Published August 2020
Each fall, thousands of people partake in a time-honored, yet recently rebranded, tradition known as leaf peeping. From late September to early November, fall foliage is on full display as hues of gold, orange, red, and purple take hold of the summer’s bright green leaves, and travelers hit the road from miles around to catch a glimpse.
The best part is that you don’t have to leave the comfort and safety of your car (or bike!) to enjoy the sights and smells of the fall season, making leaf peeping a perfectly COVID-friendly activity. Here are our top 9 leaf peeping 2020 destinations from east to west.
Please check local restrictions before traveling.
Featured Vacasa home: The Escape at Thunder Snow
In our most northeastern state, fall colors progress from north to south, and there’s no place quite like Bethel to take it all in. Bethel is hailed as a classic New England village where stunning lighthouses and delicious Maine lobster meet expansive national parks and moose sightings. To take in the most picturesque views, plan your trip to Bethel in early October, where you can experience some of the best leaf peeping in Maine by car, foot, bike, or even canoe or kayak. To wrap up the day, visit one of the many mom-and-pop eateries where sitting down for coffee and a slice of pie is a celebrated activity.
Featured Vacasa home: Northridge 468
Fun fact: according to the DCNR Fall Foliage Reports, Pennsylvania has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than anywhere in the world. More than 134 species of trees, shrubs, and vines contribute to the region's vibrant autumn display. One of the best places to take it all in is Tannersville, a Poconos Mountain town nestled against Big Pocono State Park and the ever-popular Camelback Mountain Ski Area. Mountain maples, quaking aspens, pin cherries, and more blanket miles of natural terrain showing off their newfound color patterns.
Featured Vacasa home: Wild Bird View
North Carolina puts on a show worthy of a stage every fall, with a nearly five-week peak season for fall foliage. Really, you can find places all over the state to view the kaleidoscope of colors if you time it right. One of our favorite spots is near Asheville, where you’ll find the charming town of Sylva. Located at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains, Sylva will evoke all the feelings of fall with colorful trees that surround a truly welcoming destination. Be sure to spend some time strolling Main Street, which was made famous by the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Featured Vacasa home: Playin’ Hookie
Vibrant autumnal colors in Pigeon Forge draw guests by the thousands to the area during the long, warm fall season. Due to the region’s diverse tree species, leaf peeping guests in Pigeon Forge can experience deep reds, bright oranges, and stunning ambers. One unique aspect of leaf peeping in Tennessee is that the state offers specialized viewfinders for those who have protanopia or protanomaly, more commonly known as red/green colorblindness, so all guests can experience the true beauty of the season.
Featured Vacasa home: Sounds of Silence
Blue Ridge is making just about every one of our lists right now, as it was recently featured as one of the Top 25 Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home. While homes there provide owners with an impressive rental income each year, it’s safe to assume a portion of that is due to travelers who make their way south during the fall. In the heart of Blue Ridge is the Aska Adventure Area—rich with wildlife, vegetation, and (of course) the rainbow of fall colors that flank the Toccoa River. For a more relaxing view, where leaf peeping can be accomplished with a glass of red in hand, book one of our Blue Ridge vacation homes with a large patio among the trees. It’ll have you singing “Georgia on My Mind” for years to come.
Featured Vacasa home: Ishkode Chalet
While New England comes to mind as the leaf peeping capital of the country, Wisconsin is nipping at its heels. The entire state is chock-full of scenic drives just waiting to be explored, many of which you can find in Eagle River. Located on a large chain of freshwater lakes—28 to be exact—Eagle River is synonymous with fall festivities that include a hayride tour through a cranberry marsh (does it get any more fall than that?) and indulging on caramel apples as yellow and orange leaves dance at your feet. Can’t make it out there? Travel Wisconsin has a wide variety of interactive tools that let you take in leaf peeping from the comfort of your couch.
Featured Vacasa home: 86 Pole Bridge Condominium
There’s really no place like Whitefish at any time of year, but this small Montana town downright captivates in the fall. Kick back in the inviting downtown corridor, where businesses are locally owned and welcome you with open arms. Then head out to catch the colorways on the 26-mile Whitefish Trail. There you can venture on foot or bike as the main path spurs out to various trailheads. If you’re more of a four-wheel traveler, Glacier National Park is just 35 minutes from Whitefish, where you can invest in the two-hour road trip along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Featured Vacasa home: Eagle Crest
Located at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park has a predetermined leaf peeping route that takes you through some of the most intense colors of the fall. Take a twist down the Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway, where you’ll find autumn leaves ranging from bright green to hazy marigold hues of orange and yellow. This particular trail will take you all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park, then drop you in Grand Lake—where the leaf peeping can continue, as exquisite colors are reflected in the lake’s waters. Top it all off with a trip to downtown Grand Lake for a frosty delight from Dairy King before heading back to your relaxing Estes Park vacation rental.
Featured Vacasa home: White Salmon River Refuge
When exploring leaf peeping destinations on the West Coast, you can find the best of both worlds in White Salmon. Take a drive along Highway 84 (in Oregon), where you’ll sneak a peek at Multnomah Falls on the way to Hood River. Along the route, you’ll find stunning views of the fall’s best offerings and waterways to boot. Stop in Hood River for a local craft brew, then head across the Columbia River to lesser-known White Salmon. Wide open spaces, great family-run wineries, and spectacular views of fall in the Pacific Northwest will make you pick up your phone to search homes . . . to buy.