luckily, the awe-inspiring views, hikes, and potential wildlife sightings at Acadia National Park will provide plenty to feast your eyes upon. If looking at all that natural beauty makes you truly hungr for morey, head over to nearby Bar Harbor for locally owned cafes and restaurants, then stroll in and out of the shops and galleries.
State park hopping in West Virginia
West Virginia is known as the “Mountain State” and the state is 80% forested, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the trees in this area put on a show for residents and visitors alike. Several railway services offer fall foliage tours, so you can sit back and enjoy the view while someone else is driving. State parks throughout West Virginia host their own weekend events and have their own particular draw: Babcock State Park is home to the Instagram-worthy Glade Creek Grist Mill, and fishing buffs, hikers, and whitewater rafters can all take advantage of this natural haven.
Don’t forget about the other coast! Multmonah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon, provides the perfect compliment to jaw-dropping displays of turning leaves. It’s only located about 30 minutes outside of Portland, which means you can take in one of the nation’s coolest cities on the rise before leaving it all behind for natural beauty. If you’re short on time and don’t want to leave the city limits, check out the changing colors at locations including Hoyt Arboretum, Cathedral Park, and Pittock Mansion, each with their own views, flora, and allure.
Basically anywhere in Vermont
Stowe, Burlington, Killington, the side of the road: you name it, the fall foliage is likely to be beautiful there. No billboard signs are allowed in Vermont so you’ll get unsponsored bucolic views as you ponder why anyone would want to live in a city when they could be surrounded by such gorgeous surroundings. Covered bridges, cows a plenty, quiet country roads; nature is just showing off by the time you get this far north. Plan a leisurely weekend, stopping at farm stands to stock up on maple syrup and cheese, and then cozying up at a bed and breakfast.
If you decide to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg during its extensive fall foliage season, you’ll be in good company: the area racks up about a million visitors each year. The park is home to upwards of 100 native species, which mean they create spectacular variations in color and are complimented with wildflower blooms in abundance. If it’s in the budget, spend a night or two at Blackberry Farms, about an hour away, soaking up the natural splendor in luxurious style while you dine on delicacies cultivated from the land and try activities like archery, whiskey tasting, or spa services.
Massachusetts is a no-brainer stop on your fall foliage journey, and Salem is a fun, family-friendly place to visit to bone up on your creepy national history. The site of the Witch Trials, this town goes into full Halloween mode with weeks of activities and events. Between haunted tours. If you’re spooked out, visit the Peabody Essex Museum for an extensive collection of works from far-flung locales (including a 200-year-old Chinese house that was brought to America and then reassembled) as well as art inspired by the local maritime life.
Aspen and Maroon Bells, Colorado
Maroon Bells, two 14,000 foot peaks located in White River National Forest, are just a short jaunt from Aspen (also a noteworthy site for leaf peeping), and they are well-worth a stop of their own (typically via shuttle bus from Aspen). The peaks themselves might be covered with snow, but the surrounding forest area takes on a variety of shades, including the golden hue that changing aspen trees are known for. Add in Maroon Lake below the peaks, and you have the photo op of a lifetime. If the timing collaborates, combine your visit with a trip to Oktoberfest Denver.
Just a few hours from Washington D.C., yet worlds away from the capitol’s hustle and bustle, Charlottesville has plenty of fall-flavored activities for visitors, from apple and pumpkin picking to Foxfield Family Day races. If the leaves aren’t cooperating, drown your sorrows in one of the many vineyards that have sprung up around this university town. The campus architecture is worth a visit alone, as is a spin-off trip to Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello. If you have more time, venture over to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for miles of gorgeous fall views.
Lake Tahoe, California
Take your pick of scenic spots to bask in the trees’ golden glow around Lake Tahoe. Despite the fact that tourists flock to Tahoe in the summer and winter, fall is a great, in-between time to visit when the water is even warmer than during summer months and hiking and fall foliage walks abound. If you’ve got a soft spot for salmon, time your visit with the Fall Fish Fest at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, celebrating the spawning of the salmon. Or go on horseback to get a glimpse of coveted Sierra Nevada vistas from a new vantage point.