Fall Foliage - 10 of the Best Hikes & Drives for Leaf Peeping
In Japan, it's called momijigari. In New England and throughout the American Northeast, it's known more adorably as "leaf peeping." But whatever you want to label the tendency to seek out brilliant fall foliage, you'll find plenty of scenic locales across the US where you can watch the leaves change hues. To help you decide where to go to witness autumn's technicolor metamorphosis during a hike or drive, we've selected our 10 favorite spots across the country for leaf peeping.
Door County, Wisconsin
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Drive from Peninsula State Park to the "tip of the thumb," or as far north in Door County as you can get before meeting the Green Bay. Finish off the trek with a ferry trip to nearby Washington Island, where you can observe the reds, oranges, and browns below from atop the Washington Park lookout tower.
Best Time to Go: Mid to late October
Other Activities in the Area: You'll be in Wisconsin, after all, so good beer is all but a must. Head down to nearby Luxembourg, where you can sip craft brews and tour the Thumb Knuckle Brewing Company.
Where to Stay: Make a true road trip out of it and stay at the Great Wolf Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells (from $109/night).
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wisconsin
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Go for a drive along the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive, a 115-mile road that weaves through the heart of oak, maple, and aspen territory in five separate forests.
Best Time to Go: Mid-October
Other Activities in the Area: In Kettle Moraine's Southern Unit, you can paddle across Ottawa Lake in a canoe or hike one of the numerous park trails. And the creature comforts of a city are just a quick drive away—the Southern Unit is only 40 miles southwest of Milwaukee and 50 miles east of Madison.
Where to Stay: Rooms in the Chula Vista Resort in the Wisconsin Dells can be had for as low as $69 a night.
Hudson River Valley, New York
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Go for a stroll on the Walkway Over the Hudson—at 1.28 miles, it's the world's longest pedestrian bridge. As its name suggests, the bridge spans the Hudson River, giving the ideal vantage point from which to take in the views and snap photos.
Best Time to Go: Mid to late October
Other Activities in the Area: The Hudson River Valley is known for its great wineries, so head out for a tasting. Deals like this one at Hudson-Chatham Winery get two people tastings and a cheese plate for just $20.
Where to Stay: Keep the leaf peeping going at Lake George's Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center (from $66/night), a multi-building hotel complex settled in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains.
Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Take a drive along the Cobble Mountain Trail, which cuts through the 2,300-acre Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent. An overlook here showcases the brilliant foliage across the Harlem Valley and the Catskills and Taconic Mountains.
Best Time to Go: Last week of September through mid-October
Other Activities in the Area: Go apple picking at nearby Averill Farm. You can also sample their homemade apple-cider donuts and scoop up a pumpkin for carving.
Where to Stay: Across the border in Massachusetts, the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center (from $59/night) treats guests to cozy, lake-cabin-style decor.
The Rocky Mountains
Best Place to Peep Leaves: A half hour drive south of Aspen is where you'll find Ashcroft, an old-west ghost town. With a backdrop of blazing-yellow aspen trees, the abandoned log cabins and storefronts make for calendar-worthy panoramas.
Best Time to Go: Last week of September through early October (keep in mind that leaves change earlier at higher elevations)
Other Activities in the Area: It'll be too early to hit Aspen's famous skiing scene, so check out another of the town's must-do activities: fly fishing. The waters in the area are legendary for their stock of brown trout.
Where to Stay: Head to the sleepy town of Redstone for a stay at The Redstone Inn (from $59/night), whose individually decorated rooms, tudor-style architecture, and mountainside setting give it a European charm.
Eagle County, Colorado
Best Place to Peep Leaves: You'll see plenty of fall foliage lining I-70, the main interstate that sails through Eagle County. Ditch the main drag for Highway 24 at Minturn; the scenic byway charts a course through droves of yellow, orange, and red aspens.
Best Time to Go: Last week of September through early October (as with Aspen, remember that leaves change earlier at higher elevations)
Other Activities in the Area: Soak in the hot springs of Glenwood Springs or tackle the 1-mile trek to Hanging Lake. There are plenty of things to do in Edwards and Vail, including world-class shopping and guided horseback rides at Vail Stables.
Where to Stay: The Gold Rush–era west comes alive in the town of Steamboat Springs, where you can stay in one of the Legacy Vacation Club's suites (from $101/night).
The Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Honestly—the entire thing. Making the drive on the parkway from the Smoky Mountains National Park in the south to Shenandoah National Park in the north will take you through endless twists, turns, and changes in elevation, so you're guaranteed to get a nice smattering of leaves at different color stages.
Best Time to Go: End of September to mid to late October
Other Activities in the Area: Roanoke is just off the middle of the parkway, making it a fitting resting spot. While you're there, check out the Roanoke Pinball Museum, a monument to the old-school arcade game that's loved by locals.
Where to Stay: Recharge for another day of scenic driving on the parkway at the Holiday Inn Roanoke - Tanglewood (from $71/night).
Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Drive to the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and hoof it up to the park's stone observation tower. You'll be rewarded with a colorful display courtesy of the thousands of deciduous trees in the Pisgah National Forest.
Best Time to Go: Early to mid-October
Other Activities in the Area: Pack a picnic or go on a longer hike within Mount Mitchell State Park, and keep your eyes peeled for resident black bear or white-tailed deer. Peruse art galleries and see the largest home in the US—the Biltmore Estate—in the mountain town of Asheville.
Where to Stay: Head to the vacation and skiing town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee (the drive there from Mt. Mitchell is a great fall activity unto itself) for a stay at the Sidney James Mountain Lodge (from $44/night), a favored resting spot among Groupon customers.
Route 100, Vermont
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Like the Blue Ridge Parkway before it, the whole of Vermont's Route 100—from Stamford in the south all the way to the Canadian border in the north—is gorgeous in the fall, making it the perfect artery for viewing New England fall foliage. The Stowe Recreation Path, a 5.3-mile trail in Stowe, Vermont, is particularly picturesque, though; the winding trail takes you past farmland and through dense woods, all with technicolor mountains serving as the backdrop.
Best Time to Go: Early to mid October
Other Activities in the Area: Vermont is dotted with dozens of maple-syrup farms, plenty of which are within easy driving distance of Route 100. Montpelier's Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks is a particular standout.
Where to Stay: The Killington Mountain Lodge (from $69/night) lives up to its outdoorsy name with plenty of wood paneling, stone decor, and even a common area with a pair of mounted moose antlers.
Peacham Road, Vermont
Best Place to Peep Leaves: Peacham Road isn't very lengthy as far as scenic drives go, but it does take you through the heart of the bucolic New England town of Peacham, complete with steepled churches, charmingly disheveled barns, and plenty of gorgeous colors.
Best Time to Go: First two weeks of October
Other Activities in the Area: Vermont's Northeast Kingdom is a haven of outdoor recreation. Go mountain biking on the Kingdom Trails, get lost in the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville, or hike around Lake Willoughby in East Burke.
Where to Stay: The stately Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa (from $82/night) is an easy drive over the border into New Hampshire.
This article was originally written by staff writer Jorie Larsen in 2014. It has since been modified.
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