America's best places to see beautiful fall colors



Slide 1 of 29: When fall comes, thousands of leaf peepers typically flock to New England to take in a carpet of russet, red and orange. But many travelers will be looking to escape the crowds this year and find their own hidden pocket of gold, or even forgo the fall foliage altogether. Here we reveal our favorite under-the-radar spots for fall. Always check state advisories and updates to individual attractions due to COVID-19 before planning a trip. 
Slide 2 of 29: Despite its abundant forestland, The Natural State is often overlooked by leaf peepers – but Ozark National Forest sprawls across more than a million acres, enveloping the Ozark mountains and exploding in crimson when fall takes hold. Campsites spread out under the cover of oak-hickory trees and Mount Magazine is the area's (and the state's) highest point. At 2,753 feet (839m), it offers sweeping views over the canopy. 
Slide 3 of 29: The forest is also home to elusive elk, who are at their most active at the break of dawn or in the evening. Their mating season is September through to October, so the orange forest will echo with the sound of the Eastern elk's bugle calls in fall. Woodland hiking routes such as the River's Edge Trail offer the chance to spot kingfishers and blue heron too. Check the NPS website for current updates on specific trails. 
Slide 4 of 29: Far from New England, in America's sun-baked Southwest, the compact desert town of Taos is cloaked in fall color by late September. The dinky town is nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, which is crisscrossed with hiking trails. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, a picturesque driving route, also spools out from Taos and slices through the peaks. 

Slide 5 of 29: Late summer and early fall brings with it the harvest season. The New Mexican chile is reaped around the town and ristras of the dried peppers are strung up on storefronts in fall and beyond. September is typically festival season, too. The Taos Fall Arts Festival usually sees works by local artists exhibited across the city – it's been canceled due to COVID-19 this year, but check the website for 2021 updates.
Slide 6 of 29: Southwest USA is synonymous with rugged red rocks and rambling desert, but there are flashes of fall foliage too. The city of Sedona is right in the middle of ‘Red Rock Country’ where, come fall, orange-topped trees sprout from rust-colored crags and hiking trails duck into forestland bright with bronze hues. A top route nearby is the West Fork Oak Creek trail: around nine miles (14km) north of the city, the path follows Oak Creek which is lined with fall foliage during the season.
Slide 7 of 29: Apple carts generally pop up on highways surrounding the city, and freshly harvested chiles are sold. Sedona's Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, an arts center modeled on a traditional Mexican village, also typically gears up for its Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations in early November. While these colorful festivities are on hold for this year, other fall events here include sculpture shows and flamenco performances.
Slide 8 of 29: For those wanting to skip the leaf-peeping altogether, the golden mounds of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve are a pretty good place to start. The protected dunes are the tallest in North America, reaching a whopping 750 feet (229m) at their highest point, and they're a favorite spot for sandboarding and sledding. 
Slide 9 of 29: Yet pockets of yellow do still pop up across the park's sandy expanse, which is also home to some aspen and conifer forest. Mosca Pass Trail winds some seven miles (11km) through meadows and woodland, gaining 1,400 feet (427m) in elevation as it goes. Or the Montville Nature Trail is a much shorter, gentler forest hike over half a mile with views of the dunes. Note that the campground and visitor center here are temporarily closed, but most other areas of the park are now open. 

Slide 10 of 29: While this swathe of Virginia is often overshadowed by the North East, Shenandoah National Park is a sure bet for a fall road trip. The Skyline Drive Scenic Highway beats a path through the park and takes around three hours to travel in total. At its best when glowing with amber and gold, the highway is studded with a series of overlooks offering panoramas over the dappled fall foliage. See the NPS website for the latest alerts.
Slide 11 of 29: Many wineries and cideries (at their best in fall) spread out across the area too. The Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail and the Shenandoah Spirits Trail each weave through the best of the bunch, awash with crisp ciders and Virginian varietals, plus plenty of mountain views to boot. Be sure to check the opening status of individual venues before attempting to visit. Now discover America's most historic and beautiful downtowns.
Slide 12 of 29: The white-sand beaches of Pensacola, an ocean-front Floridian city, are glorious year-round – and when the summer peters out and the sunbathing crowds disband, the temperatures remain balmy. The Bands on the Beach program, which sees musicians of all genres entertain sand seekers, typically lasts until late October – concerts up until now have been suspended, but updates are being posted on the website.
Slide 13 of 29: Beyond the beach, Pensacola's historic downtown area is home to the T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum (currently open with reduced visiting times), which chronicles Floridian history. Fall is a prime time for foodies, too. Late in the season, the Pensacola Seafood Festival typically fills the downtown area with seafood stalls, live music and more – check the website for up-to-date details on this year's event. Taste of the Beach usually also kicks off in mid-September, but is canceled for 2020.
Slide 14 of 29: Denali's wild expanse is famed the world over – but given its sheer size, most visitors find they have plenty of elbow room. This is the third-largest national park in the States, but only some 600,000 visitors per year enter its borders. In fall the aspen and birch trees explode in a riot of color, and the Northern Lights may even swirl overhead. 

Slide 15 of 29: Wildlife such as moose (whose mating season is in fall) and bear are particularly active through fall: moose use this time to store up fat for the bracing winter, while bear prepare for hibernation by consuming as much food as they can find. Note that the shuttle bus does not operate beyond the summer months, so visitors will need to bring their own vehicle and be prepared for changeable conditions too. See the NPS alerts page for up-to-date openings.
Slide 16 of 29: The color-splashed cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are beautiful all year, but they take on an added charm in the fall. This protected area of Lake Superior's shore is characterized by its unspoiled strands and stripy scarps, which are blanketed with orange. Grand Portal Point (pictured), a rocky precipice jutting into the water, is a popular spot along the shore, with views over the vast lake and across to other picturesque cliffs. 
Slide 17 of 29: The Au Sable Light Station, rising its head from a dense canopy, is another scenic view. The lighthouse dates back to 1873, soaring around 107 feet (33m) above the lake. Tours of the lighthouse are currently suspended, but it looks at its best when viewed from a distance poking out amidst the fall foliage anyway. 
Slide 18 of 29: Far from the fall-foliage-seeking hordes, this protected stretch of coastline in the Outer Banks is all powdery, golden sand and windswept waters. Temperatures can reach 82°F (28°C) through September, dipping only slightly through October (but always check the weather before you go since there's a chance of hurricanes all the way from July to December). 
Slide 19 of 29: Abandoned fishing cabins and three historic lighthouses can be seen dotted around the shoreline – you can usually climb Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Island Lighthouse, though this activity is temporarily suspended. The seashore is also a haven for bird lovers, with species including black skimmers and American oystercatchers. The campgrounds here typically stay open right until the end of November too – keep an eye on the website for any changes.
Slide 20 of 29: Dramatic Tallulah Gorge plunges to 1,000 feet (305m), with water carving its way through two miles (3km) of forest-covered rock. In fall, the woods are flecked with orange and yellow, and the hiking trails winding around the rim of the canyon offer spectacular views across burnt orange and blushing red foliage. Permits are typically required to hike down by the water's edge, though these are not currently being issued. 
Slide 21 of 29: Highlights of the park include the gushing Hurricane Falls, which is accessible via the Hurricane Falls Trail, a two-mile (3km) loop studded with scenic outlooks. Not for the faint-hearted, there's also a dizzying suspension bridge which swings some 80 feet (24m) above the gorge floor and offers close-up views of the bright fall leaves – it's currently open with restrictions.
Slide 22 of 29: This gorgeous Texan maple forest gives the North East a run for its money. The site rambles for more than 2,000 acres, sewn with around 10 miles (16km) of hiking trails. The West Trail covers the most ground, and includes a breathtaking overlook, while the shorter West Loop Trail whips through a tranquil ashe juniper grove.
Slide 23 of 29: The area is popular with keen birdwatchers, too: visitors should look out for the eye-popping yellow face of the golden-cheeked warbler, which is endemic to the area. The trees tend to turn in the final weeks of October, and the Texan state parks website publishes regular updates. Read on to discover America's most charming seaside towns.
Slide 24 of 29: Blazing leaves and lofty views await in Alabama’s Cheaha State Park come fall. The park is swallowed by the Talladega National Forest, which bursts into hues of rust and blonde once fall settles in. It’s also home to the highest point in the state, the pinnacle of Cheaha Mountain, so it offers unparalleled views. 
Slide 25 of 29: Many visitors favor sunset or sunrise hikes on the trails that wiggle through the forested park, which is punctured by waterfalls and scenic lookout points. There’s also the vertiginous Cliffside Restaurant (currently open) with sweeping views over the surroundings, plus a handful of campgrounds and cabins (available with advance reservations). Be sure to check the website for up-to-date info.
Slide 26 of 29: Stretching out across northern Utah, the Wasatch Mountains are an adventure playground year-round and a beacon of foliage come fall. Two hiking routes wind to the summit of 11,749-foot (3,581m) Mount Timpanogos, the second-highest peak in the range, while lofty ATV and horse-riding trails snake through Wasatch Mountain State Park too. Leaf peppers hit the paths before the winter snow beds in. 
Slide 27 of 29: Dinky towns are folded into the mountains too, with picture-perfect spots like Park City (pictured) offering panoramas of the peaks. Park City’s downtown is lined with snug spots for hot chocolate and seasonal bakes (check the opening status of individual outlets) and mountain-bike trails wiggle out around the town too. Their annual biking event, Tour des Suds, has gone virtual for this year. See the Park City website for up-to-date advisories before planning a trip.
Slide 28 of 29: The Bluegrass State has little shortage of parks, but this one comes to life in the fall. The thundering falls are fittingly nicknamed the "Niagara of the South", and are hemmed in by leaves of crimson and chestnut come fall. The park is also famous for its rare 'moonbows' or 'lunar rainbows': natural spectacles created by the dim moonlight and the spray from the falls.
Slide 29 of 29: The best views of the park are found along the five-mile (8km) Cumberland River Trail, which weaves its way upstream with blazing trees offering cover all the way. Another top sight is the elegant Edward Moss Gatliff Bridge, completed in the 1950s – it arches across the Cumberland River, reflecting in the still water, the fall colors of the surrounding trees painted alongside it. Love this? Check out nature's greatest spectacles that are sure to inspire you.

Fall getaways to escape the crowds

When fall comes, thousands of leaf peepers typically flock to New England to take in a carpet of russet, red and orange. But many travelers will be looking to escape the crowds this year and find their own hidden pocket of gold, or even forgo the fall foliage altogether. Here we reveal our favorite under-the-radar spots for fall. Always check state advisories and updates to individual attractions due to COVID-19 before planning a trip. 

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

Despite its abundant forestland, The Natural State is often overlooked by leaf peepers – but Ozark National Forest sprawls across more than a million acres, enveloping the Ozark mountains and exploding in crimson when fall takes hold. Campsites spread out under the cover of oak-hickory trees and Mount Magazine is the area’s (and the state’s) highest point. At 2,753 feet (839m), it offers sweeping views over the canopy. 

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

The forest is also home to elusive elk, who are at their most active at the break of dawn or in the evening. Their mating season is September through to October, so the orange forest will echo with the sound of the Eastern elk’s bugle calls in fall. Woodland hiking routes such as the River’s Edge Trail offer the chance to spot kingfishers and blue heron too. Check the NPS website for current updates on specific trails. 

Taos, New Mexico

Far from New England, in America’s sun-baked Southwest, the compact desert town of Taos is cloaked in fall color by late September. The dinky town is nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, which is crisscrossed with hiking trails. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, a picturesque driving route, also spools out from Taos and slices through the peaks. 

Taos, New Mexico

Late summer and early fall brings with it the harvest season. The New Mexican chile is reaped around the town and ristras of the dried peppers are strung up on storefronts in fall and beyond. September is typically festival season, too. The Taos Fall Arts Festival usually sees works by local artists exhibited across the city – it’s been canceled due to COVID-19 this year, but check the website for 2021 updates.

Sedona, Arizona

Southwest USA is synonymous with rugged red rocks and rambling desert, but there are flashes of fall foliage too. The city of Sedona is right in the middle of ‘Red Rock Country’ where, come fall, orange-topped trees sprout from rust-colored crags and hiking trails duck into forestland bright with bronze hues. A top route nearby is the West Fork Oak Creek trail: around nine miles (14km) north of the city, the path follows Oak Creek which is lined with fall foliage during the season.

Sedona, Arizona

Apple carts generally pop up on highways surrounding the city, and freshly harvested chiles are sold. Sedona’s Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, an arts center modeled on a traditional Mexican village, also typically gears up for its Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations in early November. While these colorful festivities are on hold for this year, other fall events here include sculpture shows and flamenco performances.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

For those wanting to skip the leaf-peeping altogether, the golden mounds of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve are a pretty good place to start. The protected dunes are the tallest in North America, reaching a whopping 750 feet (229m) at their highest point, and they’re a favorite spot for sandboarding and sledding. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Yet pockets of yellow do still pop up across the park’s sandy expanse, which is also home to some aspen and conifer forest. Mosca Pass Trail winds some seven miles (11km) through meadows and woodland, gaining 1,400 feet (427m) in elevation as it goes. Or the Montville Nature Trail is a much shorter, gentler forest hike over half a mile with views of the dunes. Note that the campground and visitor center here are temporarily closed, but most other areas of the park are now open. 

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

While this swathe of Virginia is often overshadowed by the North East, Shenandoah National Park is a sure bet for a fall road trip. The Skyline Drive Scenic Highway beats a path through the park and takes around three hours to travel in total. At its best when glowing with amber and gold, the highway is studded with a series of overlooks offering panoramas over the dappled fall foliage. See the NPS website for the latest alerts.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Many wineries and cideries (at their best in fall) spread out across the area too. The Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail and the Shenandoah Spirits Trail each weave through the best of the bunch, awash with crisp ciders and Virginian varietals, plus plenty of mountain views to boot. Be sure to check the opening status of individual venues before attempting to visit. Now discover America’s most historic and beautiful downtowns.

Pensacola, Florida

The white-sand beaches of Pensacola, an ocean-front Floridian city, are glorious year-round – and when the summer peters out and the sunbathing crowds disband, the temperatures remain balmy. The Bands on the Beach program, which sees musicians of all genres entertain sand seekers, typically lasts until late October – concerts up until now have been suspended, but updates are being posted on the website.

Pensacola, Florida

Beyond the beach, Pensacola’s historic downtown area is home to the T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum (currently open with reduced visiting times), which chronicles Floridian history. Fall is a prime time for foodies, too. Late in the season, the Pensacola Seafood Festival typically fills the downtown area with seafood stalls, live music and more – check the website for up-to-date details on this year’s event. Taste of the Beach usually also kicks off in mid-September, but is canceled for 2020.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali’s wild expanse is famed the world over – but given its sheer size, most visitors find they have plenty of elbow room. This is the third-largest national park in the States, but only some 600,000 visitors per year enter its borders. In fall the aspen and birch trees explode in a riot of color, and the Northern Lights may even swirl overhead. 

Denali National Park, Alaska

Wildlife such as moose (whose mating season is in fall) and bear are particularly active through fall: moose use this time to store up fat for the bracing winter, while bear prepare for hibernation by consuming as much food as they can find. Note that the shuttle bus does not operate beyond the summer months, so visitors will need to bring their own vehicle and be prepared for changeable conditions too. See the NPS alerts page for up-to-date openings.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The color-splashed cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are beautiful all year, but they take on an added charm in the fall. This protected area of Lake Superior’s shore is characterized by its unspoiled strands and stripy scarps, which are blanketed with orange. Grand Portal Point (pictured), a rocky precipice jutting into the water, is a popular spot along the shore, with views over the vast lake and across to other picturesque cliffs. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The Au Sable Light Station, rising its head from a dense canopy, is another scenic view. The lighthouse dates back to 1873, soaring around 107 feet (33m) above the lake. Tours of the lighthouse are currently suspended, but it looks at its best when viewed from a distance poking out amidst the fall foliage anyway. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

Far from the fall-foliage-seeking hordes, this protected stretch of coastline in the Outer Banks is all powdery, golden sand and windswept waters. Temperatures can reach 82°F (28°C) through September, dipping only slightly through October (but always check the weather before you go since there’s a chance of hurricanes all the way from July to December). 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

Abandoned fishing cabins and three historic lighthouses can be seen dotted around the shoreline – you can usually climb Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Island Lighthouse, though this activity is temporarily suspended. The seashore is also a haven for bird lovers, with species including black skimmers and American oystercatchers. The campgrounds here typically stay open right until the end of November too – keep an eye on the website for any changes.

Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

Dramatic Tallulah Gorge plunges to 1,000 feet (305m), with water carving its way through two miles (3km) of forest-covered rock. In fall, the woods are flecked with orange and yellow, and the hiking trails winding around the rim of the canyon offer spectacular views across burnt orange and blushing red foliage. Permits are typically required to hike down by the water’s edge, though these are not currently being issued. 

Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

Highlights of the park include the gushing Hurricane Falls, which is accessible via the Hurricane Falls Trail, a two-mile (3km) loop studded with scenic outlooks. Not for the faint-hearted, there’s also a dizzying suspension bridge which swings some 80 feet (24m) above the gorge floor and offers close-up views of the bright fall leaves – it’s currently open with restrictions.

Lost Maples State Natural Area, Texas

This gorgeous Texan maple forest gives the North East a run for its money. The site rambles for more than 2,000 acres, sewn with around 10 miles (16km) of hiking trails. The West Trail covers the most ground, and includes a breathtaking overlook, while the shorter West Loop Trail whips through a tranquil ashe juniper grove.

Lost Maples State Natural Area, Texas

The area is popular with keen birdwatchers, too: visitors should look out for the eye-popping yellow face of the golden-cheeked warbler, which is endemic to the area. The trees tend to turn in the final weeks of October, and the Texan state parks website publishes regular updates. Read on to discover America’s most charming seaside towns.

Cheaha State Park, Alabama

Blazing leaves and lofty views await in Alabama’s Cheaha State Park come fall. The park is swallowed by the Talladega National Forest, which bursts into hues of rust and blonde once fall settles in. It’s also home to the highest point in the state, the pinnacle of Cheaha Mountain, so it offers unparalleled views. 

Cheaha State Park, Alabama

Many visitors favor sunset or sunrise hikes on the trails that wiggle through the forested park, which is punctured by waterfalls and scenic lookout points. There’s also the vertiginous Cliffside Restaurant (currently open) with sweeping views over the surroundings, plus a handful of campgrounds and cabins (available with advance reservations). Be sure to check the website for up-to-date info.

Wasatch Mountains, Utah

Stretching out across northern Utah, the Wasatch Mountains are an adventure playground year-round and a beacon of foliage come fall. Two hiking routes wind to the summit of 11,749-foot (3,581m) Mount Timpanogos, the second-highest peak in the range, while lofty ATV and horse-riding trails snake through Wasatch Mountain State Park too. Leaf peppers hit the paths before the winter snow beds in. 

Wasatch Mountains, Utah

Dinky towns are folded into the mountains too, with picture-perfect spots like Park City (pictured) offering panoramas of the peaks. Park City’s downtown is lined with snug spots for hot chocolate and seasonal bakes (check the opening status of individual outlets) and mountain-bike trails wiggle out around the town too. Their annual biking event, Tour des Suds, has gone virtual for this year. See the Park City website for up-to-date advisories before planning a trip.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

The Bluegrass State has little shortage of parks, but this one comes to life in the fall. The thundering falls are fittingly nicknamed the “Niagara of the South”, and are hemmed in by leaves of crimson and chestnut come fall. The park is also famous for its rare ‘moonbows’ or ‘lunar rainbows’: natural spectacles created by the dim moonlight and the spray from the falls.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

The best views of the park are found along the five-mile (8km) Cumberland River Trail, which weaves its way upstream with blazing trees offering cover all the way. Another top sight is the elegant Edward Moss Gatliff Bridge, completed in the 1950s – it arches across the Cumberland River, reflecting in the still water, the fall colors of the surrounding trees painted alongside it. Love this? Check out nature’s greatest spectacles that are sure to inspire you.

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