Vivid Fall Colors from the Great Lakes to the West Coast

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With crisp autumn days settling in, now is the time to venture out and explore the dazzling hues of the season. Maximize your time out in the fresh air and plan a day hike or a mountain bike ride. Don’t forget your camera, a water bottle, and a snack to fuel your day out on the trails. Or, there's still time to squeeze in a night camping under the stars. Here are 10 locations sure to showcase fall foliage and autumn activities from the Great Lakes to the West Coast.

Fall in love with these spectacular public lands across the West

Hiawatha National Forest


Aerial view of red, orange, yellow, and green-hued forest stand.

Hiawatha National Forest (Dan Mitler, Share the Experience)

The Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula touches the scenic shorelines and beaches of three Great Lakes and is home to six historic Michigan lighthouses. Point Iroquois Lighthouse on the Lake Superior shoreline is a must-see on your fall bucket list.

Beginning in late September, the forest radiates the colors of crimson, yellow, gold, green and brown. The Hiawatha has over 30 varieties of trees which provide a rainbow of fall colors including oaks, maples, birches, beeches, and aspens. You can follow this fall color tour of the west side of the forest for an incredible assortment of scenic drives, hikes, and activities.

Mark Twain National Forest


Low mountain ridges dotted with red, orange, and green-colored trees.

Mark Twain National Forest (Joshua Hardy, Share the Experience)

With seven wilderness areas, the Eleven Point National Wild and Scenic River, and Glade Top National Forest Scenic Byway, there is no shortage of ways for you to celebrate fall in the Ozarks on the Mark Twain National Forest. In southeastern Missouri, maples, gums, dogwoods, and sassafras start to show reds, yellows, and oranges in mid-October. Elms, hackberry, hickories, and silver maples turn golden and brown colors. In southwest Missouri, sassafras, sumac, and dogwoods show their colors as well. Walnuts are yellow; their leaflets are falling off, and hickories soon follow. The Poplar Bluff Ranger District is a great place to start for a variety of recreation opportunities like hiking and riding trails, fishing, and more.

Capitol Reef National Park


Bright yellow and red-leafed trees of a historic orchard line the base of a sandstone monolith.

Capitol Reef National Park (Jim Koeller, Share the Experience)

September to October are popular times to visit Capitol Reef, and for good reason. Cottonwoods explode into golden hues below the dramatic red-orange sandstone formations. The weather is often ideal for hiking and backpacking, with less chance of snow or dangerous monsoon rains. It is always wise to check weather and road conditions during your visit and #RecreateResponsibly.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area


A lake lined with deep orange and green colored trees.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (

Fall starts the quiet season at Chickasaw National Recreation Area, meaning miles of trails, streams, and creeks are largely yours to explore. The Bison Pasture Loop trail (1.9 mi / 3.06 km) is a well-maintained gravel trail that features moderate elevation changes and two viewpoints. The Platt Historic District is another picturesque destination where fall colors mingle with historic structures like the Lincoln Bridge, the Vendome Well, and Buffalo Spring. Wherever you decide to #BringHomeAStory, take lots of pictures and enjoy all this formerly designated National Park has to offer!

Tonto National Forest


Four horses with three riders strolling through a shallow river in autumn.

Tonto National Forest (Lin Chao, Share the Experience)

Squeeze in one last fall getaway on the Tonto National Forest, where peak viewing time occurs mid-October through mid-November. The Pinal Mountains are home to oaks and small pockets of aspens in the Signal Peak area. Maples and aspens have been known to turn red in the upper reaches of Icehouse and Sixshooter Canyons. Be sure to stop by Ferndell Spring in upper Sixshooter Canyon and look for the nation’s largest canyon maple tree.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest


Multiple waterfalls tumble over a cliff face into a calm, shallow pool in the forest.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Chen Su, Share the Experience)

Gifford Pinchot National Forest has an endless supply of scenery and adventure to satisfy your fall outing wish list. Lewis River Recreation Area offers prime views of Lower Lewis River Falls, captured in their autumnal glory in Chen Su’s photo above. The Lewis River Trail #31 running past the day use site leads up and down river to more spectacular falls and other points of interest. The trail follows a gentle uphill grade through a magnificent Douglas fir, western red cedar, and big leaf maple old-growth forest. Plan ahead: parking reservations are required through early September.

Effigy Mounds National Monument


Forest clearing containing low, grass-covered Indian mounds amidst the leaf-covered forest floor.

Effigy Mounds National Monument (National Park Service)

Effigy Mounds National Monument was created to protect and preserve over 200 earthworks, some in the shape of animals, built by the American Indian cultures of Iowa's Upper Mississippi River Valley for hundreds of years. A surprising display of color blankets the mounds from late September through October. Fire Point overlook offers sweeping views of the Mississippi River Valley. We can’t think of a better place to spend a quiet, contemplative fall afternoon.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge


Boardwalk with railings leading to a lake surrounded by yellow-leafed trees in the fall season.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Thia Xiong, US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a thriving urban refuge where nature connects people, communities, and wildlife. The refuge offers a variety of recreational activities from hiking, biking, and walking to wildlife viewing, hunting, and even cross-country skiing in the winter. There is always something exciting happening on the Refuge; check out the event calendar and plan a special autumn afternoon outing with your friends and family.

Kootenai National Forest


Wide dirt trail cuts through tall stands of yellow-leafed trees.

Kootenai National Forest (Kathy Nielsen, Share the Experience)

In the fall, the Kootenai National Forest is illuminated by stands of yellow western larch and aspen and the reds of huckleberry bushes, mountain maples, and mountain ash. Kootenai Falls and the historic Swinging Bridge is the perfect spot for picnicking, sightseeing, and a short but challenging leg-stretcher hike. For the adventure-seekers, Ten Lakes Scenic Area is a rugged backcountry destination characterized by high alpine mountains, cool clear, high mountain lakes, and several peaceful, meandering trails. Northwest Montana is spectacularly wild, so be sure to research weather conditions and food storage requirements before heading out on your adventure.

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge


Long golden grasses of the Tule Lake wetlands looking west towards the snowcapped peak of Mount Shas

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge (Dave Menke, US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a significant staging area for migrating waterfowl during spring and fall migrations; and while today’s wetlands represent just a small fraction of the wetlands that existed prior to reclamation, they remain crucial as a critical resource for the 80 percent of the migratory waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. Get a birds-eye view of the refuge from the overlook at Sheepy Ridge Trail, built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Photographers will love the many opportunities for wildlife viewing along the trails, auto tour, and photo blinds. While you are in the Tule Lake area, check out the thousands of acres of public lands full of scenic views, historic locations, and recreational activities waiting for you to explore.

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