Fall is officially upon us, and if the copious amounts of pumpkin spice didn’t give you a hint, the cooler temperatures and shorter days just might.
But what most everyone looks forward to about fall is the beautiful window of color as the trees transition for winter. Warm hues of red, orange, and yellow become commonplace for a few weeks, creating a paradise for nature lovers and photographers alike.
However, with a country as massive as the United States, it can be hard to pinpoint the best spots to visit, especially when the color clock is ticking fast. So here is a list of the top six Insta-worthy fall destinations in the US, going from west to east.
But before you scroll down and view the list, here is a quick tip to game plan and see these beautiful fall destinations at the best times. Locations that are more northern and/or are in higher elevations tend to transition into color first and fastest.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway, beginning south of the Great Smoky Mountains and located in the beautiful state of North Carolina, offers one of the most beautiful drives in the country. The road is not only beautiful in fall, but is a true engineering marvel. Stretches like the Blue Ridge “Aqueduct” were built to wind and tower above the trees, and offer a bird’s eye view to some of the most magical fall colors in the country.
Sourwoods, poplars, and maples offer every kind of red and crimson hue and are striking beautiful, especially in the morning, when the fog routinely covers the mountains, and swirls around these colorful trees. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a perfect southern Appalachian getaway and a world class fall destination for photographers and nature lovers alike.
Zion National Park, Utah
Fall in Utah and the Southwest is one of the most unique you will ever experience. Most do not think about southern Utah as a fall foliage destination due to its desert landscape, but Zion is unique in that it has a thriving desert environment, fed by the powerful Virgin River, which creates a thriving oasis on its massive canyon floor.
In the fall, the thousands of cottonwoods that call the canyon floor home turn bright yellow and offer an incredible contrast to the massive orange, pink, and red sandstone walls and cliffs of Zion Canyon. It almost doesn’t seem real, but that colorful contrast at photo destinations like The Narrows and The Watchman are a marvel to photograph and will be at the top of your fall portfolio.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
They don’t call New Mexico the “Land of Enchantment” for nothing. Bosque del Apache stands out as one of the country’s most accessible and popular national wildlife preserves—for wildlife and human visitors alike—providing a seasonal home, November through March, for up to 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks.
Many thousands of bird watchers, photographers, and nature lovers from around the US and beyond follow them here. And there’s no better time or way to appreciate all that the 57,000-acre refuge has to offer than attending the annual Festival of the Cranes, always held the week before Thanksgiving.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
There is a reason why this region is home to one of the busiest national parks in the US. In fall, the Smoky Mountains truly shine, with some of the most vibrant fall colors you will see. A southern subsection of the Appalachian Range, the Smokies are home to some of the largest mountains in the eastern United States.
Summit destinations like Clingmans Dome, one of the park’s highest spots, is a perfect spot for sunrise and a purely fall experience you have to see to believe.
The Adirondacks, New York
The Adirondacks offer a fall escape with an outdoor playground that is the largest natural wilderness region in the eastern United States. In the fall, this area explodes with color, with bright reds, oranges, and yellows from the oak, maple, birch, and beech trees that grow in this region.
The Green Mountains, Vermont
Vermont is known for its tasty maple syrup and beautiful Green Mountains that attract winter sport enthusiasts from around the world. But that combination of beautiful mountains and maple trees creates a mecca for fall color.
The deep reds and oranges in this area are truly remarkable, and if you take the Green Mountain Byway, from Waterbury to Stowe, you have the perfect opportunity to experience this state in its fall splendor, surrounded by charming farms and towns.
Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.
—William Cullen Bryant