When the weather starts to cool and the kids head back to school, it’s time to get outside and experience one of the best fall activities: leaf peeping! Watching the colors on the trees change around you, walking through nature, and marveling at the breathtaking natural surroundings isn’t just fun — it might possibly reduce stress, too. And unlike apple picking and hayrides, leaf peeping is almost always free, making it a budget-friendly fall excursion that you and your family can enjoy!
When packing for your day trip (or weekend trip, if you’re headed somewhere far from home), you want to make sure you have all your autumnal essentials. Think: soft snuggly layers (so you can spend more time outside), a great camera (because those fall colors are to die for!), and personal care items that keep you as comfortable as possible. Be sure to include your Polident 3 Minute Daily Cleanser to keep your dentures thoroughly clean (you’ll be glad you packed it when you get those photos printed), a great moisturizer and hand cream (chilly weather could leave your skin dry), and a lip balm.
And don’t forget a travel mug so you can tote along some hot cocoa, cider, coffee, or tea — this is cozy beverage weather, people!
There are hundreds of locations across the US to see some gorgeous fall foliage, but ahead are seven of our favorite gems from coast to coast. No matter where you are, grab your family, your essentials, and your camera — and let’s get on this leaf-peeping road trip!
7 Amazing Leaf-Peeping Destinations
1. Yosemite, CA
Californians who think they don’t get any seasons haven’t been to the right parts of California! There are absolutely awe-inspiring scenes in the northern and central parts of the state during the cooler months, from Mammoth and June Lake to Lake Tahoe, but we think Yosemite National Park takes the cake. The red leaves set against the iconic El Capitan rock formation is a sight you and your loved ones will never forget. You can take this trip to the next level by making it a camping excursion!
2. Columbia River Gorge, OR
There are about a half dozen trails you can wander through in the Mount Hood/Columbia River Gorge area of Oregon. The Pacific Northwest offers some seriously out-of-this world color shows from the deciduous trees. Though this area is known for Douglas firs, it’s also home to bigleaf maples, birch, ash, aspen, alder dogwood, vine maple, and oak trees (all of which turn colors from yellow and orange to deep burgundy!).
3. Aspen, CO
Before it’s engulfed in skiers galore, Aspen is home to a perfect leaf-peeping scene. The Roaring Fork Valley area shows off from September to October in a spectacular array of colors. Pro tip: head to Maroon Bells for a gorgeous day on the lake. Hike, or have a lakeside picnic!
4. Great Smoky Mountains, TN/NC
In the South, you’ll find an array of golds and cranberries in the Great Smoky Mountains. Wait for mid-October for the best chance at seeing the forest painted in beautiful autumn hues. If you’re up for it, a bike ride on Cades Cove is an excellent way to see the colors without the traffic — and you’ll see a lot more than you would on foot!
5. Upper Peninsula, MI
You might just get the most incredible family photo of your life at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Upper Peninsula, MI. This national park sets fall’s warm, deep hues against a vibrant turquoise lake, creating one of the most jaw-dropping scenes (and photo ops!) you can lay your eyes on. If you visit in September, you can take a guided tour and see the local lighthouse for only $3 per person.
6. Catskills, NY
Head outside Manhattan to upstate New York to the Catskills, a popular retreat destination! Take a scenic, leaf-peeping drive through the small towns, stopping off for a slice of apple pie or a tasty treat in a local restaurant.
7. Fort Kent, ME
New England is one of the best places to leaf peep with your family, as it offers so many types of drives, trails, activities, and locations that explode in a cornucopia of color at different points in the season, depending on the region. Northern Maine’s Fort Kent is the last stop on a gorgeous drive along Fish River, using State Route 11 Scenic Byway. Not only will you get the gorgeous drive on the way there, but Fort Kent is also a historic location with a positively magnificent view.