8 Fall Vacations to See the Leaves Change—From New Orleans and LA to Sedona, AZ


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As the seasons change from summer to winter, it suddenly seems as though the entire world is on fall foliage lookout. Although it happens every year, there's something so magical about the way green leaves transform into the most delightful shades of burnt orange, tart yellow, rich tan, and thousands of variations in between. If you're lucky enough to live in a city that experiences all four seasons, beautiful fall foliage may be sitting right outside your front door. However, for those who live in more moderate climates, the best views of changing leaves call for a vacation.

We tapped Lonely Planet Eastern U.S. Destination Editor Trisha Ping for insights and did a bit of our own research to determine the best fall vacations to take this year. The good news is that many striking fall foliage destinations are just a road trip away (no matter where you call home). Yes, even Angelenos, who are used to perennially mild weather and palm trees, can hop in the car to find breathtaking views of colorful trees just a few hours outside the city. You just have to know where to look.

Fill up your tank and set your GPS; these are the best fall vacations for a quick trip to see the leaves change.

For New Yorkers

The Catskills

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Visit: The Catskills

Distance: Two-hour drive

Best Time to Go: October. The first few weeks of October are known to yield some of the most stunning displays of fall foliage in the Catskills. Just two hours north of bustling New York City lie expansive mountains brimming with color, just begging you to spend a long weekend away. This part of New York is best known for the Catskill Forest Preserve, so be sure to take a stroll on one of its many hiking trails, or take an hour-long drive south and book a room at the charming Kenoza Hall.

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For Chicagoans

Traverse City

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Visit: Traverse City, MI

Distance: Five-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Late September to early October. Take a drive up to Michigan's northern end for a fall foliage road trip to rival all others. The farther north you drive, the more intense the changing colors become. Spend a few days taking in the sites and enjoying the open road.

If you're staying the weekend, head to Chateau Chantal Winery for a flight of delectable wines made on-site.

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For New Orleanians


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Visit: Natchez, MS

Distance: Three-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Late October to Early November. New Orleans isn't exactly a city you'd associate with fall foliage, but just three hours north, you can get the typical fall vacation experience in Natchez, Mississippi. Drive up the Natchez Trace Parkway and stop along the way for a day hike among the brightly colored trees.

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For Miamians

ocala, FL

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Visit: Ocala, FL

Distance: Five-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Early November. Leave behind the tropical climate of Miami and journey north to Ocala, Florida. You can spend some time on the coast or continue east to the Ocala National Forest. Hike or drive through Alexander Springs to see sweetgum and maple trees in an array of autumn shades.

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For Los Angelenos

Big Bear Lake

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Visit: Big Bear Lake, CA

Distance: Two-and-a-half-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Late October to Early November. For a change of scenery, head to Big Bear Lake, just a few hours east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino National Forest. As far as southern California fall foliage goes, this is one of the best spots for leaf-peeping. Stay in a luxe cabin or rough it and plan a true camping trip.

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For San Franciscans

Lake Tahoe

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Visit: Lake Tahoe, CA

Distance: Four-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Mid- to late October. A four-hour drive northeast of San Francisco will put you at the south end of Lake Tahoe. With summer crowds gone until next year, it's a quiet, sunny destination to enjoy the golden-colored fall foliage. Go for a hike or walk outdoors at Taylor Creek or Fallen Leaf Lake to really experience natural beauty.

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For Phoenicians


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Visit: Sedona, AZ

Distance: Two-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Mid- to late October. Although you may not associate Arizona with stunning fall colors, Sedona is home to some of the most scenic drives and hikes perfect for spotting autumn shades of orange and yellow in the trees. Drive through Oak Creek Canyon on Highway 89 and stop off for a hike on the West Fork Oak Creek Trail.

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For Seattleites

Mount Rainier National Park

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Visit: Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Distance: Two-hour drive

Best Time to Go: Mid-October to November. If you travel just two hours outside of Seattle, Washington, you can enjoy the natural scenery of Mount Rainier National Park. Starting in September, vine maple, huckleberry bushes, and larch begin to change colors, offering breathtaking views for an unforgettable fall vacation. There are plenty of opportunities to get out of the car and hike, or you can opt to see the sites by car and drive through Chinook Pass or Route 410.

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