What does the start of fall mean to you? For some, it’s a cozy sweater, the slight chill in the air, or the return of pumpkin spice latte. It’s also the beginning of the holiday season that includes apple and pumpkin pie, apple cider, farmer’s markets, harvest festivals and of course, the changing leaves. From as early as mid-September through late November, these glorious leaves will turn the most breathtaking shades of orange, yellow, red and gold in many towns throughout the U.S. Does fall give you road trip vibes? Why not hop in the car and take a short drive or plan a more extensive getaway with leaf-peeping as a highlight? Road tripping is popular again, giving us a new appreciation for wide-open spaces and the great outdoors. In fall, many of our national parks become a kaleidoscope of crimson, gold and even purple shades that offer a mesmerizing feast for the eyes. While it’s not an easy task to choose amongst the best places to view fall foliage, we’ve narrowed it down to our 11 favorites with some choices that might surprise you.
1. Stowe, Vermont
This charming New England town is best known for its snowy slopes, but it is also the perfect venue for a fall getaway. It’s one of the top destinations listed on all major travel blogs to view stunning fall foliage from early September through late October. Whether you’re driving, on a hike or riding along a bicycle path, you’ll get inspired by the changing leaves that fill the landscape with vibrant colors — so get your camera out and snap away! Also, make sure to explore the scenic views on many of Stowe’s less-traveled roads.
2. Brooklyn, New York
This urban enclave may be a surprising choice, but it can be a leaf-peeper’s dream from as early as late September through early November. Just picture a whole city dotted with trees bursting with vibrant-colored leaves that will soon fall serenely to the ground. Make sure to check out the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for visual displays of breathtaking autumn color at every turn.
3. Catskill Mountains, New York
The Catskill Mountains are one of upstate New York’s most treasured regions for fall activities, providing enough snap-worthy scenic moments to fill your photo albums for a lifetime. From mid-September through mid-October, the fall foliage is at its most fiery peak. In the Catskills, there is a fall activity for everyone to experience with harvest festivals, hayrides, farmer’s markets and pumpkin patches galore.
4. Cape May, New Jersey
It’s called the “Garden State” for a good reason. New Jersey is a small state but boasts the most beautiful greenery, blooms and fall foliage in the Northeast. Cape May, a quaint seaside town, becomes a fall foliage feast for the eyes come mid-October through mid-November. The many historic lighthouses that dot the area give visitors the perfect birds-eye view of fall’s beautiful shades.
5. Aspen, Colorado
In Aspen, it’s not just about snow skiing. This affluent ski town is on every travel writer’s best fall foliage roundup. From mid-September through mid-October, trees called aspens and others are bursting with color against a backdrop of cerulean skies and snowcapped peaks. The ideal place to view fall foliage is the Maroon Bells, a pair of 14,000-foot mountains with a reflective lake at its base. The light that illuminates the mountain range catches fall foliage at stunning angles. Locals say the best viewing time is sunrise.
6. Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is considered one of the most popular travel destinations to view fall foliage. This charming New England coastal town is the gateway to a national park and is a leaf-peeper’s dream. According to the locals, the best place to view the fiery leaves is from the ocean along the coast of Frenchman’s Bay. Rent a kayak in town and enjoy a day out on the bay, or you can view the stunning foliage in Acadia National Park. Rent bikes right in the park or jog along one of the many beautiful trails.
7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
This unique alpine village in the Smoky Mountains offers guests trendy shops, moonshine counters and wine tastings for a memorable getaway any time of year. But fall is a great time to go when the changing colors of leaves can take your breath away. The best way to view the scenery is from the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian cable bridge. You can get to the bridge by way of the iconic yellow SkyLift chairs, where you’ll soar 1,800 feet above sea level to experience the most stunning panoramic views of the mountains and the city below.
8. Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania
Planning a trip to the Poconos is always a treat, no matter what season. The region has four counties with numerous scenic vistas and parks to explore. But an autumn trip is extra special because of the stunning fall foliage when the mountains, hills and ridges are ablaze with flaming color. You can take in the views while hiking in Big Pocono State Park in Camelback or take a fun train ride to explore some of the small towns that offer fall foliage tours, tubing, and campfire fun for the whole family.
9. Taos, New Mexico
Taos, in Northern New Mexico, is known for its vibrant local art scene and art galleries. In the fall, the ideal time for foliage viewing is from mid-September to early October. Guests and locals look forward to the aspen trees turning a vibrant yellow and deep gold along the Sangre de Cristo mountainside. New Mexico’s 80-mile scenic byway, the Enchanted Circle, also provides breathtaking views of gold and crimson from Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in Taos.
10. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is an eclectic town that boasts a lively arts and cultural scene. A popular vacation getaway, it’s a bonus if you can plan your trip when the mountains and trees are bursting with red, orange and yellow colors. You can view Asheville’s foliage in all its glory in the mountains and foothills surrounding the town. The Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains have one of the longest fall seasons, perfect for vacationers who want to take amazing photos of these breathtaking colorful vistas.
11. Torreya State Park, Bristol, Florida
Fall foliage in Florida? Yes, it really is true. As you venture further north, it does get a bit cooler in the fall and winter months. You can even see beautiful colors in trees like maple and sugarberry in Orlando and Tallahassee in late October. Torreya State Park in Bristol, located about 20 miles from the Georgia state line, is where you’ll encounter some of the most beautiful foliage that rivals even the Northeast states. Here you’ll enjoy bursts of fiery orange and yellow from the maple, sweetgum, and sourwood trees on view from the bluffs that rise more than 150 feet above the Apalachicola River. The park, frequented for camping, hiking and picnicking, is also a nature preserve, where rare species of plants, birds and other wildlife call home. Go for the fall foliage but stay for this rare park experience.
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By Susan Sherman for NP, Inc.