Head East for a Brilliant Autumn

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Admiring the iconic fall foliage of the East is sure to be a bucket list item, especially when you consider the sweeping mountain vistas, charming local towns and covered bridges, wildlife viewing, and leisurely urban walks that come with it. From the charismatic Northeast to the Appalachian foothills of Georgia, this list offers a variety of experiences for leaf-peepers of all kinds.

 

8 prime public lands across the East for fall's vivid display

Green Mountain National Forest

Vermont

Aerial shot of a blacktop mountain highway nestled between a forest of red, orange, and green-leafed

Green Mountain National Forest (David Marcus, Share the Experience)

Characterized by striking scenery that combines rugged mountain peaks with charming Vermont villages, the Green Mountain National Forest is a favorite fall landscape for many visitors. Stroll down the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, a National Recreation Trail commemorating Robert Frost’s poetry. Enjoy several of his poems displayed along the trail or bring your own copy to sit back and immerse yourself in the scenery that inspired his words. Or, hike the 3.2 mile (5.1 km) White Rocks Cliffs Trail for a picturesque trek through geologic and early human history. Mid-October is the best time to plan your visit, but stay tuned for fall color updates for the Forest and broader Forest Service Eastern Region!

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

New York

Wetland surrounded by red, orange, yellow, and green-leafed trees.

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (Megan Davis Reed, US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Located between Rochester and Buffalo, Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge has been described as one of the best kept secrets of Western New York. Refuge manager Tom Roster describes the hallmarks of autumn at the refuge: “the vibrant colors of seasonal change, along with the constant hum from duck and geese on the marshes, lets you know that fall has arrived.” Thousands of migrating waterfowl gather on the refuge marshes, visible from four overlooks and five trails. Ringneck Marsh Overlook in particular provides a picturesque view of the brilliant seasonal colors.

Minute Man National Historical Park

Massachusetts

Groups of people holding umbrellas walk down a tree-lined path on a guided tour on a rainy day in th

Minute Man National Historical Park (Erin Stepp, Share the Experience)

What is more quintessentially “fall” than spending a cool, rainy New England afternoon reliving the nation’s early history? Rain or shine, Minute Man National Historical Park is a jewel for history lovers and curious minds alike. Guided Ranger programs are offered through October 30 and explore a variety of topics to suit all interests.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Pennsylvania

A large wheeled, blue-barreled cannon pointed towards an empty field.

Gettysburg National Military Park (Kim Dunlap, Share the Experience)

There is so much to see at Gettysburg National Military Park, you could spend all day exploring and still find yourself wanting to return for more. Climb to the top of the Pennsylvania Memorial or Culp’s Hill Observation Tower for a birds-eye view of the battlefield, distant mountains, and surrounding communities. Wander among more than 1000 monuments, memorials, and historical markers and gaze towards the brilliant blue and purple mountains in the distance. Warm up in the Museum and Visitor Center or by driving the 16-stop Auto Tour. The quiet hush of autumn and the softness of orange and yellow foliage amplify the sense of wonder and solemnity and make for a truly unforgettable experience.

National Capital Region

Washington, DC

A still, shallow river surrounded by vibrant red, orange, and gold-leafed trees.

Prince William Forest Park (Judy Gallagher, Share the Experience)

Live near DC? Try a weekend campout to Prince William Forest Park or to Catoctin Mountain Park, both easy places for beginners to bring home a story about their first overnighter. Walk some of Prince William’s 37 miles (59.5 km) of trails, the most extensive hiking trail network in Northern Virginia.

Vibrant orange, yellows and reds make a gorgeous backdrop for your fall picnic. You can book reservable picnic pavilions and sites at Prince William Forest Park, Rock Creek Park and Carderock for your next get-together. Combine biking and hiking on the Mount Vernon Trail with a picnic at Fort Hunt along the George Washington Memorial Parkway

For an easy day trip from DC, visit George Washington Birthplace National Monument, a peaceful setting to learn the history of the area and a great spot to go canoeing, kayaking or fishing. The picnic area has a number of tables and grills for your fall gatherings; for larger groups, book the picnic pavilion. The picnic spot sits on a bluff overlooking the mouth of Pope's Creek with views of the Potomac River. You can also bike ride on park roads or go bird watching in the park.

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia

Bright, orange-leafed trees line an empty mountain highway.

Shenandoah National Park (James Schlett, Share the Experience)

Shenandoah National Park is undoubtedly one of the most iconic autumn destinations in the eastern United States. This park was meant for immersing yourself in the awe-inspiring scenery, from easy hikes to sweeping vistas, rewarding treks to towering waterfalls, and 105 miles (168 km) of scenic driving. For the truly devoted, Skyline Drive is the gateway to an extended road trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains. Be sure to stop off for a hike or picnic in each of the park’s three districts; no two viewpoints are exactly alike. We recommend visiting midweek or scoping out hidden gem locations to ensure the most rewarding leaf-viewing experience.

Cherokee National Forest

Tennessee

Layers of mountain ridges covered in red, orange, and golden-leafed trees.

Cherokee National Forest (Shu Xu, Share the Experience)

The Cherokee National Forest boasts all the same splendor as the Great Smoky Mountains but with fewer crowds. Choose from 30 developed campgrounds, numerous picnic areas, over 700 miles (1126 km) of trails, and two Forest Service scenic byways to start your autumn adventure. The Forest is also home to more than 150 miles (241 km) of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The Tellico River Area (PDF) provides outstanding opportunities for fishing, camping, hiking, and scenic driving. The Cherohala Skyway offers views reminiscent of those on the Blue Ridge Parkway and access to incredible waterfalls, hiking, and camping destinations. Mark your calendars for mid-October and get ready to be captivated by the brilliant scenery unfolding layer by mountainous layer before you.

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Georgia

Long exposure photograph adds texture to the full, flowing water of a broad waterfall.

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Mitch Warnick, Share the Experience)

Extending north from Atlanta, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is made up of a 48-mile (77 km) stretch of the river and over 6,000 acres (2428 ha) of land area. The park offers endless opportunities for you and your crew to escape busy city life, from picnics to walking trails and cycling to rafting and fishing. In the fall, cardinal flowers and the showy scarlet sumacs turn brilliant shades of red with the yellows of goldenrod, the deep purple of ironwood and the multitude of changing leaves. The river is almost always clear, cold, and slow moving, just as every fall outing should be.

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