We can now feel the fall season. It’s the time for kids to go back to school and parents need to get back to work. You don’t need to sulk because summer is ending, this simply mean that we can now visit these famous USA cities that are famous for their fall colors. And isn’t it nice to travel when the prices and the tourists have dropped and temperatures dropped too but still not too cold.
1. COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, OREGON
Cut into the Cascade Mountains and forming a natural border between southern Washington and northern Oregon, the eighty-mile Columbia River Gorge is already a sublime sight. Come fall, when the firs, cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, Oregon ash, and twisted pines start to show their colors, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Visitors can choose to take in the golden and bronze hues while driving along the Columbia River, hiking a variety of trails, or rafting or kayaking down the river.
When to Go: Mid-September to mid-October is the best time for fall foliage in the Columbia River Gorge.
Where to Stay: The historic Columbia Gorge Hotel has the hands-down best views of the gorge, including the 208-foot Wah Gwin Gwin waterfall. Your stay includes breakfast at the hotel dining room, Simon’s Cliff House, one of the best restaurants in Oregon.
2. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
Why Go Now: Chicago continues its rise as a culinary capital with the arrival of Tanta, the first Chicago restaurant from Peruvian celeb-chef Gaston Acurio. In the coming months, the city will welcome The Dawson, a West Loop restaurant helmed by former Next sous-chef Rene DeLeon, and two New York imports: the first Midwestern branch of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, and Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Eataly, a 60,000-square-foot Italian emporium is scheduled to open in River North in November.
Where to stay: This summer, two major global brands debuted in Chicago: Aloft and Langham. In October, the Thompson Chicago will join the party, bringing a restaurant by One Off Hospitality, the group behind Windy City all-stars Blackbird, Avec, and The Publican.
Insider Tip: Locals queue for more than an hour on weekend mornings at the Doughnut Vault, a confectionary with an unassuming to-go window and a cult following. Head there around 9 am on a weekday, and you’ll have your pick of the vault—without the wait.
3. BERKSHIRES, MASSACHUSETTS
The essential escape for urbanites in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia, the Berkshires provide world-class foliage viewing alongside notable art and culture. Narrow winding roads connect mountain hamlets set against a forested backdrop of crimson, yellow, and every hue in between, making for the most beautiful gallery-hopping or antiquing trip of your life. Or, spend the weekend at one of the region’s storied spas, soaking in the sweeping autumn views.
When to Go: Fall foliage season in the Berkshires begins in late September and typically peaks during Columbus Day weekend in mid-October. There’s still color to behold in late October, but don’t wait until November.
Where to Stay: Located on 117 acres in Lenox, the elegant Blantyre hotel was built in 1902 and modeled after a castle in Scotland.
4. BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA
Why Go Now: Visit the city as it honors the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights milestones like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary Letter from a Birmingham Jail. In September (1st – 7th), a concurrent Jazz Festival and Civil Rights Film Festival will bring artists from across the state and country to Birmingham. Later that month, photographer Dawoud Bey will debut an exhibition dedicated to 1963’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombing at the Birmingham Museum of Art (September 8 – December 2).
Where to Stay: Earlier this year, the Magic City unveiled its first Westin, which has 294 sleek guestrooms and a Todd English restaurant. It anchors a $70 million development project geared at bringing retail and entertainment outlets to a sports complex in the Uptown district.
Insider Tip: Reflect on the city’s legacy at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. With more than 1,000 acres of greenery, it is one of the largest urban parks in the country. The summit of the Red Mountain overpass has broad views of downtown Birmingham.
5. GREEN MOUNTAIN BYWAY, VERMONT
The maple, birch, and beech trees lining this eleven-mile route bisecting Vermont put on one of the most dazzling displays of color in New England. The drive from quaint Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, to Stowe, one of the most famous ski resorts in the east, passes through two state forests and three state parks. In Stowe, the ski area gondola offers a bird’s-eye view of the forested slopes and easy access to hiking.
When to Go: The northern Vermont leaf observation season begins the second week of September and peaks the first week in October.
Where to Stay: In Stowe, the Topnotch Resort sits on 120 acres overlooking Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain at 4,393 feet. An impressive trail system surrounds the property, perfect for hiking and horseback riding.
6. ENCHANTED CIRCLE SCENIC BYWAY, NEW MEXICO
The dazzling eighty-three-mile loop starting and ending in Taos has become a fall foliage pilgrimage for aspen aficionados. Here, the aspens turn not only yellow, but also dark orange. The route encircles 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point, and the mesas and mountain vistas offer a unique southwestern perspective on autumn color. While aspens steal the show, there are also purple cinquefoil and cottonwoods in fiery shades ranging from bright red to yellow.
When to Go: Late September to early October offers the most vibrant colors along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
Where to Stay: A romantic B&B in Taos with stellar mountain views, Hacienda del Sol, features eleven southwestern-style rooms in four adobe buildings, most with kiva fireplaces and made-from-scratch gourmet breakfasts.
7. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, NORTH CAROLINA & TENNESSEE
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. for good reason. There are more than 100 species of native trees, including scarlet oaks, maples, sweetgums, and hickories, which put on a jaw-dropping autumn display of gold, orange, crimson, and purple. With 800 miles of scenic roads and hiking trails, you could spend days exploring these stunning forests.
When to Go: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ablaze in fall color from early October through early November.
Where to Stay: On the Tennessee side of the park, the tourist town of Gatlinburg sits just beyond with a dizzying array of accommodations. The family-owned Historic Gatlinburg Inn is less than a mile from the park and does a commendable job of maintaining a quiet B&B-like atmosphere in the heart of downtown.
8. PORTLAND, MAINE
Why Go Now: The other Portland is on our radar, too, with affordable fall foliage tours—check out the Press-Herald’s regularly updated Maine Forecast for the leafy latest—plus incredible restaurant, coffee, and microbrewery scenes. Celebrate all of the above at Harvest on the Harbour (October 23-26), a culinary festival held on downtown Portland’s glittering waterfront.
Where to Stay: The city is in hotel boom mode, with 500 new rooms scheduled to open in the next two years. In the meantime, check out the 8-room Pomegranate Inn’s quirky-cool digs in Old Port, or escape the city at the oceanfront Quahog Bay Inn, less than an hour from downtown Portland.
Insider Tip: Mead is the word at Maine Mead Works, where the ancient Norse bevvie gets an artisanal update with locally harvested honey and cutting-edge technique (continuous fermentation, anyone?). The brewery offers free tastings and tours from 11 am – 6 pm, Monday through Saturday.
9. LAKE OF THE OZARKS, MISSOURI
Central Missouri’s popular summertime lake getaway becomes even better in the fall when the crowds disperse and the temperatures pleasantly drop into the sixties. The surrounding Ozark Hills are at their most scenic come fall, when the forests ignite in shades of scarlet, gold, mahogany, and russet. Experience the color explosion while hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding at Missouri’s largest state park. Or take in the fall foliage on a yacht, at the wineries, during a round at one of the lake’s championship golf courses, or on a twenty-five-mile scenic drive.
When to Go: The last two weeks of October are the indisputable prime time for leaf peeping at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Where to Stay: Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers 230 campsites open year-round and eight rustic outpost cabins, each equipped with tables, chairs, wood-burning stoves, and sleeping accommodations for six. Central restrooms and showers are within walking distance.
10. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA
For the ruggedly self-sufficient, Glacier National Park is a dream fall foliage destination. By the end of September, all the park’s concessions have closed for the season, guests have gone home, and you pretty much have the entire park to yourself. This is one of the best places to see larch trees—deciduous conifers that turn bright gold in the fall before losing their needles. Yellow larch intermingled with evergreens set against the backdrop of the massive snow-covered peaks of the Continental Divide make for perhaps the most dramatic autumn scene in the U.S. Plus, wildlife abounds, with elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bears making their preparations for winter.
When to Go: Larch trees change color in mid-October. Everything else—maple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, and huckleberry—turn between early- and late-September.
Where to Stay: Most of the area’s notable properties close by late-September. The comfortable Grouse Mountain Lodge, located twenty-five miles away in Whitefish, is open all four seasons and offers exceptional on-site dining.
11. CATSKILLS, NEW YORK
The 6,000 square miles in southeastern New York known as the Catskills are home to six major river systems, thirty-five mountain peaks over 3,500 feet, and the famed Woodstock festival. A year-round destination, the Catskills are at their most vibrant in the fall when yellows, oranges, and reds electrify the thickly wooded hillsides. Locals and visitors alike savor the fall harvest, when many of the region’s historic villages host festivals and craft fairs alongside the bountiful farmers’ markets and pick-your-own orchards.
When to Go: The last two weeks in September through mid- to late-October are prime time for fall foliage in the Catskills.
Where to Stay: The Catskills are fabled for their charming B&Bs. For more of a retreat experience, head to the Inn at Lake Joseph, a sixteen-room country resort located on a 250-acre private lake.
12. ASPEN, COLORADO
When a world-famous town is named after a tree, you know it’s an extraordinary specimen. Aspen leaves turn a rich yellow hue in the fall and literally shimmer in the breeze when the sun hits them. The gold tones of aspens in autumn make for a picture-perfect contrast with the evergreens and craggy mountain peaks. While the ritzy ski resort town of Aspen is the place to see and be seen in the winter, it mellows during the autumn months.
When to Go: Aspen season is short. It kicks in during mid-September and peaks at the end of the month. The first week of October offers some decent viewing, but beyond that, there will be more leaves on the ground than on the trees.
Where to Stay: The Limelight Hotel is an ultra-modern mountain lodge that fronts Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Don’t let the sexy sophistication fool you; the hotel is moderately priced and welcomes both kids and pets.