The 10 best fall foliage destinations in North America

With the dimming light of summer comes shorter evenings and turtlenecks, but it’s not all ugliness because along with poor style choices we also get epic fall foliage, mulled cider and more tolerance for hand-holding. Kick through rust-covered leaves along seasonal Acadia National Park fall trails or hide away in Ozark National Forest cabins among rustic lake landscapes that’ll have you gagging for some kind of mulled beverage. So, to mourn the end of summer and celebrate cooler climes, we’ve put together a list of the best places for fall foliage across the US and Canada so you don’t have to!

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Forested three quarters of the way through, Woodstock in Vermont is a very viable candidate for the best New England fall foliage if not the entire US

1. Bar Harbor, Maine

Early on in the fall season is the best time for Maine fall foliage, with the area around Bar Harbor becoming a popular viewing point around mid-October. Thankfully the area is huge and visitors are easily able to find a private spot beneath the falling red, yellow and orange leaves while staying in Bar Harbor. Consider staying at a historic hotel, resting up beside the coast or taking adventurous days of kayaking, bird watching and whale watching in the region. Also nearby, you’ll find Acadia National Park a prime photography spot that is also quite fun to get to. Go via one of the five scenic byways that run along the coast near Acadia, including the Schoodic National Scenic Byway which passes through a series of fishing villages and forested cliffs along 43 kilometres of coastal road.

Get behind the wheel to see the full glory of Maine in the fall as well as its neighbouring states, with our great New England Road Trip for navigation.

Bar Harbor, Maine | Photo: David Mark

2. Woodstock, Vermont

Forested three quarters of the way through, Woodstock in Vermont is a very viable candidate for the best New England fall foliage if not the entire US. Maple trees abound in Woodstock, particularly in the area surrounding the central square, aptly named ‘the Green’, where 18th and 19th century residences and grand whitewashed churches back onto the Ottauquechee River. The best way to see Vermont in the fall is to travel to Woodstock and get a touch of the slow life, wandering over bridges and people-watching from café windows, all with crisp air and an autumnal backdrop if you come at the right time. On chilly days, wrap your mitts around a hot apple cider or, on warmer ones, go pumpkin picking in the outlying farmland.

Though the state is lovely at any time of year, fall in Vermont is a real winner meaning that rooms get booked up fast. Book your lodging at least six months in advance to get the best options, planning trips out early in the week to avoid crowds at photography hotspots such as Billing’s Farm and The Woodstock Inn. Also a must during Vermont fall is an adventure to the nearby Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park or slightly further to the Green Mountain National Forest out in Rutland.

Woodstock, Vermont | Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Drew Hays

3. New York State

When you think of New York in fall you might focus on Central Park, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and autumnal cityscapes from the Rockefeller Centre, but there’s also a whole S to discover outside of NYC. In an easy drive from the Upper West Side, you’ll be in reach of the Staten Island Greenbelt, with the Catskills and the Adirondack Mountains both further out with more hiking opportunities and views over the region. Come between late September and late October for the best New York fall foliage stretching across 700,000 acres and 3,500 feet up in the Catskill Mountains alone. The journeys to these ranges are also worth slowing down for, allowing for rustic landscapes along scenic roadways ending in 98 mountain peaks covered in stunning Catskills fall foliage. While here, enjoy leisurely hiking trails on Mount Utsayantha and Castle Rock overlooking Blue Mountain Lake, seeking out the original site of Woodstock festival in the wooded hills or moving into the villages for craft fairs and farmers’ markets.

But New York State has much more up its sleeve in the way of autumnal magic, firstly with Letchworth State Park, the so-called “Grand Canyon of the East”. Depending of your energy levels you can either walk the Gorge Trail or white-water raft through on the Genesee River. Alternatively for an Upstate New York fall to remember, Breakneck Ridge high up on the hills of Hudson Highlands State Park can allow for a rocky climb along riverfront trails with epic scenery and views over Storm King Mountain as your reward. Then to the very east, way out past Long Island and abutting the North Atlantic, you’ll find Montauk Point Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the US. Out one window there’s stellar ocean views, while out the other it’s contrasting leafy views for days!

Central Park, NYC | Photo: David Mark

4. Quebec City, Canada

Quebec fall hits different, not least because of its short-lived nature. From a humid summer comes a long, frigid Canadian winter but connecting the two is the transitional period marked by harvest season and rusty red landscapes throughout. Not only is Quebec City more comfortable to explore in fall, but it’s also decidedly cosy, with knitted sweaters and hot chocolates for all. Enjoy the dying light over any of the province’s one million (!) lakes and streams or simply stay in your city apartment warming your toes by the fire after a long day of harvest festivities and arts and culture.

Besides the city’s natural setting, Quebec’s national parks and reserves offer seasonal days out for those keen on getting even closer the nature. Try hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horse riding and kayaking in many of them, starting at the Parc National de la Jaques-Cartier for 100 kilometres of trails, followed by the Marais du Nord Wetlands for birdwatching and Saint-Charles Lake views. Bikers or those keen on ascending the mountain via chairlift can try Mont-Sainte-Anne, where the canyons come with 3 suspension bridges strung up to 60 meters above the gorge. If wildlife is what you’re after, both the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area and the Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix see the annual migration of thousands of Snow Geese each spring and fall, with the latter also hosting a year-round mountain resort – primed for skiing, biking and hiking in season – with views over the massif and St. Lawrence River any time of year.

Want to extend your North American vacation on four wheels? Take our road trip from NYC to Canada.

Quebec, Canada | Photo: Nathan Guan

5. Smoky Mountains, Tennessee & North Carolina

Under joint custody of both Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smoky Mountains is certainly a range you would never give up for adoption. Boasting over 1,300 kilometres of forest drawn through with hiking trails, these mountains are just as good seen from a car or motorcycle as they are on foot. Stay in the national park itself at one of the many lodgings dotted on either side of state lines, or try the historic Tennessee town of Gatlinburg or North Carolina’s Asheville, both based not far from the park’s entrance. Staying in Asheville, you’ll have access to the beauty of the Smoky Mountains with none of the effort, as Asheville fall colours are famous state-wide and beyond.

Timing your trip for Smoky mountains fall foliage isn’t as easy as you might think; come to early you’ll still be seeing greens, but come too late and the forest canopy will be bare. See the national park website for updates on the official start of the season, learning of the range’s 100 native tree species before seeing them first hand as they change to varying shades of red, orange and yellow and set the mountainside aglow.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee | Photo: Chad Madden

Tennessee | Photo: Chad Madden

6. Stowe, Vermont

Sixth on the hunt for fall colours near me is Stowe in Vermont, a historic community backed by the lofty Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Stay in boutique accommodation while in town, wining and dining yourself amidst ‘Fall’s Colour Capital’ from September to October. Though the area is largely known for its winter sports, Stowe is certainly a fall destination too, particularly for hikers and bikers who can take advantage of the mountain’s Sunset Ridge Trail or rather more challenging climb to the 4,393-foot peak. Less daunting ways to enjoy the region is to drive the Mount Mansfield Auto Toll Road discovering the rare plants of the arctic-alpine tundra ecosystem, making it back to town in time for a brewery tour or Halloween-themed detour to the supposedly haunted Emily’s Bridge. Then, for another day, Smugglers Notch State Park is another feature of the region, walkable along a former smuggling route.

Stowe, Vermont | Photo: Dan Mall

Photo: Spenser Sembrat

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Besides Asheville fall foliage, the town is also great for excursions to Looking Glass Falls and Rainbow Falls, picking apples at farms surrounding and joining in with the town’s many festivals

7. Asheville, North Carolina

As well as fronting the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville is equally well situated for visitors keen on heading into the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. Expect dogwood, sassafras and red maple trees all mixed in together and transforming with the seasons, all visible from the charming town of Asheville. Besides Asheville fall foliage, the town is also great for excursions to Looking Glass Falls and Rainbow Falls, picking apples at farms surrounding and joining in with the town’s many festivals.

Note that the higher up in the Blue Ridge Mountains you venture, the sooner fall season gets into full swing. Above 5,000 feet, such as at Graveyard Fields and Grandfather Mountain, you’ll see fall colours as early as late September, while down in town, colours become most alive from mid to late October.

Asheville | Photo: Nathan Andersonjpg

8. White Mountains, New Hampshire

See the White Mountains defy their name come September, turning orange and showcasing the best of New Hampshire’s fall foliage for millions of visitors each year. The 54-kilometre Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) between North Conway and Lincoln is one of the easiest ways to see it all, cutting right through the heart of the White Mountains National Forest. But that’s not all in the way of beautiful drives in New Hampshire, because you’ve also got a choice of the 160-kilometre byway that runs through the Presidential Mountain Range (complete with roadside cider vendors), followed up by the Mount Washington Auto Road which tracks up to the 6,288-foot summit.

Then, as well as mountain roads, New Hampshire has a host of state parks, inclusive of Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch, both offering fabulous views over the region. Great North Woods meanwhile is known for its moose sightings, while over in the lakes region, the tranquil waters of Winnipesaukee and Squam provide deep blue contrast to the browns and reds of the forests beyond.

White Mountains, New Hampshire | Photo: Cloris Ying

Photo: Milos Tonchevski

9. Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

Just when you thought you were sick of the sight of leaves, Ozark National Forest comes at us with a distinct take on fall landscapes. Across 1.2 million acres, the forest’s black gum, maple, hickory, sycamore and oak trees change to vibrant reds, at their brightest in late October and early November, decorating the area’s mountains, springs, rivers and leisure parks. To stay in amongst it all, book Ozark National Forest cabins online, searching well in advance to avoid disappointment. Otherwise, Arkansas has a number of other spots to stop at, including the Ouachita Mountains and Arkansas River Valley, both south of the Ozarks where foliage turns a little later in the season, around mid-November. Turning later still however are the Delta and Gulf Coastal Plain, areas best viewed from the comfort of your car along the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway or the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

If you’re looking for a cosy place to stay in between hiking adventures in the Ozarks, the tiny town of Jasper is a top choice for all the more fall scenery as well as unique attractions such as Triple Falls and Emma’s Museum of Junk. Several drives near Jasper also deserve some attention, such as the Pig Trail Scenic Byway or the Scenic 7 Byway from Russellville, where historic inns line the road at various points in view of the “Grand Canyon of the Ozarks”. Hikers among you can consider a number of options; our top three being the Whitaker Point Trail in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness, the Signal Hill Trail at Mountain Magazine State Park or the Yellow Rock Trail at Devil’s Den State Park.

Photo: Dhery Moelz

10. Aspen, Colorado

Lastly, we arrive in Aspen, Colorado, one of the most famous ski destinations across North America, also unexpectedly sublime in fall. The town’s name even comes from the signature trees that cover the mountains here, best seen from any of the hiking trails on the Maroon Bells, two 14,000-foot mountains belonging to the White River National Forest. Such is the beauty of Aspen fall colours that during peak season in late September you may even have to book an appointment to hike the trails here.

Other trails to consider include Independence Pass and Cathedral Lake, the latter of which moves through aspen groves before reaching a middle point view over the high alpine valley and the waterfalls of Castle Creek. The final part is a steep climb and a stretch across open tundra ending at an alpine lake some 11,888 feet high. If you’re looking for more wintery scenes without the crowds of peak ski season, try the town of Vail where Thanksgiving week sees the arrival of a festive atmosphere, cooler air and cosy lodgings just as the snow begins to fall.

Photo: Danny G

Aspen | Photo: Michael Just

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