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Stowe, Vermont
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The 10 Best American Small Towns to Visit This Fall

SmarterTravel

Leaf-peeping season is officially here, which means it’s the perfect time to plan your fall escape. Read on for a few of our favorite small towns to visit this fall—each of which has its own distinct charm and character—for prime foliage viewing and autumnal activities like bonfires and pumpkin picking. 

Nisswa, Minnesota

Aerial view of Nisswa, Minnesota
City of Nisswa

Nisswa is a small town located in the heart of central Minnesota. Here, you’ll find plenty of outdoor activities. After fueling up on coffee and pastries from charming Adirondack Coffee or StoneHouse Coffee & Roastery, embark on a serene hike through the Paul Bunyan State Trail, which spans a whopping 115 miles. Mountain bikers should visit The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, which offers dozens of winding trails to choose from. However, the best (and most fun) way to sail through the foliage is on a zipline tour through the red, orange, and yellow-hued treetops.

Where to stay: The lakefront Grand View Lodge, which spans across 750-plus acres, offers incredible foliage and waterfront views. The property boasts 2,500 feet of sandy beach, where you can roast s’mores and warm up with a bonfire. Guests can also rent pontoon boats and cruise out on the lake, which serves as a stunning backdrop for leaf-peeping. 

Cle Elum, Washington

Farm in Cle Elum, Washington
jcsandco | Adobe Stock

Cle Elum is less than 100 miles outside Seattle, making an easy and scenic Pacific Northwest escape. In autumn, the temps are crisp (think: mid-40s, 50s, and sometimes low 60s) without being uncomfortably cold. The city and surrounding area are teeming with vibrant foliage. Peoh Point offers picture-perfect views of the changing leaves and wildflowers, while Teanaway Ridge Trail is a popular spot for horseback riding. If you prefer shorter hikes, head to Red Top Lookout, which offers panoramic vistas and excellent wildlife spotting opps. An array of themed events, such as the Roslyn Mountain Ale Festival and the Harvest Hustle 5K, are also on the calendar. 

Where to stay: This season, Suncadia Resort is pulling out all the stops. The expansive, 6,000-plus acre property hosts an annual Harvest Festival (which takes place over two weekends in October). Expect an array of fall festivities like pumpkin archery and pumpkin picking, to name a few. 

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Galena, Illinois

Galena, Illinois
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The tree-lined town of Galena boasts rolling hills, picturesque vistas, and, of course, fantastic leaf-peeping. Take the scenic route and drive along Highway 20 or Stagecoach Trail, where you can admire the crimson, orange, and yellow-hued leaves without having to leave the car. Those in search of more adventurous activities can zipline with Long Hollow Canopy Tours or pedal along the Galena River Trail. Additionally, head to Chestnut Mountain Resort, where you can hop aboard a 90-minute Mississippi River Explorer Cruise and/or ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain. If you can, try planning your trip around the Fall Harvest & Art Festival at Galena Cellars, where grape stomping, carriage rides, wine tastings, and art demos await. 

Where to stay: The 6,800-acre Eagle Ride Resort & Spa offers something for everyone. On-site activities include biking, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, tennis, boating, and fishing. For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, spring on a hot air balloon ride. 

Chatham, Massachusetts

Chatham Lighthouse in Chatham, Massachusetts
Chee-Onn Leong | Adobe Stock

For a unique New England leaf-peeping escape, head to the seaside town of Chatham. While the quaint Cape Cod town is best known for its sandy beaches in summer, it’s just as stunning come fall. The landscape encompasses everything from sandy beaches to peaceful forests. For the best views, drive along the tree-lined Historic Route 6A, kayak through the marshes, and hike through the West Barnstable Conservation Area. The conservation area is home to a variety of breathtaking, colorful trees like red oak, American beech, white pine, and Sassafras. Bourne Farm in nearby Falmouth features 49 acres of fields, woodland, and trails to explore. Time your visit for October 9th so you can experience “Pumpkin Day” at the farm (think: pumpkin picking, pony rides, and a petting zoo).  

Where to stay: Chatham Bars Inn is the place to be this fall, with its cozy outdoor firepit (ideal for s’mores!) and eight-acre farm for pumpkin picking. The luxury accommodations and on-site spa are added bonuses. 

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Stowe, Vermont

Stowe, Vermont
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Every fall in Stowe, the leaves turn to fiery reds, bright oranges, and lovely yellows. The village is located at the base of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, which makes it an excellent destination for leaf-peeping. At almost 2,8000 feet tall, Mt. Mansfield offers iconic foliage views from every angle, making it well worth the steep, 4.7-mile-long hike. Sunset Rock is much shorter but still scenic. Alternatively, take in the colors from the car and cruise through the Green Mountain Byway or Auto Toll Road. You can also zip through the colorful treetops with ZipTour Adventures and ArbortTrek Canopy Adventures. Finally, don’t miss the Percy Farm Corn Maze and the Trapp Family Lodge Annual Oktoberfest.  

Where to stay: At Topnotch Resort, the autumnal activities are endless. Snap a photo of the crisp leaves from the outdoor patio, embark on a romantic carriage ride, lounge out by the fire pit, or warm up in one of the heated outdoor pools and hot tubs. 

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Healdsburg, California

Vineyard in Healdsburg, California
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Plan a fall wine country escape in Healdsburg, which is situated in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country. The town itself, dotted with wineries, vineyards, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries, is nothing short of show-stopping. Come autumn, harvest season is in full swing, as is the foliage: grapevines and trees (including Japanese maple, liquidambar, and crape myrtle, ginkgo, toyon) turn auburn, brown, orange, and yellow. Sip and savor the fall flavors at the 1,200-acre Jordan Vineyard & Winery, where you can indulge in Harvest Lunches followed by on-site hiking complete with jaw-dropping mountain views. At Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves, hop aboard the trolley for a tour of the sprawling grounds followed by live music on the weekends. 

Where to stay: The new Montage Healdsburg—set across 250-plus acres of forest and vineyards—boasts a convenient location and ultra-luxe accommodations. The on-site spa, which is situated 20 feet above the grapevines, offers restoring treatments utilizing local ingredients. 

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Roxbury, New York 

Aerial view of Roxbury, New York
Visit Roxbury

The Catskill Mountains have attracted leaf peepers for decades, and the quaint town of Roxbury makes a great home base for exploring since it puts you within easy driving distance of the region’s best autumnal attractions. Visit the 19-mile-long Catskills Scenic Trail, which winds through the countryside. Next, ride to the top of Hunter Mountain aboard the Kaatskill Flyer gondola, where you can admire the foliage from above. You’ll also find a few cideries and breweries nearby, including Wayside Cider and Tap Room and West Kill Brewing. Alternatively, sample some blueberry wine at the nearby Blue Sky Farm and Winery. Get a different view of the foliage on a horseback riding tour or hot air balloon excursion

Where to stay:  The Roxbury at Stratton Falls  offers eclectic accommodations that include a Cinderella-inspired cottage, a Dracula-themed cottage, and several bespoke guest rooms. The property also has a private trail that leads you to the Instagram-worthy Stratton Falls.

Jackson, New Hampshire

Covered bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire
Adam Nixon | Adobe Stock

Jackson is nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where you’ll find more than 100 miles of hiking trails. The picturesque New England village boasts lush landscapes (think: a foliage-covered bridge and tranquil waterfalls). In nearby Center Conway, you’ll find Sherman Farms, where you can explore the corn maze before feasting on cider donuts. In North North Conway, you can embark on a moose safari tour as you take in the changing of the seasons. Venture out a little further to Jefferson, where dogsledding adventures await. Hike Black Cap Mountain (a short-and-sweet trek) for the best views of all. 

Where to stay: Housed in an 1869-era mansion, The Wentworth offers 61 charming accommodations complete with gas fireplaces. Opt for a room with a Jacuzzi tub for extra brownie points. 

Paris, Virginia

Paris, Virginia Historic District
David Edwards | DHR, 2021

Paris, Virginia is just one hour away from Washington, D.C., yet it feels so far from the hustle-and-bustle of our nation’s capital. Don’t miss the 1,863-acre Sky Meadows State Park, which offers breathtaking leaf-peeping views plus hiking and horseback riding trails. Lost Mountain, which has more than seven miles of trails and a scenic overlook, is another top spot for hiking. Meanwhile, the surrounding area is home to a string of wineries, including Delaplane Cellars (which offers beautiful mountain and vineyard views), Arterra Wines (which hosts weekend events with live music), and RdV Vineyards (which is known for its eye-catching all-white silo)

Where to stay: The historic Ashby Inn dates back to 1829 and offers ten polished guest rooms, each complete with four-poster beds. The signature restaurant (which serves up elegant eats like hen, scallops, filet mignon, and salmon) is just as incredible as the three-acre grounds (which are lined with gold-hued trees and leaves). 

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Ridgedale, Missouri

Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri
Big Cedar Lodge

Your wilderness-filled escape awaits in the vibrant mountain town of Ridgedale. The 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon offers an array of outdoor activities, including biking, hiking, wildlife spotting, and horseback riding. Lost Canyon Cave & Nature Trail is best known for its four-story cave and waterfall, which offers optimal leaf-peeping views. Nearby Branson is home to Table Rock State Park, a popular leaf-peeping spot with paved trails, lakefront picnicking spots, and boating opportunities. It’s also home to countless oak and hickory trees, so expect plenty of fabulous foliage, too. The Branson Scenic Railway, which takes you through the Ozark Mountains on a winding, 40-mile journey, is also nearby. 

Where to stay: Ridgedale’s main draw is Big Cedar Lodge, which covers more than 4,600 acres of wilderness. The luxurious ranch resort offers splurge-worthy accommodations, including private cabins complete with wood-burning fireplaces for cozy nights in.  

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