How to Avoid Traffic Jams and Crazy Crowds on Leaf-Peeping Weekends
The first crisp morning of fall instantly conjures up images of hot cider, campfires, pumpkin-flavored everything, and, of course, leaf-peeping in the bucolic countryside. If you dream of days spent crunching through leaf-covered trails and catching mother nature in all her multi-colored autumnal splendor, you’re not alone. Hitting the road during foliage season is a popular spectator sport. In fact, Vermont alone sees nearly 8 million visitors during the fall.
The challenge, as you have probably experienced, is finding ways to enjoy an idyllic fall day without bumping into a ton of other people who have the same goal. Here are eight strategies you can use this fall to enjoy leaf-peeping without the crowds.
1. Start early in the day
Early birds get the views to themselves. While others are snuggled tight in their sleeping bags and beds, you can take advantage of clear roads and empty trails. Not only is early morning great for lack of crowds, but it’s the best time for photographs. Its sun illuminates every landscape with a golden glow and makes the reds of mid-fall leaves pop.
A couple of tips : Pack the night before and stay at a KOA. When you get your road trip or hiking supplies ready before bedtime, it’ll be easier to get up and go pre-dawn. With more than 500 KOA campgrounds around the U.S. and Canada, you can find one near your favorite leaf-peeping spot.
2. Avoid touristy areas
Places like Acadia and Smoky Mountain national parks are amazing locations to visit in the fall. But they’re also heavily trafficked that time of year. Instead of those high-profile locales, consider less-visited parks for your adventure.
The Lake of the Ozarks is home to incredible fall foliage. Its black gums, maples, hickory, and oaks all decorate the shoreline and surrounding hills for a beautiful and diverse display of color.
3. Try less traveled trails
Even if you decide to go to a popular location, you can still have a fall adventure with fewer fellow visitors by taking the trail less traveled. In Acadia, where 3.4 million people visit every year, there are still spots you can escape the crowds. While most folks head to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the Schoodic hiking and biking trails are wonderful ways to see the park away from most other people.
4. Talk to locals
You don’t have to consult apps to find the best places to see fall leaves without the crowds. Just find the locals who are in the know. Start with outdoor stores. They’re staffed with outdoor lovers who are eager to help you enjoy outdoor places. You can also try running stores and even coffee shops to seek leaf-peeping tips. And, of course, don’t forget your KOA staff.
If you want to leave finding leaves to the pros, take a guided tour. Just Google “fall foliage tour in (location)” and let your guide organize it all for you.
5. Go off-peak week
Sure, the leaves during peak week are stunning, but that’s not the only time worth having a look. A few weeks earlier in the season and you’ll catch the subtle beginnings of the color change where bright yellows mix with the final stand of summer greens. And a week or two after peak you’ll find a more somber but no less beautiful scene, where deep reds and browns intermingle. Plus, by visiting off-peak, you can expect to find your favorite spots less burdened by excess visitors.
6. Consider less traditional venues
For most of us, the first places we think about for fall-themed trips are winding country roads and backcountry trails. But there are plenty of other venues to soak up autumn’s pleasures. For example, many wineries are nestled in amazing outdoor spaces and surrounded by forests. Imagine sipping a local vintage while watching the wind filter through the fall foliage. You can find similar views at golf courses, apple orchards, and corn mazes. Actually, there’s even an Olympic ski jump that would give you an amazing view of Upstate New York’s finest foliage.
7. Change your perspective
Roads and trails get packed mid-fall. There are other ways to get a view of colorful leaves—some at all new altitudes. For starters, go for a horseback ride or hayride for a full-on autumn experience. And even though boating is considered a summertime activity, a water-born boat tour on a mountain lake is a great way to get a new view of the changing leaves.
Speaking of views, you won’t beat a gondola or ski lift that’s operating offseason for a high-altitude panorama. Well, that is unless you try a hot air balloon ride. In either case, expect commanding vistas that top even the best road trips.
8. Travel midweek
Stay away from the weekends when everyone is trying to cram in their views of red and yellow-leafed trees. Instead, find some time midweek and head out for your leaf safari on a random Tuesday.
Regardless of how and when you get out, the important thing is that you take the time to appreciate the fall foliage wherever you may be. Staying at a KOA can get you nearer to the places with the most color so you can easily access amazing vistas and viewpoints. By following the tips above, you may just be lucky enough to soak in nature’s bright colors in solitude.
Written by Rob Glover for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America.