The dog days of summer are over. But despite the chill in the air, there’s no need to be downhearted. Autumn is the most spectacular season, a last hurrah before the bitter winds of winter take hold.
Pull on your walking boots and head to one of these stunning destinations to witness glorious autumn colour. We promise that as you crunch through the fallen leaves, the dazzling views won’t fail to impress.
Autumn in Japan is every bit as stunning as the short-lived haname cherry blossom season in spring. Kouyou, or autumn leaves, can be seen across the country, starting in the northern island of Hokkaidō and spreading quickly south from the end of September. The ancient capital of Nara, a short train ride from Kyoto, makes a wonderful viewing spot. Its vast park is awash with colour, with sensational views of red, gold and yellow leaves along the paths up to Tamukeyama shrine in its northeast corner.
Agawa Canyon, Canada
Hop on board the Agawa Canyon Tour Train this autumn and you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful fall foliage on the planet. The ride sets off from Sault Ste Marie on the Canada–USA border, covering 114 miles of unspoilt country that looks at its best as the days begin to close in. The views here inspired Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, Canada’s most prominent landscape artists, throughout the early 20th century. You’ll need to be quick though, as the leaves peak for a brief period around the end of September and beginning of October.
Forest of Dean, England
This ancient woodland in Gloucestershire was once used as a royal hunting ground; its trees were also used to make Tudor warships. Today, it’s the perfect spot for the more prosaic sport of ‘leaf peeping’. The mix of oak, beech and sweet chestnut provides a rusty riot of yellow and gold. The Forest of Dean can be easily covered on foot or bike. Just keep an eye out for the wild boar that have called this place home since 2006.
White Mountains, New Hampshire, USA
New England is synonymous with ‘fall’ and picking one must-see spot isn’t easy. But New Hampshire’s White Mountains are surely one of the best places to see autumn at its most colourful, not just in New England, but the world. Hike through the hills at the start of October and you’ll be treated to brilliant red maple leaves. Or drive to Silver Cascade Falls in Carroll County to see the trees glow next to the 250ft waterfall.
Loire Valley, France
With the leaves on the vines turning and the summer hordes heading home, there’s never a better time to visit France’s Loire Valley. The rolling vineyards look radiant as they shed the greens of warmer months for the yellows, browns and burnt oranges of autumn. It’s also harvest time, so you can see the grapes being picked in the fields, before retiring to a cosy spot to take in the view with a glass of the local tipple.
Huangshan Mountain, China
Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, is arguably the best place in China for seeing autumn in all its glory. The range’s vertiginous peaks are covered in trees that turn a beautiful, bright red throughout October, with crowds flocking from Běijīng and Shànghǎi to take pictures. Its renowned wispy clouds give it a particularly ethereal, Chinese atmosphere. Head here at sunrise to see the foliage at its very best.
Dandenong Ranges, Australia
Aussie autumn doesn’t kick off in earnest until March. And while you wouldn’t usually associate the land of beaches, surfing and summer heat with glorious autumnal colour, the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne don’t disappoint. As well as being a national park of breathtaking beauty, the area is also dotted with manicured gardens. The Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens (parkweb.vic.gov.au/alfred-nicholas) are definitely worth a visit when their lawns are carpeted with fallen leaves and their trees are aglow.
Bishop Creek Canyon, California, USA
Just because the northeast USA gets amazing autumn colour doesn’t mean you should discount the west coast. California’s inland forests offer a great alternative, with the reds and yellows of fall holding on for longer in the Golden State thanks to its hugely varied elevation. Bishop Creek Canyon is one of a number of great viewing points. Nestled in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains in Inyo County, the golden leaves here look amazing with the rocky hills as a backdrop.
Scotland’s pine forests may not change colour, but its deciduous trees offer some of the finest autumn hues in Europe. Walk out of town to the dam and fish ladder, which separates the River Tummel and Loch Faskally, to get the perfect view of waterside trees as they shed their leaves. Each October Pitlochry also plays host to the Enchanted Forest (www.pitlochry.org/whats_on/enchanted-forest.htm), a nightly event that sees the trees lit up to soaring music in the woods just outside town.
Still mild even as the leaves fall, Lombardy in northern Italy is an ideal place to see mainland Europe burst into colour. The native Lombardy poplars, which can be seen across the landscape, turn a bright yellow before their leaves fall to the floor. If you can’t make it to the countryside, Milan’s public gardens offer a great city view of autumn.
You don’t have to travel far to take in the phenomenon of fall foliage. All across the U.S., from New England to the Pacific Northwest, deciduous trees put on their dazzling display of color. In fact, leaf viewing is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. Check out our picks for the ten best destinations for fall foliage or get out there and discover your own.
When a world-famous town is named after a tree, you know it’s an extraordinary specimen. Aspen leaves turn a rich yellow hue in the fall and literally shimmer in the breeze when the sun hits them. The gold tones of aspens in autumn make for a picture-perfect contrast with the evergreens and craggy mountain peaks. While the ritzy ski resort town of Aspen is the place to see and be seen in the winter, it mellows during the autumn months.
When to Go: Aspen season is short. It kicks in during mid-September and peaks at the end of the month. The first week of October offers some decent viewing, but beyond that, there will be more leaves on the ground than on the trees.
Where to Stay: The Limelight Hotel is an ultra-modern mountain lodge that fronts Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Don’t let the sexy sophistication fool you; the hotel is moderately priced and welcomes both kids and pets.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley Travel Guide
The Catskills, New York
The 6,000 square miles in southeastern New York known as the Catskills are home to six major river systems, thirty-five mountain peaks over 3,500 feet, and the famed Woodstock festival. A year-round destination, the Catskills are at their most vibrant in the fall when yellows, oranges, and reds electrify the thickly wooded hillsides. Locals and visitors alike savor the fall harvest, when many of the region’s historic villages host festivals and craft fairs alongside the bountiful farmers’ markets and pick-your-own orchards.
When to Go: The last two weeks in September through mid- to late-October are prime time for fall foliage in the Catskills.
Where to Stay: The Catskills are fabled for their charming B&Bs. For more of a retreat experience, head to the Inn at Lake Joseph, a sixteen-room country resort located on a 250-acre private lake.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s The Catskills Travel Guide
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
The essential escape for urbanites in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia, the Berkshires provide world-class foliage viewing alongside notable art and culture. Narrow winding roads connect mountain hamlets set against a forested backdrop of crimson, yellow, and every hue in between, making for the most beautiful gallery-hopping or antiquing trip of your life. Or, spend the weekend at one of the region’s storied spas, soaking in the sweeping autumn views.
When to Go: Fall foliage season in the Berkshires begins in late September and typically peaks during Columbus Day weekend in mid-October. There’s still color to behold in late October, but don’t wait until November.
Where to Stay: Located on 117 acres in Lenox, the elegant Blantyre hotel was built in 1902 and modeled after a castle in Scotland.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Berkshires Travel Guide
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Cut into the Cascade Mountains and forming a natural border between southern Washington and northern Oregon, the eighty-mile Columbia River Gorge is already a sublime sight. Come fall, when the firs, cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, Oregon ash, and twisted pines start to show their colors, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Visitors can choose to take in the golden and bronze hues while driving along the Columbia River, hiking a variety of trails, or rafting or kayaking down the river.
When to Go: Mid-September to mid-October is the best time for fall foliage in the Columbia River Gorge.
Where to Stay: The historic Columbia Gorge Hotel has the hands-down best views of the gorge, including the 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall. Your stay includes breakfast at the hotel dining room, Simon’s Cliff House, one of the best restaurants in Oregon.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s The Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood Area Travel Guide
Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
The maple, birch, and beech trees lining this eleven-mile route bisecting Vermont put on one of the most dazzling displays of color in New England. The drive from quaint Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, to Stowe, one of the most famous ski resorts in the east, passes through two state forests and three state parks. In Stowe, the ski area gondola offers a bird’s-eye view of the forested slopes and easy access to hiking.
When to Go: The northern Vermont leaf observation season begins the second week of September and peaks the first week in October.
Where to Stay: In Stowe, the Topnotch Resort sits on 120 acres overlooking Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain at 4,393 feet. An impressive trail system surrounds the property, perfect for hiking and horseback riding.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Vermont Travel Guide
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
The dazzling eighty-three-mile loop starting and ending in Taos has become a fall foliage pilgrimage for aspen aficionados. Here, the aspens turn not only yellow, but also dark orange. The route encircles 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point, and the mesas and mountain vistas offer a unique southwestern perspective on autumn color. While aspens steal the show, there are also purple cinquefoil and cottonwoods in fiery shades ranging from bright red to yellow.
When to Go: Late September to early October offers the most vibrant colors along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
Where to Stay: A romantic B&B in Taos with stellar mountain views, Hacienda del Sol, features eleven southwestern-style rooms in four adobe buildings, most with kiva fireplaces and made-from-scratch gourmet breakfasts.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s New Mexico Travel Guide
Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina & Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. for good reason. There are more than 100 species of native trees, including scarlet oaks, maples, sweetgums, and hickories, which put on a jaw-dropping autumn display of gold, orange, crimson, and purple. With 800 miles of scenic roads and hiking trails, you could spend days exploring these stunning forests.
When to Go: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ablaze in fall color from early October through early November.
Where to Stay: On the Tennessee side of the park, the tourist town of Gatlinburg sits just beyond with a dizzying array of accommodations. The family-owned Historic Gatlinburg Inn is less than a mile from the park and does a commendable job of maintaining a quiet B&B-like atmosphere in the heart of downtown.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park Travel Guide
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Michigan’s state forest system is the largest in the eastern U.S., encompassing nearly 4 million acres. Take your pick from one (or more) of the Upper Peninsula’s twenty-plus forested state parks. Ash, aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak, sycamore, and tamarack are the stars of this densely forested peninsula sandwiched between three Great Lakes. The tranquil waters, ranging in color from azure to navy, visually enhance (and reflect back) the trees’ already brilliant fall colors.
When to Go: The best time to take in the fall colors of the Upper Peninsula is mid-September to mid-October, with the peak happening in October.
Where to Stay: Keweenaw, the northernmost part of the Upper Peninsula, is known for its historic lighthouses. Stay at the cozy eight-room Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn, which was built in 1917 and is the largest and last manned lighthouse on the great lakes.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Michigan Travel Guide
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Central Missouri’s popular summertime lake getaway becomes even better in the fall when the crowds disperse and the temperatures pleasantly drop into the sixties. The surrounding Ozark Hills are at their most scenic come fall, when the forests ignite in shades of scarlet, gold, mahogany, and russet. Experience the color explosion while hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding at Missouri’s largest state park. Or take in the fall foliage on a yacht, at the wineries, during a round at one of the lake’s championship golf courses, or on a twenty-five-mile scenic drive.
When to Go: The last two weeks of October are the indisputable prime time for leaf peeping at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Where to Stay: Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers 230 campsites open year-round and eight rustic outpost cabins, each equipped with tables, chairs, wood-burning stoves, and sleeping accommodations for six. Central restrooms and showers are within walking distance.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Missouri Travel Guide
Glacier National Park, Montana
For the ruggedly self-sufficient, Glacier National Park is a dream fall foliage destination. By the end of September, all the park’s concessions have closed for the season, guests have gone home, and you pretty much have the entire park to yourself. This is one of the best places to see larch trees—deciduous conifers that turn bright gold in the fall before losing their needles. Yellow larch intermingled with evergreens set against the backdrop of the massive snow-covered peaks of the Continental Divide make for perhaps the most dramatic autumn scene in the U.S. Plus, wildlife abounds, with elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bears making their preparations for winter.
When to Go: Larch trees change color in mid-October. Everything else—maple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, and huckleberry—turn between early- and late-September.
Where to Stay: Most of the area’s notable properties close by late-September. The comfortable Grouse Mountain Lodge, located twenty-five miles away in Whitefish, is open all four seasons and offers exceptional on-site dining.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Glacier National Park Travel Guide