7 Awe-Inspiring Places to Visit While the Leaves Are Changing

Updated 10/21/16
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Is there anything more enchanting than the changing of the seasons? So much nostalgia is embedded in those color-changing leaves. As each one falls, burnt orange and crimson in color, we're transported back to a childhood spent kicking them into the sky as they crunched beneath our feet. This simple pleasure never leaves us, and with the chill in the air, we're having some serious fall foliage wanderlust

So, it's high time you relived those memories and hit the road on one of our best fall foliage trips (you'll want to take the ultimate American road trip next). From Michigan to Vermont, we tracked down the tarmac with some serious fall colors that are sure to dilate your retinas with pure wonder. An invigorating mini road trip is just what we all need at this time of year. Grab a pen to start planning your best fall foliage trip and head out this weekend. 

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

Bandi Szakony

Why: If you crave a dash of history with your fall foliage, the Green Mountain byway will satisfy both. According to Travel+Leisure, "Vermont is known as the mecca for serious leaf viewers in the Eastern United States," and if the pictures are anything to go by, it won't disappoint. Enjoy breathtaking views on the drive through the towns of Waterbury and Stowe, featuring views from open meadows to farmland and forests, all against a truly awe-inspiring mountain backdrop. The beautiful fall foliage colors of the maple, birch, and beech trees lining this eleven-mile route are a sight to behold.

Get your camera finger ready.

What: The region is brimming with historic homes, farmsteads, villages, and mill sites. Don't miss out on seeing the Waterbury Reservoir, and be sure to plan a visit to one of their three state parks, all accessible along the route. If you're a nature junkie, hit up Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. The hiking is spectacular. Be sure to book your fall foliage tours ahead of time.

When: If you want to witness peak foliage, be sure to visit from mid-September, when the color change begins, to mid-late October.

Thomas Mitchell

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Dean Pennala

Why: If you're really serious about seeing the fall foliage, Michigan is your state. With 19 million acres of forest, it's one of the best places to view the colors in their full glory. Choose from over 20 forested state parks in the Upper Peninsula all bursting with fall trees like ash, aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak, sycamore, and tamarack. Just imagine being surrounded by crimson, gold, and orange hues as far as the eye can see. Breathtaking.

What: The M-119 Tunnel of Trees is for the die-hard fall color-change enthusiasts. The magical 20-mile winding road takes you along Lake Michigan from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. There's a reason it was named Michigan's top fall color spot. Don't forget to make the most of their fall color tours and enjoy the many other activities in the fall from hiking, biking, and apple picking. 

When: The colors start to change around mid-September and last right through until mid- to late October. According to comments on TripAdvisor, the leaves haven't completely turned yet as it has been quite warm, so you should be good to visit right up to November.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Ben Janson

Why: If you're an outdoor enthusiast, you'll rejoice in the natural wonders of Shenandoah National Park. Nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, this veritable wonderland features cascading waterfalls, rocky outlooks, stunning vistas, and quiet wooded hollows. But it's also one of the most quintessential fall foliage destinations, with Skyline Drive named one of the top 10 scenic mountain drives in the U.S.

What: Take the scenic route on Skyline Drive that runs north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the only public road through the park, you can rest assured there will be other meandering tourists like yourself taking it slow to admire the fall foliage. The trip takes about three hours, so be prepared with snacks and provisions to last the distance.

When: According to the National Park Service, itis near impossible to predict a peak time, thanks to varying elevation across 100 miles of forest. But if you want an accurate real-time report, the Shenandoah staff post a weekly fall color update each Friday through the color season.

Midland Trail National Scenic Byway, West Virginia

Jaki Miller

Why: Also known as the U.S. Route 60, the 180-mile Midland Trail winds through the mountains from Kenova (just outside of Huntington) to White Sulphur Springs. The foliage can be seen all the way along the road, but there are also some vistas that give you a better view. The Visit Southern West Virginia website says "one of the prettiest views in the whole state" is the vista near the New River Gorge in Hawk’s Nest State Park, right outside of Ansted. If you need more convincing, one reviewer on TripAdvisor commented how they "love the scenic views of the rivers, streams, and waterfalls.

A fall drive is a must!" 

What: Plan a stop at the Lost World Caverns and walk through 45-minutes of stalactites and stalagmites 120 feet below the earth's surface. Don't miss the Snowy Chandelier formation. The 30-ton compound stalactite is one of the nation's largest. The 276 acres of Hawk's Nest State Park is another must-see, especially for white water rafting fans.

When: The best time to see the fall colors is now and right through to the end of October. The West Virginia State Parks site provides real-time updates.

Aspen, Colorado

Aaron Spong

Why: The world-renowned ski town of Aspen is known for more than just its spectacular slopes and ritzy resorts; it's also one of the most popular fall foliage destinations in the fall. The town is named after a tree, after all. The aspen leaves turn a spectacular yellow gold color in the autumn, and when you throw that against the breathtaking peaks of the blue mountain ranges, you have a winning formula for photographic magic. 

What: Take one of the many fall color drives and witness the beautiful aspen in its many vibrant shades along the way. When you're not viewing the leaves, there's plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, from rafting to hiking, rock climbing, fishing, and even horseback riding—all in the refreshing mountain air.

When: While mid-September is the best time to go, early to mid-October is also worth a visit. Any time beyond that and the leaves have all fallen. 

Moosehead Lake Region, Maine

Francisco Montes

Why: As Maine’s largest lake, Moosehead is one of the most beautiful locations to take in the fall foliage. The 75-mile drive is jam-packed with brilliant leaves in varying degrees of yellow, red, scarlet, brown, and purple. It's practically cinematic gold.

What: Stop along the way for picnics and pictures, and don't miss the Attean Overlook. We're told it has an outstanding view of the Moose River Valley. Apparently, you can see all the way to the Canadian border. 

When: For peak color, Maine.org says travelers should visit between October 6 to 25. New England Today says to plan an extended stay to watch the colors change.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Summer Kozisek

Why: Located at 11,000 feet above sea level, this picturesque location is a nature lover's paradise. Surrounded by thick forest, glassy lakes, and stunning waterfalls, you can literally breathe in and soak up all of Mother Nature's beauty all around you. So when all this greenery turns to gold in the fall, you can just imagine the breathtaking experience that awaits you. Hit up the 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway and find out for yourself why it's called the "Kind of Roads."

What: There are so many things to do at the gorge, but a few of the most popular (and the reason 2 million people visit each year) are the many visual attractions including the Multnomah Falls, Crown Point, Beacon Rock State Park, Rowena Crest Viewpoint, and the famous 11,240-foot volcano, Mt. Hood. Yes, it is active, but it hasn't had a major eruption since 1781 and is unlikely to blow anytime soon.

When: Once again, varying elevation makes it difficult to predict peak times to visit (apparently the trees at higher elevation change first), but the third or fourth weekend in October is generally best for color throughout the state.

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