Not everyone in the USA is lucky enough to experience the gorgeous colors of fall leaves.
But even if you love your home turf’s foliage, you certainly haven’t seen everything autumn offers. Trees in different parts of the country have unique ways of marking the occasion.
If you’re planning a road trip around the best colorful forests, we can help. Today we’ll cover the best spots for leaf peeping.
About Fall Leaf Peeping in the USA
As temperatures drop and you find yourself craving pumpkin spice, the trees start to lose their green. The crisp, cool air brings new smells, and summer fades into the background. That’s when fall leaf peeping officially begins.
If you’ve ever stopped to take in the brilliant show, you’ve already participated. But some people like to take the game to the next level by driving to scenic destinations when autumn is in full swing.
And the color is only part of the allure. As the sun shifts in the sky, the light hits everything differently. The wind blowing through the branches offers a soothing soundtrack for your experience, and the cozy feel of sweaters is a welcome relief. It’s a visible change that certainly helps you appreciate everything differently.
So grab your camera and plan your trip to some of our favorite spots in the USA for fall leaves.
#1 Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
Vermont may have a brutal winter, but at least the lead-up is beautiful. The state draws leaf-peeping tourists from around the world, partially because it’s 75% covered in forests. The beech, birch, and maple trees that make up most of it erupt in bold reds and oranges. Fall, there is a real showstopper.
The Green Mountain Byway hugs the mountains for great views of some of the tallest peaks. It lets you enjoy the crimson views from every angle. The 146-mile route also takes you through six villages with a rich cultural history to add some education to your journey.
The change typically moves from north to south starting in mid-September and continues through most of October.
Pro Tip: Check the Vermont Department of Tourism’s foliage tracker to help plan your trip.
#2 Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
We can’t think of anything quite like the contrast between rivers crashing over the rocks and brilliant foliage transitions. The Columbia River Gorge nestles in a temperate rainforest with a high waterfall concentration. It also has many evergreens mixed with the deciduous trees’ varied yellows, browns, and oranges.
The area offers beautiful hikes that let you experience it slowly, with plenty of time to stop and take pictures. If watersports are more your speed, you can hit the river in a kayak or paddleboard for some of the USA’s most majestic views of fall leaves. Early October is the best time for viewing, and the weather will be perfect if you bring layers for the evening chill.
#3 Aspen, Colorado
Aspen may be known for skiing, but it has the best fall colors in the southwestern USA. You’re also less likely to have any run interrupt the fun than other destinations on this list.
The resort town’s namesake tree is known for the golden glow in its autumn wardrobe. Because of the higher elevation, peak viewing happens in late September, so plan your trip accordingly.
This also happens to be one of the best times to go fishing. Bring your tackle box, or just take some time to relax on the peaceful waters of Crystal Lake.
#4 Door County, Wisconsin
The Door Peninsula sports lush forests and miles of coastline along Lake Michigan. It’s a truly magical place to take in the wonders of nature anytime.
Leaf peeping in this area is particularly lovely, with colors that perfectly match a sunset. The change starts on the peninsula’s south side in late September and creeps north through October. Use doorcounty.com to track the colors and help plan your days.
The site also offers information to help you plan a color drive or camping trip and find the best activities to complement your trip. You can pick apples in a local orchard, take a lighthouse tour, or explore a farmers market while you’re there.
Welcome fall into your home or RV with these Fall Leaves Decor Pillows.
#5 Upper Peninsula, Michigan
The UP has dense forests with some of the most fantastic fall leaves in the USA. The state also manages the most growth each year, so you’ll always have more to see when the color change begins.
With three Great Lakes surrounding the peninsula and over 4,000 more inland lakes, you’ll enjoy plenty of calming waters. It’s an excellent place to set up camp with some of the darkest skies in the nation. Plan your trip in October, and you may catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
You’ll also find migrating flocks of birds or see the monarchs on their annual pilgrimage. The area also has a beautiful golf course that lets you grab a quick nine while you enjoy the radiant views.
#6 Ozark Mountains, Arkansas
Arkansas may be the last place most people think of when it comes to fall leaves in the USA. But the Ozarks boast beautiful mountains and lakeside views with plenty of autumn color.
The national forest offers hundreds of miles of hiking trees and plenty of oak and hickory trees putting on their festive leaves. It’s also a short trek to Hot Springs, where you can catch even more amazing foliage while you soak in their healing waters.
This is a perfect destination for people who don’t have time to stray too far north in the middle of the school year. Take Scenic Byway 7 through the forest or stop and stay overnight to take in a gorgeous sunset.
#7 Catskills, New York
Upstate New York is like like the polar opposite of the city. Between acres of farmland, scenic forests, and the gentle slopes of the Catskill Mountains, you’ll be at peace in minutes. Hike and camp your way to the best views, but don’t forget to check out the little villages.
You’ll find all the classic New England fall activities popping while you’re there for leaf peeping. We recommend checking out the local cideries for a different relaxing brew. Or choose your Halloween jack o’lantern at one of the area’s many farm stands or festivals.
Find more fall colors in New England: 5 Great Scenic Drives for Fall Leaf Peeping in the Northeast.
The USA Offers Excellent Leaf-Peeping Experiences
You don’t need to hit New England to get your fill of color this autumn. In fact, you can find incredible fall leaves all over the USA. Because the peak times spread over two months, you might even get to make several stops for your road trip.
But don’t forget to slow down and take it all in over a nice cup of cider or a pumpkin spice latte. It’s the perfect way to slow down and be in the moment before the holidays hit!
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