Last updated on: Oct 13, 2021
With 50 gorgeous states, the U.S. is one of the most amazing places to see fall foliage. Aside from leaf-peeping, there are other related activities that make these ten destinations the places to go for the best fall vacations in the U.S.
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Virginia offers foliage, hiking, wine, and history. Combine apple picking with fantastic hikes to see fall foliage as well as visits to the Virginia Wine Country and the estates of three former Presidents. Shenandoah National Park is the obvious first choice for viewing foliage because the meandering Skyline Drive has numerous overlooks, incredible views, and hiking trails. However, there are many other great spots to see autumn colors in Virginia. Check out my article for Virginia Tourism Corporation’s blog, in which I discuss ten amazing places in Virginia to see fall foliage outside of Shenandoah National Park.
Vermont is one state that just seems to exemplify fall. Brilliant colors complemented by fall flavors, such as maple, is certainly a treat for the eyes and taste buds. The maple capital of the U.S. has the annual Maple 100, a month-long celebration of snacks, treats, and events centered around maple syrup.
The state is also home to numerous places to hike to see breathtaking fall colors. A drive on the scenic Route 100 Byway, also known as the Skier’s Highway, provides spectacular views from different elevations, as it runs on the eastern edge of the Green Mountains. Another amazing place located approximately 50 miles north of Montpelier is Lake Willoughby, which is easily the most beautiful lake in Vermont. Reminiscent of a Norwegian fjord, the lake offers 12 miles of wonderful hiking trails, including Mount Pisgah Trail. Book a stay at the charming Willoughvale Inn to explore the lake and surrounding region.
Colorado is easily one of the most outdoorsy states in the U.S and a fantastic place to visit for the best fall vacations in the U.S. Amazing national and state parks, ski resorts, lakes, hot springs, mountains, and more provide endless opportunities to view the colors of autumn. You can’t go wrong with a visit to any of the state’s ski resort towns such as Aspen and the nearby Maroon Bells. Cottonwood Pass, a mountain pass that travels over the Continental Divide, is also an excellent spot to peep fiery oaks and vibrant aspens and at their peak.
While Rocky Mountain National Park is magnificent all year round, Colorado has a number of wonderful state parks to view fall foliage, including Red Rock State Park, where the backdrop of red sandstone against crimson, amber, and auburn leaves is a sight to behold. Don’t forget to visit Colorado Springs for Garden of the Gods and incredible views atop Pikes Peak, accessible via the Broadmoor Manitou and Cog Railway. If you don’t want to drive, small group tours are available from Denver.
Maine is a state where foliage is the ‘main’ attraction in fall. Areas such as Bar Harbor and the Western Lakes Region are wonderful places to visit with plenty of ways to see foliage from the ground, air, and sea. Go kayaking, birdwatching, or whale watching in Acadia National Park. Take the gondola or chair lift at Sugarloaf ski area, and go sailing on Long Lake. The town of Bar Harbor makes a great place to explore the state. Book a stay at the redesigned boutique Bayview Hotel for a luxury stay with direct ocean views.
Arkansas might not come to mind when you think of fall foliage, but Ozark National Forest is a surprinsgly great place for the best fall vacations. With temperatures that are generally milder than northern states, you can view foliage in reasonably comfortable weather in “The Natural State.” There are also a few scenic routes to drive, including the Pig Trail Byway and the Scenic 7 Byway, where a great place to stop for lunch is the Cliff House Inn and Restaurant, which overlooks the “Grand Canyon of the Ozarks.”
This part of the state has numerous hiking trails with breathtaking views. Try the rugged Big Bluff Trail, a six-mile out-and-back trail; Sam’s Throne, a 2.6-mile loop trail; Whitaker Point Trail, an easy three-mile route; Signal Hill Trail, a moderate 1.5-mile trail that leads to the highest point in Arkansas.
New York has two fantastic mountain areas for viewing fall foliage: the Catskills Mountains and the Adirondack Mountains. There are plenty of things to do in the Catskills, from corn mazes to craft beer tours. You should also plan to do some amazing hikes in Hannacroix Creek Preserve.
In the Adirondacks, apple picking at one of the dozens of orchards such as Saratoga Apple, Inc. and wine tastings at Adirondack Winery are fun fall activities. In addition, the region hosts the Adirondack Film Festival and is a great place to take a boat or dinner cruise on Lake George to see the foliage from the water.
For some gorgeous fall scenery, head to the upper Northwest and visit Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. Just east of Portland, Oregon the Columbia River Gorge is a wonderful place to take a forested hike on the Cape Horn Trail or go horseback riding through the gorge with Northwest Lake Riding Stables. Spend the night at the charming Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins. Take a drive along Mt. Hood Scenic Byway for amazing views, and hike a number of trails of different levels from the easy Little Zigzag Falls and Lost Lake Loop to the moderate Castle Canyon Trail.
Autumn is a great time to visit the Greater Smoky Mountains region. The area has numerous unique fall events and festivals, including Chalkfest, Ober’s Oktoberfest, and the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair. There are also many family-friendly venues to experience such as Dollywood, Anakeesta, and Rowdy Bear Mountain Adventure Park.
You’ll certainly want to spend time in the outdoors at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Three great trails to see awesome foliage are the 2.4-mile Laurel Falls Trail, Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower Trail, and the Gatlinburg Trail. Rent a cabin in the woods to observe the beautiful foliage from your window, porch, or balcony.
Door County occupies a beautiful peninsula jutting into upper Lake Michigan. Being surrounded by water means the county has endless water views, which in fall provides an array of beautiful blues and fall colors. There are several waterfront towns in the county offering special events such as cider-pressing parties and pumpkin patch festivals. Of course, while in Wisconsin, you have to try Wisconsin cheese, and a popular snack to try is cheese curds from Renard’s. Drive along Skyline Road and Jens Jenson Road for spectacular scenery, and tour the county via boat, trolley, or foot.
Where would you recommend that others go to have the best fall vacations in the U.S.?