26 Best Places to See Fall Foliage This Autumn

September 6, 2018

The Best Places to See Fall Foliage This Autumn

When do leaves change color
The best places to see fall leaves
Which trees have the most vibrant leaves?

We love fall for many reasons — the cool, crisp air, warm beverages and cozy sweaters are just a few. But perhaps the most memorable moment of fall is the changing of the leaves as trees suddenly burst with hues of fiery red and orange and warm yellow and gold. Across the country, people marvel at the dazzling colors that seem to emerge overnight and fade just as quickly as the leaves fall and winter arrives.

If you want to catch the brightest fall foliage, you have to plan ahead to know where to travel and when to view the best fall leaves. We’ve prepared a list of the best places to see fall leaves and when you can see them at their peak beauty.

When Do Leaves Change Color?

The key to the best fall foliage viewing is to catch the leaves at their peak colors but before too many fall. In general, leaves will change earlier in regions that are cooler, including northern regions and mountainous areas. They begin to change in Canada where the weather is colder, then progress south in two major waves:

  1. One linear wave runs along the Rocky Mountain Range — with leaves along the peaks changing first — and then spreads out to the east and west.
  2. On the opposite coast, a broad, swooping wave spreads southward across the Midwest and New England. Trees on the Appalachian Mountain Range also tend to change earlier in the season. The waves cascade down the country, with leaves in the southern states capturing the last lingering fall colors.

Most leaves across the country will peak and fall in October, but this golden time frame will vary in different regions. Weather also impacts exactly when leaves peak in color each year, with dry days and cool nights producing the best and fullest fall foliage.

Peak Foliage Times in the Northeast and Midwest

If you want to head up to the Northeast to view foliage, plan for peak leaf colors in mid-October. In the most northern regions of New England, leaves may peak in late September or early October.

The Midwest also features peak foliage around mid-October, with northern regions featuring peak leaves early in the month of October. If you’re traveling out West, plan to see peak leaves in early or mid-October, with northern regions peaking later in the month.

Peak Foliage Times in the South

Leaves in the South peak last, with the best fall foliage viewing from late October to mid-November. After the leaves peak, they will begin to fall about a week later, so the time-frame is brief for the best leaf viewing. While specific dates will vary each year, this fall foliage map is a good gauge of when you can plan to view the best leaf colors.

No matter where you want to travel for leaf peeping, with the right planning, you can see the best and brightest leaves this autumn. If you hope to maximize your leaf peeping trip, call ahead to the park or area you are visiting to ask about the leaf conditions. Many parks will release fall foliage forecasts, so you can plan your trip for exactly when the leaves are predicted to peak in that region.

Planning is a good idea, but you should always strive to be flexible too — if you arrive at your intended destination and the leaves are not yet in peak color, you may be able to head a little further north or to a higher elevation for better foliage viewing.

The Best Places to Visit to See Fall Leaves

Whether you want to travel far or stay close to home, you can find beautiful fall foliage in any region. While some people prefer to go to remote areas for natural foliage viewing, some of the best leaves can also be found near major cities and towns. Below you’ll find some of the most popular places to view fall foliage in every region of the U.S.

The Best Places for Viewing Fall Foliage in New England

New England is one of the most popular regions for viewing fall foliage, and rightfully so. Its winding scenic roads and abundance of gorgeous mountain peaks make it an ideal location for leaf peeping, whether you want to drive, hike or simply sit back and watch.

If you are interested in viewing fall foliage in New England, be sure to plan ahead of time as you will be joined by thousands of other leaf enthusiasts during the peak weeks. Be prepared for potential traffic as you head to your East Coast fall foliage destination, and be sure to book a place to stay in advance.

Here are a few great places to view leaves in New England:

  • Stowe, Vermont: Nestled in the Green Mountains in Vermont, Stowe is almost too perfect for leaf peeping. Leaves in Stowe boast bright shades of yellow, red, brown and orange from mid-September to mid-October. You can even view the color-spotted mountainside from a high-speed zip line that starts near the peak of Mount Mansfield and soars for nearly two miles.
  • Acadia National Park: This gorgeous park is located on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine. You can sit back and enjoy bright foliage from rocky beaches or hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which boasts the highest peak on the East Coast. When you want a break from nature, explore charming shops and delicious dining options in Bar Harbor.
  • White Mountain National Forest: Sprawling across New Hampshire and into Maine, the White Mountains provide many opportunities for prime foliage viewing. Hike to the top of Mount Washington, or take a drive along the Kancamagus Highway that carves through over 25 miles of White Mountain National Forest.
  • Cape Cod: This coastal Massachusetts city is a popular tourist spot all year long, but it’s especially attractive for fall foliage viewing. The classic Cape Cod style homes are complemented by bright bursts of red and orange in mid to late October.
  • Lenox, Massachusetts: Another Massachusetts favorite for leaf peeping is the quaint town of Lenox in Berkshire County. You can hike and bike around the area for stunning fall foliage views and then sit back and enjoy the charming small-town life.

Places to Check Out Fall Foliage in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Travel south to the Mid-Atlantic Region, and you can keep chasing fall colors throughout October. Leaves in this region produce marble hues in crimson, orange, yellow and brown, covering the mountains and cities in color. Here are some perfect spots for leaf peeping in the Mid-Atlantic:

  • The Poconos: This mountain range in northeastern Pennsylvania is great for fall foliage viewing by car or on foot. If you choose to drive, take a cruise around Lake Wallenpaupack on Route 507, or wind through the mountains on PA Route 6. If you prefer to hike, the Poconos have more than 260 miles of trails you can explore.
  • Catskill Mountains: These rolling mountains in eastern New York explode with red and orange in the fall, making them a perfect destination for fall foliage viewing. Drive through the center of the Catskills on the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, or take a stroll through the colorful woods. You can make the most of your travel by exploring two mountain ranges on the same trip, as they’re located just north of the Poconos.
  • Adirondack Mountains: Located in northern New York, this gorgeous mountain range provides the perfect opportunity to watch fall colors roll down from the peaks. The trees burst with red, purple, yellow and orange dotted with vibrant green pines.
  • Cape May: This quaint seaside town allows you to view beautiful fall foliage without wandering off the beaten path. Enjoy shops and restaurants, then climb to the top of Cape May Lighthouse for a gorgeous view of fall leaves and rolling waves.
  • Long Island: While not typically known for its wildlife, Long Island boasts several beautiful spots to view fall foliage, including Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve and Massapequa Preserve. These parks feature numerous trails and gorgeous views as well as quick access to New York City.
  • Staten Island Greenbelt: Another way to stick close to the city is to take a bike or hike around the Staten Island Greenbelt. Numerous trails and parks make this area a great place to get out and enjoy fall foliage without even leaving the city.

Top Spots for Leaf Peeping in the Midwest

On top of its gorgeous lakes and popular cities, the Midwest is full of beautiful foliage every fall. Enjoy sprawling views of mountains and lake shores covered in deep red, orange and gold at these prime fall foliage destinations:

  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Located just inland from Lake Superior in Minnesota, this wilderness area features numerous trails as well as lakes and streams that are perfect for viewing fall foliage from a canoe.
  • Peninsula State Park: Located on the shores of Green Bay, Peninsula State Park offers nearly six square miles of beautiful fall scenery. For more family fun, this Wisconsin state park also features a lighthouse, museum and mini golf course.
  • Porcupine Mountains: This small group of mountains in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula features numerous hikes and picturesque waterfalls.
  • Lilydale Regional Park: This regional park in St. Paul, Minnesota lights up with fall foliage that can be viewed from its numerous walking and biking trails. You can also relax by the shores of the Mississippi River or head into the city for an evening on the town.

The Best Places Out West to See Colorful Fall Leaves

Travel out West to view a variety of fall foliage stretching up and down the coast. Enjoy bright yellow aspens or colorful maples while hiking some of the best peaks in the country. Here are just a few of our favorite spots for fall foliage viewing:

  • Aspen, Colorado: Nestled in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, this city is named for its abundance of aspen trees. Watch them light up the landscape in yellow and gold as you hike or simply take in the view from town. One of the most popular spots for leaf peeping in Aspen is Maroon Bells, two peaks in the Elk Mountains with a reflective lake at the base.
  • Maple Pass Loop: This trail in northern Washington state forms a 6.4-mile loop around Lake Ann. The hillsides are dotted with bright red, yellow and orange maples, making this moderate hike well worth it.
  • Glacier National Park: This popular nature park is located in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and features more than 700 miles of trails for gorgeous foliage viewing.
  • Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway: This 83-mile loop of road in Taos, New Mexico makes for the perfect fall foliage drive. Cruise through mountains, mesas, valleys and forests to experience unique foliage in bright fall hues.
  • Columbia River Gorge: Located in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, this National Scenic Area is a sight to behold in the fall. Take in cliffsides and numerous waterfalls lined with bright, colorful leaves.
  • North Cascades National Park: Head north in the Cascade Mountains to Washington to experience more spectacular peaks carved out by glaciers. In the fall, the mountains light up with scarlet, gold and brown.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: Located in northern Colorado, this mountainous park lights up with yellow aspens in the fall. When you’re done taking in the foliage, you can head south to explore Denver.

Fall Leaf Peeping Destinations Down South

Last but certainly not least, the South offers many forests and mountains that come alive each fall with vibrant reds and oranges. Escape the cold weather up north to catch the late peak leaves of these great leaf peeping destinations in the South:

  • Great Smoky Mountains: This mountain range hugs the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, providing peak after peak of gorgeous views. Known for a diversity of animals and plants, the Great Smoky Mountains boast a rainbow of fall colors that are worth the journey to see.
  • Ozark National Forest: Located in northern Arkansas, the Ozark National Forest features over 1.2 million acres of forested scenery. Take a scenic drive or hike, and when you’re done leaf peeping, head underground to the breathtaking Blanchard Springs Caverns.
  • Amicalola Falls State Park: This state park is home to Georgia’s tallest waterfall, which stands at an impressive 729 feet. You can walk on various trails along the park while still taking in its majesty. The bottom of the falls allows visitors to see a beautiful view of plant life in Georgia, including both oak and maple trees.
  • Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest: This large wilderness area in northern Georgia includes two national forests: the Chattahoochee and the Oconee. The sprawling mountains offer many opportunities for fall foliage viewing, but a favorite spot is Amicalola Falls State Park, located in the southern portion of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Amicalola Falls features the tallest waterfall in Georgia that can be seen from several different trails along the park.

Which Trees Have the Most Vibrant Fall Leaves?

No matter what region you plan to travel to for your fall foliage viewing, you can find gorgeous and colorful trees across the country. In case you need some ideas on where to start or what to look for, we have compiled a few of our favorite trees that boast bright and beautiful leaves in autumn.

You can find the best regions for these trees by searching for their plant hardiness zone on this helpful interactive map.

  • Maples: Maples are classic trees for bright fall leaves that continue to change throughout the season and can feature yellow, orange or red hues. Sugar maples are a New England favorite, growing in hardiness zones three to eight, while red maples are popular for viewing across the country in zones three to nine. Japanese maples have a smaller growing range — from zone five to eight — but feature deep red and purple leaves in autumn that are a must-see.
  • Aspen: If you plan to travel west, you’re in luck. Aspens feature bright golden and yellow leaves that pop in contrast to the surrounding deep green pines that are prevalent in that region. You can see aspens glow in zones one to seven.
  • Swamp tupelo: Swamp tupelo trees can produce a range of fall colors, including purple and deep red. They also have glossy leaves that make the tree unique. Unlike other trees that tend to cycle through colors, swamp tupelos can feature a wide range of colors at the same time. They shine in the central hardiness zones, from four to nine.
  • Ginko: With a unique leaf shape and bold yellow hue, ginkos are beautiful autumn trees. Towering at up to 80 feet tall, they can be viewed in zones four to nine.
  • Dogwood: While they are commonly loved for their flowers in spring, dogwoods also boast gorgeous fall colors. They can be seen in zones five to nine.
  • Sweetgum: Featuring star-shaped, glossy leaves, sweetgum trees shine in yellow, red and purple during the fall. View these shimmering beauties in warmer zones five to nine.
  • Sourwood: A perfect tree for viewing in the South, sourwood features yellow, red and purple leaves. These trees can be found in zones five to nine.
  • Sassafras: Found in zones four to nine, sassafras trees feature orange, red, purple and yellow in the fall. Their mitten and three-pronged leaves make them easy to recognize and enjoy.
  • Bald cypress: As a deciduous conifer, bald cypress trees feature orange and red colors in winter and a distinct triangular shape. You can watch bald cypress glow in zones four to ten.
  • Sunburst honey locust: The fern-like leaves of the sunburst honey locust turn a lovely yellow with a touch of green in the fall. View sunburst honey locust in zones four to nine.

Make KOA Campgrounds Your Home Base for Leaf Peeping this Fall

With over 500 locations across the U.S. and Canada, Kampgrounds of America is your perfect home base for fall foliage viewing. Whether you head north to the White Mountains or west to the Rockies, there is a KOA campground right around the corner.

If you want to reserve your spot for the busy leaf-peeping season, our friendly staff will be there to give you a warm welcome. Whether you travel in an RV or bring along a tent, KOA campgrounds can provide a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Our RV Sites offer convenient hook-ups and our Tent Sites are always level and clean so that you can settle in quickly after a long day of leaf peeping.

For an even more comfortable stay, you can relax and recharge in our Camping Cabins or Deluxe Cabins. Enjoy beds, electricity and access to all of KOA’s amenities. When you book a Deluxe Cabin, you will also enjoy a private bathroom.

KOA campgrounds bring you close to nature while still allowing you a variety of amenities to make your fall camping trip comfortable and convenient. When you head out on your next trip to take in the beautiful fall leaves, we hope you will join us at a KOA campground. Explore our locations now and start planning your perfect fall foliage adventure!

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