The Best Time for Fall Foliage in Your Area
The brightest autumn colors will peak at different times across the U.S.
There's no season more stunning than fall. The crisp temperatures are a welcome break from the summer—and the world truly begins to change color when the leaves shift to shades of red, orange, and gold. Depending on where you live, there are ideal windows to see the best foliage, according to SmokyMountains.com's 2023 Fall Foliage Prediction Map, so you'll want to check when your area will be at its brightest. We also consulted travel experts to identify leaf-peeping destinations for each region of the U.S., including the Northeast, Southwest, West, Southeast, and Midwest—just in case you want to take a picturesque road trip close to home. Read on to find out when fall foliage will be best in your area.
The Northeast region of the U.S. is one of the more well-known spots for vibrant fall foliage. If you live in one of the 10 states in the area, you can expect to see some color towards the end of this month, according to SmokyMountain.com's map.
In 2023, foliage in Vermont, New York, and Maine will see the "ultimate peak" between Oct. 9 and 13, per a document from SmokyMountains.com provided to Best Life. Rhode Island's peak will last a little longer, spanning through Oct. 20. New Hampshire peaks vary depending on whether you're in the northern or southern part of the state: In the north, the best colors are predicted between Oct. 2 and 6, while the south is slated for between Oct. 9 and 13.
For most of these states, the peak tapers off at the end of October, but Maryland is a bit longer, peaking between Oct. 23 and 27 and moving past peak in early November.
If you live here or plan to visit the Northeast this fall, Adrian Todd of the outdoor hiking travel blog Great Minds Think Hike, recommends heading up to Acadia National Park in Maine for some spectacular views of expansive foliage. The crowds are typically smaller than the height of the summer, making the park a bit more peaceful to navigate.
"At Acadia, in the fall the tree leaves burst with colors of red, orange, and yellow along the coastal views; it truly makes it a fall lover's paradise," Todd says. "There are a lot of ways to view the fall foliage from hiking, biking, driving, and by boat. I recommend driving the Park Loop Road, and if you are up for a further challenge, then try hiking Cadillac Mountain."
For those who don't want to go that far north, there are also great spots in New York, including the famed Niagara Falls.
"Anywhere along the Niagara Gorge is spectacular for fall foliage, with peak generally hitting about a week after Indigenous Peoples/Columbus Day," Angela Berti, marketing and public affairs manager at Niagara Falls State Park, says, noting that park visitors can head to the southern end of Trail 4 for views of foliage and waterfalls.
"For the more adventurous, the view of the changing leaves in the gorge from below is breathtaking, and I recommend the Whirlpool Trail," she says.
When you think of the Southwest, images of fall foliage probably don't rush to mind. That being said, this region is not without its autumnal displays.
According to this year's foliage prediction map, in this region, you won't see too many leaves changing this month, with most of the region peaking by the end of the October into the beginning of November.
Todd notes it can be difficult to find good leaf-peeping spots in the Southwest "due to the temperature and desert climate." That being said, there are still some ideal spots to see changing leaves.
"If you're checking out fall foliage in the Southwest, I highly recommend going to Guadalupe Mountain National Park," Todd says. "Due to higher elevations in the Guadalupe Mountains, deciduous trees are able to thrive. This makes this park a special place in the Southwest where the trees are able to show off their fall colors."
You may also want to take Todd's recommendation to visit McKittrick Canyon, "where you will see maple, oaks, and ash trees dazzling your eyes with hues of red and burnt orange along the mountain backdrop."
If you live out West, you'll see leaves changing at the beginning of October, specifically in the Northwest. Per the document from SmokyMountains.com, Oregon, specifically, will have "full displays of color around mid to late-October," between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6. Leaves in Washington state start to change near the end of September, peaking a bit earlier than it's southern counterpart, between Oct. 9 and 13.
By the beginning of November, SmokyMountains.com predicts most of the Western U.S. will be at its peak or already past peak foliage.
If you plan to fit in a trip before then, Todd recommends going to visit San Juan National Forest in Colorado, where the quaking aspen trees are truly a site to behold. But if you want to go more off the beaten path, Todd points to a hidden leaf-peeping gem: Stanley, Idaho.
"Stanley is a small town nestled in the Sawtooth National Forest surrounded by the Sawtooth Mountains. It is known for its beautiful alpine lake called Redfish," he tells Best Life. "Whether you want to hike trails, fish, or just relax in a cabin, Stanley is an amazing place to grab a cup of coffee and see golden to bronze fall hues glistening below the mountain peaks."
Paying a visit to the Southeast in the fall will offer a nice reprieve from its typically warmer climate. This region generally changes color later in the year, but again, different areas will see the boldest colors at different times.
Per the 2023 fall foliage map, ideal colors in this region likely won't appear until November, but you'll also be able to enjoy them longer, as they'll last for a majority of the month.
Parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama will see the best colors between early and mid-November. In North Carolina, the document from SmokyMoutains.com states that leaves begin to change in early to mid-October, but peak colors can be seen between Oct. 23 and 30. Leaves in Tennessee, on the other hand, are anticipated to peak between Oct. 23 and 27.
If you live in this region (or in more of the South Central U.S.), Todd says a visit to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is a must. But he also says a trip to Arkansas is unbeatable.
"There are tons of places in the Southeast for fall foliage. I highly recommend checking out Arkansas, specifically the Whitaker Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag, located in a special area called the Ozarks," he says. "Whitaker Point is a unique rock formation that requires a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to the parking lot, [and] then a short hike to the point. But the view is totally worth it."
The Ozark Mountains will take your breath away, and if you want to get the most out of your trip, plan a picnic lunch "to relax and truly embrace the views," Todd says.
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After the Northeast starts to change from green to red, yellow, and orange, the Midwest really starts to shine.
According to the 2023 fall foliage map, the northernmost parts of this region, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, start to peak in early October. Moving south, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois peak around Oct. 30, with colors in this region mostly past peak by mid-November.
Todd's top recommendation for leap peepers in the Midwest is Rocheport, Missouri (where colors peak around Nov. 6).
"Rocheport is an adorable town with a vineyard called Les Bourgeois. The town is known for being one of the prominent stopping points along the Katy Trail, which is the longest consecutive rail to trail in the country that runs for 240 miles," he says.
There's a tram that can take you on a tour of Katy Trail, or you can rent or bring a bike to take in the views at your own pace. If you prefer to really relax, Todd notes that you can also "take in the fall views" at The BluffTop at Rocheport, a vineyard located along the trail.
Joshua Haley, founder of the travel blog Moving Astute, also suggests visiting other national parks in the region to check out fall foliage, specifically Indiana Dunes National Park and Yellowstone National Park.