The Best Places To See Fall Foliage in America
As the days gradually shorten and the weather turns crisp, nature takes it cue to prepare for winter with a deciduous chromatic display. From the rich gold tones of Aspens in the West to the electric reds of the thickly wooded hillsides in the East, the diverse landscapes that make up the United States offer many incredible viewpoints. We’ve selected 8 of our favorite destinations to observe the annual autumnal show and paired them with local fall events to make a most memorable fall getaway.
1. Taos, New Mexico >>>
Where To Go: With Taos as your home base drive along the 83-mile circular loop known as the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway and observe the changing of the leaves in Northern New Mexico’s diverse geography. Witness the deep purple cinquefoil, bright red cottonwoods, and vibrant yellow and orange aspens along this 2 ½ hour drive through mountains, valleys, mesas, and national forest. Centered around Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state, the drive will take you through Taos, Questa, Red River, Eagle Nest, Angle Fire and back again to Taos.
Best Time To Go: Late September through early November.
What To Do: Make a pit stop at the Taos Fall Arts Festival happening the last week of September which will showcase both emerging and established artists in New Mexico.
Where To Stay: Casa Monte Vista & Arroyo Seco House..
2. Mammoth Lakes, California >>>
Where To Go: One of the most vibrant and easily accessible places to experience the fall spectacular in Mammoth Lakes is Rock Creek. Earn incredible views of the Eastern Sierra Mountains by hiking through Lower Rock Creek. For a more scenic route, drive about nine miles into the aspen lined canyon until you get to Aspen Creek Lake, arguably one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the Eastern Sierras. The elevation gain within this canyon creates a beautiful gradient of color from monochromatic greens at the bottom to bright yellows at the top.
Best Time To Go: Late September to Early October
What To Do: Come dressed in your best lederhosen and German attire and enjoy three days of authentic Bavarian cuisine, steins of beer, and music by Bayern Maiden during Mammoth's Oktoberfest September 22-24th.
Where To Stay: Eagle Run 114 & Solstice 21.
3. Sun Valley, Idaho >>>
Where To Go: While fall’s colors can be seen just about everywhere your eyes land in Sun Valley, if you’re looking for a stand-out spot head to Proctor Mountain. Home to America’s first chairlift, this mountain dissects into several trails for varying skill level. Whichever path you choose, foliage views are guaranteed. From the top you’ll see the thick swaths of red and orange aspen groves combined with the yellow cottonwoods reflecting off the clear Big Wood River.
Best Time To Go: Late September to early October
What To Do: If visiting in early October make sure to head to The Trailing of the Sheep Festival which has been deemed one of the top ten festivals in the world.
Where To Stay: Harriman Cottage & Pioneer Mountain Road.
4. Park City, Utah >>>
Where To Go: Every drive in Park City during the fall months becomes a scenic one, but for the local favorite head to Guardsman Pass. This back-country drive has two routes, one that connects Park City to Brighton and offers full views of the Park City Valley. The other route connects Park City to Midway and boasts incredible foliage as it has the majority of aspens and maple trees. Reaching over 9,700 ft of elevation you’ll want to take this drive slowly as there is plenty to be seen from all directions.
Best Time To Go: Mid September to early October
What To Do: Watch as the Park skies fill with an array of bright colors as dozens of hot air balloons ascend at once during the Autumn Aloft event which will take place September 16 & 17th.
Where To Stay: Empire Pass private home or luxury lodge condo.
5. Great Smoky Mountains, TN >>>
Where To Go: Soaring to a height of 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The observation tower atop the Dome offers 360-degree views of the park; making it the ideal place to witness the colors of fall. To get there, take the seven-mile drive along Clingman’s Dome Road; which is replete with scenic pullouts that offer amazing autumnal views of the valleys below. The road terminates at a parking lot. From there, it’s a steep half mile hike to the top along a fully paved trail. Once at the summit, you’ll find that the hike was well worth it. On rare clear days, visibility can be 100 miles (normally it's around 25). Due to the increase in elevation, temperatures at the Dome are often 10-20 degrees cooler than at ground level. As such, it’s advisable to have a light jacket handy.
Best Time To Go: Early to late October
What To Do: The annual Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg starts September 22nd and runs through October 29th. This indoor/outdoor festival is a celebration of some of the long-standing traditions originally established in Munich, Germany. So, come on out and enjoy some German cuisine, beer, yodeling and an Oompah band!
Where To Stay: Mountain Magic #73.
6. Lakes Region, NH >>>
Where To Go: Castle in the Clouds sits on a precipice in the Ossipee Mountains. The home was built in 1914 by Tom Plant, as a gift to his wife. Today, the mansion and the 5500 acres on which it resides, are owned and operated by the Castle Preservation Society. The home is open for tours and is a favorite place for area weddings and events. Due to its superb vantage point, it’s also a popular spot in the fall for what the locals call, “leaf peeping.”
To get to there, travel north of Lake Winnipesaukee on Route 25, until you see signs directing you to head south via Route 171. There are several scenic overlooks on this road with amazing views, and you may even catch sight of a waterfall or two! From 171, it’s a short drive to the entrance of the Castle. As you meander around the estate and its grounds, you truly do feel as if you’re in the clouds. From mid to late October, you'll be treated to a tapestry of fall colors, as well as views of the various lakes in the distance.
Best Time To Go: Early to late October
What To Do: On October 26th or 27th, head to Castle in the Clouds for their evening "Macabaret” mystery dinner theater performance. There will be plenty of intrigue, music, food and comedy to keep everyone in the Halloween spirit.
Where To Stay: Lake Winnipesaukee #475.
7. Homestead Preserve >>>
Where To Go: Dan Ingall’s Overlook provides a stunning view of the Allegheny Mountains, which are part of the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. From here, you can gaze east across the undulating sea of ridges that seem to go on infinitesimally. It is thus no surprise that the native Algonquin people called these mountains, “allegheny” which means “endless.” Due to its vantage point, the Overlook is an ideal place to see the autumnal change in colors.
Best Time To Go: Mid to late October
What To Do: October 2nd through the 8th marks the Bath Plein Air Festival. This event celebrates the centuries-old tradition of landscape painting in the outdoors, and provides art lovers a perfect opportunity to see artists at work.
Where To Stay: Herdsman Cottage.
8. Highlands, NC >>>
Where To Go: Dry Falls is located a few miles outside of Highlands, NC; in the Nantahala National Forest. A popular spot for tourists, as well as locals, this waterfall provides visitors the rare opportunity to safely walk behind its cascading water without getting wet (hence its name). Located roadside along Highway 64, the Falls are accessible via a short path from the parking lot to the observation area. This brief hike allows for fantastic photo opportunities, especially in mid to late October, when the waterfall serves as a spectacular backdrop for the autumnal colors of the trees surrounding it.
To get there from Highlands, take Highway 64 west for three miles from its intersection with Highway 106. You will pass another waterfall—Bridal Veil Falls—after which you should look for a brown and white sign, directing you to turn left into the parking area.
Best Time To Go: Early October through early November
What To Do: From October 6th-8th, the Annual Leaf Festival is held at the Village Green and Commons in the stunning mountain village of Cashiers, N.C. Here you will find unique handcrafted wood, pottery and jewelry on display for purchase. There will also be plenty of food and drinks available, as well as live music throughout the weekend.
Where To Stay: Ravenel Lake Cottage.