As soon as the air turns crisp and the days begin to get a little shorter, you know fall is here. There’s no better way to bask in the beauty of the season than by taking a fall foliage tour, where the vibrant reds, yellows and oranges on the trees match those of the apples, hay bales and pumpkins at farm stands nearby.
Here are nine great destinations to help your group make the most of this fall’s color burst.
Home to tree-lined drives with picturesque views of the Great Lakes dotted by historic lighthouses, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a favorite destination for fall color fans. Foliage starts to turn by mid-September, with colors peaking by early to mid-October. Once there, the most challenging question is which route to take. Choices include the Covered Drive on Keweenaw Peninsula, so named because trees form a canopy over this section of U.S. 41 from Delaware to Copper Harbor, and Sand Dune Drive, the portion of Highway M-26 between Eagle River and Eagle Harbor, which offers great views of the Lake Superior shoreline. On the eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula, near Sault Ste. Marie, a top foliage vantage point is the Mission Hill Overlook, overlooking Whitefish Bay, near the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.
Lake of the Ozarks
Routinely voted one of the country’s top recreational lakes and a favorite spot for fall color, Lake of the Ozarks offers stunning views of colorful hillsides and rolling shorelines. Loop the entire lake, a 92-mile journey that takes about two hours, by driving on U.S. 54 and Highway W from Osage Beach to Linn Creek. Near Camdenton, Thunder Mountain Park overlook on Bridal Cave Road offers a fantastic spot to take in the fall colors, set off by the beauty of the lake. Visitors to the region will want to make time to visit Ha Ha Tonka State Park, another fall color favorite. With 15 miles of walking trails, guests can get out under the fall canopy while exploring the caverns, bluffs and natural springs of the park. While there, be sure to snap a photo of the so-called “castle ruins” at Ha Ha Tonka, the stone skeleton of the early-1900s estate that was the vision of businessman Robert Snyder.
The four-county, 2,400-square-mile region of Pennsylvania known as the Poconos offers no shortage of fall color options and even boasts three distinct color zones — northern, central and southern — that peak at slightly different times each season, making it easy to catch many trees at their finest, no matter when you plan your visit. Scenic drives such as Route 507 around Lake Wallenpaupack and Route 6 through the towns of Honesdale and Hawley, designated a “Top Scenic Route in America” by Car and Driver, offer picturesque routes to see color. Or for a change of pace, consider a train ride through the region on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. Groups can also saddle up to enjoy the color via horseback, kayak or even zip line at one of the many outdoor adventure opportunities in the area.
There’s no shortage of ways to take in the fall color vistas at Wisconsin Dells, the iconic, family-friendly destination best known for its awe-inspiring, scenic rock formations and world-class indoor water parks. Scenic boat tours on the Wisconsin River offer a great vantage point to enjoy both the changing fall foliage and the iconic sandstone cliffs of the Dells. But that’s not the only way to enjoy the color. Hikers can enjoy more than 50 miles of trails at the area’s state parks — including Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo — while romantic-types might prefer a horse-drawn carriage ride surrounded by picturesque cliff-walled gorges. Train rides through the Dells offer yet another way to enjoy the fall leaves in style.
Fall oranges and reds start peeking out in early September, with color making its way fully into the picturesque valleys of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and Connecticut by early to mid-October. While in the area, be sure to visit Mount Greylock. At 3,491 feet, it’s the highest peak in Massachusetts and offers 90-mile, four-state views, as well as more than 70 miles of hiking trails. But you don’t have to walk to the top. Open June through mid-October, the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway, which begins in Lanesborough and takes about half a day to traverse, wanders through the forested Mount Greylock State Reservation before reaching the summit of the mountain and the iconic Veterans War Memorial Tower, a 92-foot-high granite tower that offers panoramic views of the hills and valleys below. For a different scenic vantage point, consider a trip to Pittsfield, where Route 7 skims Pontoosuc Lake, offering postcard-worthy views of fall foliage surrounding the scenic blue water.
Great Smoky Mountains
Despite a catastrophic fire in 2016, the forests near Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are still beautiful and still a perfect spot for a fall foliage getaway. Gatlinburg itself becomes awash in fall decor during its Mountain Harvest Festival, which runs from early September to late November, so there’s ample opportunities to snap photos of your group against backdrops of pumpkins, hay bales and fall mums. As for nature’s fall display of colors, plan to enjoy them on one of the national park’s many scenic drives, including the 11-mile, one-way loop to Cades Cove, which takes about four hours to complete during peak fall tourist season. Be on the lookout for deer, wild turkeys and even black bears, and make time to get out and explore the working gristmill, log houses and other historic structures preserved in the valley.
The onset of fall turns the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York into a must-see destination thanks not only to the vibrant colors that flood the mountainsides but also the many fall festivals that draw visitors to the region. Hunter Mountain’s Oktoberfest runs from late September through the end of October and has been voted one of the 10 best Oktoberfests in the nation. While at Hunter Mountain, visitors can enjoy the fall color on a scenic skyride and even a zip line tour. For those wanting to enjoy the hues of the season on a scenic drive, there’s no shortage of options. The Catskill Mountain Scenic Byway, a 52-mile stretch of NY-28 from Phoenicia to Andes, offers views of mountain scenery in the Slide Mountain Wilderness, part of the Catskill Forest Preserve, as well as rolling farmland and pristine waterways. In the northern Catskills, take the 21-mile-long Durham Valley Scenic Byway and stop at the Five-State Lookout for spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley.
Acadia National Park
In Maine, Acadia National Park’s mix of evergreens and hardwoods makes for a breathtaking blend of color in fall. The park’s 49,000 acres include oceanside cliffs and dense mountain forests. To get a sense of the varied beauty here, take the 27-mile-long, one-way Park Loop Road, which begins near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center in Bar Harbor and follows along the coastline of Mount Desert Island. Make time to pull off frequently to enjoy the scenery at iconic spots such as Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff.
In Aspen, the namesake trees turn a distinctive golden hue come fall, making late September and early October one of the most spectacular times to visit. While in the area, explore the iconic Maroon Bells, two peaks in the White River National Forest dubbed the most photographed place in Colorado, as well as nearby, picturesque Maroon Lake. Accessibility to the area via Maroon Creek Road, which itself offers spectacular views of the Aspen-lined valley, is limited during peak times to buses. Another well-loved fall driving route is Castle Creek Road, which leads to the Ghost Town of Ashcroft, an abandoned silver-mining town. For those interested in taking in the views by foot, trails in the area offer options for experienced hikers and newbies alike. One popular hiking option is the Smuggler Mountain Overlook, which boasts views of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.