The end of summer means autumn leaf peeping is right around the corner. Yellow, orange, and red are the colors of the season, and thousands of travelers will soon be driving through the backwoods of America in search of those perfect landscapes. We all know that the East Coast is famous for its fall foliage, but the Rockies—and even the parched West Coast—are not without their own sensational sights. From the East Coast to the West Coast, we’ve rounded up some of the best places to see fall foliage in the United States.
Lake Placid is famous for two things: the 1980 Olympics and the longest fall foliage season on the East Coast. The rolling hills and major elevation changes mean that the Lake Placid region and nearby Adirondack Park give visitors a chance to see the changing leaves—at several stages—in one of the most pristine and protected landscapes in the country. The forest here is also uniquely varied, with large stands of Oak, Maple, Beech, Poplar, and Birch scattered throughout the forest. Visitors may also want to plan their visits so they coincide with one of the Adirondacks’ many fall festivals, such as the Balloon Festival, the Cream Cheese Festival, or the Moose Festival.
Few states can claim that virtually every square inch within its borders is excellent grounds for fall foliage viewing. Vermont is one of them. With more than 20 scenic and well-traveled routes, the early weeks of October are the prime time to visit. Maples and Sumacs are in abundance here, with deep reds and oranges like nowhere else. Coupled with Vermont’s endless supply of colonial villages, farm stands, country stores, and art galleries, this is the perfect place to get cozy with a mug of hot cider and take in the sights.
With its waterfalls, cliffs, caves, winding roads, and rock formations, the Hocking Hills offer the perfect backdrop for a scenic drive. In mid-October, travelers can find a variety of colors from the birch, hemlock, pine, sassafras, oak, beech, black birch, red and sugar maples, yellow poplar, white ash, basswood, and hickory trees. If you want a more unique view of the trees, you can zip line at the canopy level while taking in the trees, streams, and waterfalls.
Colorado leaf peeping season is a gorgeous yet very narrow window—the season lasts throughout September in most of the state. One option is to travel without a specific destination in mind, and just follow the colors. In southwestern Colorado, start in Placerville and drive southeast to the dense groves of white-barked aspens with panoramic views of Wilson Peak. In northwest Colorado, you can drive along Maroon Lake, where the water reflects the golden Quaking Aspens and purple and white striped peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Grand Teton National Park has smaller crowds than Yellowstone, and it is a private oasis for travelers who like to couple their leaf-seeking with a healthy dose of wildlife. During early fall, moose, deer, and bears can be found all over the park. While conifers are very common here and keep their deep green color, the bracken ferns take on some rusty orange hues and the deciduous trees become golden yellow. Fruit-bearing wildflowers are an added bonus, offering bright reds and purples to the landscape.
Utah, with its blazing red sandstone canyons, has the perfect backdrop for the golden cottonwoods, aspens, and oaks that pepper the fall hillsides. The best time to visit is between early September and mid-October, when the northern mountains are at their most scenic. The 44-mile-long Ogden River Scenic Byway in Northern Utah passes through many rural communities, steep canyons, and unique forest views.
Oregon is known for its enormous conifers. But from September through October, changing leaves in the Columbia River Gorge are best viewed from waterfalls, gardens, and local wineries that dot the shoreline. Heading south through the Willamette Valley, fall color-seekers can see the gold flashes and bursts of pomegranate red in the grapevines. There are also 900-foot waterfalls surrounded by Alders, red vine Maples, and yellow Tamaracks that line the Columbia River Highway.
In the Eastern Sierras of California you can find alpine vistas, back roads, trails, meadows, and a colorful mix of fall leaves that can be found off the highway during the last few weeks of October. The evergreens in the area provide a deep green backdrop for the various splashes of red that can be found on Pacific dogwoods, black oak, and big-leaf maples. On Saturday, October 11, visitors to the Sierras can also experience the June Lake Autumn Beer Festival.
Want to read more travel tips for fall? Check out:
- How to Catch Fall Foliage at The Right Time
- Why You Should Start Planning for Fall Discounts
- How to Get the Best Deals During September Shoulder Season
By Jessica May Tang for PeterGreenberg.com