When the autumn air cools and the days grow shorter, travelers board planes, trains and automobiles and head for the countryside. Their goal is to capture a riot of fall color as it spreads across the United States. And it’s not just travelers on the hunt. Naturalists, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts also rush to take advantage of the last few golden days of the year. Beat them to it with this handy list of prime “leaf-peeping” hot spots.
Immediately south of Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons rise up to meet the sky in a striking formation. They are awe-inspiring no matter what time of year you visit, but to see them in the fall is especially magical. The season of color extends from the beginning of September through mid-October, with the peak historically landing in the third week of September.
If you go: we recommend taking a wildlife safari. The moose and the elk are both in active rutting season in fall, putting on incredible shows and calling to prospective mates. Bears are found rummaging through shrubs as they prepare for hibernation, and hundreds of other species are actively preparing for winter snows. A guide will be able to show you the animals’ hot spots and can help you with the necessary safety precautions as the animals can become aggressive if startled.
Where to Stay: Blue Moose Lodge
Recognized among the most photographed peaks in the world, the Colorado mountains draw people by the tens of thousands in the fall. The shimmering gold of the aspen groves weaving through towering stands of lodgepole pine and fir trees creates a gasp-worthy sight in nearly every direction. Beginning the third or fourth week of September, and extending through the middle of October, peak color in Colorado typically depends on your altitude. Start up high, and wind your way downhill through the weeks until you end up in Denver.
If you go: we suggest you avoid the crowds by viewing the colorful mountains from the comfort of a train. Schedule a ride on The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and enjoy the view from 200 feet above the Animas river. For travelers looking for something near Denver, we suggest the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad which threads through the Continental Divide along hairpin turns above the Arkansas River Valley.
Where to Stay: Byers Court
Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine:
Fall is glorious in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, when shades of red, orange, and yellow clash together and dazzle the eyes. Beginning with red maples in the north and working its way south, the changing colors are at their peak for several weeks from the end of September all the way through Halloween.
If you go: consider touring through New England’s covered bridges, historic villages, and antique shops. In Maine, the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway takes you through approximately 50 miles of mountains and lakes, home to many varieties of wildlife. The 75 miles from Keene to Franklin in New Hampshire takes you past covered bridges and follows the Currier and Ives Trail. Route 100 runs straight through the middle of Vermont ski country, and was voted the #1 Fall Color Destination by Trip Advisor.
New York & Pennsylvania:
The Adirondacks, Catskills, and Poconos mountain ranges provide ample opportunity for leaf-hunters to capture the perfect bouquet, and even Central Park shows its true colors at this time. Kids love gathering bunches of crispy leaves for the dining room table from oak, beech, maple, and birch.
If you go: there are many fall festivals to choose from. Some of our favorites include the Belleayre Fall Festival of the Catskills in early October, which features live music, pumpkin decorating, delicious food, and more. We also love the Adirondack Balloon Festival in late September which allows spectators a colorful view not just of the countryside, but of the sky itself. And once in your lifetime (at least), you have to experience the Fall Foliage Festival in the (interestingly named) town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. The festival is held over two weeks of October in the Poconos, and includes opera performances, ghost tours, and lots of family friendly activities.
A few key considerations as you plan your fall color travels are: altitude, latitude, and weather. The higher you go, the faster the season changes. The peaks of the rocky mountains at 9,000+ feet are already turning, but the Poconos at 2,000+ feet won’t peak until mid-October. Latitude plays its part as well, as the season changes earlier the further north you travel. The most variable condition is the weather, which can swing peak season by as much as two weeks depending on rainfall and nighttime temperatures. Ask your concierge or check out this handy interactive map for reports of peak conditions as you plan your trip.