The Leaf Peeper’s Guide to Fall Travel

By Amanda Wowk

September 15, 2020

Every fan of fall knows cooler temps mean leaf-peeping season—AKA that magical time of year when nature paints across the landscape with oranges, yellows, reds, and purples. Those lucky enough to live where fall foliage is on-show probably have their favorite national park to visit for prime leaf-peeping. Others travel to the far corners of America just to catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon. 

Whether you’re a veteran leaf peeper or this is your first time road-tripping to check out fall foliage, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up eight of our favorite leaf-peeping destinations in the U.S., plus tips for when to visit for peak leaf-peeping, thanks to this annual fall foliage prediction map.

Upper Peninsula of Michigan

The UP is known for being an outdoorsy playground year-round, but the fall is when it really shows off. Socially-distant activities like scenic drives, camping, kayaking, and hiking in national forests make this part of the Great Lakes State a favored destination this fall. 

Peak leaf-peeping: Last week of September into early October

Stowe, Vermont

leaf-peeping

One of two New England destinations on our list, Stowe, Vermont is ideal for apple and pumpkin picking, hiking, and sipping local libations at breweries and cideries—all under the canopy of brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. 

Peak leaf-peeping: Last week of September into early October

Glacier National Park, Montana

national park

Montana’s foliage season is typically brief but spectacular. And one of the best places to catch the fall colors is Glacier National Park. While the park reopened for visitors earlier this year, some roads remain closed. Visit the park’s website to plan your journey ahead of time.

Peak leaf-peeping: Last week of September into early October

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Whether you plan to camp or rent a cabin, the White Mountains are the ideal homebase for a weekend spent leaf-peeping. Plan your adventure—options include day hikes, mountain biking, scenic drives, and more—to fully experience what fall in New Hampshire has to offer.

Peak leaf-peeping: Last week of September into early October

Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, Tennessee

You’d be remiss to skip leaf-peeping in the Great Smoky Mountains, home of the fall foliage prediction map itself. Prefer a more urban setting? Head to Gatlinburg for city strolls under a canopy of colors.

Peak leaf-peeping: First week of October 

North Cascades National Park, Washington

national park

Mountains, glaciers, and lakes. Oh my! Just three hours outside Seattle, North Cascades National Park is an ideal place for hiking, fishing, camping, and of course, leaf-peeping. As one of the least-visited national parks—just 38,200 visitors in 2019—you’ll have plenty of room for enjoying fall foliage at a safe, social distance.

Peak leaf-peeping: Between October 5th and 12th

Finger Lakes, New York

leaf-peeping

Grab your canoe and witness the leaves changing from one of the 11 lakes in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Prefer patios over paddling? Visit one of the area’s 100+ wineries instead.

Peak leaf-peeping: Between October 5th and 19th

Tip: Be sure to check your destination’s quarantine requirements when planning your trip. New York (as well as nearby Connecticut and New Jersey) requires many out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days. Unsure of the COVID-related risk at your intended destination? TripIt Neighborhood Safety Scores can help you assess health (and other safety) risks before your trip.

Asheville, North Carolina

leaf-peeping

If a foliage-filled city break is what you’re after, Asheville is the place to go. The city is known for its great restaurants, wineries, and thriving brewery scene. While many of the beer festivals planned during foliage season have been postponed or pivoted to virtual, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the local suds; many taprooms offer delivery and take-out options. Better yet, plan a day hike to experience the fall colors and cap it off with a socially-distant picnic.

Peak leaf-peeping: Week of October 19th