With temperatures dropping and daylight time diminishing, you know what that means – nature’s fireworks display is on the way! Whether you’re based in a city, the suburbs or on the countryside, you probably don’t need to travel far to see the glorious colors of autumn (sorry, Floridians). From west to east, join us as we visit some of our favorite foliage destinations in the U.S. and Europe.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Fall in the Teton Range has already begun and should last through the middle of October. This sprawling park includes the 40-mile-long (64 km) Teton Range as well as much of the valley known as Jackson Hole. It’s a magnificent destination year-round, but autumn is particularly spectacular thanks to the large stands of deciduous trees whose leaves blaze mostly yellow and orange. Cottonwoods line the banks of the Snake River and other creeks, aspens are found on hillsides and many types of willows and shrubs transform lake and canyon trails into yellow and red carpets in the fall. An iconic view is from the Oxbow Bend pullout a mile east of Jackson Lake Junction. Fall is also rutting season for deer and elk, so make sure to keep your distance from these beautiful but wild animals.
If you’ve seen photos of shimmery yellow Aspen trees on the mountainside and wondered if they’re really amazing as everyone says, the answer is yes. Seeing them in person will take your breath away, or maybe that’s the altitude? The resort area is 160 scenic miles southwest of Denver. The aspens begin turning from green to yellow in mid-September and the trees in the park provide crisp shades of gold and sometimes red into October. The most popular leaf-viewing spot is the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. The blazing backdrop features the Maroon Bells, two peaks in the Elk Mountains, and the brilliant blue water of Maroon Lake. The road leading there (CR 13), features an Aspen-tree lined valley. Other top spots include Cathedral Lake, Smuggler Mountain and Aspen Mountain. See the show on foot or from the car.
Hocking Hills and Mohican state parks, Ohio
An hour southeast of Columbus lies the sprawling Hocking Hills State Park. With more than 10,000 acres of red oak, hickory, beech, hemlock, maple and sassafras trees, you know the autumn show is something to behold. Besides the trees, the park is sprinkled with magnificent rock formations carved out by waterfalls thousands of years ago. With some 25 miles of trails in the region, you’ll always have a good view. But for the best vistas, take a trail that opens up onto high cliffs, such as Conkles Hollow Upper Trail or Cantwell Cliffs (2-mile gorge trail with about one mile of rim trail). By car, you can follow the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway. If you go in the other direction, northeast of Columbus, you’ll find the equally enchanting Mohican State Park and adjacent state forest. Enjoy wilderness at the dramatic Clear Fork Gorge, hemlock forest a
nd scenic Mohican River and then indulge in a bit of cushier treatment at the Mohican Lodge.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Autumn puts on quite a show here, especially from mid-October through early November. Because this is the country’s most visited national park, motor traffic does pick up, so make sure you make some time to get out of the car and do some walking or hiking. Thanks to the many elevations in this massive park (it’s more than half a million acres!), you’ll be able to find color somewhere during the season. The highest elevations above 4,000 feet peak first, including Clingmans Dome, Andrews Bald and Balsam Mountain. Later look for vivid hues in Cataloochee Valley and Oconalufee. The extremely popular spot of Cades Cove has a lower elevation, so will be one of the last areas to peak. Each tree species sports its own shade. Here are some to look for: Tulip poplar: golden yellow, birch: bright yellow, dogwood: deep red, sourwood: darker red, sugar maple: orange-red, red maple: bright scarlet or orange.
Yes, we’re listing the entire state because there is really nowhere in the so-called “Green Mountain State” that doesn’t turn into a blaze of beauty in the fall. You can bike, hike or drive into postcard perfect scenery. One famous driving route is Route 30. Begin in in the south, in lovely and historic Battleboro, pass rolling hills and farms and into the Green Mountain National Forest, which will be anything but green. Make sure to stop at the famed West Dummerston Covered Bridge. If you’re looking for the perfect rest stop, head for Jamaica State Park, along the West River. Further north, check out U.S. Route 7, which also goes through Connecticut and Massachusetts. Start in vibrant Burlington and then drive along scenic Lake Champlain. From there, go to Mt. Philo State Park, where a short drive to the top of the mountain provides the most dramatic views of the drive, looking out over the lake, the valley and the peaks of the Adirondack Mountains.
The Highlands and Edinburgh, Scotland
For more than a wee bit of splendor, head for the Highlands. Sought after as a backdrop to many films and television series, the region’s vistas are dramatic and primeval. Magnificent mountainsides and separated by wide valleys, presenting many viewing angles. Ben Nevis, the highest point in the U.K. (4,413 feet or 1,345 meters), is located on the western central coast of Scotland. You can hike through the fantastic foliage, often reflected in the many rivers and lakes (lochs), or take a driving tour. Even if you stay in the capital of Edinburgh, you’ll be treated to a sea of colors set again a backdrop of evergreen Scots pine. Surround yourself with orange, red and golden leaves in the Royal Botanic Garden or take in the views from the Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill (famous for its collection of historic monument) or Holyrood Park. The 640-acre park is home to Arthur’s Seat, the city’s highest point (823 feet or 251 meters) and home to a large and well-preserved fort.
The German Alps features mountain peaks, thick forests and one of the world’s most famous castles, Neuschwanstein Castle. In the fall, this iconic landmark becomes even more spectacular when it’s surrounded by trees ablaze in color. If it’s photos you’re after, the classic ones are taken from Marienbrücke, which you can reach on foot in the hills to the south of the castle. It’s very well signposted, or just follow the other sharp shooters. You can also hike in the area and any of the gorges will be a canvas for fall’s artwork as the trees lining the steep ravines are aglow. If you prefer to stay inside you can tour the fairy-tale castle. It was designed by King Ludwig II along with a theatrical set designer. No wonder it has influenced present-day fairy tales, such as Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Most visitors think of going to Amsterdam in the spring, when they can head out of the city and see the tulip fields in bloom or visit Keukenhof Gardens. But the Dutch capital is quite magical in the fall thanks to the nearly half million trees lining its historic canals. You can walk (or cycle, of course) along centuries old streets blanketed with brightly colored leaves, or watch the show from the water by taking a canal tour. Make sure to save time for a stroll through lively Vondelpark, the city’s Central Park, with plenty of spaces for picnicking, strolling, cycling and people watching.
Like Amsterdam, Bruges is a city of canals, to the point that it’s been called “The Venice of the North.” So of course you’ll want to take a boat tour. Although many international tourists don’t think of Bruges as a place for leaf peeping, it’s actually quite well known for that activity in Western Europe. The trees lining all those waterways turn vivid shades and yellow, orange and red, and the colors reflect beautifully in the water. If you prefer a panoramic view, visit the Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell tower on the Market Square. It’s only 366 steps to the top, and once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of this medieval city from 272 feet (83 meters) high. With all this exercise, surely you deserve some Belgian chocolate. You’ll find plenty of shops down below.