You might think that New England has an exclusive claim to the awe-inspiring spectacle of leaves changing colors as the fall chill sets in. But there’s a whole world of destinations where Mother Nature unveils her vibrant autumn palette, waiting to be explored.
In this post, we highlight the states with top scores for fall scenery based on LawnStarter’s 2023 Best States to Visit This Fall. To see a fall foliage map in your area, visit the 2023 Fall Foliage Prediction Map, where you can also find an explanation for the annual color change the leaves go through. (Hint: It’s not magic, even though it may seem that way!)
For even more suggestions, check out the National Scenic Byway Foundation’s Seasons along the Byways for a coast-to-coast sampling of scenic routes known for their spectacular fall foliage displays.
Fall Foliage Destinations
New York State
New York State is known for its fall colors. A vibrant array of foliage spreads across the state from the Adirondacks to the Chautauqua-Allegheny-Greater Niagara and the Catskills-Hudson-Long Island areas. Wherever you travel in the state this fall, you’ll have your choice of shades: goldenrod, russet, mahogany, leather, turmeric, saffron, and merlot-colored, according to the state’s Fall Foliage Report.
Speaking of merlot, if the autumn temps make you a bit chilly, schedule a visit to one of New York’s wineries. New York is home to many wineries, including Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson Valley, known as the oldest winery in the state, and Manhattan’s City Winery. With 100-plus wineries in the Finger Lakes region, you’re bound to find one that pleases your palate.
Utah is known for its abundant and colorful fall foliage along its 28 scenic byways and deep within the forests and national parks, says the Utah Office of Tourism. A bonus is the state’s topography and varying amounts of rainfall, which ensures a range of peak viewing times delivered by canyon maples, quaking aspens, scrub oaks, Douglas hawthorns, and serviceberries.
Trekaroo’s list of 12 Places to Enjoy Utah Fall Colors includes Capitol Reef National Park (Fruita Historic District, to the south the Waterpocket District, and to the north the Cathedral Valley District), Park City in the Wasatch Mountains, and Manti-La Sal National Forest.
When you think of California, the images of sunny beaches and surfers may be all that comes to mind. California, however, has more to offer with some great places to visit to take in the state’s fall foliage. From the northern part of the state (aka NorCal) down to the southern sections of SoCal, the range of temperatures, rainfall, and elevation guarantees an equal diversity of autumn colors.
For example, in NorCal, aspens show off their colors in counties including Inyo, Mono, Tuolumne, and Alpine. Other showstoppers are Nevada County’s century-old sugar maples and American sweetgums that turn a brilliant red. Down in southern California, San Diego County’s black oaks at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve — the latter home to some of the oldest and largest black oaks in the county — are a must-see when they put on their fall finery.
And don’t just think trees. Vineyards also have their fair share of fall splendor as the leaves on the grapevines also change their shade from green to bright yellow, red, and orange, says Bright Cellars. For more suggestions, visit the California State Parks website.
Among the many sources of fall foliage colors in Washington State are the larches and huckleberry bushes, such as those found in Mount Rainier National Park. A different display is at the Hoh Rain Forest located in Olympic National Park, known for both coniferous and deciduous species of trees, including the maples that turn scarlet red. While conifers dominate the forests of North Cascades National Park, maple, poplar, and alder can also be found in the forests, adding reds, oranges, and yellows to the green palette.
A no-hiking-involved enjoyment of fall colors can be found at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. Among the many trees that put on their fall colors are those in the witch hazel family; the Stewartia, whose foliage turns cinnamon orange, red, or deep claret, and the Franklin tree, with red and orange leaves, and native vine maples and bigleaf maples in shades of yellow, oranges and gold.
Wherever you travel in the state, you’ll see dramatic color displays courtesy of the seasonal leaf change, promises Visit Idaho. In northern Idaho, drive along the 280-mile International Selkirk Loop or the 87-mile St. Joe River Scenic Byway for breathtaking views. Head east for the must-see Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, allowing time to stop at the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls.
Not to be outdone, South Central Idaho, with its cottonwood trees and aspens, is worthy of note. If you’re in the area, be sure to tour the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway or the City of Rocks Backcountry Byway. If you’re in central Idaho, you’ll want to add Salmon River Scenic Byway to your list. The southwest part of the state is home to Boise. The city is aptly named “The City of Trees,” thanks to the presence of oaks, maples, and ash. Each fall, Boise welcomes the fall season in oranges and red. Heading north, tour the Payette River Scenic Byway or the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, stopping at the Rainbow Bridge (also known as the North Fork Payette River Bridge).
It’s no surprise that Maine made the list of top destinations. The challenge will be deciding where to see the state’s seasonal display. The color change begins first in the northern portion — Fort Kent, Caribou, and Presque Isle, followed by the central (Bangor, Augusta, and Fryeburg) and western mountain areas (Greenville, Rangeley, and Bethel).
The eastern, coastal, and southern sections of the state are the last to showcase the season, which includes Camden, Portland, Kennebunkport and Kittery, Bar Harbor, and Penobscot Bay. But whether you stop at Aroostook State Park, Grafton Notch State Park, Peaks-Kenny State Park, Lamoine State Park, or any of the other state parks in Maine, you won’t be disappointed.
Michigan is known as the “Great Lakes State” because it is the only state in the Union that borders four of the five Great Lakes. Lakes aren’t the only thing Michigan has to offer. It also has a beautiful display of fall leaves, thanks to its 19 million acres of forests. Take your pick of where to see the autumn display: the Upper Peninsula (aka UP) or Lower Peninsula (the “mitten”).
According to the Trekaroo blog, some of the best areas to witness the seasonal display include Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the shores of Lake Superior, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park bordering Lake Michigan, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. If you’re interested in more than just leaf peeping, Traverse City has beautiful fall foliage and is home to more than 40 wineries, earning it the nickname of Traverse Wine Coast.
Speaking of wineries, visit Michigan’s Great Grape Harvest website for details about the state’s five American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and more than 140 commercial wineries.
Pennsylvania’s official tourism website lists 25 locations where fall foliage is on full display, from the Allegheny National Forest to Cook Forest State Park. But anywhere you travel within the state is bound to have trees changing into their fall colors, given that, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, it’s known for having a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in the nation. From birches to black gum, mountain ash to maples, and a host of other deciduous species of trees, there is no shortage of what will catch your eye.
You can travel along the state’s many scenic byways to get your fill of the foliage. Or, for a change of style, ride the Pocono Express, be 225 feet above the valley floor as you traverse the Kinzua Sky Walk, or travel up Mount Washington on the Duquesne or Monongahela Inclines. Wherever and however you take in the state’s autumn scenery, you’re sure to enjoy the view.
Minnesota’s nickname is “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” although technically, there are 11,842 lakes of more than 10 acres within the state’s boundaries, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. That’s significantly more than the 53 native tree species that call the state home, but in this case, it’s not the numbers that matter.
With more than 21 main types of deciduous trees, 60 state forests, and 75 state parks and recreation areas, everywhere you turn, autumn is ablaze in the state. Scenic routes include the Iron Range Loop, the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, and the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway, among others.
North Dakota may be last on the list, but when it comes to fall colors, its unique foliage makes it a top stop for those who want to see nature in her magnificent autumn finery. The Fall Foliage Guide published by North Dakota Tourism is a good starting point, or you can explore the state and let your eyes be dazzled.
The northern end is where the most intense colors can be found, according to the North Dakota Department of Commerce, especially at the Pembina Gorge, with 2,800 acres of uninterrupted woodlands. Other areas worth a visit are along the Red River (both the Southern and Northern Red River Valley areas), Turtle River State Park, and Fort Ransom State Park. For more locations and information about hiking trails, check out this page from the North Dakota Tourism Division.
Embracing the Magic of Fall Foliage
Fall foliage is nature’s way of bidding farewell to summer and welcoming the crisp days of autumn. Its stunning colors and the sense of wonder they evoke make it a cherished time of year for many. The sights, the destinations, and the experiences all contribute to this magical season.
So, as you plan your next autumn adventure, remember to savor the magic of fall foliage and all the beauty it has to offer. And don’t forget to share your fall camping photos with us at nucamprv.com/Share-Your-Adventure. Happy leaf-peeping!