7 Surprising Destinations for Fall Foliage Trips

by  Keith Flanagan | Oct 12, 2015
Fall in Boulder
Fall in Boulder / Denise Chambers

New England is a leaf peeping classic for a reason, but sometimes we just want something a little different. To find beautiful autumnal colors this year, pack your sweater and head south or west to these unexpected spots for fall foliage.

Greenville, South Carolina
In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, downtown Greenville offers many autumnal enticements in the forms of cozy coffee shops, horse-drawn carriages, and a wooded central park for strolling. But we suggest going beyond the city streets for autumn-primed spots like Caesars Head State Park , where leaf-strewn mountain trails lead hikers to a suspension bridge overlooking a 420-foot waterfall. Alternatively, the 18.7-mile GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail is a favorite for bikers, while four-wheelers can admire the Blue Ridge mountains along Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11.

Napa Valley, California
Wine weekends may be the stuff of summer dreams, but fall is actually the prime time to visit spots like Napa Valley, California's most prestigious wine region. Despite the drought, farmers and winemakers are working hard to keep the vineyards thriving, and verdant vineyards continue to flank many roads. Come November, the grapevines burst with rustic colors (just in time for the wine harvest). Any vino-centric itinerary will show you the season's brightest hues, as will a day in one of the area's national parks.

Asheville, North Carolina
If you're a serious leaf peeper, look to Asheville, North Carolina -- home to one of the longest autumn leaf seasons in the world. With stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the city's lush surroundings are home to more than 100 species of leaf-shedding trees. For the best views, go high: Craggy Pinnacle stands a whopping 5,817 feet tall and offers a 360-degree view after a short hike. If you're arriving later in the season, go lower -- leaves drop earlier at the tops of the mountains. And don't forget that downtown Asheville is rife with its own colorful crowd. Local artists, musicians, and small-batch makers of all varieties are known for their evergreen, euphoric spirits.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Well known for its world-class slopes -- three ski areas, in fact -- Jackson Hole’s annual snow bunnies might consider arriving a few months earlier this year. In fall, the area’s Teton Mountain is mottled with leafy aspen trees that turn from glossy green to gold, yellow, and orange. It doesn’t hurt that the off-season serves up lower hotel rates -- and an even wider range of fall-friendly activities like horseback riding, mountain hiking, and biking.

Boulder, Colorado
Colorado's  60-mile Peak to Peak scenic and historic byway happens to start in Boulder, perfect for a seasonal drive with views of the Continental Divide and numerous state parks. And there's no better way to kick off that drive than sampling Boulder's seasonal drafts at the local craft breweries -- some made with locally grown pumpkins -- or the seasonal vegetables that the city’s conscious chefs create from the local harvest.

Chattanooga, Tennessee
If you're looking for fall colors without getting too far from town, hike Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain for panoramic views of the city, surrounded by the season's most vibrant oranges and reds. Travelers scoping out views of the Tennessee River can also do so atop the city’s Walnut Street Bridge, one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. Of course, fall festivities and live music abound here too, and we have to give a shout out to the city's eco-conscious state of mind (think: bike shares and electric shuttles -- both perfect for covering more ground and finding more blazing vistas).

The Ozarks, Arkansas
While the Ozarks aren’t beholden to Arkansas (the region touches parts of Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas), a drive through the state’s portion of the mountainous region rewards any road tripper with the season's reds, oranges, and golds atop the dense deciduous forests. In this neck of the woods, drives operate at slower speeds along two-lane roads, meaning you can take your time to savor the oak-hickory woods, hillside cottages, quirky towns, and twisting rivers that hug the winding paths. The most popular part of Scenic Highway 7 runs through the Arkansas Ozarks, while Ozark National Forest offers hiking galore, too.

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