Last updated on December 24th, 2019
Crisp autumn air, bright fall colors, and delicious apple cider… can you imagine any better way to spend the fall? Or maybe you’re a sun seeker, and want to chase the warmth for a little bit longer. Either way, this compilation of the best fall vacations in the US will have a spot for you!
From the surprising changing leaves of California to the uncrowded and wild Yellowstone National Park, best fall vacations in the US have so much to offer. Keep reading to find out more!
The Best Fall Vacations in the US
Recommended by Dhara at It’s Not About the Miles
Looking for a fabulous fall getaway? Consider California! The Golden State does indeed turn shades of gold and orange and rust in the fall, and it has a really long fall season too, making it one of best fall vacations in the US. The high mountains of the Eastern Sierra start showing color as early as just past Labor Day, while the vineyards of Napa don’t peak until mid-November.
One of the best ways to experience fall colors in California is to do a road trip along State Route 395. From South Lake Tahoe in the north to Bishop in the south, you will see loads of fall color all along the route. Of course, different parts of the Sierra peak at different times, with color moving down in swathes from high elevations to low. Check the Mono County and Inyo County websites for fall color updates before you go.
Within the Eastern Sierra, some great spots for color include Conway Summit, Hope Valley near Lake Tahoe, and the June Lake Loop near Mammoth Lakes. Other than the gorgeous colors, the scenery is awesome too!
To see fall color at its best in the Napa Valley, visit in November. You will see whole vineyards glow orange and red, and the trees look lovely too. My favorite Napa Valley walk in the fall is the main street in Yountville. The walk is also lined with art, so you can enjoy both the color and the art as you walk!
Recommended by Aireona at Nightborn Travel
Central Arizona, home to Phoenix, is primarily known for two seasons – its insanely hot summer and the popular (and sometimes over-crowded) winters. However, less people are aware of just how lovely the autumn is here. In fact, Central Arizona is one of best fall vacations in the US!
In the city itself, there are festivals, fall celebrations, and even cultural events as people come out to enjoy the improving weather. On top of the extra activities, the city has all of its staples to offer, both indoor and out. The Musical Instrument Museum is a unique place to explore when the weather is still a little warm, while the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens make for the perfect excursions in the fresh air.
For the hikers of the world, autumn is the beginning of the hiking season in the lower elevation valleys, making this the perfect time to explore the Sonoran Desert. Walking among saguaros and the other vibrant life of the Arizona desert is an experience that you can have nowhere else. In particular, some of my favorite spots for hiking when the weather is improving is Canyon and Saguaro Lake- both of which also cater to boating activities. While there won’t be changing leaves, there is always something to do in Central Arizona in the fall.
Recommended by Jenn and Edd at Coleman Concierge
Have you considered heading to Chattanooga in the fall for a little leaf-peeping? The leaves change every year around Halloween because it’s located on the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains. Imagine two great holidays in one for your harvest-time fun.
The highlight of Halloween is Dread Hollow at Ruby Falls Cave, which makes a great combination with Rocktoberfest at Rock City farther up Lookout Mountain. Don’t overlook Chattanooga Ghost Tours. Many civil war battles took place in the city, and it was the start of the Trail of Tears. No wonder USA Today says it’s one of America’s top ten ghost tours.
The Riverfront is a special place too with the historical carousel at Coolidge Park, Walnut Street Bridge, and pumpkin pie ice cream at Clumpies. You can even try out the 22-mile long Riverfront Bike Trail or take a leave watching dinner cruise on the Southern Belle Paddleboat.
If you’re looking for some indoor fun, check out the Tennessee Aquarium, Hunter Museum of Art, Creative Discovery Museum, or the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. The Chattanooga Choo Choo is real.
Chattanooga is definitely one of the best fall vacations in the US.
Recommended by Taylor at Travel Outlandish
While Colorado is often overlooked in favor of coastal destinations, it’s definitely one of the best fall vacations in the US. And since the state promises 300 days of sunshine a year (it seems impossible, but I’ll take it!) it’s a stellar place to visit in the fall once the summer season has faded elsewhere.
The best things to do in Colorado are outside. There are four national parks – Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison – and plenty more state parks where you can hike, bike, fish, or visit well into the fall. In Rocky Mountain National Park, Mid-September to mid-October is when the elks are bugling and the aspen trees start changing. Plan a hike or scenic drive during this window to experience as elk seek a mate and aspen leaves flutter in brilliant shades of yellow with silver bark glistening.
Mesa Verde finally cools off and slows down from the busy summer while many of the popular Cliff Dwellings stay open. The snow has finally thawed at the usually-dark Black Canyon and the sometimes sweltering Sand Dunes National Park is finally cool enough for a night of camping. Parks and other popular recreation areas throughout the state are the most fun just after the summer crowds have dissipated and before the winter snow begins; with an average elevation of 6,800 ft, there are only a few months a year (including early fall) where you can explore many high elevation places with minimal snow.
And if you prefer a cultural experience, fall is when Colorado puts on the Telluride Film Fest, Oktoberfest, and Durango Arts Festival. Go for a visit while cities are lively, farmers markets are still in full swing, street festivals are plentiful, and you can still sit outside for a concert at Red Rocks or a Rockies game.
Recommended by Kelsey at Sights Better Seen
Flagstaff is an incredibly beautiful mountain town in Northern Arizona and is one of the best fall vacations in the US. It’s surrounded by the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world and sits at the base of the San Francisco peaks (the highest mountain range in Arizona!)
But the numerous stands of aspen trees are really what make Flagstaff a “can’t miss” fall destination. The colors of the leaves can range from golden yellow to burnt orange to crimson red during the autumn season, with the peak around the second or third week of October. You can even check the online Leaf-ometer for the current status!
Fun fact: Aspens grow in “colonies,” or groups of trees that are connected underground by the same root system and genetically identical. One colony’s leaves may change color at a different speed than the one next to it, thus creating beautiful blocks of color!
Now for all the fun stuff:
- Take a walk in Buffalo Park or along any of the trails in the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS). The weather is (on average) still nice enough to do so comfortably in the fall!
- Go fall foliage hunting in Lockett Meadow, Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road, the Abineu-Bear Jaw Loop, or the Flagstaff Arboretum.
- Drive to Sedona (1 hour). This is a beautiful drive AND many sections of highway 89A are lined with aspen trees!
- Explore the historic downtown area in the crisp fall air.
- Attend a fun event like the Shakespeare Festival, Flagstaff Star Party, or Flagstaff Oktoberfest!
- Take a ride over the Arizona Snowbowl on a chairlift and view the fall foliage from above.
- Visit the Riordian Mansion for fall/Halloween-themed tours during the month of October!
Hudson Valley, New York
Recommended by James Ian at Travel Collecting
The Hudson Valley in New York has so many fall attractions, it makes one of the best fall vacations in the US. There are farms scattered throughout the valley that are open for visits. You can ‘u-pick’ apples and pears, buy fresh apple juice and squash at farmer stands or pick out the perfect Jack o’Lantern pumpkin at a pumpkin patch. Many farms also have hayrides and corn mazes. You can also visit a cider house like the Brooklyn Cider House (in New Paltz, not Brooklyn), where you can drink fresh cider and eat wood-fired oven pizza in the apple orchard.
If you like Halloween, don’t miss the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze on Croton-on-Hudson, where over 7,000 pumpkins are carved and arranged in incredible elaborate displays. Tickets are timed, but you can then stay as long as you like. Get all the details of places to visit in the fall in the Hudson Valley here.
However, the best reason to visit the Hudson Valley is for the fall color. Because the valley extends north-south, and because the nearby Catskill Mountains have different elevations, the fall foliage season in the area is long, and there are many weeks in the season when you see bright fall color somewhere. Much of the valley is wooded, and the trees turn incredible reds, oranges and yellows.
Mohonk Mountain Preserve (and the wonderful Mohonk Mountain House – well worth a visit for their amazing weekend brunch) and Minnewaska State Park are prime leaf peeping spots.
Recommended by Jillian Michelle at Adventure Dragon
Helen, Georgia is a pretty, riverside town located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is one of the best places to visit in the fall in the United States. Although it has only 430 full-time residents, the locale’s fairytale charm has led it to becoming the third most-visited city in the state of Georgia.
The architecture in Helen reminds me of the Hansel and Gretel storybooks that I used to read when I was a kid, and the buildings look particularly pretty when the surrounding foliage begins transforming into vibrant shades of red and gold. The tiny town hosts the longest-running Oktoberfest in the United States, so the village square becomes a bustling hub for endless activities during that time. In the main plaza, shops sell candies and other handmade gifts while local artisans perfect their crafts through live glass-blowing and pottery demonstrations. You can’t leave without trying some of the free samples of the town’s famous fudge!
For photography opportunities, head to the riverfront or local parks. Helen is home to multiple nature trails, waterfalls, and scenic mountain hikes that provide the perfect spot to admire the changing leaves of the season.
One of my favorite places to visit is Anna Ruby Falls. It’s one of the best things to do in Helen, GA during October and November! If you’re looking for a unique fall destination in the United States, definitely consider Helen for your next trip!
Key West, Florida
Recommended by Jenn and Edd at Coleman Concierge
Key West Florida makes one of the best fall vacations in the US because the heat (and storms) of summer have passed and the throngs of winter visitors have yet to arrive. You can catch the sunrise, sunset, and enjoy the sunshine all day on this little island paradise.
Make sure you take a boat ride somewhere at least once on your trip. Whether you’re snorkeling Key West on America’s only living coral reefs or taking a sunset cruise, you need to experience life on the water. You can even take a jet ski tour around the entire island if that’s more your speed.
On land, start by taking the Conch Train across the island to pet the cats at the Hemingway House or enjoy a stroll through the butterfly Gardens. Head out early for your ubiquitous shot of the Southernmost Point in the United States because, even though it’s fall, you’ll be hard-pressed to get an empty frame. Key West’s nautical nature comes to life at Fort Zachary Taylor and the shipwreck museum.
Instead of heading out for orange leaves and crisp fall weather this year, soak in the fiery sunsets at Mallory Square. Then, enjoy the nightlife and festivity along Duval Street in the warmth of the Florida Keys.
Recommended by Nicole at Nicole LaBarge
Moab, Utah is a great place to visit in the fall because the weather is cooler, the leaves are changing, the crowds are gone from the national parks.
Moab is the gateway to two of Utah’s National Parks – Canyonlands and Arches. Both parks are very popular things to do in Moab.
If you are visiting Arches National Park, I would recommend hiking to Delicate Arch which is the symbol of Utah and found on the state license plate. The hike to Delicate Arch takes around 1-2 hours. Delicate Arch is the largest free-standing arch (46 feet high and 32 feet wide) in the Arches National Park.
If you are visiting Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Arch is one of the most iconic places. The hike to Mesa Arch takes around 10 minutes and is easy enough to do but visiting Mesa Arch at sunrise is a real treat to see the colors against the arch.
There is so much to do in Moab and the National Parks you will be busy during your visit!
Recommended by Stephanie at Constantly Curious
Known to many as “Little Nashville” this small town in Indiana boasts beautiful fall foliage that attracts visitors from far and wide. Trendy boutiques, charming restaurants, and local wineries are just a few reasons that Nashville is a popular autumn retreat.
Brown County State Park takes center stage as the changing leaves transform the park into a whimsical fall wonderland. The crisp fall air beckons visitors to take a scenic hike, hop on a mountain biking trail or go horseback riding. Pack a picnic to enjoy by the lake and ensure to go up in one of the Lookout Towers to take in a panoramic view of the park in its peak.
In between exploring Brown County State Park, be sure to visit Hard Truth Distillery. They offer a behind-the-scenes tour that will not only take you around the distillery but out into their wooded area for a sampling of their spirits. Take time to sample wines from the various wineries throughout town all while popping in and out of quaint little shops.
For a memorable dining experience venture off the beaten path to the Farmhouse Cafe and Tea Room. This scratch-made kitchen is serving up delicious comfort classics which is ideal to enjoy on their gorgeous patio. A perfect way to end your fall retreat to Nashville, Indiana.
Recommended by Kay at The Awkward Traveller
A few things come to mind when people hear Oregon: craft microbrews, hipsters in plaid, and Vegan strip clubs. But what most people don’t know is that Oregon is also one of the best fall vacations in the US!
Oregon, almost a hidden gem in America’s guidebooks, is filled to the brim with powerful waterfalls (over 200!), sprawling vineyards, dense forests, vast canyons, and picturesque volcanoes in every direction. When fall time rolls around, all of Oregon’s natural beauties light up with brilliant hues of red, orange, yellow, and brown. The entire state is like a Bob Ross painting.
For the ultimate fall vibes, head to one of the dozen pumpkin patches or apple orchards, and sip warm local cider (that can easily be fused with CBD heyyoo). As the spookiest of holidays rolls around, drive up to St. Helens, Oregon, the filming site of one of the best Halloween movies ever made, Halloween Town. The entire city is transformed back into the movie, and even actors from the movie drop in for the annual month-long celebration!
In the major city of Portland, you can cuddle up in one of the cozy coffee shops on every corner and you lose yourself in a book from Portland’s iconic Powell’s Bookstore, the largest used bookstore in the world!
If you’re into the outdoors, autumn is a great time for a hike near any of the nearby mountains. Plus, you can camp among the changing leaves without all the crowds!
If you want an all-around fun and laid-back autumn vacation that is a little off-the-beaten-path in the US, you gotta get yourself to the Pacific Northwest and take in the wonder that is Oregon.
Rock City in Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Recommended by Jillian Michelle at Adventure Dragon
One of the best fall vacations in the US lies hidden away at the top of a relatively unknown mountain town on the East Coast. You’ll find Rock City in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and it’s my favorite place in the world to see fall colors.
Stepping through the front gates feels almost like entering a completely new world. Whimsical trails slice through gigantic boulders as they lead you on a one-of-a-kind adventure through fragrant gardens, across a swinging rope bridge, and ultimately to a 90-foot waterfall.
When the weather is clear and sunny, you can see seven US states from a viewing platform located at the top of the falls. Clothed in the golden colors of fall, the waterfall looks especially beautiful during this time of year. A tunnel near the viewing platform has been fitted with multi-colored panels of glass so that a rainbow-effect appears when sunlight pours through the windows.
Rock City also hosts special fall festivities throughout the month of October. There are photo sessions with the Fall Fairy, storytelling sessions for kids, pumpkin painting, dance lessons, and endless feasts. I visit this magical place every year, and I highly recommend that you consider it for your next fall trip in the United States!
Route 100, Vermont
Recommended by Kyle at Via Travelers
Driving along Route 100 in Vermont is one of the best scenic road trips you can take. It’s particularly amazing during autumn, making it one of the best fall vacations in the US.
Route 100 is a highway that runs from Northern Massachusetts through Vermont into Southern Canada. This highway is a world-renowned road known for the extensive foliage, winding roads and hilly, scenic experiences. Another component of the trips along the Route 100 highway is the options for stops and outdoor adventures, including resorts and museums.
If you consider taking a Route 100 excursion, I suggest that you stop at the following locations:
- Ben & Jerry’s (the famous ice cream maker)
- Moss Glen Falls
- Cold Hollow Cider Mill
- Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum
- Killington Ski Resort
There likely won’t be any snow, but mountain biking is extremely popular at these resorts and they make for great scenic stopovers to fully embrace the fall foliage during your trip. You will surely want to bring your camera as there will be plenty of stopping points along the way to capture some of the most picturesque fall moments, including bridge locations with falling red gold foliage and a creek/river to go along with it.
The combination of family friendly activities and the vast number of trees make this route one of the most scenic drives in the United States! It’s a perfect location for people that absolutely love autumn.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Recommended by Rachelle of Adventure is Never Far Away
Looking for a picturesque destination to enjoy the warm fall colors of Mother Nature, without having to elbow your way through a throng of other visitors? Come visit Salt Lake City, Utah, and drive into the mighty Wasatch Mountain Range. With 160 miles of rugged alpine canyons, glacier-carved peaks, and endless groves of deciduous trees, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more breathtaking landscape with a little something for everyone. It’s definitely one of the best fall vacations in the US.
The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway is entirely paved and perfect for any vehicle under 30 feet long. If you have access to a motorcycle, nothing beats whipping around the corners with the delicious smell of aspen leaves blowing through your hair. The Byway is open from late May to late October, pending road conditions, as snow tends to close this road starting in November.
One of the most popular activities for visitors to do is drive the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. This 20-mile stretch of road serpentines through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and offers unobstructed views of Mount Timpanogos and millions of chromatic aspen trees. Visitors can take a short detour to Cascade Springs. A ¼-mile boardwalk criss-crosses this mountain spring, leading over translucent natural pools and cascading terraces, perfect for a brief photo opportunity.
Are you a film buff? The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway leads to the famous Sundance Mountain Resort, home to Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival origins, and numerous hiking trails. No matter where you decide to stop along the byway, you’re guaranteed to find a beautiful and Insta-worthy view!
Recommended by Melissa at Unclogged Blog
Few regions in America are more glorious in autumn than New England. Think covered bridges, red barns, mountain lakes, maple syrup, and quintessential fall foliage. Within that northeast region (and the entire US), Vermont boasts the highest percentage of maples—the trees that erupt in fall color. It’s enough to attract leaf peepers from around the globe, who descend in busloads to see the transforming landscape from mid-September through October.
In tiny towns like Peacham, VT, Nature’s artistry is displayed along country roads punctuated with weathered barns, 18th-century farmhouses, covered bridges, and serene lakes—all enveloped in dazzling shades of rust, orange, and gold. Ladies Home Journal named nearby Woodstock the “Prettiest Town in America” in 1997. Not much has changed in the ensuing years. It’s definitely still one of the best fall vacations in the US.
The hills are alive with lakes and waterfalls at Kettle Pond State Park and Rikker Pond, both favorite spots for photographers. More shutterbugs are inevitable in the overlooks above Jenne Farm and Sleepy Hollow Farm, both offering bucolic landscapes that define Vermont. Near Moss Glen Falls, stop at Riverside Maple Farms, a roadside enterprise proffering amber jars of syrupy, tree-to-table goodness that will remind you of your visit to a state that’s ablaze with color in autumn.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
Recommended by Rob and Ann at Travel Latte
Without a doubt, the best fall destination in the USA is the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire! It’s a true all-season destination that sparkles with Mother Nature’s fireworks every fall.
The White Mountains National Forest is actually a large area, but you can break it down into two or three road trips over a few days. Along the way, you’ll see lots of cute covered bridges, stunning mountains, and super charming towns to explore, like Littleton, with the world’s longest candy counter at Chutters General Store!
If you’re a hiker, you’re going to love the White Mountains. There are dozens of 4,000-foot peaks to climb, plus lots of less strenuous trails. One of the best easy hikes is the Flume Gorge near Lincoln. The trail takes you to into an 800-foot natural gorge in the granite, cut by the Flume Brook waterfall. In fact, there are beautiful rivers and lakes throughout the forest. Some require a little walking, but many can be seen right from the road.
Another great way to see fall color is from above at the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. Many of the regions ski resorts are open in the fall and have hiking and biking trails, ziplines, and adventure courses. But if you’re pressed for time, your number one goal should be a drive on the famous Kancamagus Highway. It’s consistently rated as one of the prettiest drives in America for fall colors.
The best time to visit is usually in mid-October. Columbus Day is the first weekend of October, and it gets crazy crowded, but the peak fall foliage usually doesn’t show up until a week or two later. Whenever you go, we’re sure you’ll agree: New Hampshire is one of the best fall vacations in the US!
Yellowstone National Park
Recommended by Sean at Living out Lau
Yellowstone National Park might surprise you as a good fall destination. The weather is crispy cold and snowfall happens in some parts of the park. However, Yellowstone National park is a whole new place in the fall compared to in the summer.
The hordes of summer tourists buses and the guides with their tiny flags leading walls of people are gone. Hotels that were in high demand are now delicately quiet, meaning cheaper prices. This is especially true for the hotels inside Yellowstone Park, where during high season you would need to book weeks in advance.
Other than being less crowded, the foliage has started to change color. The lush green scenery of Yellowstone is now coated with a golden brown, turning the park into an autumn beauty. Wildlife is much more abundant in the fall because bears are out scavenging for food to prepare for the cold brutal winter at Yellowstone.
This is the perfect opportunity to spot some grizzly bears, a type of bear only encountered in North America. Fall is also the rutting (mating) season for elks and moose. You will be able to hear the “bugles”, or mating calls of them firsthand, an experience you can only have in the Fall.