In each state in our country, unique fall foliage is happening near you, bringing brilliant colors practically to your doorstep. The fall color’s timing and intensity are influenced by temperature, rainfall, sun exposure, tree species, and elevation, among other factors. Henry David Thoreau wrote in an 1862 essay for The Atlantic called it autumnal foliage, “October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world…”
The popularity of leaf peeping has contributed mightily to tourism across the country in recent years, touted by each state’s vested interests. A study from the Appalachian State University estimates that tourists seeking the best view of colorful leaves contribute more than $30 billion to local economies across 24 eastern states.
I’m partial to the East Coast, especially New York and New England, but fall foliage is everywhere. You can check out the Smoky Mountains fall foliage map, which predicts each state’s start and peak time. Go on a scenic drive with the top down, ride a bike, or hike to explore the area.
The Influences of Peak Foliage
Weather conditions like temperature and moisture are considered the most influential on the brilliance of the fall colors. Rain puts a damper on the fall foliage, while sunny, warm days extend the length of the peak fall foliage season. However, early frost will cut short the season in that area. Night length differs in autumn, with shorter days and reduced sun intensity impacting the leaf following the process.
The types of trees and plants, especially leaf pigments, can bring out varying colors during autumn. Certain colors are associated with specific species, such as aspen, beech, dogwood, and maples.
How Climate Change Effects Fall Foliage
Scientists believe that in the coming years, higher temperatures, increased precipitation, increased cloud cover, and higher nitrogen concentrations due to climate change will mute fall colors. Studies show warmer temperatures due to climate change have delayed leaf coloring and drop in New England and elsewhere. Warming temperatures have also been associated with the earlier onset of spring. An earlier spring and a delayed fall season has increased the active growing season.
Here are 18 Places To Find the Best Fall Foliage in the US.
Ozark National Forest in Arkansas
Traditionally, fall foliage in Central Arkansas begins in early October and peaks in late October or early November, while the Southern and Eastern parts of the state may be slightly earlier, according to the Arkansas State Parks. Scenic Byway 7 provides nearly 300 miles of road and spots to go leaf-peeping through the Ozark Mountains and other state parks.
Napa Valley, California
Being among the largest states in the US, there are many places to see California’s fall colors from mid to late September through late October if you go to the Bay area. People usually think of East Coast states to find the best fall foliage rather than California, but they would be mistaken. You can head North to the Bay Area and Central Coast and stop in Napa Valley. There are some incredible restaurants in California where you can relax and enjoy the scenery while indulging in local fare.
I recall going to a conference in the Napa area and being shocked at the beautiful colors, as if New York, where I came from, had a monopoly on such beauty. California has it all, and you can go to Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lakes, Lake Tahoe, and the list goes on, and includes the southern part of the state.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Many states like Colorado are blessed with beauty, and the fall foliage season amplifies reasons for residents and visitors to travel to the best places. According to their meteorologists, the best colors in the northern mountains begin mid-September through the end of the month. Colorado is famous for its aspen trees, which provide a gold hue against evergreens. Altitude plays a role in bringing colder nighttime temperatures. Recommendations for the best leap peeping in Colorado are the Rocky Mountains, San Juan Mountains, and Trail Ridge Road, a nearly 50-mile stretch traversing Rocky Mountain National Park.
Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
Litchfield Hills in the northwestern part of Connecticut has been my home away from home for years and where we spend our summers and fall, so excuse my biases. There are many scenic spots to stop in Litchfield Hills, but I would suggest Kent Falls State Park, just outside its lovely town, Warren, New Preston, Washington Depot, and Morris. The peak fall foliage tends to be in the mid to late October. Depending on the weather, grab some sweaters and visit the wineries like Sunset Meadows in Goshen, with unparalleled views.
Tallulah Falls Near Clayton, Georgia
Georgia is blessed with beautiful state parks, including Tallulah Gorge State Park near Clayton, reflecting one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast with easy to challenging trails. There are several overlooks to capture waterfall views and fall foliage. You can rent cabins at nearby Black Rock Mountain State Park. Generally, peak foliage season is around the end of October into early November.
Another excellent place to see vivid, colorful fall foliage is the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, 90 miles north of Atlanta. You can go by train for a four-hour ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway that starts at the 100-year-old depot.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Typically, northern Maine, called The Maine Highlands, will be at or near peak conditions in the last September. You can visit Baxter State Park, home to Mt. Katahdin, which many consider the best fall foliage in the US. As you go south towards Acadia National Park, peak conditions are mid to late October. Acadia hugs the Atlantic Coastline of Maine, providing abundant things to do with lakes, ponds, beaches, and hiking trails.
The Berkshires, Lenox, Massachusetts
The Berkshires fall foliage season in Massachusetts is so vibrant that many residents and visitors don’t fret about the end of summer. Peak colors are similar to the Litchfield Hills and are expected in mid-October. The best way to experience its fall colors is to drive through its beautiful towns, including Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and Lenox. The view from the top of Mount Greylock in Adams, the highest point in the state, is breathtaking. If seeing the fall colors is not enough to visit, go antiquing, hiking, and boating.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
The White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire is known for skiing in the winter, but don’t hesitate to go leaf-peeping in this area around early to mid-October. These mountains are part of the northern Appalachian mountains.
Nineteenth-century artists from the Hudson River School, like Winslow Homer, sketched the mountains, while writers flocked to this area for its beauty. Take a scenic ride on the Kancamagus Highway, with many scenic stop-offs, including North Conway, an adorable town where you can rent canoes.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May in New Jersey is a haven for leaf-peeping folks in late September through most of October, where you can board a ferry or drive through Belleplain State Forest, including a stop at beautiful Lake Nummy. This area is known for the oak and fern trees, which provide vibrant red, yellow, and gold colors. Besides fall foliage, an active bird-watching season is attracted to the marshes and wetlands near Cape May Bird Observatory.
Central Park, New York City, New York
I have lived in New York City all my life, so I sometimes take it for granted. Would it surprise you that Central Park in New York City is among the best places to see beautiful fall foliage in the US? New York is not just about its largest city, although Central Park, surrounded by tall and historic buildings, provides ample ways to see the changing leaves in the fall.
However, New York has tremendous color variety and timing due to different weather conditions, and you can find fall foliage spots in several areas, notably the Adirondacks, Catskills Mountains, Lake Saranac, Lake George, Lake Placid, Saratoga, Finger Lakes, Niagra Falls, Hamptons, North Fork, and Cooperstown.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Fall foliage season is an excellent time to explore Michigan, with many options to satisfy your leaf-peeping nature along the Great Lakes. You can glimpse the Lake Michigan shore near the edges of the Leelanau Peninsula and visit several wineries while enjoying the blazing colors. The Upper Peninsula’s along the Keweenaw Peninsula are touted for peaking colors supported by scenic byways. Alternatively, you can see Lake Superior’s landscapes along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
If you have the time, take a trip to Mackinac Island, which sits in Lake Huron and between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. This unique car-free place is known for beautiful sunsets and fall colors, though it’s lovely to go in the spring and summer.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Ohio’s fall foliage peaks in the mid to third week of October. Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio near Akron and Cleveland is an excellent place to see vibrant reds among foliage colors. You can hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley railroad, which runs between Akron and Independence, Ohio, through the park and is considered among the most scenic train rides this season. If you would instead want to linger, find the Everett-covered bridge as a great photo opportunity.
Oregon is an excellent destination for any season. Still, they would like you to enjoy the striking reds, yellows, and oranges coming from a fantastic assortment of maples, oak, and dogwood for a beautiful view of fall foliage against the state’s tree, the evergreen Douglas fir populated in the western parts of the state. Its peak foliage is in mid-October—trees at higher elevations, like the Cascades, Bend, and coastal Oregon, change first. Willamette Valley is in the eastern part of the state, including Eugene, and Portland is at lower elevations.
Glacier National Park, Montana
The trees begin to reflect their changing colors in mid-September on the west side of Glacier National Park, ahead of the east side, where fall colors will appear at the end of September and the beginning of October. Fall coincides with an excellent time to see wildlife in the park, especially bears fattening up for the winter, and raptors, including hawks and golden eagles, as one of the essential migration routes passes through Glacier National Park.
Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Fall foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to more than 100 tree species, is a good place to start. Fall’s peak colors last several weeks as fall colors traverse from high elevations down the mountain to low hills, from late September to early October. There are many options to catch peak fall foliage in Tennessee besides the Great Smoky Mountains, including the Appalachian Mountains, Gatlinburg by the SkyPark, Chattanooga via a riverboat or the Riverwalk, and Knoxville. If you want to visit Nashville, you can catch the peak colors until late October.
Vermont’s fall foliage begins in mid-September and peaks in early October. Like other states that vary in elevations, Vermont’s foliage color generally starts to change in the higher, cooler temp areas, spreading down into the valleys and moving from north to south across the state. Burlington and Stowe are in the Northern parts of the state, while Woodstock is in the southeast. Take the Green Mountain Byway, a scenic drive through lively towns that include Stowe, and find apple cider and harvest festivals if you have the time.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Virginia is a diverse state with beautiful landscapes featuring the Blue Ridge Mountains, woodlands, beaches, and abundant history. From the highest elevations, which kick off the fall foliage, to the Eastern shore, peak colors hang around from mid-October to month-end.
Drive using the Skyline Driveway through the Shenandoah National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or hike in a state park. There are harvest festivals to explore and visit the homes of some of our earliest Presidents, especially Charlottesville.
Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
Wyoming’s fall foliage benefits from aspens turning gold, Maple, and Oak trees, providing oranges, reds, and browns for a terrific color combination. The leaves start changing mid-to-late September, which peaks in mid-October. Wyoming is among my favorite states for Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Big Horn National Forest, canyons, and the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. Make sure to visit Jackson Hole and its art galleries that bring back the American West.
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.
Linda is the founder of The Cents of Money, a personal finance blog, here to teach and inspire you about money, seek new ideas, and create greater comfort in your world about one of life’s significant stresses. Linda wants to use her financial skills honed by her professional experience to help others get on the path toward building wealth.