Leaf Peeping Across America: A Coast-to-Coast Guide

Kaaterskill Valley, Catskill Mountains, New York. WanderingtheWorld (www.LostManProject.com)
Grab your camera, pocket your spare memory cards, and load the car—it's leaf-peeping season from coast to coast. From Vermont to the Pacific Northwest, use this guide to see some of the best fall foliage across the U.S, like Kaaterskill Valley in New York's Catskill Mountains (pictured).
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Catskill Mountains as seen from Minnewaska State Park, New York. Katy Silberger
Best Time to Go: Mid-September through mid-October. In Vermont, autumn leaves are such an attraction that local authorities publish route guides. 

Where to Stay: If you can reach it, the Southern Vermont town of Woodstock is a wonderful base for viewing fall foliage. In New York State, the area around Blue Mountain Lake is home to numerous state- and privately-owned campgrounds.

Best Drives & Best Routes: Three popular leaf-peeping drives are Routes 9, 4, and 100. The nearby Adirondacks are threaded with 12 scenic byways, including fall-foliage favorites the Roosevelt-Marcy Byway and the Olympic Byway.

Don't Miss: Harvest festivals and corn mazes abound throughout the Adirondacks. In New York's Catskills (pictured), the Fall Foliage Special departs in late September and October on the open-roof Catskill Mountain Railroad (www.cmrrevents.com). For up-to-the-minute road conditions and no-go areas, check the site used by the area's transportation departments (www.newengland511.org).

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Deciduous forest in Warren County, within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Nicholas_T
Best Time to Go: The Garden State's upper northwest corner, dubbed the Skylands, offers some of the Mid-Atlantic's most spectacular fall foliage. Highlights include the Northwest Skylands and the Delaware Water Gap region (like Warren County, New Jersey, pictured). For the best colors, visit in mid-to-late October.

Best Drives & Best Routes: Route 23 or Hwy 206 through Sussex County; Route 29 from Lambertville north along the Delaware River; the backroads of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Where to Stay:
The riverside towns of Hunterdon County, especially Lambertville, offer some of the Skylands' best overnight accommodations, though this area is a bit of a drive from the state's upper northwest corner. Campsites and privately owned campgrounds exist throughout the region. One place to try is the Inn at Millrace Pond (www.innatmillracepond.com), an 18th-century grist mill-turned-inn in historic Hope Village, New Jersey.

Don't Miss: Hot-air ballooning (www.balloonnj.com) in Hunterdon County is a great way to experience the foliage from above.

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Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Whitney GH
Best Time to Go: To catch the colors of western Virginia, visit in mid-to-late October. Central. Eastern Virginia usually peaks a week or two later.

Best Drives & Best Routes: Skyline Drive (pictured) winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, offering 105 miles of spectacular autumn scenery. Allow at least three hours for the leisurely drive—the speed limit is 35 mph, and the road has about 75 vista overlooks, not to mention hundreds of miles of nearby hiking trails. Keep an eye out for black bears, deer, and wild turkey.

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway (about 215 miles of which are in Virginia), accessible by Skyline Drive, is another must-see drive.

Where to Stay: The town of Luray in Northern Virginia is the perfect jumping-off point for the autumn colors of Shenandoah National Park. It's the nearest town to the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive, the only public road through the park. Try the Mimslyn Inn (www.mimslyninn.com), a Southern mansion-style historic property that once hosted Eleanor Roosevelt, or the Piney Hill Bed & Breakfast and Cottages (www.pineyhillbandb.com), set on two acres less than a 10-minute drive from downtown. Directly east of Luray on the eastern side of the park is Sperryville, which has other charming B&Bs.

Don't Miss: The Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival (www.shenandoahbike.org), a fun way to take in the sights as a group, takes place in mid-October. For up-to-date fall foliage info statewide, call the Virginia Department of Forestry's foliage hotline at 800/424-LOVE.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan. stevec74
Best Time to Go: The state's scenic Upper Peninsula is typically awash in fall colors mid-September through mid-October. On the Lower Peninsula, expect colors to peak just a few days later.

Best Drives & Best Routes: Hwy 41 from Marquette to the village of Au Train on the central Upper Peninsula, where colors range from soft yellows to fiery reds. Also consider the drive from Traverse City to Frankfort along the Lake Michigan shoreline, or M-119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, a Scenic Heritage Route that includes a drive through the aptly named Tunnel of Trees.

Where to Stay: Traverse City, on the shore of Lake Michigan, offers the perfect combination of leaf peeping and wine tasting. Book a room at Chateau Chantal (www.chateauchantal.com), a winery about 12 miles outside the city that has its own B&B. On the Upper Peninsula, Mackinac Island (pictured) is the perfect car-free getaway; mid-week rates will be more affordable than weekends. Another fall foliage stunner, Ottowa National Forest on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, has campgrounds that provide ideal bases for exploring.

Don't Miss: Northern Michigan's Apple Fest happens in Charlevoix in mid-October. Just outside of Harbor Springs, Pond Hill Farm (www.pondhill.com) has an upscale café and brewery worth a long stop.

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Maple Leaves in Superior National Forest, Minnesota. Superior National Forest
Best Time to Go: From mid-September through mid-October, the shores of Lake Superior are lined with the autumn colors of yellows, reds, and oranges.

Best Drives & Best Routes: Hit up North Shore Scenic Drive (Hwy 61) along Lake Superior. Beginning in Duluth, drive northeast all the way to the Canadian border. The route travels along the eastern edge of the Superior National Forest (pictured) and is accented with yellow aspens, oak trees, and sugar maples. If possible, make the drive mid-week to avoid crowds.

North Shore Scenic Drive is one of Minnesota's 10 Rainbow Routes, another name for scenic fall foliage drives. Others include the Edge of the Wilderness, a twisty and less-traveled National Scenic Byway from Grand Rapids north to Bigfork; and the St. Croix River Valley route, which follows Hwy 95 from Taylors Falls to Afton and passing through Stillwater.

Where to Stay: Duluth, but book ahead. Two B&Bs to try: The Firelight Inn on Oregon Creek (www.firelightinn.com) and the A.G. Thomson House (http://thomsonhouse.biz). Stillwater, home to the Elephant Walk Bed & Breakfast (www.elephantwalkbb.com) and the Rivertown Inn (www.rivertowninn.com), is a good alternative.

Don't Miss: Visit www.northshorefallcolors.com for updated info regarding the area's fall foliage.

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Golden aspen trees in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. sunface13
Best Time to Go: Mid-September to mid-October is when the aspens of Rocky Mountain National Park, the state's premier leaf-peeping spot, turn to yellow, orange, and gold. To catch the peak colors, aim to visit in early October.

Best Drives & Best Routes: For spectacular fall foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park (pictured), don't miss Trail Ridge Road, a route that peaks at 12,183 feet. Other scenic routes include the Peak-to-Peak Scenic and Historic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park and back, and the 205-mile West Elk Loop traveling south from Glenwood Springs to Gunnison and back. Another hot spot is Kebler Pass, a 30-mile aspen-lined stretch featuring lots of twists and turns. Begin at Paonia Reservoir in Paonia, and travel east to Crested Butte.

Where to Stay: Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The Romantic River Song (www.romanticriversong.com) is a Craftsman-style inn with 10 fireplace-equipped rooms. For a more immersive experience, book one of the year-round campsites within the park.

Don't Miss: The fall elk rut in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park—the animals' bugling provides the perfect autumn soundtrack. Want someone else to do the driving while you take in some of the state's most colorful fall foliage? Catch Amtrak's California Zephyr from Denver to Grand Junction.

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The sun highlights the Fall colors in Oak Creek Canyon under Midgley Bridge in Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona. Coconino National Forest
Best Time to Go: Head to Northern Arizona's Oak Creek Canyon (pictured), located between Sedona and Flagstaff. Second only to the Grand Canyon as the state's most popular tourist destination, the canyon is a rising chasm of crimson cliffs and wooded forests. The best time to visit is mid-October, when the colors begin to turn in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and work their way south toward Sedona.

Best Drives & Best Routes: For the area's best fall colors, don't miss Arizona 89A, an approximately 27-mile route south from Flagstaff to Sedona. The drive's last 13 miles descend a series of steep switchbacks through canyon forest of cottonwood, velvet ash, and Arizona sycamore.

Where to Stay: Sedona, with its natural red rock formations. Book a room at the Adobe Hacienda (www.adobe-hacienda.com), a true Southwestern-style B&B with incredible views. Or splurge for a night at the luxurious Enchantment Resort (www.enchantmentresort.com), near Boynton Canyon.

Don't Miss: If you don't mind hoofing it, the 11-mile West Fork hike in Oak Creek Canyon is a great way to immerse yourself in autumn's natural beauty. The first three miles are easy enough for all fitness levels. Just one hour east of Phoenix, Boyce Thompson Arboretum offers the color-turning beauty of the Chinese pistachio trees as well as frequent scheduled walking tours.

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Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas in the Ozark Mountain Region. OakleyOriginals
Best Time to Go: The Natural State offers three distinct leaf-peeping regions, each with its own time for peaking. In Northern Arkansas' Ozark region, leaves begin to turn in late September or early October, with peak color typically appearing around late October. In the state's central Ouachitas region, foliage typically begins changing in early October and peaking in early November. And in southern and eastern Arkansas, peepers begin arriving in mid-October, with colors peaking by mid-November.

Where to Stay: The city of Eureka Springs in Northwest Arkansas is the ideal jumping off point for exploring the Ozarks. The more remote mountain towns of Hardy and Mountain View also offer Ozarks accommodations. Combine a leaf-peeping trip to The Ouachitas with an overnight spa stay in Hot Springs.

Best Drives & Best Routes: The 290-mile-long Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 traverses Arkansas from Harrison in the north down to the Louisiana border. To catch the fall colors as they turn, travel north to south. Pig Trail Scenic Byway, from the southern edge of the Ozark National Forest (and its Ozark Highlands Trail, pictured) north to Brashears, provides more spectacular autumn scenery, running 19 miles through the forested Boston Mountains.

Don't Miss: For viewing amazing autumn scenery by foot, hike a portion of the 223-long Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which stretches from near Little Rock west toward Talihina, Oklahoma.

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Fall in Lyman Lake, North Cascade mountains, in North Cascades National Park. delayed gratification
Best Time to Go: The Northern Cascades of Washington, including North Cascades National Park (pictured), come alive with fall colors from late September through early November. Oregon's prime leaf-peeping is in the Willamette Valley, a fertile fruit and wine region stretching from Eugene north to the Oregon/Washington border. Look for foliage to peak here from mid-to-late October.

Where to Stay: In the Willamette Valley, the centrally located college town of Corvallis makes an excellent base camp.  In Washington, opt for the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth, home to an annual leaf-peeping festival.

Best Drives & Best Routes: Travel Interstate 5 from the Washington border south to Albany or try Highways 99E and 99W, which share much of the same route but may prove less heavily trafficked. Washington's Scenic Loop Highway—the 400-mile Cascade Loop—offers endless scenic possibilities. One to try is the North Cascades Highway 20 portion between Mazama and Newhalem. For the best views, travel east to west.

Don't Miss: For up-to-date leaf-peeping info, try the Oregon Fall Foliage Hotline (800/547-5445) or the Washington Fall Foliage Hotline (800/354-4595). In Oregon's Willamette Valley, pair leaf peeping with wine tasting—it's a must.

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Lee Vining Creek in the Mammoth Lakes region of California. calwest
Best Time to Go: Head to Northern California for the best leaf-peeping, including Yosemite Valley and the Inyo National Forest in the Eastern Sierras, home to both Mono Lake and the Mammoth Lakes Basin. The best time to visit is mid-September through early October, when the leaves really start to turn colors.

Where to Stay: Book a room at the Tamarack Lodge in Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, featuring both historic cabins and lodge rooms. Hotel rooms and campsites are also available throughout Yosemite National Park and are much easier to come by than during summer.

Best Drives & Best Routes: The 15-mile June Lake Loop in the Eastern Sierras; along Highway 41 from Fresno into Yosemite Valley, you'll see maples, aspens, cottonwoods, and dogwoods.

Don't Miss: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, home to aspens, willows, and cottonwoods. Golden aspens line the banks of Lee Vining Creek (pictured) in Mono County, on the eastern side of Yosemite. 

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