Warm sweaters, crisp air, the scent of wood smoke on the breeze—what isn’t there to love about fall? If we had to pick our favorite thing, however, it would have to be the leaves—the incredible golds and reds that burst across the trees, curtains upon curtains of them drifting down to earth.
Watching the colors change is a cherished tradition in New England, to the point that it even has its own name: leaf peeping. But you don’t need to be an expert to get swept up in the beauty of it all. From the coast of New England to the Pacific Northwest, here are nine places you can experience this year’s foliage in all its glory.
Stowe is the quintessential New England town in many ways. It has a tiny population, a picturesque main street, and a white church steeple rising against the hills. And above all, it lays claim to a stunning display of Vermont fall foliage. Tucked into a densely wooded valley, what feels like every inch of town explodes into exquisite yellows and golds when fall rolls around. It’s no accident that TripAdvisor named Stowe its #1 foliage destination in America in 2015.
Perched on the Merrimack River in the very northeastern tip of Massachusetts, Newburyport is home to Maudslay State Park, a 19th-century estate that has since been converted into a 483-acre park. Maudslay’s stone bridges and walking trails are beautiful any time of year, but their most breathtaking season is unquestionably autumn, when the meadows and gardens transform into a luminescent tapestry. The park doubles as a bald eagle sanctuary, so keep an eye open and you might spot one of these majestic birds courting a mate amongst the leaves.
Let’s be honest: Camden doesn’t need to be any prettier. A coastal town whose harbor is perennially dotted with the white curves of sailboats, Camden is blue-skied in the summer and snow-dusted in the winter. But then there’s fall, when the dense wall of maple trees surrounding the town erupts into a blazing shade of red, resulting in some of the best Maine leaf peeping you’re likely to find. You can enjoy the colors from anywhere in town, but the best view has to be from the nearby summit of Mt. Battie, which offers a sweeping panorama of the town and harbor below.
The Deep Creek Lake area is home to Maryland’s tallest free-standing waterfall (Swallow Falls), its largest lake (Deep Creek Lake), and one of its most stunning shows of autumn foliage. Each fall, the oaks and hickory trees that blanket the area burst into a patchwork quilt of yellows, oranges, and reds. Visit Oakland in early October for its annual Autumn Glory Festival, or hike along the banks of Deep Creek Lake to see the colors reflected in its still, mirror-like waters.
Of all the towns on this list, Ellijay might take home the prize for “Most Autumnal.” The self-proclaimed “Apple Capital of Georgia,” this charming town is home to the Georgia Apple Festival, a celebration of all things red and delicious held each October. Sip a mug of freshly-pressed hot cider, go for a hayride through the fields, or pick your own apples right from the trees as the leaves change around you. If there’s a better distillation of all things fall, we haven’t found it.
Colors right out of an oil painting, rolling hills fading into the distance, and the cold mountain air against your face: it’s autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains, and Gatlinburg is a wonderful home base. With more than 100 different types of trees—including sugar maple, scarlet oak, and American beech—it’s no accident that this 800-square-mile park boasts one of the most vibrant expanses of color in the country. Plus, fall foliage is more vibrant at higher elevations, giving the Smokies an extra advantage. Take the Gatlinburg Sky Lift to the top of Crockett Mountain for a jaw-dropping 360-degree view.
Leaf peeping is traditionally associated with New England, but there are plenty of other places to watch the colors change if you can’t make it out to the East Coast this fall. Like Aspen, whose magnificent combination of snow-capped mountains and brilliant colors might even give New England a run for its money! From hiking to biking to scenic drives—not to mention some of the most sought-after skiing in the country—this popular mountain town is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to combine their peeping with exhilarating outdoor recreation.
Nestled between Schweitzer Mountain and Lake Pend Oreille—the fifth-deepest lake in the United States—Sandpoint boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beautiful foliage. But even more notable is the town’s placement on the Selkirk Loop, a 280-mile scenic drive that circles through Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia. With the Cabinet Mountains rising imposingly in the distance, and the yellows and oranges at their base thrown into sharp relief against the dark shades of evergreens, this breathtaking route is one of the best ways to experience autumn in the Northwest.
Hood River, Oregon
Oregon is, in many ways, a microcosm of the rest of the country, combining forests, deserts, mountains, and beaches into one spectacularly beautiful state. And so too is Hood River, a picturesque town in the Columbia River Gorge 60 miles east of Portland. Beautiful hikes through rolling hills? Check. Local farms flooded with crisp apples and pears? Check. A lively harvest festival with live music, pumpkin carving, and art vendors? Check and check. Bundle up against the chill, breathe in the smell of leaves, and let the colors of an Oregon fall sweep you away.
Featured photo courtesy of Aaron Burden
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