While we may miss the summer, there’s nothing like watching the leaves turn at the beginning of autumn.
Sure, you can head to the northeast to witness the changing of the seasons, but when everyone else has the same idea—well, let’s just say you’re more likely to find yourself gazing at the back of an SUV than the foliage, or elbowing other camera-toting leaf-peepers to capture that perfect shot.
But, it’s not only our northeast states that enjoy the colorful spectacle. Here are some alternative options to watch the leaves fall this month and beyond.
UPCOUNTRY, SOUTH CAROLINA
North Carolina might be known for its foliage during fall, yet the Upcountry of South Carolina in the northwest part of the state shares the same change of seasons as its northern neighbor. While the second to the fourth week in October is the best the whole year to witness the leaves turning in the Upcountry, the rest of the state peaks at the end of October to the end of November. You can expect to see all the traditional fall colors of red, gold and yellow from assorted red maples, oak trees and dogwoods.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Upcountry is home to several scenic highways. The Cherokee Foothills National Highway (SC Hwy. 11) covers 130 miles of beautiful fall colors and tumbling waterfalls along the way. The two best spots to catch a panoramic view are at the Symmes Chapel located on Standing Stone Mountain, and a 1.5-mile nature trail that ends at the 60-foot Station Coves waterfall. www.theupcountry.com
Take a short drive to Ninety Six National Historical Site, part of the National Park Service. Located south of Greenville, South Carolina, this early settlement and American Revolution battleground hosts the annual Autumn Candlelight Tour (taking place this year on October 11). A local institution since 1982, this yearly guided tour takes place along a one-mile path in the historical site and features costumed volunteers who tell stories of what life was like in the 1700s. www.nps.gov/nisi
NORTH SHORE, MINNESOTA
The North Shore of Lake Superior Minnesota may find many visitors during the summer season, but those who stay for the fall are in for a treat.
From mid-September to mid-October, Highway 61 offers a road trip to remember. Named an “All American Drive” for its scenery, this road is best driven mid-week amid the yellow, orange and red foliage. Running along the banks of Lake Superior, the highway begins at Two Harbors (about 30 miles north of Duluth) and stretches northeast to Grand Portage State Park at the Canadian border. You’ll see an explosion of colors from sugar maples, yellow aspens, oaks and ash trees, among others.
Along the way, take a hike on the Superior Hiking Trail, one of the top trails in America, which runs for about 205 miles along Highway 61 overlooking the lake. And, if you can’t get away from the city, there is a new 39-mile section of the Superior trail that runs right through Duluth. Beginning at Jay Cooke State Park (just south of the city) and running through the city, this trail will take you through dense foliage, including the old maple growth in the Spirit Mountain Northern Hardwood Forest. www.northshorefallcolors.com
If leaf-peeping isn’t enough to get you to Duluth, this part of Minnesota is also one of the prime fall season bird-watching destinations. The Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve gets about 94,000 raptors, including peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons, flying through from mid-September to late October, with peak fly times from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Just bring a comfortable chair and a pair of binoculars, and sit back and watch the skies. www.hawkridge.org
If you’re into hunting and fishing along with leaf viewing, fall is the time to visit Ennis, Montana. Close to the Yellowstone National Park, the town is known as the “Fly Fishing Capital of the World” due to the excellent conditions in Madison River and nearby Ruby, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Jefferson and Gallatin rivers. This time of the year you can experience the changing of the aspen trees, and the weather is still mild enough to enjoy the great outdoors before the skiers flood in. www.ennischamber.com
And for a special Montana-style event, head to Ennis on the Friday afternoon before hunting season is officially open (normally in late October) for the annual Hunters Feed and Wild Game Cook-Off. Although it began as a way to get rid of last season’s meat, the festival features rare and strange variations of wild game to the area. All the shops on Main Street offer their best dishes, and people walk by, sample and vote for their favorites. If you’ve ever desired to eat deer fudge, moose meatballs and elk chili delight, visit the area during the autumn. http://goldwest.visitmt.com/listings/8895.HTM
Another great option for this area is part of our series on inexpensive roadtrips. Check out One-Tank Trips: Glacier National Park.
WILLAMETTE NATIONAL FOREST, OREGON
Although the Pacific Northwest starts to experience rainy weather in the fall, the evergreen trees of the Cascades offer a spectacular view of red cedars and fruit shrubs that spread throughout the area, making for excellent hiking trails and berry picking. The 14-mile Fall Creek National Recreation Trail, located in the Willamette National Forest 30 miles from Eugene, follows a breathtaking scenic hike through trees that range from 300 to 500 years old. Along the path, tiny pools invite hikers for a refreshing wade through their waters.
If 14 miles seems to daunting to you, shorter trails are available for your skill level, ranging from the Johnny Creek Nature Trail, a half-mile paved road with signs for the visually impaired and large picnic areas, to a difficult Clark Butte Trail, 2.2 miles of new and old tree growth coexisting together. www.fs.fed.us/r6/willamette/
Autumn also marks the Eugene Celebration, which brings together music and art. Held throughout various days in September, events include a pet parade, classic car show, and the ever-popular Bike Lights Parade in which all human-powered vehicles are decked out in lights as locals ride through the city streets. www.eugenecelebration.com
The tiny town of Leavenworth, Washington is known for its Bavarian theme (they even broadcast polka music in the square). But this little mountain town is also a prime leaf-watching destination, with peak colors hitting around mid-October. And, you’ll be there just in time for the ever-popular Oktoberfest, taking place October 10-11 and October 17-18.
Not only will you feel like you’re in a different country, but you can pick up Euro-style souvenirs to prove it: beer steins, Nutcrackers, German sausages, and Austrian wines, among others And for outdoor enthusiasts, Leavenworth is surrounded by the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Lake Wenatchee, making it a great destination for autumn hiking, rafting and rock climbing. www.leavenworth.org
SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK, CA
Last, but certainly not least, are the spectacular colors of California’s famous Sequoia National Park. Located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this park is world-renowned for its forest of giant redwoods, but it also boasts bright fall colors.
Though the colors will be more muted than other regions that experience a sharper “cold snap,” you’ll still be amazed by the array of reds, yellows and golds that line the roads and hiking paths. Visit in mid- to late-October, and you’ll miss the crowds and avoid the rainy season. www.nps.gov/seki
By Michelle Castillo and Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com.
Check out more great travel ideas:
- More Unusual Fall Foliage and Tours
- Hiking Getaways for You and Mom
- Places to (Literally) Unplug
- America the Beautiful: Hiking America’s Trails