Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

“Leaf peepers” and “color spotters” will search for peak fall glory with camera in hand

This is starting out as a complicated season for leaf peepers.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the Northeast sweltered through record October heat, parts of the Rockies and northern Plains were buried under wildly early snow—and we drove through it from Great Falls to Billings. Late heat and early cold can stifle some of the most photo-worthy foliage, but large swaths of the country will soon be engulfed in the brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds ahead of the approaching winter.

Stowe Community Church, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forested areas host a variety of tree species. The evergreens shed leaves or needles gradually as their name suggests. The leaves of deciduous varieties change from green to yellow, orange, or red before letting go entirely.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer, trees produce chlorophyll, the pigment that turns leaves green and allows trees to use light to make food sugars. At the same time, trees manufacture carotenoid, a yellow to orange pigment that is hidden by the green chlorophyll during the summer months. When the production of chlorophyll slows with the onset of fall, the carotenoid’s bright color can emerge. This yellow pigment also helps the leaf absorb different wavelengths of light that the green chlorophyll cannot.

Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Certain species begin to produce another pigment, anthocyanin, when the seasons begin to change. This is what turns forests red and orange. Anthocyanin is also responsible for the red, purple, black, and blue colors in certain foods high in antioxidants (think raspberries, purple cauliflower, and black rice). This crimson pigment allows trees to continue storing just a little more sugar and nitrogen to have on hand for the next year.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some areas of the country are more likely to experience those bright red and orange leaves than others. New England is a perennial fall destination because of its abundance of tree species contributing bright colors.

Goshen, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best color displays occur in forests that have a diversity of species and trees that have the tendency to turn red.

The progression of fall creates a wave of color across the country with grassy plains and farmlands in the Midwest drying up, and the trees of the East Coast rolling from green to yellow/orange/red to brown.

Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf peepers prowl different parts of the country to find their own special spots for the best fall colors. An annual photo-foraging is like a Christmas present as leaf peppers run around the country unwrapping all these presents.

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dazzling colors can be seen in numerous regions outside New England. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota are great places to go with forests that blend bright yellow birch, beech, and aspen with red maple. Farther south, a mix of oak and hickory forests in Arkansas provides stunning views, especially at higher elevations in the Ozarks.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even as far south as New Mexico, yellow oaks can be seen on mountainsides, along with sporadic flashes of red maples.

Near Brian Head, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moving west, yellow dominates. Western U.S. forests are predominantly evergreen, where species of juniper, spruce, and fir are better adapted to the more extreme temperature and moisture shifts. The deciduous trees in the West, including aspens, tend to display strong yellows.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are pockets of beautiful color all over the West but there aren’t a lot of people there. So the majesty can go unseen in some places.

When it comes to tracking down those optimal fall colors, some years can be good and some years can be poor.

Jacksonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moderate stress, such as changing seasonal temperatures and the amount of daylight, helps induce the onset of leaf-color change, but more severe stress can mute the vibrancy of autumn’s palette. Drought limits the ability of tree leaves to produce sugars which can also lead to early leaf drop.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But this season is expected to be superb. In New England, low evening temperatures have helped jump-start the fall colors. This will eventually wave down the eastern United States, down through Appalachia and beyond.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wish you luck in your leaf-peeping endeavors. Don’t wait too long because before you know it, the best of fall foliage season will quickly pass only to find solace in pumpkins and corn mazes.

Worth Pondering…

October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!

―Rainbow Rowell, Attachments  

Otherworldly National Parks

National parks come in many different sizes and features. Some parks make one feel as if they’re on another planet.

A trip to a national park can make for a great fall vacation. In fact, it makes for a great vacation any time of the year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, if you plan on going to some of the most popular national parks in the U.S., like the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you might end up fighting the crowds. And, while all of the 421 park sites (including 61 official national parks) in the National Park Service system are unique in their own way, there are a few underrated parks that deserve some attention for their particularly strange or peculiar features that you can’t find anywhere else.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, did you know it was possible to travel to another planet in your RV? Otherworldly national parks like Carlsbad Canyon in New Mexico, Bryce Canyon in Utah, and Petrified Forest in Arizona all feature unique landscapes that you wouldn’t expect to find in America.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are thousands of incredible hiking trails, campgrounds, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and mountain peaks throughout the country, but only at these national park sites can you find something fascinating, something unique, or even something downright weird.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re looking for interesting red and pink rocks, you can’t do better than Bryce Canyon. The national park is known for its fascinating rock formations and hoodoos, as well as its gorgeous, starry skies at night. Some of the best places to visit in the park include Sunrise and Sunset Point and Fairyland Canyon where you can get eye-level with hoodoos.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk among the flat-topped mesas and sculpted buttes of the Petrified Forest National Park and you’ll surely feel like you’ve been transported to another world—or perhaps to the moon. This ancient forest in the middle of the desert became fossilized over time as minerals like quartz slowly replaced the wood remains. The park’s Blue Mesa Trail takes hikers into the heart of the otherworldly badlands—an eerie landscape dotted with mounds of multi-colored petrified wood.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The otherworldly subterranean landscape of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is—justifiably—New Mexico’s most famous attraction. Take the self-guided audio tours of the Natural Entrance and Big Room. Then sign up for a 1.5-hour ranger-led tour through the four Kings Palace chambers, which lie some 830 feet beneath the park’s surface and contain hundreds of eerie geological formations. A “bat show” takes place at Carlsbad Caverns every evening from Memorial Day through October.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive the long stretches of highway that cut through the Colorado Plateau to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and it will be hard to miss the colorful bluffs, mesas, buttes, and canyons that dominate the landscape. Glen Canyon lies in the middle of the Colorado Plateau, an area that can be characterized by its high elevation and arid to semi-arid climate. Take some time to explore this vast landscape, and you will find traces of dinosaurs that roamed this area millions of years ago during the Mesozoic Era.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside of Moab rises a kaleidoscope of tilted and carved geology laid down over the eons. Baked by time, Canyonlands features an eerie landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts and elongated fault blocks, and even pockmarked, some believe, by ancient asteroids. There’s the red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone, the grayish-green Morrison Formation, pinkish Entrada sandstone, and tawny Navajo sandstone, just to name some of the geologic layers. Stacked like pancakes, they help make Canyonlands the most rugged national park in the Southwest.

Worth Pondering…

Nature was here a series of wonders and a fund of delight.

—Daniel Boone

We Found the South’s Best Fall Color

Fall is the perfect time of year to head to the South on an RV road trip

Our collection of breathtaking views might end the debate on the South’s most beautiful season.

Take a stroll through the golden leaves of autumn as we share the South’s best fall color.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bernheim Arboretum in Clermont (about 30 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky) includes 15,625 acres of fields and forests, as well as over 40 miles of hiking trails that weave their way through the forest and a bike route that winds along the fall-color-filled Long Lick Creek.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking advantage of one of the many informative programs, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature.

New River Gorge

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National River in West Virginia is known for its white-water rafting, fishing, and hiking. A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities. Hiking along the many park trails or biking along an old railroad grade, the visitor will be confronted with spectacular scenery.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the cultural history of the area and visit some of the historic sites within the park. There are many possibilities for extreme sports as well as a more relaxing experience.

Cades Cove Color

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spreading across 800 square miles of southern Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, the nation’s most visited national park offers acres of fall color. One of the most popular places to see the leaves and wildlife (including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and black bears) is Cades Cove, a broad valley at the northwestern corner of the park near Townsend, Tennessee.

Autumn in the Bluegrass

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, the scenery ranges from the Appalachians in the east to the many beautiful lakes in the south and west. However, the area that most symbolizes the state is that of the central Bluegrass region. The gently rolling hills are lined with white and black fences where the thoroughbreds graze, defines this area. 

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its beauty is even more noticeable with the falling yellow and red leaves on a sunny autumn afternoon. It is a unique and special place with more than 400 horse farms dotting the region.

Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the heart of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, make a stop at Showalter’s Orchard, where visitors can stroll on more than 40 acres of land that overlook the Valley. The u-pick orchard grows more than 20 varieties of apples, some of which are turned into a sweet, fresh apple cider. Taste something stronger and buy a bottle of Old Hill Hard Cider.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles in the Appalachian Highlands. Drive the southern 40 mile section as it winds through Western North Carolina’s Jackson County. Be sure to stop at the parkway’s highest point, the Richland Balsam Overlook at 6,053 feet.

Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many thousands of bird watchers, photographers, and nature lovers from around the nation 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, the week before Thanksgiving.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I love the fall season. I love all the reds, gold, and browns, the slight chill in the air, and watching the geese fly south in a V.

Top 6 Insta-Worthy Fall Destinations

Don’t mourn the end of summer. Make a date with Mother Nature to ponder the stunning colors of fall foliage.

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bosque del Apache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Morris Farms Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant