The Best USA Fall Foliage Destinations to Experience This Year
Looking to experience some of the top autumn leaf color destinations around the USA? Or maybe which states offer the best fall colors? In this guide, you will find some of the best places to see fall foliage in the USA! From the Appalachian Mountains to the Rockies, find out the perfect place to see fall foliage this year across the United States.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Best USA Fall Foliage Destinations to Experience This Year
- New York City Fall Foliage
- Ozark Mountains in Arkansas
- Rocky Mountain National Park in Fall
- Leavenworth Fall Colors in Washington State
- Chattanooga Autumn in Tennessee
- Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Colors in North Carolina
- Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
- Stowe, Vermont in Fall
- The White Mountains in New Hampshire
- Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania
- Fall Foliage at Mammoth Lakes in California
- Lutsen in Minnesota
- USA Fall Foliage Travel Tips
- Fall Foliage in the USA: Wrap-up
New York City Fall Foliage
Fall in New York City is arguably one of the best seasons to visit! The weather allows you to wear your comfy sweaters, the summer crowds are gone, and you will be greeted with some of the best fall foliage in the USA.
The best time to see fall foliage in New York City is between mid-October to early-November. Each year the peak colors are different depending on the weather.
One of the best places to see fall colors in NYC is of course the famous Central Park which is also one of the best free things to do in NYC! Be sure to take a stroll by Bow Bridge, The Mall, Gapstow Bridge, and the Ramble for some incredible foliage.
Some additional parks to add to your New York itinerary for beautiful fall colors include Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, and Washington Square Park.
Additionally, you can take a day trip to Upstate New York or Long Island, NY for apple picking and hiking! For more autumn ideas, use this NYC Fall Bucket-list! Find more New York guides here along with awesome things to do in NYC at Night here!
New York has some of the most luxurious and expensive hotels, but since fall is a shoulder month, you can get much better rates!
NYC Tours: Get Your Guide NYC Tours
Ozark Mountains in Arkansas
Suggested by Ashlee Fechino at The Happiness Function
Fall is an incredible season to explore the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. Reaching elevations of over 2,500 ft, the Oak-Hickory Forest puts on an impressive fall display of foliage starting in October.
The peak season is typically late October (weather dependent, of course).
Along with the leaves changing, the weather is cooler, which is perfect for hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring some of the quaint mountain towns such as Eureka Springs and Bentonville.
Northwest Arkansas is a beautiful place for anyone looking to capture some jaw-dropping fall scenery. In the Ozark National Forest, the hike to Whitaker Point (also known as Hawksbill Crag) is one of the most photo-worthy fall spots and features stunning views of the Crag that will take your breath away.
If you’re planning to explore this scenic area of Arkansas, be sure to visit Buffalo National River, a U.S. National Park Service Site.
The Buffalo National River is one of the few undammed rivers in the U.S. The area has fantastic hiking, camping, fishing, and opportunities to float the river.
In fact, plan to camp at Buffalo National River and then hike to Whitaker Point. The area is one of the best places to see fall foliage in the USA!
Rocky Mountain National Park in Fall
Suggested by Meg from Fox in the Forest
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best ways to experience fall in Colorado. Known for its colorful aspens and quintessential autumn colors, the Rocky Mountain National Park offers some of the best fall foliage in the USA.
Typically, the best time to visit for leaf peeping is from mid-September to early October. The best way to fully soak up the beauty of autumn in Colorado’s Rockys is to take a road trip through the alluring Trail Ridge Road.
This road winds right through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake. It is even considered one of the most gorgeous drives in the USA – especially for fall foliage!
Another fabulous way to experience the beauty of this national park is by hitting a few hiking trails.
Not only will the hikes be lined by colorful aspens, but the chances of you running into a few elk are high, especially if you are visiting during early October, which is during mating season. Some of the best hikes include Emerald Lake trail, Sprague Lake, and Glacier Gorge.
Moreover, nearby Estes Park celebrates elk every season by hosting the yearly Elk Festival. During this fall festival, you can learn all about these fascinating animals through educational activities, Native American storytelling, live music, and more!
Check out some Rocky Mountain National Park tours.
Leavenworth Fall Colors in Washington State
Suggested by Britt from Britt’s Bella Vita
Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed village in Central Washington that offers some of the best fall foliage in the USA. The fall colors change at different times each year, but it’s safe to say that Late September – early October is the ideal time to see the fall foliage.
You can even help welcome and celebrate fall with the locals at their annual Autumn Leaf Festival!
If you’re staying downtown, you can walk to the Wenatchee River and hike the local trails for the best views of the fall foliage in Leavenworth.
Other popular things to do in Leavenworth in the autumn are enjoying the harvest season in the surrounding wine country.
Additionally, each year during the month of October visitors flock to this European-inspired town for the ultimate Oktoberfest festival.
If attending a traditional German Oktoberfest is on your bucket list, Leavenworth, Washington is one of the closest you’ll get to that experience in the United States!
Although this year’s Oktoberfest (2021) has been canceled, a more traditional Harvest festival will be held in replacement with local street vendors and traditional Oktoberfest fare.
More fun activities in Leavenworth here!
Chattanooga Autumn in Tennessee
Suggested by Jordan from The Homebody Tourist
Chattanooga, Tennessee is an outdoor-lovers paradise and a great place to visit to see the best fall foliage in the USA. Chattanooga is located just 2 hours from Nashville as well as Atlanta. The fall colors peak between late October and early November.
Aside from the beautiful colors, fall is a great time to visit Chattanooga because of the mild temperatures (great for hiking and exploring!) You can start your trip out by visiting the Jack Daniels Distillery and touring its beautiful grounds.
After your tour, head into the city for a picnic at Coolidge Park and walk across the Walnut Street Bridge. End your night with a sunset boat ride down the Tennessee River.
To really get the best look at the fall foliage, head to the neighboring state parks (Fall Creek Falls and South Cumberland Falls) for some amazing waterfall hikes!
After a day full of hiking, be sure to stop at Lookout Winery for great views from the patio and all the pizza and wine tasting!
Additionally, you can check out Ruby Falls which has the largest underground waterfall in the USA!
If you have extra time, make a day trip to Rock City Gardens for a stroll through unique gardens, caves, and other magical exhibits, or take a weekend trip to the cutest Alpine Village in Helen, GA.
Check out popular tours in Chattanooga.
Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Colors in North Carolina
Do you love scenic drives? Then there is no better place to see fall foliage in the United States by car than the Blue Ridge Parkway. Known as the most popular parkway in the U.S. with 20 million counted visits in 2020, you are in for quite the treat.
The Blue Ridge Parkway brings you through the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains which is a part of the greater Appalachian Mountains.
This scenic Parkway stretches from Virginia through North Carolina and connects Shenandoah National and The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While it is a popular destination year-round, the Blue Ridge Parkway is by far the most popular during the fall. During this road trip, you will experience epic fall foliage and elevations over 6,600 ft!
See countless waterfalls, fabulous mountain views, hike dozens of trails, and of course see brilliant fall colors!
Some of the best stops to include in your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip itinerary are Grandfather Mountain, Linville Falls, Mt. Mitchell (highest peak West of the Mississippi), Asheville, NC, Pisgah National Forest, and Cherokee (entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains).
Peak fall foliage on the parkway ranges from mid-October to the end of October. Because the Parkway ranges in elevations, you will find that the leaves start to change color at the highest points and make their way down the mountain.
You should spend at least 3 days driving the parkway. I’d recommend starting in Boone, NC, and ending in Cherokee.
Find out more about why to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall here!
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
Suggested by Erin Gifford from Go Hike Virginia
You’ll feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of daily life as you motor along the 105-mile Skyline Drive at Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park during leaf-peeping season in October and November.
The eye-pleasing colors across the majestic Shenandoah Valley reward visitors eager for dramatic pops of fiery orange, persimmon, and golden yellow.
As you travel the meandering stretch of scenic byway that cuts across Shenandoah National Park, pause for wildly scenic overlooks, like Signal Knob (milepost 5.5) and Crescent Rock (milepost 44).
In all, more than 75 overlooks implore visitors to stop and admire the views of the vibrant splashes of color that drape the forested landscape.
Lace-up your hiking boots for one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, like the scramble to the top of Bearfence Mountain for foliage-filled 360-degree panoramas. Waterfall-watchers, revel in colorful leaves as you hike to Doyles River Falls or Dark Hollow Falls.
Stay the weekend in the park in a rustic-chic cabin or modern guest room at Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge. Before you return home, indulge in a slice of the park’s signature mile-high blackberry ice cream pie. Heavenly!
Stowe, Vermont in Fall
Suggested by Sunetra Biswas from Globetrotting Su
Dreaming of vibrant autumn hues with picturesque fairytale towns set in the rolling mountains? Then drive Route 100 all the way to Stowe in Vermont for that extraordinary fall experience.
Stowe, VT is the quintessential fall village that you must visit during a New England fall foliage road trip in the USA.
The gorgeous fall foliage of Stowe along with its idyllic backdrops make this a popular destination from the end of September to mid-October.
While leaf-peeping is the most popular activity in Stowe during autumn, you must also experience the beauty of Stowe by biking, paddling, or hiking around.
Interesting things to do in Stowe are strolling the cute Stowe village, tasting the cider donut from the infamous Cold Hollow Cider Mill, eating ice cream from the official Ben & Jerry’s Factory Store, and tasting the Vermont maple syrup.
Other important places to visit while in Stowe are Smuggler’s Notch State Park and picturesque Woodstock farms.
For the adventurous souls, enjoy an exhilarating zip line experience at Stowe Mountain Resort.
Others can enjoy the Gondola Skyride to the summit of Mt. Mansfield with breathtaking fall foliage views of Stowe. While Stowe is a year-round destination, it gets incredibly magical during fall that you must experience once in your life.
The White Mountains in New Hampshire
Suggested by Nichole from Nichole the Nomad
If you are looking for one of the best places to see fall foliage in the USA, the White Mountains in New England are for you!
The White Mountains make up a quarter of New Hampshire and are home to some of the most beautiful foliage in the world, with vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, and purples painting the mountains and valleys.
Fun Fact: The White Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountains and reach elevations of over 6,200 ft! They are also known as one of the most rugged mountains in New England.
The best time to visit the White Mountains for foliage is from late September to early October.
Visiting the White Mountains offers so many ways to experience the fall foliage. You can hike to many iconic spots, including Mount Washington, Mount Willard, and the Flume Gorge, to get epic views of the foliage.
You can also drive the Kancamagus Highway, which is considered one of the most beautiful foliage drives in the world!
The Kancamagus Highway has waterfalls, trails, and overlooks that offer stunning views of the foliage.
If those aren’t for you, you can take a scenic train ride through the mountains or to the summit of Mount Washington!
No matter how you want to experience fall foliage, the White Mountains will steal your heart and become one of your favorite places to view the autumn colors in the USA!
Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania
Located about 2 hours Northwest of NYC, find the perfect fall escape in the mountains of Poconos, Pennsylvania. The mountains hit an elevation of over 2,600 ft, offering a range of beautiful fall foliage for this USA destination.
One of the best ways to see fall foliage in the Poconos is by taking a scenic drive down route 209. This will bring you through the Deleware Water Gap and on to Bushkills.
Next, explore Bushkill Falls which covers 300 acres and has dozens of hiking trails, a 100 ft waterfall, and 8 additional waterfalls. They even consider the main waterfall the Niagra of Pennsylvania.
Tickets are needed to visit Bushkill Falls and range from $14-$18 dollars. Find tickets to Bushkill here.
Other popular parks to visit for fall colors include Lehigh Gorge State Park and Hickory Run State Park. You will also be able to see waterfalls, hike tons of trails, camp, fish, and more!
If you love wolves, you might also want to consider taking a road trip to the Lokta Wolf Preserve Refugee just about 30 minutes away from the Poconos in New Jersey.
The best time to see the leaves change colors in the Poconos is during the month of October.
Where to Stay in the Poconos: Hampton Inn Lehighton – Jim Thorpe | Hampton Inn & Suites Stroudsburg Bartonsville Poconos | Mount Airy Casino Resort | Vrbo
Fall Foliage at Mammoth Lakes in California
Suggested by Michelle from the Wandering Queen
One of the best places in California to witness fall colors is Mammoth Lakes. This beautiful mountain town is located in the Eastern Sierra area and reaches elevations of over 7,800 ft! Full of bright yellow Alpine trees, it is easily one of the best places for marvelous fall foliage in the USA.
With tons of stunning mountain views and scenic lakes, Mammoth Lakes is an outdoors lover’s paradise. Enjoy hiking, scenic drives, camping, fishing, biking, and more!
One of the best places to spot the fall colors is by driving the June Lake Loop. Make sure to check out Silver Lake, Gull Lake, Grant Lake, and Rush Creek for lovely fall foliage.
Another fun area to explore is Convict Lake. You can do the loop trail to the base of the mountain, where you will find alpine trees galore! Additionally, you can explore the Lundy Canyon trail for more leaf-peeping in Mammoth Lakes.
After all the fall color chasing, make sure to relax by one of the many hot springs, one of the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes. This is such a great place to visit for the fall, especially if you want to get away from the crowds in the Eastern United States.
Lutsen in Minnesota
Suggested by Shelly from Almost There Adventures
A trip to Lutsen, Minnesota is an off-the-radar gem perfect for fall foliage in the USA. Lutsen is located along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It’s about a two-hour drive from Minneapolis.
Start your adventure in Duluth, a small industrial harbor town where large ships pass in and out and you can view the Aerial Lift Bridge. Enjoy lunch and skip rocks in Canal Park before you make your way northeast on Hwy 61 towards Lutsen.
The drive to Lutsen has lovely scenic stops including Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock lighthouse, and Temperance River State Park. You can also check out the lesser-known Iona Beach that has a shoreline covered in smooth pink rocks.
A stay in Lutsen or Grand Marais will put you centrally located for hiking, waterfalls, and epic leaf-peeping.
Once in Lutsen, check out Cascade River State Park, along with taking an aerial gondola ride up Moose Mountain to view the spectacular fall colors. Hiking in Lutsen is another one of the best ways to see the fall leaf color along the North Shore.
The window for peak fall color on the North Shore varies but can be seen the last two weekends in September through mid-October.
USA Fall Foliage Travel Tips
Now that you know some of the best places to see fall foliage in the USA, here are some additional tips before planning your vacation.
- If you are planning to visit any of the National Parks, consider getting the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. You can get this pass online or at your local REI. The pass is $80 for entry to all National Parks for the year. If you don’t plan to visit any other National Parks this fall, look at the specific national parks website to get your ticket ahead of time.
- Bring layers. Most of these fall destinations are in the mountains at high elevations. It is even possible it can snow during your visit.
- Book in advance. Believe it or not, fall is a very popular time to travel for those seeking fall foliage. You will find the most popular destinations run out of rooms quickly. I’ve linked some of the best places to stay at each fall getaway above!
- Start your days early. Because fall leaf-peeping is so popular – especially now with people taking more road trips, it is best to try and beat the crowds.
- If you don’t like crowds, try taking your USA fall vacation during the week. It can make a huge difference.
- If you plan on doing hikes, use the Alltrails app – which is free.
- Be respectful of these fall destinations. Don’t leave trash, keep safe distances from wildlife, and follow the rules!
- Have fun and enjoy some of the best fall foliage the USA has to offer!
Fall Foliage in the USA: Wrap-up
This covers some of the best places to see fall colors in the USA! I hope you have the best time discovering the best autumn colors the United States has to offer! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below!