Writer Albert Camus called autumn “a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” We may not be botany experts, but we do know that fall foliage season is about to begin its breathtaking and ephemeral run across the country. So if you want front row seats to the most colorful show of the year, start making plans to hit the road now.
Though the eastern states typically steal the season’s spotlight with their flamboyant maples, we don’t want the country tipping over when everyone rushes to the coast at the same time, so we’ve included suggestions for a couple of dazzling western displays as well.
Southern Vermont: Green Mountains
Every October, Vermont magically transforms into the life of the party, sweeping in with its entourage of colorful friends, all adorned in brilliant shades of red, orange, magenta and purple. Nestled in the heart of the Green and Taconic mountain ranges, historic Manchester Village offers up some of the best fall foliage in the US. Catch the colors making their way through the hills as you summit Mount Equinox, fly fish in the Battenkill River or bike through the right-out-of-a-movie countryside of this quintessential New England town. Adventure awaits no matter what, as do opportunities to eat, drink and enjoy time with the whole family.
Time it right: Leaf season in Manchester begins late-September, peaking early October through November.
Where to Stay: Manchester, Kimpton Taconic Hotel
New York: Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley is a country-cool region that embraces the change of season like pumpkin spice embraces, well, everything this time of year. Between the fall festivals, local cutting-edge culture, and endless outdoor activities, you may find your schedule more packed here than it is in that little town they call NYC, just 90 miles to the south. Check out the creative and culinary scenes in the many villages that dot the valley, and be sure to download Leaf Peepr ahead of time so you’ll be a foliage pro by the time you arrive.
Time it Right: The last two weeks of October are prime time for pretty leaves here.
Massachusetts: The Berkshires
Culture and color — the idyllic Berkshires have both in spades. About a two-hour drive from Boston, this quintessential summer retreat spills its signature low-key charm into the fall, when the leaves take center stage. Head out along the mountain roads to soak up views of flaming-red maple foliage or browse the famed vintage markets during one last mild weekend. Long on traditional New England-y appeal and ultra-romantic, this place will put a spell on you.
Time it Right: Late September through mid-October mark the height of the Berkshires’ foliage season.
North Carolina: Winston-Salem
Snuggled in a valley in northwest North Carolina, scenic Winston-Salem is protected from wintery temperatures longer than the surrounding mountains. Whether hiking the seven-mile trail at Salem Lake, walking cobblestone streets of Old Salem, or roaming the former country estate of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds, thanks to the mild climate you can enjoy the spectacular splash of fall for an extra two weeks each season. These leaf-peeping locales are Fido-friendly, too.
Time it right: Peak leaf season in the Carolinas can start as early as September and last through the second week of November.
Where to Stay: Winston-Salem, at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel
Virginia: Shenandoah Valley
They say Virginia is for lovers, and there’s no doubt that Shenandoah National Park could make even the most jaded heart twitterpated in the fall. Hop on Skyline Drive and you’ll have your fill of lapidary shades: ruby, topaz, carnelian and amethyst. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, the scenery at this time of year is intoxicating. The park is about a 90-minute drive from Alexandria.
Time it Right: Leaf hues hit their autumnal peak around the end of October through mid-November.
California: Hope Valley
With its towering mountains and miles of pristine beauty, Hope Valley feels worlds away from Sacramento, the nearest big city in CA. Home of one of the densest collections of quaking aspen in the Sierras, you can hike, bike or drive your way through some of the most beautiful fall colors in the west. And if autumn’s chill makes a surprise appearance, nearby Grover Hot Springs State Park has you covered with its 100+ degree pool fed from the steamy mineral waters that bubble out of the nearby spring. Then head up to Lake Tahoe for great food and drink options and those epic views of the lake itself.
Time it Right: Aspen leaf season depends on the amount of snowfall there was the year before, but the leaves typically start turning in mid-September and peak in October.
Where to Stay: Sacramento, at The Kimpton Sawyer
Colorado: Rocky Mountain State Park
Aspens are quintessential Colorado trees, and there are few places better to surround yourself with their golden-yellow glory than in Rocky Mountain State Park. From early September through mid-October, thick groves of these shimmering beauties bathe the land in color. Another perk of the park is the chance to glimpse herds of elk as they head down from the mountains for rutting season (in fact, October is dubbed “Elktober” there). Only 90 minutes from Denver, you’ll see how the term “West is best” even applies itself to autumn.
Time it Right: Depending on the elevation, mid-September to mid-October is the best time to catch the changing colors of the Rockies.