Discover the best spots for leaf peeping across North America
Colorful displays of fall leaves across North America are one of nature’s most spectacular annual shows. Head out and see for yourself at these prime leaf-peeping spots. | By Paul Oswell | September 28, 2022
Autumn is a magical time of the year across North America. Nature begins a colorful reimagining of its canvas as the trees slowly change color. Such is the dramatic majesty of this annual exhibition of fall foliage that people, known as leaf peepers, travel in droves to witness this spectacular display for themselves. From east to west, here are our suggestions for the best spots around the U.S. and Canada to join them.
Take a hike: Explore fall colors on foot with winding trails and mountain hikes for an intimate autumn experience
Fall flavors: Enjoy foliage-adjacent spots for a taste of fall with fresh-pressed cider and maple-flavored treats
Wine not: Conveniently placed wineries and orchards provide laid-back ambience amid multicolored trees
We begin our journey in the Granite State, where the vibrantly-colored peaks of Mount Lafayette and Mount Lincoln tower up into the Alpine Zone, but only sparse vegetation pokes through. For prime leaf peeping, head to the surrounding Franconia Notch State Park, where you’ll witness the yellows, oranges and reds of the beech, yellow birch and maple trees combining to create a multicolored glow in the fall sun.
Cruise through the White Mountain National Forest before hopping on the Conway Scenic Railroad, which leaves from the gorgeously preserved North Conway Railway Station, a Victorian edifice dating back to 1874. Early 20th century-era passenger cars will whisk you through the forests; sit back and enjoy the show or snap pictures as the fall colors fly past.
The hillsides here are ablaze with color from mid-September into late October. Drive around towns such as Charlotte and Burlington for spectacular views of fall foliage blanketing the mountains and foothills, with trees stretching as far as the eye can see.
The added beauty of this region is that it appeals to culinary appetites as well as visual ones. As you pass the golden leaves of Vermont’s beech and birch trees, stop at spots such as Cold Hollow Cider Mill for fresh-pressed cider, homemade cheddar cheese biscuits and maple nut crumble. There are a number of independent producers and artisans to discover along the way, and a particularly evocative route is the one leading to Stowe, Vermont, where the road is nestled between the Mount Mansfield and CC Putnam state forests.
Fall foliage in Connecticut is generally at its most alluring throughout the month of October. The most popular leaf-peeping spots include Granby and the gorgeous Lower Connecticut River Valley. The Litchfield Hills in and around Kent are also a must-see for serious peepers, and the crimson and gold hues during the height of October are nothing short of breathtaking.
All around the state, be on the lookout for quintessential New England landmarks like covered bridges and rural farm stands, which add to the magical atmosphere of the state during this time of the year.
To truly immerse yourself in nature, visit Holcomb Farm in West Granby, to explore more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) of walking trails that wind through the foothills of the Berkshires.
Stop along nearby Route 318 for Instagram-worthy views of the Saville Dam, with its historic stone gatehouse and backdrop of sugar maples, oaks and pines. For mountain top views, visit Haystack Mountain State Park, where you can drive halfway up and then hike to the top for more unforgettable foliage scenes.
Heading west, the fall colors in Ontario are arguably the best in Canada, with spectacular foliage views across the province. The prime time for leaf peeping here is mid-September to late October, with dozens of species of trees adding to nature’s kaleidoscope.
Head to Algonquin Park, where the red maple — the iconic symbol of everything Canadian — dominates the landscape. The vibrant yellows, oranges and dark greens are visible all the way along the Niagara River, and scenic spots such as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls are popular throughout autumn. Niagara-on-the-Lake has more of a local, laid-back ambiance, and being at the center of Ontario’s wine country, its vineyards and orchards complement the changing colors of the season.
There’s nothing like a crisp glass of wine after a long day admiring the surrounding countryside, and Hilton Garden Inn Niagara-on-the-Lake provides a comfortable place to recharge before heading out to more nearby wineries, or to the famous falls, conveniently located just 7 miles (12 kilometers) away.
The most western point on our list, the California-Nevada border may not seem like the most obvious location for America's largest alpine lake, but Lake Tahoe’s 6,200-foot (1,900-meter) elevation claims that title.
A fall vacation in Lake Tahoe has many advantages. You’re a short drive from Hope Valley's stunning groves of trees showing off their fiery foliage. You can hike to Maggie's Peaks for exceptionally memorable views across Emerald Bay, or, if you’re feeling up to the challenge, climb the northern or southern peaks for scenery that’s somehow even more magnificent.
Head to the shores to watch kokanee salmon swim upstream to spawn in the creeks, or paddle around in a canoe or kayak. You can also take a daytime or sunset steamboat tour aboard the Tahoe Queen or M.S. Dixie II.
Wherever you choose to explore, these autumn destinations have their own distinct charm. Staying in any of these regions throughout the fall means that the best of nature’s fall colors is laid out right before you. Feel the leaves crunch under your feet, inhale the clean forest air and let the tranquility of the countryside wash over you for a truly memorable trip.
Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer and has reported from all seven continents for dozens of internationally known publications. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small” and the editor of an online travel magazine.