The 7 Best U.S. Cities and Cities to View Autumn Foliage

The 7 Best U.S. Cities and Cities to View Autumn Foliage

Fall enthusiasts are constantly looking for the first signs of changing leaves. Fall looks a little different in every part of the country and a dedicated leaf peek doesn’t want to miss out. From golden aspen trees in the middle of the Rocky Mountains to classic New England foliage along the East Coast, here are seven destinations where leaf-pickers can capture the best fall colors.

Bar Harbor, Maine

mandritoiu | Adobe stock

The East Coast is a fall classic for leaf-watchers and Maine offers the best of the best. While there’s plenty to do in the city itself, from museums to ghost tours, it’s adjacent Acadia National Park where the seasons really shine. Hike, drive or bike the winding trails and paths that wind through the park or kayak on Jordan Pond to enjoy the leaves reflecting in the water.

Where to stay: Holiday Inn Bar Harbor

Aerial view of Holiday Inn Bar Harbor and surrounding waters

The Holiday Inn Bar Harbor is pet-friendly, perfect for hikers looking to adventure with their furry friends on one of Acadia’s many pet-friendly hiking trails. The cozy atmosphere of La Bella Vita, the hotel’s Italian restaurant and wine bar, will warm you up after a day of exploring while taking in the stunning views of the French Bay.

Napa, California

Close up of grapes on the vine in autumn with the surrounding leaves turning from green to red
Christina Gaudet | Adobe stock

Did you know that vines change color too? The wine country in autumn is a sight to behold, when not only the leaves on the trees but also the vast vineyards become drenched in oranges and gold. Take a Napa Valley wine tour to enjoy the leaves (drink in hand), or take a hot air balloon ride to see the seasonal colors from a new perspective.

Where to stay: Napa Valley Hotels

Hotel Napa Valley Ascend Hotel Collection, Victorian house among the trees

This Victorian-era boutique hotel exudes the classic vibe you want from a foliage outing. Indulge in the complimentary breakfast served in the property’s wine cellar each morning, then hop in the car to one of the several beautiful wineries less than 20 minutes from the property.

Duluth, Minnesota

Aerial view of changing autumn leaves and surrounding bay in Duluth, Minnesota
David | Adobe stock

Experience lakeside foliage in Duluth, Minnesota, a city located on the shores of Lake Superior. With 129 city parks and more than 300 cumulative miles of trails for everything from hiking and biking to horseback riding and cross-country skiing, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. Visit Duluth suggests setting aside time for birdwatching, as migratory species can be seen in spades just off the Skyline Parkway during the fall.

Where to stay: Lodge Bridge Lift

Front entrance of Lift Bridge Lodge in Duluth, Minnesota at sunset
Bridge of Life Inn

Located just off Lake Superior, this property features a number of beautiful open spaces, private balconies and rooms with lake views, ensuring that you will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the autumn views even after returning to your hotel.

Located just off Lake Superior, this property features a number of beautiful open spaces, private balconies and rooms with lake views, ensuring that you will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the autumn views even after returning to your hotel.

New York City, New York

People rowing boats on water in Central Park surrounded by autumn leaves and New York City skyline in the background
f11foto | Adobe stock

Generations of singers have been humming about fall in New York and for good reason. Every year, the famous fast-paced city comes alive with fall colors. Grab a latte and stroll around Central Park to enjoy the fresh air and changing leaves. Take a day trip to one of the city’s many botanical gardens, located anywhere from Staten Island to the Bronx to Brooklyn.

Where to stay: Park West Hotel

Front entrance of Park West Hotel in New York City, New York

Located on the edge of Central Park, a room at Park West Hotel will wake you up to a vibrant color show right outside your window. Conveniently located on the Upper West Side, just a short drive to many famous attractions, including the Museum of Modern Art and the iconic Rockefeller Center.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Aerial view of Charlottesville, Virginia in autumn
Charlottesville Albemarle CVB

Charlottesville provides access to some of the spectacular foliage expanses of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the city is also an attractive regional destination. Shop and dine at Downtown Mall for some historic architecture combined with fall colors. A drive down the Blueridge Parkway or a day trip to Shenandoah National Park will take you out of the city and into the heart of some of the best foliage in the state.

Where to stay: Charlottesville Draftsman

Streetview of The Draftsman in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Draftsman is located right in downtown Charlottesville, just five minutes from the Downtown Mall. They offer room types from Signature Queens to Luxury Suites and they are all pet friendly. Be sure to book a room with a mountain view to see the fall colors in the nearby Blueridge Mountains.

Seattle, Washington

Fall leaves in a park with the Space Needle in the background in Seattle, Washington
zhu difeng | Adobe stock

If you want to enhance the taste of your seasonal drink beyond pumpkin spice, this is the city for you. Known for its coffee culture, you can’t go wrong ducking into one of the cafes that dot the town for a fall pick-up while enjoying the sites. Washington Park Arboretum offers visitors this season’s full color palette with a wide variety of deciduous trees, from dogwood to Japanese Maple to towering oak. Just two hours outside the city, you’ll find a riot of fall colors in Mount Rainier National Park, where you can peer over horseback on a guided trail ride with the Echo River Ranch.

Where to stay: Hotel Sorrento

Street view of the Hotel Sorrento in Seattle, Washington

Hotel Sorrento is located in the heart of the city with easy access to its most famous attractions and, in keeping with the often frightening spirit of the season, the ghosts of its inhabitants. But don’t worry—even though most hotels are spooky haunted, you’ll find this one quite chilly. Alice Toklas, inventor of the modern “special” brownie, is said to be hanging around the fourth floor.

Aspen, Colorado

The namesake Aspen tree puts on a very different show from those in the Northeast and Midwest, sweeping the city in yellow and gold. The area’s many hiking trails serve as windows to a new world, surrounding visitors on all sides with towering white bars and golden canopies. Don’t miss a photo opportunity with the Maroon Bells—some of the most photographed mountains in the United States—as they adorn the fall leaves.

Where to stay: Little Nell

Pool area at The Little Nell resort in Aspen, Colorado

The Little Nell is a luxury ski resort located in the Aspen mountains. Guests take advantage of the stunning foliage by joining one of the many seasonal activities on offer, from off-roading to fishing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When did the term leaf peeking begin?
A: “Leaf-peering” refers to tourists, also called leaf-peckers, who travel to destinations in search of beautiful autumn leaves. A surprisingly divisive term, many people think “leaf peek” is a product of the social media era, but the phrase can be found in print as early as 1966 in a Vermont newspaper.

Q: When should I peek at the leaves?
A: Leaves tend to turn earlier in the season further north and higher above sea level you travel. Peak foliage times can vary even within a state, especially with inland versus coastal destinations. Many states keep updated foliage maps (predictive maps that show when foliage should be at its peak in various areas), which you can check when planning your fall vacation.

Q: What are the best major US cities for viewing autumn leaves?
A: There is no single best US city for viewing fall foliage. The best city for leaf peeking depends on the time of your trip, the type of foliage you want to see, and the activities you enjoy. If you’re an urban explorer, plan a mid-October trip to Manhattan. If you’re all about the outdoors, Aspen in September would be a good fit.

Q: What are the types of foliage?
A: Only deciduous trees—your classic oak and maple, etc.—change color and lose their leaves in the fall. Coniferous trees—firs, pines, and other conifers—will stay green, as their common name implies.

Q: How to pronounce leaves
A: According to Webster’s dictionary: fō-lē-ij (listen below)

Q: Are there still leaves in November?
A: Many places in the United States pass their peak by the time November arrives, but you can still see fall colors in the southernmost regions of the country.

Q: Where can I peek leaves outside the United States?
A: The US isn’t the only country with beautiful fall colors. These four locations are among the many that offer stunning fall foliage abroad.

Ed Perkins contributed to this article.

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