The days are getting shorter and temperatures are cooling off—there’s no denying it: Summer is drawing to a close. It’s tough to pack away boats, swimsuits, and other favorite summer accessories. But there’s good news, too. The most colorful time of year is about to begin.
From cozy New England hideaways to long cross-country drives, fall foliage will soon be in full swing. Celebrate the change in seasons with a trip to one of these ten cities, whose fall colors outshine all the rest.
1. Stowe, Vermont
With fewer than 4,500 residents, tiny Stowe is the quintessential quaint New England town, and it’s at its peak in autumn. Colors ramp up during the last week in September and last until mid-October, and the town even maintains a Foliage Central web page to keep leaf peepers up to speed on where and how to see the best colors. Take a drive on the Green Mountain Scenic Byway, or ride up the ski area’s gondola for a bird’s eye view.
2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, steeped in American history, is the ideal place to take in coastal fall colors. Tour the ten-acre outdoor Strawbery Banke Museum, chock-full of foliage and restored seventeenth-century homes, then take an Inland River & Fall Foliage Cruise to see colors from a unique vantage point. The Seacoast Region heats up in October and early November.
3. Oakland, Maryland
It’s not hard to see why Travel and Leisure Magazine named Oakland the best town in America to visit for fall colors. The town holds the Autumn Glory Festival each October, when foliage is most vibrant. Visitors can wind through the Allegheny Mountains by car on the Historic National Road, or hike along the Youghiogheny River in Swallow Falls State Park, where leaves are brilliantly yellow, orange, and red.
4. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
From early October to early November, the Great Smoky Mountains light up, and Gatlinburg—the gateway to its namesake national park—is the best place to base camp as you take in the sights. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to over 800 miles of trails, allowing hikers to see American beeches, hickories, sweetgums, hobblebush, and scarlet oaks, among others. The park links to webcams, so visitors can check out where to hike and drive.
5. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Unlike the naturally-occurring fall colors on the eastern seaboard, the foliage in Lake Geneva was engineered by humans. When Chicagoans built their mansions here in the late 1800s, they added a dash of color, too. Don’t miss the three-mile drive down Snake Road, or check out the Lake Geneva Lake Shore Path for 21 miles of hiking—or, for a 360-degree view, book a sunset hot air balloon tour.
6. Harbor Springs, Michigan
The Tunnel of Trees is no exaggeration. This is perhaps one of the most scenic fall drives anywhere in the country. Take a 50- or 110-mile drive on M119, 20 miles of which winds along the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, where the foliage is breathtaking. For a romantic getaway, end the tour at Mackinac Island, which is ablaze for most of October.
7. Estes Park, Colorado
Situated at the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park offers views of dazzling golden aspen groves when the mercury starts to drop. But that’s not all it has to recommend it. Autumn visitors can head into the park to hear and see the elk bugle, or take a scenic drive over Trail Ridge Road, which offers a glimpse of the Rockies’ alpine ecosystem.
8. Whitefish, Montana
Montana’s rugged reputation holds up in Whitefish. Just minutes from gorgeous Glacier National Park, the town’s fall colors are in striking contrast to its evergreen trees, and you can see it all while paddling serene Whitefish Lake. Much of the foliage here starts to turn in September, but the larch trees—the highlight of a fall foliage tour in Montana—hold out until mid-October.
9. Taos, New Mexico
Taos, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Range, offers leaf peepers a chance to see quaking aspens turn gold and even deep orange—all set against the scenic backdrop of the American Southwest. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway circumvents the highest point in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak, and accesses the easy-to-moderate hiking (and prime picnicking opportunities) on the Columbine Trail.
10. Hood River, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge boasts some of the best views in the Cascade Range year-round, but it’s extraordinary in the fall. Book a rafting or kayaking trip for a whirlwind tour, or, if you prefer to focus all your energy on the colors, hike to Dry Creek Falls in mid-to-late October. When you’ve had your fill of fall hues, relax with a walk along the Columbia River or tour Hood River’s numerous breweries.
Bonus: Palmer, Alaska
Don’t let anyone tell you Alaska doesn’t get color in the fall. A drive along the Glenn Highway from Palmer to Valdez on the Glenn and Richardson Highways contains some of the most incredible views in North America, and there’s no better time to see the foothills of the Talkeetna Range than when they’re ablaze with color. Head up to Hatcher Pass, just a few miles from Palmer, to see rugged reds, oranges, and yellows, along with an historic mine—and don’t forget your bear spray.
Originally written by RootsRated for Craghoppers.
Featured image provided by Stewart Photography