12 Stops on the Ultimate Fall Foliage Road Trip

There’s no better way to fall into fall (ahem) than by viewing the colors of the season. You don’t have to trek to the Northeast to satisfy your urge for leaf peeping. We've rounded up a dozen cities and parks across the country that boast eye-popping fall foliage—no Instagram filters necessary!

1. Michigan // Upper Peninsula

Michigan Upper Peninsula fall foliage
Michigannut/iStock via Getty Images

Some 7 million acres of forest make the Wolverine State’s upper half perfect for fall color viewing. With a spin through Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, along the edge of Lake Superior, you can also catch sight of deer, moose, and black bears.

2. Maine // Acadia National Park

This site’s 47,000-plus acres are so popular with leaf peepers that Maine’s state foliage website offers updates on the current conditions. (The best times are generally late September and early October.) For prime fall color and ocean views, head to the top of Cadillac Mountain—at 1528 feet, it’s the tallest on the North Atlantic seaboard.

3. Vermont // Stowe

Stowe, Vermont fall foliage
Patrick from Barrington, RI, Moretown, VT, United States, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Hues of gold, orange, and red cover this mountainside town from late September through mid-October. You can tour the area by boat, canoe, bike, horseback, gondola, or even dogcart. Double your entertainment by scheduling a visit for the first weekend of October when the city holds its annual Oktoberfest celebration.

4. New York // Lake Placid

Fall foliage, Lake Placid NY
diane cordell, via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0"

Nestled in the state’s Adirondack Mountains, this city offers sugar maples, American beech, and yellow birch trees. The best time to go: the second weekend of October during the aptly named two-day Flaming Leaves Festival. In between lawn games and blues bands performances, you can take a chairlift to the top of the nearly 400-foot ski jump for choice views.

5. Virginia // Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park fall foliage
Katy Cain/National Park Service, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For top-notch picture snapping, cruise the 105-mile stretch down the park’s Skyline Drive. To ensure an optimal viewing experience, the speed limit is only 35 miles per hour and there are 75 overlooks you can stop at to take in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

6. Tennessee // Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park fall foliage

More than 100 species of trees (including scarlet oaks, maples, and hickories) make this spot along the North Carolina border the most visited national park in America. After driving the 11-mile Cades Cove loop, head over to the popular tourist town of Gatlinburg, which is chock full of breweries, wineries, and even moonshine distilleries.

7. Colorado // Aspen

Aspen Colorado fall foliage
kanonsky/iStock via Getty Images

The town is literally named for its abundance of aspen trees—which turn a golden yellow come mid-September. For stunning views, take a shuttle to Maroon Bells, the two most photographed peaks in the Elk Mountains.

8. New Hampshire // Portsmouth

Portsmouth, New Hampshire fall foliage
capegirl52, Flickr // CC BY-SD-NC-ND 2.0

You can catch the colors in this New England town by car (drive the 18-mile oceanside Coastal Byway), boat (try a 2.5-hour river cruise) or foot (wander the 10 acres of the Strawbery Banke living history museum). Visit New Hampshire’s foliage tracker to determine when to plan your visit. Hint: aim for mid-October.

9. Oregon // Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge fall foliage, Oregon
Michael Matti, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Every October, the firs, cottonwoods, and twisted pines in this canyon, which cuts through Oregon and Washington, turn golden. Book a room at the charming, antique-style Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa to spy views of the trees—and the 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall—from bed.

10. New Mexico // Taos


Kevin Eddy, via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The yellow and orange aspens are the highlight of the 83-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop (which surrounds Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest point). But leaf lovers can also catch a glimpse of some reddish cottonwoods. Post-drive, visit 1000-year-old Taos Pueblo and marvel at the remarkable adobe structures.

11. Montana // Glacier National Park

Going to the Sun Road fall foliage in Glacier National Park
Photosbyjam/iStock via Getty Images

Your best bet to check out the yellow larch and red maples is a 50-mile stretch called Going-to-the-Sun Road. But early snowfalls mean portions of the drive close as early as mid-October. You can also head to Flathead Lake, which offers the opportunity to partake in another local tradition: huckleberry picking!

12. Minnesota // Stillwater

Stillwater Minnesota fall foliage

Take a trip back in time when you visit this city on the Wisconsin border. Board a 1890s paddlewheel riverboat and photograph the trees as you cruise the St. Croix River. Then, make vino the old-fashioned way at the September Grape Stomp Festival and crash at one of the town’s many bed-and-breakfasts.

You Can Rent This Wizard of Oz-Themed Cottage in North Carolina

Airbnb
Airbnb

This year marks the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, the classic 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book. In addition to watching the film, you can opt for a more immersive way to celebrate the occasion. As Travel + Leisure reports, a cottage in West Jefferson, North Carolina offered on Airbnb is perfect for any traveling Oz fan—and it’s only $35 a night.

The studio cottage is considered a glamping destination and is slim on amenities—it has a breakfast nook, porch, sofa bed, and a Porta John—but the Oz-themed details more than make up for the lack of luxurious perks.

A pair of stockinged feet are visible under the home, hinting at a witch’s untimely demise; a character mural of Dorothy and her three escorts, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, appears on the side of the cabin; inside, various other decorations pay homage to Baum's books, including a pair of ruby slippers and a few stuffed Totos.

A cottage with a 'Wizard of Oz' theme in West Jefferson, North Carolina is pictured
Airbnb

If you go, you’ll have to act quickly. The cottage is open only in the spring, summer, and fall, as it has no heat.

The Airbnb listing has a perfect score across 16 reviews. You can book it here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

Visit Any National Park for Free on September 28—or Volunteer to Help Maintain Them

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Nick Hanauer/iStock via Getty Images

By the end of September—which always seems especially busy, even if you’re not a student anymore—you might be ready for a small break from the hustle and bustle. On Saturday, September 28, you can bask in the tranquility of any national park for free, as part of National Public Lands Day.

According to the National Park Service, the holiday has been held on the fourth Saturday of every September since 1994, and it’s also the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It’s up to you whether you’d like to partake in the service side or simply go for a stroll, but there is an added incentive to volunteer: You’ll get a one-day park pass that you can use for free park entry on a different day. Opportunities for volunteering include trail restoration, invasive plant removal, park cleanups, and more; you can see the details and filter by park, state, and/or type of event here.

If you’re not sure how you should celebrate National Public Lands Day, the National Park Service has created a handy flowchart to help you choose the best course of action for you—which might be as simple as sharing your favorite outdoor activity on social media with the hashtag #NPLD.

National public lands day celebration flowchart
National Park Service

There are more than 400 areas run by the National Park Service across the U.S., and many of them aren’t parks in the traditional sense of the word; the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, and countless other monuments and historical sites are also run by the NPS. Wondering if there might be one closer than you thought? Explore parks in your area on this interactive map.

For those of you who can’t take advantage of the free admission on September 28, the National Park Service will also waive all entrance fees for Veteran’s Day on November 11.

And, if you’re wishing a free-admission day existed for museums, you’re in luck—more than 1500 museums will be free to visit on Museum Day, which happens to be this Saturday.

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