What better way to enjoy the brilliant colors of fall than on a leaf-peeping excursion! These fall foliage hot spots offer stunning seasonal displays. To find a destination near you, contact the USDA Forest Service’s fall color hotline at (800) 354-4595.
White Mountains Trail National Scenic Byway, New Hampshire
A highlight of this 100-mile loop through the rugged White Mountain National Forest is the Kancamagus Scenic Byway from Lincoln (pop. 1,662) to Conway (pop. 10,115). Plan ahead: There are restrooms but no gas stations on the 34-mile byway. Fun stops along the trail include Clark’s Trading Post, famous for its trained bears; the Loon Mountain gondola, offering a bird’s-eye-view of fall color; and Flume Gorge, a natural wonder at Franconia Notch State Park. Covered bridges and waterfalls along the way make for picturesque picnicking. Fall colors peak early to mid-October. For more information: (800) 346-3687.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina
America’s most visited national park draws crowds year-round, but October is especially popular. Cades Cove Loop Road and Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Route 441) are the park’s two don’t-miss drives. Or, avoid the crowds and take Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail instead. You’ll see historic log homes and the lovely Grotto Falls. Cosby, Tenn., east of Gatlinburg (pop. 3,944), Tenn., offers a variety of hiking options, and the view from Mount Cammerer Fire Tower is worth the nearly 12-mile trek. On the North Carolina side, take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Balsam Mountain, which features hiking and scenic overlooks. Fall colors peak in mid-October. For more information: (888) 898-9102.
Top of The Rockies National Scenic & Historic Byway, Colorado
In fall, Colorado’s iconic aspen trees give new meaning to the term gold rush. The 115-mile Top of The Rockies Scenic Byway (U.S. Highway 24) cuts through the heart of aspen country. From Minturn (pop. 1,027) head south to Leadville (pop. 2,602), which at 10,152 feet is North America’s highest incorporated city. You’ll see majestic 14,000-foot peaks, old mining towns, and historic Camp Hale, home of the famed “soldiers on skis” of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad offers two-and-a-half-hour guided excursions for superior viewing. Fall comes early at this elevation. Leaf peepers should visit in late September. For more information: (888) 532-3845.
Door County, Wisconsin
This peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan is crisscrossed by the 66-mile Door County Coastal Byway (state Highways 42 and 57), stretching from Sturgeon Bay (pop. 9,144) to Jacksonport (pop. 705). It’s dotted with dozens of quaint villages, lighthouses and more than 30 islands.
Several operators offer scenic fall foliage cruises, or head to Fish Creek for a trolley tour; the Ghost Tours are especially popular in fall. Hit the trails at Peninsula State Park, or climb atop Eagle Bluff Lighthouse here. Fall color peaks around the second week of October, when many Door County villages host fall festivals. For more information: (800) 527-3529.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Washington & Oregon
October is peak color season along the 85-mile-long, waterfall-studded Columbia River Gorge, where cottonwood, big-leaf maple, red alder and Oregon ash show off their fall finery. The area is rich with hiking and biking trails and scenic roads. On the Washington side, take the Lewis & Clark Highway (State Route 14) to Beacon Rock State Park near Stevenson (pop. 1,465 ) to visit a stop on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. On the Oregon side, travel the Historic Columbia River Highway (U.S. 30) between Dodson and Corbett, where you can see spectacular sites like the 611-foot Multnomah Falls. This is also wine country, with more than 40 vineyards scattered along both sides of the gorge. For more information: (800) 984-6743.