Before the mad rush for Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving travel and holiday shopping frenzy, pack up the car and get ready to go on an awesome autumn adventure. From the urban gardens of Chicago to the peaks of the Smoky Mountains, we’ve picked 22 of our favorite places to see fall color with the family. Scroll down to see them all.
The Main Highlands, ME
In mid-October, places like Bar Harbor become the center of activity for tourists who still want to take in some sea air while also seeing the gorgeous colors of autumn. There are beautiful family friendly historic hotels to stay at in the area, and visitors can also enjoy everything from kayaking to whale watching at Acadia National Park. For a total Maine fall foliage tour, head to The Maine Highlands. Start your journey in Bangor to explore Cascade Park and continue on to Maine's largest lake, Moosehead, in Greenville. Leaf enthusiasts can visit the state's official foliage website Main Foliage to receive weekly reports, and see photos from throughout the state as the progression of color begins.
The Catskill Mountains - NY
The Catskill Mountains offer the perfect fall panorama. Colorful changing leaves turn the Catskill Mountains into a multi-color work of art. There's no better way to take in the foliage than adventuring outside! From hiking to camping, there are many family-friendly ways your clan can enjoy the area. You can even zip above the treetops on a Scenic Skyride or Zipline Adventure Tour at Hunter Mountain.
If driving is more your speed, travel across rolling farm country and down winding roads. Go across hillsides to check out magnificent waterfalls where reflections of changing leaves bounce of the water. The Catskills hold endless opportunities for seeing fall foliage. They have been the vacation destination of choice for generations of families and are a short drive from several major metro areas.
Fall is definitely in the air in Vermont! Foliage color starts to change in the higher, cooler areas of the Green Mountains, spreading down into the Lake Champlain Valley and Connecticut River Valley, and moving from north to south across the state. Located at the foot of Mount Mansfield, Stowe offers the perfect destination for a fall getaway. Surrounded by renowned fall foliage, you can hike the woodland paths, stroll the historic village, and take in some local Fall Festivals! Stowe is, in fact, called “Fall’s Color Capital.”
Good to know: If you’re fans of The Sound of Music, stay at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. The entire property is owned and operated by the von Trapp family.
White Mountains & Lake Winnipesaukee Loop - NH
New Hampshire delivers flamboyant fall foliage through October. In the White Mountains, take a scenic drive along the Kancamagus Highway, between North Conway and Lincoln. The Kancamagus is more than 26 miles of roadway for leaf peepers to enjoy the beautiful scenes. When you’re worn out from the days’ activities, head to one of the area’s cozy inns.
In the Lakes region, crystal lakes add some blue to the view near Winnipesaukee and Squam lakes. The Lake Winnipesaukee loop is about 75 miles long. New Hampshire's largest lake presents beautiful views across the water as you roam through charming towns and villages like Laconia, Wolfeboro, and Moultonborough.
Taos & The Enchanted Circle - NM
The southwestern landscape of New Mexico is a must-see in the fall, especially driving around one of America’s most scenic drives: The Enchanted Circle. This is an 83-mile drive that connects the towns of Taos, Eagle Nest, Red River, and Questa—and you will find some truly spectacular views. Head down the Corrales Road Scenic Byway and breathe in the smell of roasting green chile in the fall. The Bosque's 400 acres along ten miles of the river provide habitat for almost 200 species of migrating and nesting birds, making bird watching a favorite activity.
Tallulah Gorge State Park & Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway - GA
Georgia’s much more than just peaches, y'all! In October and November, Georgia’s landscape converts into a palette of striking fall colors. Travel along the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway-CNF to behold one of the most stunning mountainous fall foliage sites. The winding road is lined by trees in various fall hues. Take a turnoff with scenic overlooks along the way. You can also meander two Appalachian Trail crossing points. For truly notable scenes, check out Tallulah Gorge State Park, one of the Southeast’s most popular canyons. Hike on trails overlooking the rim and waterfalls and take in the glimmering yellow oaks and red-tinted maple trees. And Amicalola Falls State Park is home to Georgia's tallest waterfall. At over 700 feet, it can be seen from different trails along the park, and the bottom of the falls gives visitors a beautiful view of Georgia’s maple and oak trees.
Quebec's Eastern Townships - Canada
For Northeastern folks, leaf peeping in Canada is easy as 1-2-3. Fall in Québec sweeps in with a burst of color, aroma and flavor. A short drive from Montreal, the Eastern Townships are breathtaking in autumn! Leaves turn their distinctive reds, yellows and oranges and orchards are loaded with fruit ready for picking.
Let the kids roam around Bromont which is also conveniently, the starting point of the Wine Route! Its attractive fall landscapes and its biking and hiking trails will make you want to stay forever. Be sure to stroll down Shefford Street in the Vieux-Village center, where fun boutiques fuse with a chocolate museum, and a heritage tour. Or enjoy the fall foliage by biking along Granby, which has a fabulous bike path popular among cyclists as well as Parc national de la Yamaska. Of particular beauty in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is Canada’s infamous maple tree, in which the accumulation of sugar in the sap is what accounts for the brilliant red of the leaves, whose hue varies depending on the soil composition.
The Tidal Basin—Washington, DC
This man-made inlet to the Potomac River is most famous for the springtime National Cherry Blossom Festival but it’s just as spectacular in the fall. The 3,000+ cherry trees put on a good show and there’s plenty of rambling paths to take to breathe in the fall air. Kick it near the Jefferson Memorial for a great view. For more great fall colors around DC, click here.
Tualatin Hills Nature Park—Beaverton, OR
Though it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from downtown Portland, this park feels a world away. It’s a 222-acre wildlife preserve and home to a variety of animals along with some stunning fall foliage. Hit the 5-mile (paved) Vine Maple Trail for your postcard perfect shot. Word to the wise: no pups except service animals allowed. Click here for other nearby parks for stunning color hikes.
Fish Creek—Door County, WI
This little town in Door County puts on one of the best fall color displays in the state and some of the best in the entire country. Along with pumpkin patches and apple orchards, this part of the northern Door Peninsula keeps you snapping those photos with shot after shot of postcard-worthy images. Visit Fish Creek Park to start: it’s a 27-acre walking park full of easy with views of the creek and small ponds. Peninsula State Park will offer plenty of views of Lake Michigan and the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. After all that exploring, grab a crazy-good wood-fired pizza a Wild Tomato and pop into the Whistling Swan Inn for dessert (and a pint!).
Smoky Mountains - Gatlinburg, TN
Whether you’re going to drive the mountain roads, hike the many trails or climb to the top of the Space Needle to survey the land (or do all of these!) autumn is an ideal time to visit the Gatlinburg area. Head to the highest point in the Smokies—the observation tower at Clingmans Dome—for a view of the changing colors from 6,643 ft. It’s a scenic drive and a short hike to the tower.
Adirondack Park - Northville, NY
The largest park in the continental United States, it won’t surprise you to find outstanding fall color in the 6,000,000 acres of land. Don’t be overwhelmed by all that beauty though: choose one of the 14 scenic drives in the park. We love the Speculator to Indian Lake journey—it’s 24 miles of maple, beech and birch on display. Word to the wise: your phone probably won’t work here so use it as a camera and enjoy the peace.
Columbia River Gorge - OR & WA
Take your pick: on the Oregon side you can get up close and personal with some stunning color without having to stray too far from your auto, plus you get the added bonus of waterfalls. Try the gentle 2.4-mile hike around Latourell Falls or the explore the grand dame of Multnomah Falls. Make a stop in Corbett, OR at the historic Vista House. On the Washington side, you’ll have less waterfall and more sweeping views. Check out the Goldendale Observatory and surrounding park for an unforgettable autumnal site.
Chicago Botanic Garden - Chicago, IL
Who says you have to leave the city limits to be wowed by autumn colors? The Chicago Botanic Garden features 385 acres of gardens to explore and in the autumn you’ll find not just brilliant tree colors (on trees great and small) but also lots of cool events like their night of 10,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns in late October. Kids can grab seasonal bingo cards to spot what has changed since the last season. Find more Chicago-area leaf gazing here.
Nevada City, CA
This little Victorian hamlet in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada offers big charm and plenty of gorgeous color within a few hours of the San Francisco Bay Area. Head out of the town proper on Highway 49 to hike the Independence Trail for some canyon views of color you’ll want to write a poem about. Fuel up on a Cajun-inspired breakfast at Ike’s Quarter Cafe before you hit the trails. Want to do some post-hiking shopping? Get your latte at the Curly Wolf (on the ground floor of the iconic National Hotel) and then stroll the streets.
Tunnel of Trees - Harbor Springs, MI
In the northwestern part of Lower Michigan, you’ll find the Tunnel of Trees—a 30-mile stretch of road that you can drive or bike. Located near Harbor Springs, there just happens to be an amazing farm/winery/cafe/brewery (yes, all of those things) right near the start of the famous Tunnel. Pond Hill Farm is open year-round until 6 p.m. and is a great place to stop for lunch or to pick up some fresh jams from the farm store. There are also trails to hike onsite.
Maudslay State Park - Newburyport, MA
It’s no surprise that New England has few rivals when it comes to abundant fall color and small towns sprinkled among the forests, but this 480-acre estate is well worth a visit. Be sure and check out the rose garden, which is surrounded by trees whose leaves put on a big display. You’ll also find plenty of formal gardens, a stone bridge, historic buildings and a path along the Merrimack River—all perfect for your family fall photo shoot.
Malibu Creek State Park - Agoura Hills, CA
Head for the hills, or the mountains at least: the Santa Monica Mountains provide some of the best leaf peeping in the southern half of the state. Here you’ll find old growth trees, low elevation hiking for newbies and the requisite babbling brook. Because the park also sports lots of sycamore trees, the fall color lasts well into the winter months. Want more Los Angeles area fall color hikes? Check them out here.
Lake Superior North Shore - Cook County, MN
From the shores of Lake Superior and Split Rock Lighthouse, an iconic lighthouse and history museum, to the gondola ride above Mt. Lutsen, there’s no shortage of fall splendor along this stretch of Northern Minnesota. Hike through Gooseberry Falls State Park for that unbelievable combo of fall color and one of the best waterfalls in the entire state. Keep heading north to the town of Grand Marais where you can take some inspiring classes at the North House Folk School. Click here for more tips for visiting this stretch of Lake Superior shoreline.
Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum - Bristol, RI
There are fall colors, and then there are fall colors as a backdrop to an early 1900s mansion that is country manor enough to make you feel posh just by being in its shadow. You can actually tour the 45-room mansion, along with the spectacular gardens including many rare and unusual plants. There are also a host of events including regular guided Saturday Strolls and yoga (through the end of Sep.).
Mount Rainier - Ashton, WA
Just under two hours from Seattle, this extinct volcano is not just for summer trips: fall is a stunning time to visit. You’ll find fewer crowds, way fewer bugs and a gorgeous array of trails to take on, from basic to advance. Sep. 19-20 hosts the Rainier Mountain Festival—think everything from music to yoga to alpine games to celebrity mountaineers. Looking for more fall color excursions near Seattle? Check here.
Fort Tyron Park - Manhattan, NY
Of course, nothing compares to Central Park for fall color in the heart of the city, but Fort Tyron Park gives it a run for its money. It’s one of the highest points in all of Manhattan, which means you’ll get impressive views of the Hudson River and Palisades Park. As an added bonus, there are two playgrounds here so you can swing into the season! Want our other favorite NYC spots for color? Click here.
—Guiomar Ochoa with Amber Guetebier
featured photo: Annie Spratt via Unsplash