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SNEHIT PHOTO | Adobe Stock

The 7 Best U.S. Cities and Towns to See Fall Foliage

SmarterTravel

Autumn enthusiasts are constantly on the hunt for that first sign of changing leaves. Fall looks a little different in every part of the country and dedicated leaf peepers don’t want to miss a thing. From golden aspens amidst the Rocky Mountains to classic New England foliage along the East Coast, here are seven destinations where leaf peepers can catch the best fall colors. 

Bar Harbor, Maine

Aerial view of Bar Harbor, Maine and the surrounding water during fall
mandritoiu | Adobe Stock

The East Coast is an autumnal classic for leaf-peepers and Maine offers the best of the best. While there is plenty to do in the town itself, from museums to ghost tours, it’s the adjacent Acadia National Park where the season truly shines. Hike, drive, or bike the meandering paths and roads criss-crossing the park or take a kayak out on Jordan Pond to take in the foliage reflected on the water. 

Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Bar Harbor

Aerial view of the Holiday Inn Bar Harbor and the surrounding water

The Holiday Inn Bar Harbor is pet-friendly, perfect for hikers looking to have an adventure with their furry friend on one of Acadia’s many pet-friendly hiking trails. The cozy atmosphere of La Bella Vita, the hotel’s in-house Italian eatery and wine bar, will warm you right up after a day of exploration as you enjoy stunning views of Frenchman’s Bay. 

Napa, California

Close up of grapes on the vine in fall with the surrounding leaves changing from green to red
Christina Gaudet | Adobe Stock

Did you know that grape vines change color too? Wine country in autumn is a sight to see, when not only the leaves on the trees but also the sprawling vineyards become drenched in oranges and golds. Take a Napa Valley wine tour to enjoy the foliage (drink in hand), or take to the skies in a hot air balloon to see the seasonal colors from a new perspective.

Where to Stay: Hotel Napa Valley

Hotel Napa Valley Ascend Hotel Collection, A Victorian-era house among trees

This Victorian-era boutique hotel exudes the quintessential vibes you want from a foliage excursion. Indulge in a complimentary breakfast served in the property’s wine cellar each morning and then hop in the car to head to one of several scenic wineries less than 20 minutes from the property.

Duluth, Minnesota

Aerial view of the changing fall leaves and surrounding bay in Duluth, Minnesota
David | Adobe Stock

Experience lakeside foliage in Duluth, Minnesota, a city situated on the coast of Lake Superior. With 129 city parks and over 300 cumulative miles of trails for everything from hiking and biking to horseback riding and cross-country skiing, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. Visit Duluth suggests setting aside time to go birding, as migratory species can be seen in spades just off Skyline Parkway during the fall season.

Where to Stay: Lift Bridge Lodge

Front entrance of Lift Bridge Lodge in Duluth, Minnesota at sunset
Life Bridge Lodge

Located just off Lake Superior, this property features a number of beautiful outdoor spaces, private balconies, and lakeview rooms, ensuring that you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the autumn scenery even after returning to your hotel. 

Located just off Lake Superior, this property features a number of beautiful outdoor spaces, private balconies, and lakeview rooms, ensuring that you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the autumn scenery even after returning to your hotel. 

New York City, New York

People paddling boats on the water in Central Park surrounded by autumn leaves and the New York City skyline in the background
f11photo | Adobe Stock

Generations of singers have been crooning about autumn in New York and for good reason. Every year, the notoriously fast-paced city comes alive with fall color. Grab a latte and stroll around Central Park to enjoy the crisp air and changing leaves. Make a day trip out to one of the city’s many botanical gardens, located anywhere from Staten Island to the Bronx to Brooklyn.

Where to Stay: The Park West Hotel

Front entrance of the Park West Hotel in New York City, New York

Located on the edge of Central Park, a room at the Park West Hotel will have you waking up to a vibrant show of colors just outside your window. It’s conveniently located on the Upper West Side just a short drive to many famous attractions, including the Museum of Modern Art and the iconic Rockefeller Center.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Aerial view of Charlottesville, Virginia in autumn
Charlottesville Albemarle CVB

Charlottesville provides access to some spectacular foliage spreads in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the town is also an attractive regional destination in itself. Go shopping and grab a meal at the Downtown Mall to enjoy some historic architecture coupled with the fall colors. A drive down the Blueridge Parkway or a day trip to Shenandoah National Park will get you out of the city and into the heart of some of the best foliage in the state. 

Where to Stay: The Draftsman Charlottesville

Streetview of The Draftsman in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Draftsman is located right in downtown Charlottesville, just five minutes from the Downtown Mall. They offer room types ranging from Signature Queens to Luxury Suites and all are pet-friendly. Make sure to book a mountain view room to watch the fall colors break over the nearby Blueridge Mountains.

Seattle, Washington

Fall foliage in a park with the Space Needle in the background in Seattle, Washington
zhu difeng | Adobe Stock

If you’re looking to elevate your seasonal beverage tastes beyond pumpkin spice, this is the city for you. Known for its coffee culture, you can’t go wrong ducking into any of the cafes that dot the city for an autumn pick-me-up while taking in the sites. The Washington Park Arboretum offers visitors the full color palette of the season with a wide range of deciduous trees, from dogwoods to Japanese Maples to towering oaks. Just two hours outside the city you’ll find a riot of fall color at Mount Rainier National Park, where you can leaf peep on horseback on a guided trail ride with Echo River Ranch.

Where to Stay: Hotel Sorrento

Street view of Hotel Sorrento in Seattle, Washington

Hotel Sorrento is located in the heart of the city with easy access to its most famous attractions and, in line with the often spooky spirit of the season, its own resident ghost. But don’t worry— while most haunted hotels are chilling, you’ll find that this one is pretty chill. Alice Toklas, the inventor of the modern day “special” brownie, is said to roam the fourth floor.

Aspen, Colorado

Aspen’s namesake trees put on quite a different show than those in the Northeast and Midwest, washing the town in hues of yellow and gold. The area’s many hiking trails become windows to a new world, surrounding visitors on all sides with towering white trunks and a golden canopy. Don’t miss a photo op with the Maroon Bells—some of the most photographed mountains in the United States—while they’re decked out in their autumn leaves.

Where to Stay: The Little Nell

Pool area at The Little Nell resort in Aspen, Colorado

The Little Nell is a luxury ski resort nestled in the mountains of Aspen.Guests take advantage of the stunning foliage by joining one of many seasonal activities offered, from off-roading to fly-fishing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When did the term leaf peeping start?
A: “Leaf peeping” refers to tourists, also called leaf peepers, who travel to destinations in search of beautiful fall foliage. A surprisingly divisive term, many people think “leaf peeping” is a product of the social media era, but the phrase can be found in print as early as 1966 in a Vermont newspaper.

Q: When should I go leaf peeping?
A: Leaves tend to change earlier in the season the further north and higher above sea level you travel. Peak foliage times can vary even within a single state, especially with inland versus coastal destinations. Many states keep up-to-date foliage maps (predictive maps that show when foliage should be at its peak in different areas), that you can check when planning your fall vacation.

Q: What major US city is the best to see fall foliage?
A: There is no one best US city to see fall foliage. The best city for leaf peeping depends on the timing of your trip, the type of foliage you’d like to see, and the activities you enjoy. If you’re a city-explorer, plan a trip for mid-October to Manhattan. If you’re all about the outdoors, Aspen in September will be a good fit. 

Q: What are the different kinds of foliage?
A: Only deciduous trees—your classic oaks and maples, etc.—change color and lose their leaves in the autumn. Coniferous trees—spruce, pine, and other needle-leaved trees—will remain, as their common name implies, evergreen. 

Q: How to pronounce foliage?
A: According to Webster’s dictionary: fō-lē-ij (listen below)

Q: Is there still foliage in November?
A: Many places in the United States are past peak by the time November comes around, but you can still catch fall colors in the southernmost areas of the country.

Q: Where can I go leaf peeping outside of the United States?
A: The U.S. is not the only country with beautiful fall colors. These four locations are among many that offer stunning fall foliage abroad.

Ed Perkins contributed to this article.

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