When Fall Foliage Will Be Best 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 world truly begins to change color in autumn, and the crisp temperatures are a welcome break from the summer heat. Depending on where you live, there are actually ideal windows to see changing leaves—and it's not always when you'd expect. We've consulted travel experts to determine the peak leaf peeping timeframes for each region of the U.S., including the Northeast, Southwest, West, Southeast, and Midwest, so that you you can be informed in case you want to take a picturesque road trip close to home. Read on to find out when fall foliage will be best and brightest in your area.

READ THIS NEXT: 10 Secret Places in the U.S. to See Fall Foliage.

The Northeast

fall foliage at niagara whirlpool
ATGImages / Shutterstock

The Northeast region of the U.S. is one of the more well-known spots for fall foliage, and if you live in one of the 10 states in the area, you should already be seeing the most vibrant leaves. According to SmokyMountain.com's Fall Foliage Prediction Map, in this region, you'll see the leaves start to change this week, and the foliage will peak before the middle of October.

The timing of peak foliage will change year to year, depending on weather, Jason Dempsey, CEO and co-founder of Home City Living explains. As he notes, this region, and New England in particular, is famed for "the magnificent explosion of colors each fall."

In 2022, thanks to a drier season, those in the Northeast may see red and orange leaves earlier, but there's always a pattern here. "The fall colors are at their best earlier in the fall the further north you are in the region, and this effect then ripples southwards over the following weeks," Dempsey says.

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. You'll want to visit sooner rather than later, as Maine will see the boldest colors between now and mid-October, per Dempsey's estimates. 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.

The Southwest

fall along the rio grande river new mexico
Trey Flynt / Shutterstock

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.

"In much of the region, the peak of the fall foliage arrives later than in most of the rest of the country, around mid-late November," Dempsey explains. "However, the farther north you go in the region, and perhaps most importantly, how high you go, can make a big difference."

Dempsey suggests checking out elevated areas of northern Arizona between late October and early November.  Foliage in the Southwestern portions of the Rocky Mountains will be the prettiest in mid-October.

According to the Fall Foliage Prediction Map, in this region, you won't see too many leaves changing before October.

READ THIS NEXT: The 6 Best U.S. National Parks to See Fall Foliage.

The West

foliage san juan mountains
SNEHIT PHOTO / Shutterstock

If you live out West, fall foliage is best observed in the last few weeks of September through the first few weeks of October, Todd tells Best Life. According to the 2022 Fall Foliage Map, by Halloween on Oct. 31, most of the region will be at its peak or already past peak foliage.

Todd recommends going to visit San Juan National Forest in Colorado, where the quaking aspen trees are truly a site to behold. According to the forest's website, this year, you'll first see colors near the Silverton area of the park, and at the tail-end of the foliage season, the best views will be near Pagosa Springs, Purgatory, and Dolores. "The alpine trees begin to glow a golden color this time of year," Todd explains. "Combine that with a sunrise or sunset, and be ready for your jaw to drop."

For those in the Pacific Northwest, you can count on colors peaking around the same time as they do in the Northeast, in mid-October, Dempsey says. "Broadly speaking, the same pattern applies here as it does in the Northeast; the further south you go, the later the best of the fall colors will be visible," he explains.

Those in the southern part of the region, near the High Sierras of California, will see colors between the middle and end of September. "Here, as well as in northern parts of the state, the fall foliage peak arrives in mid-October, with the rest of the state a little later, in late October and early November," Dempsey says.

The Southeast

curvy roadway great smoky mountains national park
anthony heflin / Shutterstock

Paying a visit to the Southeast in the fall will offer a nice reprieve from its typically warmer climate, with temperatures hovering between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Todd says. This region generally changes color later in the year, but again, different areas will see the boldest colors at different times.

"As in other regions, two main rules apply: The higher you are, and the further north you are, the earlier the leaves turn," Dempsey tells Best Life. "That's why in the Appalachians of West Virginia, southwards through parts of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, the peak of the fall foliage can arrive as early as late September or early October. In lowland Virginia and North Carolina, expect the peak from around the middle of October onwards through to the middle of the following month."

Parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama, on the other hand, will see the best colors between the end of October and early November, and can stay vibrant through the end of November.

If you want to travel within this region, Todd recommends heading out to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. "The Appalachians along this area are absolutely stunning," he says.

For those looking for the perfect time to visit, Alicia Phelps, executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, suggests booking a trip during the week of Oct. 17, pointing to data from the Fall Foliage Map.

For more travel advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The Midwest

fall foliage central minnesota
Sam Wagner / Shutterstock

After the Northeast starts to change from green to red, yellow, and orange, the Midwest really starts to shine. According to Dempsey, colors in this region also peak at a faster pace.

"Here, you'll find the best of the fall foliage in the most northerly states of Michigan and Minnesota in early October," he says. "In mid-October, Iowa, most of Illinois and Indiana and Ohio are the places to go, whereas, by the end of the month, the fall colors are at their most aesthetic in Missouri."

Todd recommends taking a trip to the Ozark Mountains in autumn, specifically in the southwest areas of Missouri. "This area is loaded with beautiful lakes such as Table Rock, Stockton, and Bull Shoals," he says. "The forestry makes for beautiful scenery as well."

Joshua Haley, founder of the travel blog Moving Astute, also suggests visiting other national parks in the region, specifically Indiana Dunes National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is an Associate Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on national parks, scientific studies, and the best pet advice. Read more
Filed Under