Top 10 Fall Foliage Destinations

by  ShermansTravel Editorial Staff | Jul 25, 2013
Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains / Betty4240/iStock

Whether you call it leaf peeping, foliage following, or just "spending a day outside," enjoying fall's colors is one of the simplest joys of this wonderful time of year. Of course, there's much more to autumn than looking at leaves. It's harvest time, which means that it's also festival time. We've compiled some of our favorite places to enjoy both the natural beauty and classic celebrations that come with the crisper temperatures. Our top 10 fall foliage destinations will take you all across the United States (with a quick jaunt up to Canada, as well). Whether these hot cool spots are right in your backyard, a quick weekend trip away, or clear on the other side of the continent, they're worth your attention.

So, grab a sweater, save room for apple cider donuts, and prepare for a good ol' fashioned hay ride through some of falls best destinations.

The Adirondacks

There’s a reason that the small town of Lake George, New York (on the banks of the much larger body of water for which it’s named) has long been popular with people from Upstate New York, New England, and New York City: it’s just plain charming. Beyond that, however, there’s plenty to do in and around town. Take a scenic drive along the water on Lake Shore Drive, get your blood flowing on the three-mile roundtrip hike to Prospect Mountain (with its 100-mile views on the summit), or just browse the many locally-owned shops.  

Mark Your Calendar: If Lake George’s shops don’t provide enough retail therapy, head over to neighboring Warrensburg, N.Y. for the Warrensburg Garage Sale on October 5 and 6. Billed as the “world’s largest garage sale,” 100,000 shoppers descend on the small town, which converts its streets into a sea of vendors selling antiques, crafts, food, and so much more.  

Stay the Night: The Adirondacks are prime bed & breakfast country, and it pays to eschew the hotels in favor of a few nights at the spacious yet homey 10-room Inn of Lake George, which sits a mere 200 feet from the shore of the lake. Rates from $125/night

Mike Barish

The Berkshires

Located in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Berkshires are home to a vibrant music and arts scene, along with some of the most dynamic fall foliage in the United States. While there are plenty of outdoor activities that allow visitors to get back to nature, the Norman Rockwell Museum in nearby Stockbridge, Mass. is a trip back in time. Admission can be combined with a visit to the MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Mass. for a $5 savings

Mark Your Calendar: The two-day Lenox, Mass. Apple Squeeze Festival turns the town's Main Street into a celebration of the eponymous fruit on September 28 and 29. Fresh fall produce, baked goods, and tractor rides make this a classic autumn tradition (this year’s is the 34th edition). 

Stay the Night: Massachusetts might be Red Sox country, but it’s the Yankee Inn in Lenox that stands out. Free breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi, and seven different room types spread out over three buildings make this peaceful retreat a perfect home base while in the Berkshires. Rates from $66/night

Mike Barish

Burlington, Vermont

Located on Lake Champlain’s coastline overlooking the Adirondacks, Burlington, Vermont is a haven for artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and foodies. In autumn, the town grows exponentially with visitors enjoying the leaf peeping and harvest festivities. Take a stroll through the Church Street Marketplace, a four-block closed-off street filled with boutiques and restaurants. Kids will enjoy the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center – a museum with over 70 species of fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and reptiles, along with plenty of interactive exhibits.  

Mark Your Calendar: For those in the area for some leaf peeping, stick around towards the end of the season for ten days full of film and the arts at the Vermont International Film Festival. Showcasing innovative films from all over the globe since 1985, VTIFF is a celebrated festival enjoyed by film buffs and casual movie lovers alike.

Stay the Night: The Willard Street Inn, a charming three-story B&B in a Victorian mansion is a great way to experience Burlington’s small city life. Each of the uniquely decorated 14 rooms offer private baths, free internet access, and restored antiques. A gourmet chef makes breakfast and guests can take a stroll in the property’s English gardens or relax in the solarium. Rates from $170/night

Zoë Mintz

Eastern Townships, Quebec

With an area that extends from the borders of Vermont to Maine, Quebec’s Eastern Townships are filled with maple glow and French flare. Originally a safe haven for Loyalists, the region welcomes fall foliage fans, too. Lakeside towns like Knowlton and North Hatley offer picturesque views, water activities, museums, and boutique shopping. North Hatley’s Jacques Robidas Horseback Riding Centre offers group trail rides and lessons to enjoy the autumn colors from a different perspective.  

Mark Your Calendar: The region is also spotted with several mountains that greet avid hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers. Beginning September 14, Mont Sutton will host its month-long fall festival. The mountain resort will offer a range of family activities during the course of the celebration, including chairlift rides, ziplining, discovery hikes, jazz performances, and plenty of BBQ.  

Stay the Night: The Eastern Townships are home to several resorts that offer a one-stop-shop of sorts for lodging, activities, and restaurants. Domaine Chateau Bromont in Bromont, Quebec has a 4-star hotel, an inn, golf course, spa, and four restaurants – all on its 190 acre property. Rates from $160/night at the hotel and $99/night at the inn

Zoë Mintz

The Great Smoky Mountains

While the national parks of the American West might get more attention, few places truly rival the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The park is home to more than 800 miles of hiking trails and scenic roads that are perfect for hours of exploring in the colorful forests. Ride along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway or meander your way along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail while admiring the red and orange hues of the leaves. 

Mark Your Calendar: Leave it to Dollywood to do a fall festival bigger than most. The month-long National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration runs from October 2 to November 2. Dozens of bands and craftsmen fill Dolly Parton’s park with sweet sounds and homemade crafts. From jewelry or chainsaw carvings, this Southern celebration has visitors covered. 

Stay the Night: Gatlinburg, Tenn. sits right outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Old Creek Lodge is just five minutes from the park’s entrance. Enjoy free Wi-Fi, fresh mountain air, and trolley service to the park. Rates from $75/night

Mike Barish

Hocking Hills, Ohio

Located an hour southeast of Columbus, Hocking Hills, Ohio encompasses 11,000 acres of forests, farms, and natural wonders like waterfalls, cliffs, and caves. It’s no wonder that the area is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bird watching dominate the region. Hocking Hills Hot Air Ballooning offers an adrenaline rush while showcasing the changing colors of the season from new heights.   

Mark Your Calendar: The 106th Circleville Pumpkin Show from October 16-19 will feature anything and everything gourd related. Pumpkin snacks, contests, crafts, and even Miss and Little Miss Pumpkin Pageants make this a quintessential fall event. Known as the "Greatest Free Show on Earth," admission is, obviously, at no charge.   

Stay the Night: Cabins provide a great way to experience the region. Cabins by the Caves offers six log cabins and two luxury lodges close to the state parks in secluded locations. All cabins come with fully equipped kitchens, fireplaces, hot tubs, central air conditioning, grills, and outdoor fire rings. Towel and linen service is included. Rates from $109/night

Zoë Mintz

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

The 92-mile Lake of the Ozarks was created over eighty years ago with the construction of the Bagnell Dam. Now a popular family vacation spot, the 1,150 miles of shoreline are home to over a dozen communities with a variety of activities. Waterparks, go-karts, and mini-golf will keep the kids busy while parents enjoy bass fishing, golfing, spas, and wineries. Adventurers can take a tour of Jacob’s Cave. The mile-long walking tour showcases cave formations, prehistoric bones, and the world’s largest geode. The cave remains a constant 53 degrees so remember to bring a sweater!  

Mark Your Calendar: On October 5, the lakeside town of Versailles will host its annual Old Tyme Apple Festival. Outside the town courthouse, an Apple Dumplin & Darlin are crowned, a German dinner is served, and old time tractors and engines are displayed. Additionally, there will be an evening play at the historic Royal Theatre. The festival will host over 200 vendors and a parade, along with a 5K and 2-mile run/walk.  

Stay the Night: Renting cottages and campgrounds is common here. For those wanting a hands-off vacation, the Bass & Baskets is a quintessential lakeside B&B. It’s also tiny. With just four rooms, guests can enjoy some peace, quiet, and privacy. True to his B&B's name, innkeeper Ed Franko is a fully-licensed fishing guide. Rates from $159/night

Zoë Mintz

Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Located about an hour from Seattle by car or ferry, the Olympic Peninsula conjures an image of uninterrupted green rainforest, but autumn transforms this ecologically diverse region into a vibrant canvas of crimson and gold maples framed by towering evergreens. For prime leaf peeping, take the West End’s Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh Rain Forest within Olympic National Park. Twihards can relive the Twilight movies with self-guided and organized tours of filming locations.  

Mark Your Calendar: Fungi lovers will enjoy the Lake Quinault Mushroom Festival (October 18-20), a weekend of cooking demonstrations, chainsaw-carved mushroom art, and field trips to hunt for native varieties.  

Stay the Night: Built in 1926, the cozy Lake Quinault Lodge features a four-hour rainforest tour that transports visitors to panoramic views of polychromatic leafage. Rates from $101.50/night

Darren Frei

Texas Hill Country

Just west of Austin in Texas Hill Country, colorful bigtooth maples, sycamores, and cottonwoods are merely a backdrop for fall’s premier activity: vineyard hopping. Centrally located Fredericksburg is an ideal home base for exploring the popular Wine Road 290 (nine wineries line the 45-mile stretch between Johnson City and Fredericksburg), but both Austin and San Antonio offer easy access to Hill Country’s wineries, which total more than 30.  

Mark Your Calendar: Hill Country’s fall foliage peaks from November to mid-December, but devotees of the grape make pilgrimages in October for the Texas Wine Month Trail, where a $20 ticket buys one to three complimentary tastings at 32 participating wineries, plus a 15 percent discount on three-bottle purchases at each winery, all month long.  

Stay the Night: Billed as the “B&B Capital of the World,” Fredericksburg doesn’t just do quaint Victorian. In the guestrooms at the Hangar Hotel, built next to the Gillespie County Airport to resemble a 1940s airplane hangar, armchairs are upholstered with brown bomber jackets and military blankets drape the beds. Rates from $119/night

Darren Frei

Wasatch Mountains, Utah

Flanking several canyon roads less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, the aspen, oak, and maple trees of the Wasatch Mountain Range turn yellow-gold, red, and orange (not necessarily in that order) starting in mid-September. Take the long and scenic route from the airport by starting up Big Cottonwood Canyon and meandering to Guardsman’s Pass (closed after the first big snow storm), which eventually winds around to Park City, home of the alpine slide, chairlift-accessible mountain biking trails, and nightly ghost tours through the historic silver-mining town.   

Mark Your Calendar: Park City’s Autumn Classics Music Festival showcases classical music in unique and intimate settings, from private homes to the great outdoors, beginning in September and running through October. Too highbrow? Ogle primped pooches during the Halloween dog parade on Historic Main Street. 

Stay the Night: No room is alike at the historic Old Town Guesthouse, an affordable B&B within walking distance to Main Street and the Park City Mountain Resort. Guests who book three nights get the fourth free through December 1. Rates from $99/night

Darren Frei

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