Leaf Peeping Coast to Coast - Autumn Color Across America via @TravelLatte.net

Leaf Peeping Coast to Coast: Where to find brilliant autumn color across America

Mention “leaf peeping” and you’re likely to find two types of people: Those who love it, sometimes to the point of obsession, and those who don’t know they love it. For the uninitiated, leaf peeping is an informal term used mostly by Americans to describe our often annoying habit of stopping to admire and endlessly photograph fall foliage. Nobody seems exactly sure where or when the term originated but, by the turn of this century, it was used in an episode of The West Wing. If that doesn’t legitimize the term, then hearing it on The Sopranos a few years later surely does!

Typically, it’s associated with New England and eastern Canada, where dense forests mark the change in seasons by turning color. The phenomenon has brought tourists (and their money) to the region for decades, becoming a major economic engine. Though sometimes crowded, it is a wonderful way to get outdoors and commune with nature.

Leaf Peeping Coast to Coast - Autumn Color Across America via @TravelLatte.net

Where to Find the Leafs to Peep

New England does not have a monopoly on autumn’s hallmark spectator sport! Just about every state (except maybe Hawaii) has some park or forest land where you can enjoy fall colors and cooler temperatures. When you are looking for that pop of bright gold against deep crimson, try to find a mixed forest, where a variety of trees grow together. Trees turn different colors depending on species, and sometimes at different times depending on several factors, including elevation. And remember that some trees, like firs, spruces and pines, are evergreen. They don’t change color, but provide a nice background for the bold colors of aspen, ash, and maple trees.

When to Go Leaf Peeping

Now that you know what to look for, you might wonder when to go. The hard reality is that Mother Nature is notoriously hard to predict. One cold snap can bring on the fireworks early, and a warm spell can delay fall colors by weeks. In most regions, leaves begin changing color when the weather starts to cool in October. A handy rule of thumb is to aim for Columbus Day, or the second week of October. Keep in mind, though, the further north you go, the earlier leaves change. Higher elevations will also see fall colors before lowlands.

There are several web sites, listed below, to help you plan when to “head for the hills” for the best chance of catching the fireworks. If you can be flexible, you’ll have a better chance of seeing the fall displays at their peak. On the other hand, in areas where leaf peeping is popular, autumn is anything but a slow “shoulder season.” Hotel rooms and campgrounds are often filled up months in advance, with the best spots booked as much as a year in advance. We’ve relied on the mid-October rule of thumb and, though we don’t always hit the season’s peak color, we have never been disappointed and managed to have someplace to stay.

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The Best Road Trips for Fall Color

There’s nothing like experiencing autumn’s color up close and personal! Pack up a picnic lunch and pile into the family car for some quality time appreciating Mother Nature. Get off of the interstates and onto local highways and byways. Meander down country lanes, and take those interesting side roads, because that’s often where beauty lies hiding.

Be sure to allow plenty of time for pit stops along the way. You’ll probably need a break from all that leaf peeping, especially if there are pint-sized peepers along for the ride. From galleries and museums, to mom and pop shops and diners – and even the occasional amusement park – you’ll be discovering the often overlooked grandeur of small town America. For planning and inspiration, here are a few of our favorite and most highly rated road trips for fall color across the country!

See also  Five Festive Cities with Charming Christmas Markets

New England

New England ranks the highest for leaf peeping, thanks to plentiful forests and mountain ranges. Just about any mountain range you can name will be a great choice: Pennsylvania’s Poconos, the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York, Massachusetts’ Berkshires, and the wide-ranging Appalachians. Our favorites are Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. They deliver a one-two knockout punch of family fun and fall color.

New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway has garnered worldwide fame for leaf peeping with plenty of covered bridges and beautiful waterfalls. Two loops through the mountains take you past Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England, the stunning Flume Gorge, and the Silver Cascade on the Sacco River. Neighboring Vermont’s Enticement Highway beckons with beautiful views, as well as Ben & Jerry’s original ice cream factory (with tours and tastings!), chocolate and cheese makers, and world class ski resorts like Smuggler’s Notch and Killington. Both routes are filled with charming New England towns that will have you reconsidering your home address.

Autumn Color Across America - Craford Notch via @TravelLatte.net

Mid-Atlantic States

Leaf peeping dreams come true at the Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks, and the Blue Ridge Parkway that connects them. Filled with spectacular views, dramatic waterfalls, and quiet woods, the parks are natural wonderlands with lots of picnic and camping areas, hiking trails, and parking areas so you can get out and enjoy the scenery.

Autumn Color Across America - Blue Ridge Parkway via @TravelLatte.net

The parkway is a National Scenic Byway, and America’s longest linear park, stretching 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. Keep an eye out for the picturesque Mabry Mill around the halfway point. Stop in for displays and demonstrations of Appalachian life and culture, and live mountain music on Sunday afternoons (Memorial Day Weekend through the end of October). You can also explore the Roots of American Music exhibit at the Blue Ridge Music Center and museum at milepost 213, near Galaxa, Virginia.

Can’t make it this fall? Watch the seasons change on the Shenandoah National Park webcam!

Autumn Color Across America - Mabry Mill via @TravelLatte.net

Upper Midwest

The Black Hills of South Dakota and the 14 cascades in Wisconsin’s Marinette County Waterfall Tour are great places for fall color. Our pick, though, is Michigan’s Gold Coast when it turns to actual gold – and red and brown and orange – every autumn. From Grand Rapids to Traverse City and along Grand Traverse Bay, there’s plenty to see and do. Inland, Huron-Manistee National Forest offers scenic drives and serene lakes. Along the bay shore, leaf peeping gives way to vistas of Lake Michigan. Don’t miss the drive out to the Old Mission Lighthouse, exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole!

Autumn Color Across America - Old Mission Lighthouse via @TravelLatte.net

Photo: Peninsula Townships

South Central

The Ozarks bring fall color to middle-America with dense Oak forests and two peak leaf peeping seasons. The northern areas in Missouri tend to peak in early to mid-October. In Arkansas, peak color comes later in October and can stretch into November. The Sylamore District of the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas hosts one of the best fall foliage drives in the area. The 26-mile Syllamore Scenic Byway winds past limestone cliffs, river views, and historic towns like Calico Rock. It was a steamboat landing on the White River in the 1800s, and a booming railroad town in the early 1900s. Mountain View is home to the Ozark Folk Center State Park, where traditional music and folkways are preserved and celebrated. There is striking color underground here, too, at Blanchard Springs Caverns. There are several Forest Service tours available, and reservations at least 24 hours in advance are recommended.

Autumn Color Across America - Blanchard Springs Bridge via @TravelLatte.net

Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Four Corners

You might not think of the American West for fall color, but the Four Corners States – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona – are mountain states with large forests. The country’s largest aspen grove bathes Gunnison, Colorado, in fiery reds and yellows, while New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway winds around Taos with more aspens and cottonwoods. The 84-mile loop through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains circles the highest peak in the range, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak. While you’re leaf peeping, you can stop at the Angel Fire ski resort and take the chairlift to the resort’s 10,677-foot summit for views of Eagle Nest State Park and the striking Moreno Valley. The loop starts and ends in the historic pueblo of Taos, with fine dining and world-class galleries and museums.

Autumn Color Across America - Wheeler Peak via @TravelLatte.net

Photo: Enchanted Circle.org

Pacific Coast

From Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to the Sierra Nevadas of California, you can find fall color in every Pacific state. Among the best is Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge where pines and firs mix with Oregon ash, cottonwoods, and maples for a rich tapestry of fall color. The looming Mount Hood and iconic Multnomah Falls provide even more dramatic views on the historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway. The 70-mile trip between charming Troutdale and The Dalles combines fall color with show-stopping sights like Horsetail Falls and the Bridge of the Gods. A great place to start or end is at the Columbia Gorge Discover Center & Museum in The Dalles. Besides walking trails and scenic overlooks, the museum includes displays on the region’s unique plant and wildlife, and 11,000 years of cultural history.

See also  The Best New England Leaf-Peeping Fall Road Trip – Part Two: The Western Whites

Fall Foliage Predictions

While it’s hard to get Mother Nature to stick to a schedule, there are several websites where you can see predictions for all of the autumn color:

We’d love to hear about your favorite fall drives! Where do you go, or where would you love to visit? Let us know with a Comment. Planning your own leaf peeping autumn getaway? You can Save this post to your Pinterest board, or share it with friends. As always, thanks for reading!

Leaf Peeping Coast to Coast - Where to find brilliant autumn color across America - via @TravelLatte.net

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53 comments on “Leaf Peeping Coast to Coast: Where to find brilliant autumn color across America

  1. Pingback: Three Terrific Trips for Festive Fall Color - TravelLatte

  2. Ugh I’m obsessed with this!! Living in Colorado, Fall is my favorite. It’s absolutely so gorgeous and the Aspen trees are unreal. It’s so beautiful. Plus love all the other locations. I’ve heard that the Great Smoky Mountains are gorgeous during the fall seasons and def dying to go there as well. Thank you for sharing on FlyAwayFriday and can’t wait to see what you have next!

    • Thanks Chloe! We didn’t start out obsessed with it…but that’s how it’s turning out! We grew up in desert and tropical areas where autumn was just a word. We are making up for missing out now! 🙂 We’ll definitely share – but different – on the next #FlyAwayFriday. 🙂

  3. Such a brilliant term, i love it! I think I mentioned before we wanted to do this, now I feel overwhelmed with more even places to see! Great read, packed with info, thanks for sharing, the photos are just stunning!

    • I have to admit – when we first heard “leaf peeping” we thought “That’s not us!” And then we found ourselves planning a trip to see fall colors in the mountains and had to admit: We are leaf peepers. 😉 There are so many places to see! We need to get moving, too! Thanks Garth. And Phil! 🙂

  4. Autumn is one of my favorite times in the year. I’ve lived in some hot and humid places, also some cooler one too, but the leafy contrasts of Autumn is always the perfect balance for me.

    • Hi Barry – We’ve all come from warm weather childhoods where fall lasted about a day! So we are surely drawn to the fantastic colors and thoroughly enjoy them. Perfect balance, alright! Thanks for reading!

  5. Incredible photos! I’m already pumped about fall (broke out the sweaters last week and started with the pumpkin lattes), but “leaf peeping” is definitely a favorite activity of mine and, needless to say, I’m one of those people who stop on a walk or on a scenic drive to snap pictures. Duluth (up in northern Minnesota) is another place where the change in colors is outstanding and not to be missed! Hubby and I try to get up there every year to catch the change. Plus, the fresh air along Lake Superior is always refreshing. Thank you so much for sharing!!

    • Hi Anna – We’re not quite in sweater mode yet, but definitely getting started on the pumpkin everything! Good for you on visiting – and recommending – Duluth! We love it up there – it’s so charming and the lake shore and mountains are SO picturesque! We hope to get up there again soon. (Yes, we are a little jealous that you go every year!) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • That makes us sad. 🙁 We’ve also read that a cool front is expected in early October, which might move the peak color earlier. That’s the thing with Mother Nature, right? Hard to predict. Fingers crossed! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  6. Wow! You really made me want to jump on a plane and go on the East Coast, Rob. I so love the fall colors and was able to enjoy a few beautiful falls when my son used to live in Connecticut. I grew up in Europe where we also had beautiful falls, but nothing like in New England. In fact, in order for the leaves to turn to all those shades of red and yellow, there has to be a specific kind of climate which is very characteristic for this part of America. It is the stretch of cool and sunny weather and cold nights that produces the bright red pigments. Gorgeous photos!

    • Hi Anda! This post was 50% looking back fondly, and 50% trying to finish the post and not start booking hotels and flights! 😉 We are 100% with you on wanting to get back to New England for more, because we love the area as well as the autumn colors. Thanks for your comments!

  7. Just looking at your photos makes me want a cuddly sweater with a pumpkin latte! Even though it’s still 90+ degrees here in LA, haha! Thank you so much for joining #FlyAwayFriday, see you in 2 weeks!

    • Hi Kana – we know what you mean! We’re in the Dallas area, where it was 100-degrees last week. Maybe that’s why we’re so anxious for that cool fall weather? 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

    • Hi Anna! We’ve been fans of fall color for a while now, but wee’re still awed every autumn. It’s become our favorite season, too! Thanks so much for stopping by our blog!

  8. This is amazing for so many reasons! I love the colors and the various locations! We are going to New England next October and will be doing some major leaf peeping then. I just hope it won’t be past the peek season! I love that you featured the autumn foliage of Multnomah Falls too! We were just there in May (it is spectacular – eventually I’ll get my post up) and seeing it with all the colors is wonderful. I’m definitely saving this for later – thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Jennifer! I was really impressed with the whole Columbia Gorge area. Multnomah is really iconic, but have you seen Wahclella Falls? Smaller but gorgeous, and a nice hike, too. Good luck catching the highlights next year, but I bet it’s great even if you’re a little early or late. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  9. Awesome photos and still one of those things that I dream about doing in the States. Didn’t get a chance to visit New England last year but definitely going to go back and spend a bit of time exploring the region on autumn. Some great tips there and I am going to save this for future reference! Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Lexx! You’d like New England any time of year, but autumn is special. There is a lot to do and see, as well as the great drives and hikes. In fact, the Appalachian Trail, one of the USA’s great hiking trails, goes through a lot of New England. Some of the ski resorts also turn into mountain bike trails in the summer and autumn, too. You’ll have a great time! Thanks for stopping by!

  10. That photo of the Blue Ridge Parkway is spectacular! I’ve never witnessed and entire landscape of trees dressed in their autumn finery, and one day, when I am an empty nester not beholden to school schedules, I will finally book a charming little B&B somewhere and head out on a romantic leaf peeping trip with my husband. I always think it’s just up in the NE, but you’ve shown me that i actually have a ton of options.

    • Hi Michele – That’s true, school schedules are not friends of leaf peepers! But oooh, a romantic B&B getaway! #Swoon There are lots of options, so maybe you can plan lots of those B&B getaways. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  11. Rob, your photos are stunning. Here in California, we have great fall colors in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Closer to Los Angeles, we have Big Bear and the Oak Glen area. I hope to visit some of these places next month.

    • Thanks, Ruth! The Sierra Nevadas are gorgeous all year round! Living in Texas, mountains are one of the things I miss the most. I’ve never been to Big Bear except during the summer – we’ll have to make a point of going later in the year. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Hi Paula! It’s such a tricky thing…we at least have better luck seeing fall color than we do seeing the Cherry Blossoms in Washington. Mother Nature is hard to predict! I like New England pretty much anytime though! Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Wow, a name for this activity… who would have guessed. I do remember one business trip to West Virginia during fall when I was absolutely amazed at the colours of the hills. Particularly the purple trees. Don’t have them in Australia!

    • Right? I have to admit, “leaf peeping” sounds kind of silly. Maybe we’ll put some thought behind a somewhat “cooler” name. 😉 We all grew up in fair-weather areas where there weren’t true autumn seasons, so we didn’t have the purple trees either. Maybe some yellow or red, but not much, so we were stunned by all the color at first, too! In fact, they still impress us. Thanks for stopping by, Annette!

  13. I have always loved this time of year. I am a devoted leaf peeper through and through, although I didn’t realize it had a name until now. I’m always in search of good spots to see fall colors. Thanks for the suggestions! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Hi Allison – We’re with you, autumn has become our favorite time of year. Leaf peeping and pumpkin everything? Oh yeah! 🙂 We’d love to hear about some of your favorite spots for enjoying autumn colors. Thanks for stopping by our blog!

  14. I’m a leaf peeper!! I have never heard of that before but yep, that’s me and I adore autumn colours. I didn’t know there were websites dedicated to helping people with where to go, that’s brilliant so thanks for, sharing that information. Loved your photos as well, just stunning. Thank you for this great post and for highlighting a new name for me – a leaf peeper 🙂 #feetdotravel

    • Hi Angie! I don’t think “leaf peeping” is a really well known term…yet…but, judging by some of the crowds and tour buses we see, I think a lot of people do it! Thanks for your comment…you leaf peeper you! 🙂

  15. Yes, I confess I love Leaf Peeping…lol. Love this article with the great information on where to go and your fall photos are spectacular. I definitely must try the Blue Ridge Parkway drive this year. Pinned this for me and others for later. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • It’s funny how many people are a little sheepish about being “leaf peepers”, like it’s not cool to admit it. But heck, with all that beauty, we almost brag about it now! Plus, it’s a great excuse for other things we like: road trips, hiking, strolling through small towns, stopping for coffee and donuts… (Road trip fuel, right?) You’ll have to let us know how you like the Blue Ridge Parkway! Thanks for the comment, Stephanie!

  16. I LOVED this post. Fall is my favorite time of year, and, of course, that is in part because of the colors. Also, as a huge fan of “The West Wing,” I got a laugh out of your lede paragraph. I remember that scene well. Oh, President Bartlett just can’t get through a radio address. I actually just watched (for like the millionth time) the first three episodes of Season 1 last night. Such an amazing show! But back to fall … THIS is why I love reading travel blogs. You’ve created such a wonderful and useful resource here, and you ignited my desire to make my fall foliage trip actually happen. I’ve been saying since I moved back to Michigan that I’d do the Gold Coast fall color tour. Someday I’d also like to do the Blue Ridge Parkway and New England. too. If only autumn could last longer! #WeekendWanderlust

    • Thanks Erin! Glad you enjoyed the post and find it useful! It really started as a resource for us – a map of sorts that we keep adding to. The Gold Coast isn’t far for you, right? We’d like to make it to the UP one day – we’ve heard it’s beautiful just about anytime. I’m glad someone knows the West Wing reference, too! And your idea of making autumn a year round event? Genius. Mother Nature should totally do that! Thanks again for your comment, Erin!

    • Hi Corinne! I can imagine. I know there’s a lot of autumn color around the world, but I’ve often wondered if anyone else makes quite such a big deal about it. (Other than the Japanese, who even have a name for it!) Peep on! Love it – going to see about getting t-shirts: Keep Calm and Peep On! I will set up shop in Vermont and be a millionaire before you know it! 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Love your photos! Living in Ohio we see a lot of the same things with beautiful color changes. But out west in New Mexico and Colorado can be awesome too!

    • Thanks Lisa! I do think the southern and western states get overlooked in autumn. At least in the mountain areas, even Arizona has some nice fall color! And New Mexico is almost different world compared to New England. Seeing the pueblos with golden aspens and cottonwoods, and a fiery ash tree…that’s pretty. Dang…now I want to head out again! Thanks for your comment, Lisa. And for instigating some daydreaming. 🙂

  18. Wow! You’re pictures are amazing! I have done many fall foliage trips – have been to Lake George and the Catskills in New York. I also like to do a day trip (from NYC) to Bear Mountain, which is beautiful in the fall. It really is all about the timing though. Trying to fit in a weekend towards the end of Oct this year. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • Thanks Anisa! We’ve gone around the Catskills and I am anxious to fill in that blank spot on our map! You are so right about the timing – and this year it’s looking like peak may be early October. 🙁 A friend of ours recommended a fall cruise up the Hudson River that stops at Bear Mountain – we’re going to have to look into that! Thanks for your comment – much appreciated.

    • Hi Christina – great link! Shenandoah is a really special place – so much to do, lots of history, PLUS all that color! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for stopping by our blog!

  19. Just so many colours! I’m a sucker for autumn (fall) weather as it really does show you places in a different light. It’s nice to see that it’s not exclusively limited to New England but it does mean I have a ton more places to visit when I do get to The States.

    • David, we know what you mean! Our obsession started with a trip to New England. Then a comment about fall in the Black Hills, South Dakota, made us realize that autumn color is everywhere! We come from “two season” areas, so we missed out on true autumn seasons until we got to travel. Now we’re hooked! Thanks for stopping by!

  20. You had me at Leaf Pepping! Definitely pinned this for the next time I’m home! I plan to go home next October and visit my mom in Kentucky. That’s when I’m assuming it will be the most beautiful! She just moved there this summer. #WeekendWanderlust

    • Hehehe…us too! Kentucky has some gorgeous scenery, I imagine it would be spectacular during the fall. And it’s not too far from Tennessee and Virginia for that Blue Ridge Parkway drive! Thanks for stopping by, Lorelei – we’ll have to watch for Kentucky to make an appearance on your blog! 😉

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