Fall in the USA is undoubtedly an incredible season across the country as temperatures drop and nature begins to put on its show. And with a country that is filled with so many national parks you’re in for a treat when it comes to witnessing nature do its thing, well, in nature!
No matter where you’re located in the US or across the globe, you’re bound to find some inspiration for some fall vacation ideas for fall foliage (because I don’t doubt you’re going to want to visit more than one place on this round-up). Without further delay, here are the top spots in the USA in the fall.
When is the best time to see fall foliage in the USA?
That answer varies from year to year and depends on which part of the USA you’re hoping to see fall colours in. Your best bet, in general, is between the end of September and mid-October, but warm weather through September could push the changing of colours back.
New England is one of the most popular areas for fall foliage in the USA, with peak colours in the north being the end of September and beginning of October, but by mid-October there is prime viewing across this entire region.
The Midwest and Western states experience the changing of colours in late October, while the South has some leaves changing come late October-November.
Your best bet is to pick a destination that you want to visit and plan accordingly. Many of the parks and some areas will have websites that monitor the colour of the leaves so you know when exactly to head out on a fall trip.
Best Places to See Fall Colours in the USA
While this round-up is far from covering all of the incredible spots for fall foliage in the US, I’m saving you from reading a novel and highlighting some of the most spectacular, popular, and off-the-beaten-track spots for fall vacations and colour sightseeing in the US.
Glacier National Park, Montana
If you’re after some time in nature in a place that is truly filled with fall colours, then Glacier National Park is a top choice. Sitting on the border of Canada, this national park is filled with dramatic landscapes made up by the Rocky Mountain range that spreads across the park. Pair the staggering mountains with picturesque trees of oranges, reds, and yellows with waterfalls, and you have yourself an unforgettable fall destination in the US. While here, don’t miss the Going-on-the-Sun Road to take in the scenery.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is the star of the show in Maine and that’s saying something because the northeastern states of New England are the place to go for a fall trip in the US. This beautiful national park is a highlight for fall lovers and whether you prefer to hike or drive to see this park, it’s well worth it. Try making it to the top of Cadillac Mountain for generous views of reds, yellows, and oranges, or head to one of the beaches for the stark, yet stunning, contrast between the bright leaves and dark blue waters.
Rocky Mountain National Park & San Juan Mountains, Colorado
There is certainly something to be said for the pairing of fall colours and mountains. Combined, these two scenic wonders make a truly epic sight that can be witnessed both in Rocky Mountain National Park and across the San Juan Mountains, just south of the park in Colorado. Fall hiking and road trips alike can be done in these two picturesque spots, where you can see vivid lakes and snowcapped mountains amongst the quickly changing colours.
Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
North Carolina knows a thing or two about putting on a fall show, and while there are numerous destinations for a fall road trip in this state (Pisgah Forest and Linville Falls, to name a couple), Grandfather Mountain takes the cake. Why? Because the view from the top of this mountain is a treat, allowing you to take in all of the other mountains of the Blue Mountains for a scenic sight. Plus, the swinging mile-high bridge is here.
While the whole state of Vermont is known as one of the best places for fall foliage in the US, Montpelier is an excellent place to start. It’s from here that a number of road trips take off from to visit some of the most colourful spots across Vermont. Start in Montpelier and make your way through the Appalachian Gap or to Northeast Kingdom, both of which are truly scenic autumn drives. Some other towns worth checking out in Vermont include Burlington, Bennington, and Stowe.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennesse & North Carolina
A highly visited park, and for good reason, Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans a lot of land and has some of the longest lasting fall colours in the county. Due to the varying elevation and kinds of trees, you can expect to see colours in this park for up to three weeks instead of the average one to two. Head to the Appalachian Trail, Cades Cove, Blue Ridge Parkway, or Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook for fantastic views.
New York City, New York
NYC is a top destination not just because of fall foliage, but also because of the events that are held throughout the city come October. While Central Park really does steal the show with a parade of colours, other parks such as Bloomingdale Park, Prospect Park, and Fort Tryon Park are not to be missed either. Between fall colour sightseeing be sure to check out the Queens Fall Festival, the Halloween Parade in the Village, or even head to Comic Con. Not to mention, a trip to NYC could ideally be paired with stops at some of the other fall destinations in New York state.
Grand Teton National Park & Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
These two famous parks border each other, and both have reasons for visiting in the fall. While Yellowstone may not deliver colours as bright as Grand Teton, it’s still a beautiful place to visit in the fall, with fewer visitors too. Check out Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley for picturesque sights in Yellowstone, and make your way to Grand Teton to stop by one of the most photographed spots in the park, Oxbow Bend, and other fall foliage destinations such as Willow Flats and Two Oceans Lake Road.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Heading over to the East Coast, Shenandoah Nationa Park is highlighted here because of a scenic drive: the Skyline Drive. As you twist and turn through the park you’ll find many lookouts to stop at, and may even enjoy a hike through the fall foliage in the chilly weather to warm up.
The Catskills, New York
The Catskills draw visitors in year after year to witness the colours pop on the trees. As one of the best places to visit in the USA in the fall, The Catskills certainly don’t disappoint. Aside from stunning hiking options to gorgeous viewpoints, you also have the option to take in the fall foliage by train on the Delaware & Ulster Railroad, or from above trees on a zipline adventure. But perhaps a more relaxed fall vacation in the US is on your mind. Why not join a yoga retreat complete with hiking and yoga flows in a scenic outdoor setting.
Zion National Park, Utah
More than red rocks and canyons, Zion is a great spot for a US fall vacation or road trip. With the differing elevations of this park, you get tree leaves changing colour at different times, making it easier to catch some fall foliage sights. Plus with a backdrop of red rock, it really is a unique fall destination.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Washington certainly does not shy away from when it comes to beauty, and Mount Rainier National Park is no exception. Opt to visit during the autumn months and be prepared to be blown away as the colours change and the leaves fall, creating a natural masterpiece that you can witness up close. Not only are the colours of the trees spectacular, but paired with the many kinds of low bushes, succulents, and other flora make Mount Rainier Park a unique place to see fall foliage in the US. And if hiking isn’t your thing, try driving the Chinook Scenic Byway for top-notch views of the park.
Napa Valley, California
I couldn’t resist including Napa Valley on this round-up for fall colours simply because it takes wine tasting to a whole other level. The lush green vineyards turn into an array of bright reds, oranges, and yellows, offering visitors the chance to cozy up with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon by a fire or overlooking the fields of vines from a table while wrapped up in a scarf. This kind of relaxing holiday is made all the more special when the fall colours come out in Northern California.
Enjoy autumn in the USA!