The New England States are famous for their fall colors, but just about every state - with the exception of Hawaii - has somewhere to view the golden colors of autumn. Even if you're in an area without many broadleaf trees, autumn is a great time to get outdoors! Enjoy a walk, a hike, or a bicycle or canoe trip in the apple-crisp air or take a scenic drive under sunny blue skies. The quality and angle of light around the fall equinox makes this a perfect time to take photographs. After dark? Gaze up at the clear starry night and--at certain latitudes, you'll have the best chance of the year to see the northern lights.
Learn more about where to see fall colors in our National Forests, view our Taking our Family to the Forest in the Fall or Being Outside in the Fall with our Family videos or read about "nature's recipe" for gorgeous fall color from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Experience autumn in the great outdoors on any of the following federal lands!
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Travel the Talladega Scenic Drive to Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama, and savor refreshing, brisk, clean autumn air. Enjoy panoramic views, rugged mountain-bike trails (try the Sylaward Mountain Bike Trail), and rocky cliffs overlooking a sea of oak, pine, and hickory trees. The 6-mile Chinnabee Silent Hiking Trail has an interesting history and spectacular views of flowing streams, rock outcroppings, and waterfalls.
Denali National Park is a great place to see fall colors. The park also hosts a very special annual four-day event known as the Denali Road Lottery. Most of the year the only vehicles allowed on the scenic Denali Park Road are the park shuttle buses. But winners of the lottery drawing can drive as much of the Denali Park Road as weather allows on one of four days in September. Mark your calendars to sign up for the lottery next June, and you might be driving the road next fall (annually, the second Friday through Monday weekend following Labor Day).
Fall color in Arizona? Yes, in the higher elevations of the mountains and red rock country. Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, north of Sedona on Arizona Highway 89A, is a popular scenic drive in the fall, where bright yellow cottonwood leaves contrast dramatically against towering red rocks. If you prefer fluttery golden aspen leaves, try Snow Bowl Scenic Drive to the top of Snow Bowl. Both are on the Coconino National Forest. The Catalina Highway Scenic Drive on the Coronado National Forest summits within an ecological "sky island." The road begins in a forest of saguaro cacti on the floor of Sabino Canyon and rises to over 9,000 feet on Mount Lemmon, passing through several life zones before reaching a forest of aspens.
Enjoy fall splendor along the Talimena Scenic Drive in the Ouachita National Forest. Stop along the route and hike a portion of the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which parallels the road, or mountain bike along the Earthquake Ridge Trail System.
Yosemite National Park and the adjacent Inyo National Forest are great places to view the deep reds of dogwoods, non-native sugar maples, spectacular aspens, and yes, even poison ivy and poison oak. Now that school's back in session, you might even have better luck getting a Yosemite campsite. On the Inyo, a popular drive is highway 395 from Lone Pine to Bridgeport through the Mammoth Lakes area, with many hiking opportunities (try the Panorama Dome Trail) and camping spots (try French Camp, McGee Creek or Tuff) along the way.
If you live near the White River National Forest in Colorado, pack your picnic basket because late September is looking to be full-on fall foliage! From golden yellows to fluorescent hot pink aspens, go no further than the Rocky Mountains. Looking to get the most from a weekend? A drive up to the Maroon Bells is sure to please. With some of the most photographed peaks in North America, this popular destination is accessed by bus from the town of Aspen – allowing you to sit back and relax as you head in to enjoy that picnic lunch and view the glorious aspens and Maroon Lake. Be sure to check the bus schedule and plan your day accordingly. Don't forget, camping is also an option. Check out Chapman and Bogan Flats campgrounds, which stay open later in the season. Rugged travelers with high-clearance vehicles might even consider Piney Guard Station Cabin.
Northfield Brook Lake is in the scenic Berkshire foothills. The dam and lake are adjacent to the highly industrialized Naugatuck Valley, a region where public recreation is at a premium. Enjoy a picnic against a backdrop of fall foliage at one of the group picnic shelters and be sure to try the 1.7 mile hiking trail that begins at the main recreation area parking lot.
At the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve, visit during the Blackbird Creek Fall Festival and try a canoe trip on the St. Jones or Blackbird Rivers. Check the special events calendar for details.
Just outside Atlanta, visit Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area for an autumn bike ride (try the designated bike trails in the Cochran Shoals area), a picnic, or a lazy canoe or kayak along the river's leafy 48 miles. Or drive further north to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Take the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway to the top of Brasstown Bald, Georgia's tallest mountain (4,784 feet). Stop for a short (.4 mile) leg-stretcher at Anna Ruby Falls, or for a bit longer (2-1/2 mile) hike to Raven Cliff Falls. For a slower–pace, try the scenic but mostly unpaved Chattahoochee River Road. This road rarely permits speeds over 10 miles per hour (so take your time). The Chattahoochee River road heads west at Andrews Cove Campground, a little north of Helen (if you're lucky you might catch Helen's Oktoberfest) and passes through the Mark Trail Wilderness. Stop at Andrews Cove and take a short hike (or perhaps a long walk–this trail connects to the Appalachian Trail). Trout fishing in the area is excellent, too. NOTE: Andrews Cove campsites are first–come, first–serve only.
Visit the Clearwater National Forest in northern Idaho to see the golden-maize color of western larch along the North Fork Clearwater River. Drive up Forest Road 250 starting at "the Bungalow," an old work station and undeveloped campsite at the junction of Forest Road 247. Along the route get out and hike along Fourth of July Pack Bridge (Trail 167). If you like what you see, consider staying in the area a little longer–rugged and rustic Coal Springs Peak Cabin is available through October 10. Contact the forest about trail and road conditions at (208) 476-4541.
Try one of the scenic drives that passes through the Shawnee National Forest, such as the LaRue Pine Hills Road or Ohio River National Scenic Byway. The forest has miles of hiking trails, including a trail that leads from the site of one of the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
Here atop a rocky bluff, in what is now Effigy Mounds National Monument, an ancient people left 195 ancient burial mounds in the shapes of birds, reptiles and mammals. Within the monument, eleven miles of hiking trails wind through oak and aspen forest on the rim of the bluff, offering spectacular views of the fall scenery. October 6 and 7, 2012 is Hawkwatch Weekend, celebrating the fall migration in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway. Events will include live raptor demonstrations, adult educational programs, children's activities and hawk banding (catch and release). As a bonus, October is also Archaeology month in Iowa, so the park will have special programs and displays about the ancient people who lived here. Contact the park more information.
You'll find the cottonwood turning yellow and gold throughout Kansas, and while you're enjoying the robust colors of this state's tree, be sure to enjoy late autumn camping at Tuttle Creek Lake, where Tuttle Creek Cove campground stays open through October 31. Try the Fancy Creek Mountain Bike Trail while you're in the area. This trail is unique in Kansas, winding through dense cedar forest and open native grassland, running along rocky ridges with scenic overlooks of the lake.
Watch the glorious fall color and also learn a little history on the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway. You will have a chance to stretch your legs and retrace the steps of Daniel Boone and subsequent pioneers on the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, which crosses the byway.
At the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, you can take part in a wide range of scheduled fall activities including bird and wildlife walks, tram tours, night walks, and children's programs. Try this: look down from the vibrant colors of the forest canopy to the leaf litter below, and you'll see the unsung fungi, silently recycling the fallen leaves from below. Learn more about the beauty, diversity and biology of fungi on the refuge in an informative identification hike on October 14. Call the ahead for details and hike reservations, 301-497-5887.
Massachusetts ranks high on the list of places to see fall colors, and you'll be awed just about everywhere you look. If you must choose, consider the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway, which extends to the highest point in Massachusetts on Mount Greylock, celebrated in works by noted American authors Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. The summit also affords panoramic views of five different states.
Michigan is high on scenery, including fall colors, especially around the Great Lakes. Try the River Road Scenic Byway through the Huron-Manistee National Forest or Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Early October is also a beautiful time to visit the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is on one of the longest and undeveloped stretches of the Manistique River. This fall, you can join refuge staff for a four- to five-hour canoe/kayak trip suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. Bring your own boat or rent one from a local outfitter. Check all of the refuge's scheduled events.
The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, located in the heart of the Twin Cities metro area, is known for its bird watching opportunities. The refuge offers many special events that allow you to experience early signs of fall, migrating birds, and wild flowers. Another great Minnesota trip is the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway through the Chippewa National Forest. In fall, the brilliant colors of red sugar maples, bronze oak trees and glowing gold aspen and birch adorn the Byway.
Along the 238-mile Nebraska Heritage Highway (Highway 136) from the Missouri River to the town of Edison, you'll find forested bluffs and glimpse black walnut, basswood, American hazelnut, Kentucky coffee tree and green ash. From there, you'll not only see the autumn colors change across the Nebraskan prairies but you'll be immersed in pioneer history. Be sure and stop at Homestead National Monument of America.
World renowned fall foliage? Check. Rushing rivers, covered bridges, breathtaking vistas? Check. New Hampshire is sure to meet your expectations when autumn is in the air. One of the best ways to observe the kaleidoscope of fall colors is via the Kancamagus Scenic Byway (aka, the "Kanc"). From mid-September to mid-October plan on peak foliage displays and on a slow drive as you wind through the White Mountain National Forest where you just might catch a glimpse of an elusive moose too. Why not take in a little history on your trip across the "Kanc"? The Russell-Colbath House, in Albany, is a 19th century farmhouse with period furnishings and operates as a historic house museum with an on-site historic interpreter. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public seasonally. Contact the Saco Ranger District for hours and more information, (603) 447-5448.
The Hudson River Valley is for fantastic for scenery any time of year. Given a beautiful autumn day, there are two special places you might visit consecutively: Tivoli Bays, a component of the Hudson River National Estuarine Reserve in Tivoli and the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites at Hyde Park. After a canoe trip on the Hudson (there's a canoe launch at North Bay) or a hike on one of Tivoli Bays extensive hiking trails, you can take in a tour of President Roosevelt's home or of Eleanor Roosevelt's Val kill.
You can't go wrong in the Smokies when it comes to fall color, but since Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the US you may need to plan ahead for a place to stay. At Cades Cove, you can enjoy a ranger-led open-air hayride and view the leaves, historic old buildings, and wildlife of the area. The road through Great Smoky Mountains connects to Blue Ridge Parkway , with 469 more miles of leaf peeping opportunities. The Blue Ridge Parkway's campgrounds are open through the last weekend in October, and the park also offers fall special events. Check out the hiking trails such as those at Craggy Gardens. From Craggy Gardens, it's less than a 30-minute scenic drive to Mount Mitchell State Park where you can climb the tallest peak east of the Rockies. Even though the peak is well over a mile high at 6,684 feet, at the parking lot you're already near the summit and the walk is a short one.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place to enjoy a picnic or a scenic drive in the crisp fall air. Hike the 1.5-mile Brandywine Falls Gorge Trail to see one of the most popular attractions in the park. Or try Covered Bridge Scenic Byway through the Wayne National Forest, where you'll meander through forested hills alternating with open pastures, and pass through four old fashioned covered bridges.
Managed by the Forest Service, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is spectacular any time of year, but you're in for a special treat if you arrive on a crisp, clear, autumn day. Not only can you enjoy the brilliant colors of the Oregon maple and area cottonwoods within the Columbia River Gorge, but Wilderness, Wild & Scenic Rivers and a National Scenic Trail all lie within the Scenic Area's boundaries. Try mountain biking, hiking (don't miss Multnomah Falls - the trail is just over a mile) or picnicking.
The Allegheny National Forest is a great place to spend an autumn day (or two). Try theLonghouse Scenic Byway and stop at Jake's Rock Overlook among many scenic views of the forest and the Allegheny Reservoir. Or near Huntingdon, visit Raystown Lake managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, when fall mountain biking or hiking the Alegrippis Trail is at its best.
Rising as an oasis in central Utah, the mountains and plateaus of the Fishlake National Forest offer an accessible landscape for anyone with a sense of adventure. This oasis is on fire in late September when aspen groves blaze yellow and orange. The Fishlake is famous for an aspen stand near Fish Lake, considered to be the most massive living organism on earth. The Fish Lake Scenic Byway winds through the Fish Lake Basin at about 8,850 feet and is named after the largest natural mountain lake in Utah. The basin contains many alluring trails including the Lakeshore National Recreation Trail. Other great bets for fall color are the Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway or Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Vermont is famous for its blazing red maple trees and maple syrup. You'll find plenty of both on and around the Green Mountain National Forest. Consider a visit to Hapgood Pond Recreation Area for a walk around the Hapgood Pond Trail, or try the Robert Frost National Recreation Trail, where Frost's poems are posted among the trail's woods and fields. If you're driving, try the newly designated Crossroad of Vermont Scenic Byway for fall colors, quaint New England villages, covered bridges and rugged mountain scenery (and check out the video for a glimpse of what you'll see).
The Blue Ridge Parkway plus the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park offer close to 600 miles of leaf peeping, with many activities and miles of hiking trails along the way. On the southerly Virginia end of the Parkway, Mabry Mill (at milepost 176) is a popular stop. On October weekends, you can wander around the old mill, hear live old-time mountain music and join in the flatfootin'. In the nearby town of Meadows of Dan, travelers can enjoy the kid-friendly corn maze and the local fudge factory.
The White Pass Scenic Byway through the Gifford Pinchot and Snoqualmie National Forest offers striking views along its entire 110-mile length, and some of Washington State's best wildlife viewing opportunities. Early fall can also be a great time for hiking. There's the color, of course, but the trails are mostly bug-free and still snow-free. The byway passes the southernmost tip of Mt. Rainier National Park where you can catch a glimpse of the striking peak or just go there on a 78-mile side trip to the park beginning at the town of Packwood . Stop in at Destination Packwood Visitor Center for details or give them a call at (360) 494-2223.
Rugged West Virginia scenery is never hard to find. In the autumn, try the Midland Trail for bright splashes of fall color. You'll pass through New River Gorge National River, where whitewater trips are possible year-round.