Fall is officially here. The time is here, to choose pumpkins for carving and start baking pies. The weather is tranquil and cool and that means you can pull out your comfy cozy sweaters and scarves, and zip up your favorite boots. But, the best part of autumn is Fall foliage. You don’t have to travel far to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. Check out our top 27 picks for the best family friendly Fall foliage destinations.
27 Best Fall Foliage Road Trips
1. Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is frequently found among lists of the best places in the U.S. for Fall foliage, with the especially jaw-dropping hues of autumn found along the 40-mile stretch of the Acadia Byway, where visitors can enjoy magnificent wild coastlines along with an array of colors in Maine’s Acadia National Park.
On Mount Desert Island, leaves start to turn in September, though peak time is typically mid-October, and can be anywhere from the first to the third week of the month. Hit the trails by foot or on bicycle, and be prepared for an abundance of color, particularly atop the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
2. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Most people don’t think of South Carolina as a Fall foliage destination but autumn there is long and colorful, and best of all begins a lot later in the season than other destinations, which means you’ll be able to get in a “second autumn” if you’re coming from, say, the Rocky Mountain states.
The best time to see the leaves here is mid-November through the first half of December. Take the 2.4-mile boardwalk hike through the park or one of the many trails into the backcountry for miles upon miles of color. Another great option is to paddle along Cedar Creek in a canoe. It meanders under canopies of spectacular Fall foliage.
3. Door County, Wisconsin
Door County is one of the Midwest’s best Fall foliage destinations. Follow Highway 57 down the Lakeside of the peninsula enjoying bits of New England with picturesque lighthouses and white-frame buildings along with bursts of scarlet, gold, russet and vermilion that line highways and form canopies over country lanes.
Peak colors usually arrive about the second week of October, lingering well into the third week during a good season. You’ll find numerous charming towns as well as apple orchards to pick-a-peck along the way.
4. Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Ozark National Forest has more than 1.2 million acres of spectacular scenery. During October, Fall foliage is at its peak, and you can find yourself strolling through the beautiful Fall hues of gold, orange and red. Plus there are plenty of mountains, springs, rivers, and breathtaking parks to photograph.
5. The Poconos, Pennsylvania
The Pocono Mountains are stretched around gently winding roads that are perfect for Fall foliage chasers. Route 507 around Lake Wallenpaupack makes a wonderful road trip for anyone looking for a relaxing, autumnal view. Leaves begin to turn in mid-September and peak in October.
6. Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park: Buckhorn, Kentucky
The 1,200-acre Buckhorn Lake is the centerpiece of this eastern Kentucky park. In autumn, the redbuds, dogwoods and other tree species that cover the rolling hills around the lake begin to turn shades of orange. With patience, you might see elk or eagles or catch some largemouth bass or channel catfish.
Other available park activities include hiking, mini-golf, boating and bicycling. For accommodations, consider staying at the on-site lodge. This wood and sandstone structure has 36 rooms, several of which boast lake-facing balconies or patios.
7. New River Gorge National River: Glen Jean, West Virginia
New River Gorge National River kicks off Fall in late September with its Hidden History Weekend, an annual event that explores Appalachian and Native American traditions. It’s also a prime spot for adventure activities.
Visitors ages 15 and older can join Adventures on the Gorge for lodge- or tent-based whitewater rafting trips, while those 12 and up can admire the region’s Fall foliage from the resort’s zip lines. Leaf peeping is best enjoyed in late October from the New River Gorge Bridge or the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.
8. All. Of. Vermont.
It goes without saying that Vermont is one of the most well-known places in the U.S. when it comes to Fall foliage—especially in the central and southern parts of the state, the Lake Champlain Islands, areas near Burlington, and in the beautiful Green Mountains. As of right now, most of the state is already seeing the first hint of Fall colors, with late, more subtle changes in color still slated to happen over the weekends of October.
Up for a scenic Fall foliage drive? Vermont’s Tourism website offers a printable list of more than 20 drives around the state ranging anywhere from 30 to 210 miles long, as well as regional and historical points of interest, apple orchards, and popular local attractions you shouldn’t miss along the way.
9. Lenox, Massachusetts
In Fall, when foliage peaks, take to the hiking and biking paths of the Pleasant Valley Sanctuary to immerse yourself in the vibrant colors of the mountains. Rejuvenating treatments and pampering at the well-known Cranwell Spa are favored all year long.
The winding roads lined with trees in the Berkshires are one of the best places to appreciate Fall colors. Peak season for leaf-peeping is about mid-October; trees growing near waterways tend to peak earlier.
10. Leavenworth, Washington
Several leafy routes start from Central Washington’s Bavarian-themed town: Trees line Tumwater Canyon on Highway 2, which stretches to the Puget Sound area, while south on winding Highway 97, the forests of Blewett Pass sport red huckleberry bushes, aspens, and cottonwoods. Electric-yellow trees reflect in Lake Wenatchee north of the town. From Waterfront Park in downtown Leavenworth, the steep walls of the valley rise in every direction.
11. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina & Tennessee
Where better to see Fall foliage than at America’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is home to roughly 1,500 black bears which can be viewed in Cades Cove, a popular area for touring that also offers an 11-mile one-way loop road that circles the cove for motorists.
Fall color reports are available to guide your visit and offer prime viewing locations. The National Park Service also provides a guide to Fall colors in the area.
12. Rockford, Illinois
The air is crisp and so are the apples: It’s Fall in Rockford! From apple orchards to community festivals, there is an endless supply of activities in this region. Anderson Japanese Gardens provides some of the most breathtaking displays of Fall color that you’ll find anywhere.
13. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Seven million acres of trees, Great Lakes shores, lighthouses, lakes and waterfalls make a perfect place to seek out beautiful Fall colors. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers a plethora of outdoor activities including mountain biking, ATV trails, birding and four state parks. Not to mention, in addition to being able to leaf-peep, you can also see the Northern Lights.
14. Napa Valley, California
For Fall foliage with a twist, why not visit California’s famous wine region? While many of the trees up in the hills change colors, the best place to witness fiery Fall colors is right there in the vineyards. For travelers who have never seen the leaves on a grape vine change from yellows, to golds, to oranges to bold crimsons, it’s a stunning sight – made even better by fabulous bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and vintages that one of the world’s best wine-producing regions has to offer.
Silverado Trail is always a great route to take for views of vineyard foliage against the backdrop of the Napa River. Or, book passage on the Napa Valley Wine Train and combine a love of wine, find food, and foliage for one unforgettable trip. Ripening grapes enjoy the crisp, cool evenings, and so will you after an Indian summer day in October.
15. Aspen and Gunnison National Forest, Colorado
There are so many ways to see the colors change in the mountainous region of Colorado. For starters, the affluent town of Aspen, where the nation’s one percent go to ski, turns into an explosion of oranges and yellows among evergreens and a background of purple-and-white-streaked mountains. Watching the breeze sail down the mountains and through the foliage is like watching a shimmering sea of Fall colors.
Alternatively, swing down around the south of the Gunnison National Forest to Gunnison, Colorado. Jump on Highway 135 and drive to Crested Butte and meet up with Kebler Pass Road. From there, Highway 133 connects near Paonia Dam. West Elk Loop Byway and Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park are beautiful spots, too. Late September into late October is the best time to visit the largest forest of aspen trees in the country, so don’t miss out!
16. Fort Ransom State Park, North Dakota
Fort Ransom State Park, which takes its name from an 1860s military fort named for Civil War General T.E.G. Ransom, is located 34 miles south of Valley City, in the midst of the scenic and heavily wooded Sheyenne River Valley. In autumn the trees within the 887-acre park are ablaze in colors ranging from golden yellow to a brilliant red, with the Sheyenne River snaking through all of it. The best spot to take it all in is the Peterson Hills Trail.
17. Whitefish, Montana
Whitefish is the gateway to Glacier National Park, and both the town and the park are excellent places to see Fall colors. Drive along Highway 35 on the lake’s east side or kayak or canoe out on Flathead Lake — the largest natural body of freshwater in the West — for views of Big Mountain and the surrounding forests.
The trees here include maple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, huckleberry, and evergreens, as well as unusual larch trees — deciduous conifers that turn bright yellow in Fall and drop their needles in mid-October. Most of the other trees show their best colors in September. The whimsically named Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan’s Pass is the park’s most popular driving route.
18. Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minnesota
There’s no shortage of Fall color activities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Take a river cruise or rent a canoe or kayak to row down the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, which are lined with fiery leaves come September and October. Or, drive up one of the scenic byways for dramatically-hued views, including Minnehaha Parkway and the River Road along the Mississippi.
The three-mile trail through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is also a must-see. Home to the widest varieties of trees in Minnesota, the arboretum pops with color throughout the season. It also features an Apple House, where you can taste several crispy-sweet varieties of the Fall fruit.
19. Olympic National Park, Washington
Washington State has such diversity of flora that Fall color viewing can only be described as “spectacular.” Fall is considered the best time to visit Olympic National Park, which showcases the deep reds of vine maples and brilliant yellows of the aspens, so you’ll get what you are looking for, whether hiking or driving, in your foliage quest.
The terrain is rugged, but the views are outstanding, with wildlife aplenty (listen for the bugling of Roosevelt Elk). Consider hiking in the Hoh Rainforest or along Hurricane Ridge, the most easily accessible.
20. Sedona, Arizona
The state best known for saguaros and scorching summers is also a striking backdrop for autumn hues. In late September and early October, head to Flagstaff and hike one of the many trails through the caramel- and amber-dotted San Francisco Peaks. Try the Inner Basin Trail for a dreamlike journey through a forest of golden aspen.
To see autumn leaves painted over a canvas of sandstone, follow the 89 down, for a must-see road trip to Sedona, Arizona. The area’s mountains stun year-round, but the views are one-of-a-kind when Fall foliage reaches its peak—especially along the trails at Oak Creek Canyon.
21. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
This 80-mile gorge cracks open the Cascade Mountains on the border of northern Oregon and southern Washington. Cottonwood, maple, Oregon ash, fir, and pine trees make for a pleasing selection of Fall colors. They are interspersed with some spectacular waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, just east of Portland, and the 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall. This region offers dozens of scenic road trip stops along the Historic Columbia River Gorge highway to savor the grandeur of Fall foliage, including more than 70 waterfalls in only 30 miles.
22. Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Known as the “Crown of the Blue Ridge,” the town of Blowing Rock offers gorgeous, sweeping vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area is full of attractions and overlooks. Bass Lake and the miles of carriage trails at Cone Park are only a half-mile from Main Street. Even along Blowing Rock’s picturesque Main Street, you can find almost daily events and activities during Fall.
23. Glenn Highway, Alaska
While tourists don’t think of Alaska as a Fall destination, the colors are out in full force, and the towns are quiet and welcoming in autumn. Glenn Highway is a 27-mile drive between Anchorage and Chickaloon, with unreal views of the Matanuska Glacier. The scenery of ice and trees drenched in color is unlike anything you can find on the U.S. mainland.
24. Big Bear Lake, California
For the best foliage views surrounding Big Bear Lake, you can hike up to a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail lined with trees and providing panoramic views of the lake. The Pine Knot and Castle Rock Trail will also expose visitors to cottonwoods, aspens, and oaks, all of which change colors from mid-October to early November.
25. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Fall is shoulder season in the Grand Teton National Park region of Wyoming, sandwiched between the bustling summer and the hordes of skiers that come in search of powder each winter. You’ll have the park to yourself to languish in the shade of the majestic peaks and the golden-colored aspens.
26. Route 6A, Massachusetts
Passing through several postcard-perfect classic Cape Cod villages, rural route 6A is a lot more pleasant with Fall’s traffic reprieve. Start just after the Sagamore Bridge and follow the road through scenic Sandwich, the Cape’s oldest town.
From there, roll on to Yarmouth Port and through to Dennis and finally Brewster, home to 19th century sea captain homes and Nickerson State Park, whose 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail offers plenty of views to be seen on foot. Peak season hits late here, so it’s perfect if you find yourself looking for leaves come mid-October or even later.
27. Ocean Drive, Rhode Island
This one you can, and should, do by bike. Rent a pair of wheels at Newport Bicycle then start out on the Bellevue Avenue side of the Ocean Drive Loop, an 11-mile waterfront route that passes through the American yellowwoods,
European beeches, and stately mansions of Bellevue before opening out onto Ocean Drive, offering dual views of Rhode Island Sound on your left and jaw-dropping colors on your right. End at the equally scenic Newport Harbor, where you might pull up to Belle’s Café in the Shipyard for coffee and yacht views.