America looks great in the fall, and there are many regions across the country that exhibit spectacular leaf-turning colors. And while the famous Northeast certainly has its share of amazing displays of color, you’ll find incredible bursts in other corners of the U.S. as well.
Looking for great fall foliage? Pack your camera, fill the car with gas, grab a pair of hiking boots, and rent a cabin to spend a weekend or a week. Once ready to go, check out these seven picks of areas not in the northeast during this autumn season.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Tucked in between mountain ranges on the western side of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park offers amazing fall foliage. This national park features the 105-mile Skyline Drive, where you can drive through and experience different views and spectacular colors as the miles go by. Since temperatures vary as you cross the mountains and hit different elevation points, the tree types and varieties of rich reds, yellows, oranges, and greens will vary. Skyline Drive offers plenty of lookout points to stop and check out these views, along with numerous trails where you can spot waterfalls and wildlife with a colorful foliage backdrop.
Best time to go: Late September through November, but especially during the month of October.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
The southern end of Skyline Drive meets the Blue Ridge Parkway, which stretches 469 miles through to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On the way, you’ll see the gorgeous colors of fall with tree varieties such as dogwoods, maples, and sassafras sporting their reds, golds, and oranges. In a nutshell, Blue Ridge Parkway is an awesome drive with terrific views.
Best time to go: Late September through November with the lower elevation foliage changing last.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Spanning Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an excellent choice for foliage. It’s a diverse ecosystem with over 100 species of trees that are spread out across multiple elevation changes. See bright yellow birches, bronze hickories, scarlet red maples, and deep red dogwoods over the course of about seven weeks. Hundreds of Gatlinburg cabins nestle in the foothills surrounding the park, offering luxurious living in the mountains. Take a crisp, cool hike on one of the numerous easy trails or just gaze at the stunning views. Any road you take here is a scenic drive (but check out Foothills Parkway for exceptional vistas).
Best time to go: Early October for the higher elevations, October into November for the middle and lower elevations.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a unique place, perhaps unlike any other in the U.S. With seven million acres of tree coverage that includes ash, aspen, maple, oak, birch, sycamore, beech, and tamaracks, you can’t go wrong. Couple this with the hundreds of lake and river areas, and three Great Lakes, the combination of color reflecting off the water is amazing to see. See brilliant scarlet reds and sunny yellows spanning over acres of green and brown grasses in the open areas and hit the hardwood forests, and you’ll be treated to incredible reds, oranges, golds, greens, and even purples. The Upper Peninsula is an vast area, so you’ll want to choose your destination carefully, be it the Mackinac Bridge or a national byway tour through the Copper County.
Best time to go: Last week of September and first two weeks of October.
Taos, New Mexico
The southwestern section of the U.S. offers visitors beautiful fall views as the southern Rocky Mountains meet New Mexico. Taos is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and is a fantastic starting point to see what fall foliage looks like in a desert landscape. Other great places to see what southwest foliage looks like can be found at the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Highway 64, and the High Road between Taos and Santa Fe. Throughout your journey, you’ll find numerous pathways and hiking trails to explore—check out the Toltec Scenic Railroad, Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67, and Goose Creek Trail #65.
Best time to go: Late September to early October to catch the most colorful views.
Considering this city is named after its amazing aspen trees, it’s no surprise to learn you can view incredible fall foliage here. It’s a short window of time, but well worth the trip to see Aspen’s golden hues. Located 160 miles southwest of Denver, Aspen opens to the Maroon Bells (one of the most photographed mountain ranges in North America!), the Rio Grande Trail, Castle Creek Road, and Independence Pass. Excellent hiking options for seeing these trees filled with golden delights are Crater Lake, Hunter Creek, Cathedral Lake, and American Lake trails.
Best time to go: Mid to late September.
The Ozark Mountains
The Ozarks span the states of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, with thick forests of trees that offer a variety of fall foliage as the season turns. Once the leaves start changing, the colors are vibrant. Ozark National Forest offers over 1.2 million acres of amazing scenery, and you’ll be treated to beautiful hues of red, gold, maroon, and orange with backdrops filled with mountains, rivers, and streams. A must-see is the 54-mile stretch of Talimena Highway, a designated national Scenic Byway.
Best time to go: October to Early November. The Northern Ozark regions peak around mid-October, Central Ozarks peak by month’s end, and the Southern Ozarks (Arkansas) peak by early November.