Relish in a lovely picnic under the vivid autumn maples of New England or a crisp morning stroll surrounded by golden aspens of the Mountain West. You can discover the beauty and exceptional fall colors on public lands in just about every state.
Want to learn more about the science of these gorgeous fall colors? Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for nature's fabulous fall foliage recipe.
The colors of Autumn are on full display in these scenic locations across the country
Coronado National Forest (Debbie Angel, Share the Experience)
Fall color in Arizona can be experienced in the state's southeastern mountains. The Catalina Highway Scenic Drive in 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 (2,743 m) on Mount Lemmon, passing through several life zones before reaching a forest of aspens.
Inyo National Forest (Stephen Anderson, Share the Experience)
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. With the arrival of fall, you might even have better luck reserving a Yosemite campsite. For a scenic drive on the Inyo, try U.S. Route 395 from Lone Pine to Bridgeport through the Mammoth Lakes area, with many hiking opportunities (try the Panorama Dome Trail) and campgrounds.
White River National Forest (Richard Valenti, Share the Experience)
If you are near the White River National Forest, pack your picnic basket because late September is full-on fall foliage in the Colorado Rockies! The Maroon Bells, two of the most photographed peaks in North America, are even more photogenic when dressed in the golden yellows to fluorescent hot pinks of autumn aspen leaves. Start in the town of Aspen to visit the Maroon Bells – traffic is restricted during the summer season, however, bus tours are provided during this busy time, so sit back and take in the view.
Sawtooth National Recreation Area (Paul Dawson, Share the Experience)
A visit to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the central mountains of Idaho is scenic any time of year, but in the fall, it is downright special. With three wilderness areas, 700 miles (1126.5 km) of trails and more than 300 alpine lakes, this area demands exploration. Plan ahead and be aware of seasonal closures once the snow starts to fly.
White Mountain National Forest (Adam Marland, Share the Experience)
Rushing rivers, covered bridges, breathtaking vistas? Check. A scenic drive through New Hampshire is sure to meet your fall foliage expectations. Try the Kancamagus Scenic Byway (aka, the "Kanc") to observe the kaleidoscope of fall colors. From mid-September to mid-October, plan on peak foliage displays as you wind through the White Mountain National Forest, where you just might catch a glimpse of an elusive moose. 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 that 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 seasonally open to the public.
Fish Lake National Forest (Adriana Brungardt, Share the Experience)
Rising as an oasis in central Utah, the mountains and plateaus of the Fishlake National Forest offer a dramatic landscape for anyone with a sense of adventure. This oasis seems on fire in late September when aspen groves blaze yellow and orange. The forest 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 (2,697 m) 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 in Utah are the Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, Timpanogos Cave National Monument or the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Green Mountain National Forest (Lorianne Simon, Share the Experience)
Vermont is famous for its blazing red maple trees and sweet maple syrup. You'll find plenty of both in 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 along the trail. If you're driving, try the Crossroad of Vermont Scenic Byway for autumn colors, quaint New England villages, covered bridges and rugged mountain scenery.
Blue Ridge Parkway (Sateesh Bhamidipati, Share the Experience)
The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park offer nearly 600 miles (965 km) of gorgeous leaf peeping; check the fall color report for observations from local rangers. On the southerly Virginia-end of the Parkway, Mabry Mill (at milepost 176) is a popular stop for photographers. On October weekends, wander around the old mill, hear live old-time mountain music and join in the flat footin'. In the nearby town of Meadows of Dan, travelers can enjoy the kid-friendly corn maze and the local fudge factory.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Chen Su, Share the Experience)
The White Pass Scenic Byway passes through the Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and offers striking views along its entire 110-miles (177 km) including some of Washington State's best wildlife viewing opportunities. Early fall can also be a great time for hiking. There's the autumn foliage, of course, but the trails are mostly bug-free and still snow-free. The byway passes the southernmost tip of Mount Rainier National Park, where you can catch a glimpse of the peak or just go there—it's a 78-mile (126 km) side trip to the park from the town of Packwood. Stop in at Destination Packwood Visitor Center for details or give them a call at (360) 494-2223.
Grand Teton National Park (Jon LeVasseur, Share the Experience)
Look west to Grand Teton National Park for rugged mountain scenery framed in the gold of cottonwood, aspen and willow leaves. The peak season for fall brilliance in the Teton Range is historically the third week of September, but it varies with the weather. The fall season is also a great time to view wildlife—you may see bears actively preparing for hibernation or witness the annual elk rut. The Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center in Moose, 12 miles (19.3 km) north of Jackson, is open through October and provides area information, guided walks and talks, and natural history exhibits.