3 Fall Leaf Peeping Destinations That Will Surprise You

leaf peeping destinationsEveryone knows the northeastern United States, especially Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York, are picturesque leaf-peeping destinations. A trip to one of the many quaint New England villages is a tried and true seasonal getaway where you can see beautiful autumnal displays, pick pumpkins, and sip hot spiced cider – all while sporting your coziest sweater. But New England doesn’t have an exclusive on fall foliage. There is plenty of vibrant fall color in other places, across the U.S., too. The trick is to not get there too early when everything is still green, or too late when everything is brown.

When is the Best Time to See Fall Foliage?

Timing your trip can be challenging because the time for the most colorful foliage changes each year based on the amounts of sun and rain the area gets through the summer months. To help you pinpoint the best leaf peeping destinations for a given time, the Smokey Mountains National Park creates a fall foliage prediction map each year. They say that peak leaf peeping in 2019 will be about a week later than usual across the country because of higher than normal average temperatures through September.

Click the interactive map below to see how prime viewing time moves across the U.S. through the fall.

leaf peeping destinations
Best Off the Beaten Path Leaf Peeping Destinations

Smoky Mountains

Smoky MountainsStraddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (creator of the aforementioned interactive calendar) draws tons of people to view its breathtaking colors in the fall. This is America’s most visited national park, so it’s not exactly “off the beaten path.” But the cozy mountain town of Bryson City, North Carolina is less touristy than Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Cherokee, yet close to favorite viewing spots like Clingman’s Dome and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Travel Maestro tip: Take a 4.5-hour fall foliage tour on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad to see a riot of color along the Nantahala Gorge and enjoy a picnic lunch by the river during a one-hour stop midway.

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, photo credit Michael Sprague

Located in the dazzling waters of the Straits of Mackinac between the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan, Mackinac Island is a spectacular leaf peeping destination that rolls back time to a simpler era. Autos are banned from the island, but you can take in the brilliant fall color in true Mackinac-style from horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage. Since the island is only 8 miles in circumference, you can also easily bike the coastal road all the way around it. Or see the fiery color of the interior by hiking on more than 70 miles of trails through the forest and along the cliffs above Lake Huron.

Travel Maestro tip: Once the day-trippers depart, the island takes on the ambiance of the 1800s with only the clop of horses hooves breaking the evening silence. Stay overnight in the Grand Hotel or one of a dozen B&B’s to get the full Mackinac experience.

Pacific Northwest

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls in Columbia River Falls, photo credit: Jeff Gunn

This region of the U.S. often has warm, dry autumn weather, which makes it a spectacular leaf peeping destination awash with orange and red maples, yellow and gold aspen, mixed with rich evergreens. The famous Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area divides Washington and Oregon with an impressive 80-mile forested canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountains. Active leaf peepers can hike the Pacific Crest Trail and cycle roads around The Dalles or the Post Canyon mountain bike network. A drive along the historic Columbia River Highway affords spectacular views, too.

Travel Maestro tip: The Columbia River Gorge is the largest National Scenic Area in America. Along with fantastic fall color and dozens of dramatic waterfalls, you’ll find hand-crafted beer, local wineries, and farm-to-table dining.

leaf peeping destinationsFall is a wonderful time to get outside and revel in the glory of nature’s colorful display. For assistance in planning a quick weekend getaway or a cross-country sojourn, get in touch with one of the Covington vacation experts.

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