Here’s Where to See Fall Foliage for the Ultimate Leaf Peeping Road Trip

This view and a pumpkin spice latte are all I need

One of the most magical things about the fall season is watching the leaves turn into gorgeous golden hues of red, orange, and yellow. It’s as if the whole landscape is welcoming you into the coziest time of year calling you to sip on a warm pumpkin spice latte as you breathe in the crisp autumn air.

Taking a road trip down the scenic route to a charming town is the best way to experience the lush foliage from mid-September through November and there are so many leaf-peeping places to see before the leaves fall to the ground for good. Keep scrolling to uncover gem destinations and the best places to see fall foliage in 2022.

Toad tripping in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you love scaling a mountain hike to catch an epic view of the landscape, driving down a scenic highway, or simply chilling on a quiet bench under the bright leaves, it’s important to plan your fall foliage tour with perfect timing for catching all the colors. These special leaf peeping spots in the U.S. start turning orange at different times in the season depending on their location like elevation and latitude. It’s ideal to anticipate an October road trip through the leaves where you can stop at an apple orchard or pumpkin patch along the way as Halloween creeps up.

Fall is here, so throw on your flannel, dust off your hiking boots, and start planning your outdoor excursions before the frigid cold blows in for winter.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Nestled at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe is one of the most picturesque villages in New England. It’s also one of the best places to view the annual fall spectacle with colors changing from mid-September through the end of October.

Related article: Plan Your Autumn Getaway around Fall Foliage

Vermont is 76 percent forested with the largest concentration of sugar maples in the U.S. so there are typically vibrant displays of red, orange, and yellow leaves across the state. One of the prettiest drives to see the foliage is along Smugglers’ Notch pass through the Green Mountains in Smugglers’ Notch State Park.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re planning for several days of leaf-peeping activities, reserve a room at the Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Lodge. Then, go horseback riding, rent a canoe or hop on the Gondola SkyRide to the summit of Mount Mansfield for unparalleled views of the surrounding scenery. Back in town, check out local breweries including The Alchemist and von Trapp Brewing Bierhall.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

With towering forest giants, exciting hiking trails, and scenic water bodies, Bernheim Forest is a great place for nature lovers. During fall, the forest transforms into a magical wonderland making the natural attractions even more interesting and appealing. With leaves turning yellow and orange and running on the forest floor, hiking is a pleasant and scenic experience. The Canopy tree walk is one of the best places to witness the scenery of this forest as it places one at the height of up to 75 feet above the forest floor.

Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Fall is one of the most picturesque times to visit what’s known as “The Scenic City.” Chattanooga is situated along the Tennessee River between the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau providing plenty of options to view the splendor of colorful forests. Peak season usually in early November features trees showcasing brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.

Nearby hiking trails offer some of the best close-up views such as Rainbow Lake Trail on nearby Signal Mountain. For panoramic vistas overlooking the Tennessee Valley ride the incline railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. You can even book a sightseeing riverboat cruise along the Tennessee River on The Southern Belle.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holmes County, Ohio

Set in Ohio’s Amish Country, Homes County erupts with golden and amber hues cast off of oaks, maples, and buckeyes come autumn. Take in the changing landscape at Mohican Valley where you can hike, bike, camp, and boat, or check out the Holmes County Park District. Another way to take in the brilliant colors: Cruise along the area’s scenic backroads. Breaks from leaf-peeping can include filling up seasonal pastries, pies, and other goods.

Related article: Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Set in New Hampshire’s the White Mountains, Bretton Woods is one of the top destinations in the state to view fall foliage. Leaf season typically peaks in late September to early October. This is when the most vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds will paint the landscape across the mountains.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To enjoy the spectacle for several days, make reservations at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. This historic property sits at the base of the highest peaks in the Northeast where you’ll have a front-row seat to see the show. During your stay dash through the treetops on a zipline canopy tour, enjoy a scenic horse-drawn carriage ride, or take a thrilling trip on the Mount Washington Cog Mountain Railway. You can also take in the sights from high in the sky on a gondola ride and have lunch at the top of the mountain. Back on the ground, book a signature spa treatment and relax with expansive views of the Presidential Range, Crawford Notch, and Mount Washington from the therapy rooms.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

A trip to Southern California doesn’t necessarily have to be all about palm trees and the beach. Inland areas of the state also have an autumnal charm of their very own especially in the mountain town of Julian.

Julian is famous for its delicious fresh-baked apple pies as well as orchards where you can pick your apples. Anywhere you step in this town, you are surrounded by the beautiful hues of fall even if you decide to just enjoy them from the window of a cute log cabin cafe.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most commonly known for the famed Civil War battle, Gettysburg has a rich history best experienced in the fall. Wait until October for cooler temperatures and spectacular views of leaves bursting with a carnival of color.

Related article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Fall Camping

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Apple country, The National Apple Harvest Festival celebrates the fall season with beautiful handmade crafts, delicious food, and jam-packed entertainment. The Festival has something for everyone with special attractions ranging from steam engine displays, live music, antique cars, orchard tours, pony rides, tastings, and craftsman demonstrations. The Apple Harvest Festival is during the first two weekends in October (October 1-2; 8-9, 2002)

Pennsylvania Apple Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooler temps, cozy blankets, sweet s’mores, campfires, and more! Fall is one of the best times to enjoy camping with family and friends. Plan your fall adventure now!

Worth Pondering…

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.

―Lauren DeStefano, Wither

Riding the Cog to the Top of the World

At 6,288.2 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869.

“The Second Greatest Show on Earth!” That’s what showman P.T. Barnum proclaimed in 1869 as he stepped down off the train and marveled at the view from Mount Washington’s rocky summit. High praise indeed from the man whose grand circus occupied the primary spot!

Today, more than 150 years later, the Mount Washington Cog Railway continues to attract passengers from all over the world for its dramatic ascent to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cog is the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. With an average grade of 25 percent (some sections approach nearly 38 percent), it’s also the second steepest. Motor power is primarily provided by a fleet of seven powerful biodiesel locomotives. And with a nod to its steam heritage, the railway also continues to operate a pair of coal-fired steam engines.  

Located in the heart of the majestic White Mountains region of New Hampshire, Marshfield Base Station is 6 miles east of Route 302 on the western face of Mount Washington.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure begins at Marshfield Base Station, elevation 2,700 feet

Marshfield draws its name from two significant historical figures: Sylvester Marsh, the visionary who created the Cog Railway, and Darby Field, believed to be the first European mountaineer to reach the summit of Mount Washington in 1642. In his time, the mountain was known to the native Abenaki people as Agiocochook (“the place of the Great Spirit”) and Waumbik or “white rocks” to the Algonquins.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open year-round, Marshfield Station features an interactive and informative Cog Railway Museum (admission is free), a gift shop stocked with Cog gear and local specialties, and a convenience store/food court for last-minute necessities and hot and cold snacks. A wraparound observation deck provides beautiful panoramic views of the railway and the mountain.

Related article: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

The ticket office is on the lower level and boarding gates are just outside the door. Same-day tickets are usually available but advanced reservations are always highly recommended.

There’s always plenty of free parking at Marshfield with dedicated lots for buses and RVs.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All Aboard

15 minutes before our scheduled departure we were lined up at our gate ready to board.

The brakeman was stationed out on the front deck for the up-mountain trip to the summit. On the return trip down the mountain, the brakeman was at the brake wheels at the other end of the coach.

After a quick introduction and safety orientation, the dispatcher cleared our train for departure. The brakeman gave the engineer the “ALL CLEAR!” signal and with the blast of smoke and steam, our excursion to the top of New England was underway.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s all uphill from here

Once our train has cleared the steel bridge spanning the Ammonoosuc River, we felt a burst of acceleration as the engineer brought the locomotive up to its maximum speed—5mph! Dense forest brackets the right-of-way on either side as your train makes its way up Cold Springs Hill, the second steepest part of the railway at a grade of nearly 35 percent.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Waumbek passing loop is next, with 2,100 feet of double track governed by two solar-powered hydraulically operated switches. The second track, installed in 2000, allows as many as seven trains moving in opposing directions to operate on the mountain at the same time. Here we also saw the Waumbek Tank where our steam engine stopped briefly to top off the water level in its tenders.

Crossing the Upper Waumbek switch put the train back on single track now following a narrow ridge line. Halfway House, the elevation of 4,300 feet is on the right, and looking at the reflection of the coach in the building’s window as we passed we got a sense of just how steep the climb is here.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Man of the Mountain was a rock formation on the side of Cannon Mountain that had long served as the symbol of the State of New Hampshire. That formation suddenly collapsed back in 2003 taking with it part of the state’s identity and its most popular attraction. Someone noticed a remarkable facsimile of the Old Man on Mount Washington which is next to the tracks just ahead of us at this point. They installed a white background behind it to make the old man’s profile a little clear.

Related article: Smile of the Great Spirit: Lake Winnipesaukee

And just past Profile Rock, we came out onto the most impressive part of the entire railway—a high trestle known as Jacob’s Ladder.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacob’s Ladder and the Summit Cone

As the train passed Profile Rock, the mountain’s true character begins to reveal itself. The dense and rocky forest on either side drops away, the air freshens and the wind picks up, and when the weather is clear you realize that the train has been following a narrow ridge between two deep chasms—Burt’s Ravine on the left and the Ammonoosuc Ravine on the right. And then just as suddenly you’re nearly 25 feet above the surface of the mountain. Welcome to Jacob’s Ladder!

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

300 feet long and curving to the left, the train is now climbing at a 37.41-degree grade—that’s a 37-foot elevation change for every 100 feet of forwarding movement. Jacob’s is the steepest section of the Cog Railway and the steepest railroad trestle anywhere in the world.

Once across the trestle, we passed Frog Rock, a brightly painted boulder used by train crews as a location marker in bad weather. We were now at a tree line roughly 5,000 feet above sea level and climbing along the side of the summit cone toward an area known as Skyline. As the tracks turned to the southeast and began to level out on the left we saw the Northern Presidentials: Mounts Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison and beyond the mountains of western Maine.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking is a popular pastime in the White Mountains and on either side of the train we saw piles of rocks or cairns marking various trails. Running parallel to the tracks on the left is the Gulfside Trail, the local stretch of the much longer Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT runs nearly 2,200 miles up the east coast from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine.

Ahead on the right but still several hundred feet higher is our destination: the Sherman Adams Visitor Center on the summit of Mount Washington.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is Mount Washington State Park, a 60.3-acre parcel perched on the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak and surrounded by the extensive 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest.

After a routine safety stop at the summit switch followed by the “all clear” signal from the Brakeman, our train slowly came up over the final slope and then leveled out at the platform.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With conditions at the top quite different than those at the base station we were glad we’d brought warm jackets. Leaving the coach we noticed that it was much windier than it was at the Base Station. After all, the subarctic tundra up here is similar to that of far northern Canada and hurricane-force wind gusts occur on the summit an average of 110 days per year.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trains layover at the summit for approximately one hour, plenty of time to explore the Sherman Adams Visitor Center and its rooftop observation deck, Extreme Mount Washington (an interactive weather exhibit), a cafeteria, and two gift shops. You can send a card to friends and family with a unique Mount Washington postmark from the summit Post Office.

Related article: Central Vermont: Montpelier, Burlington & Barre

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the World’s Worst Weather!

Much has changed since Henry David Thoreau wrote about Mount Washington’s dramatic and unpredictable weather in 1839 but the weather certainly hasn’t. On a clear day, visitors enjoy spectacular panoramic views from Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean or they may experience a taste of the “World’s Worst Weather”—it can snow on the summit even in summer. Weather is the story on this mountain.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first weather station on the summit was operated by the U.S. Signal Service from 1870–1892. The modern observatory was founded in 1932 and on April 12, 1934, the highest surface wind speed ever directly observed by man was recorded at the summit: 231 mph! The highest temperature ever recorded at the summit is 72 degrees F and the lowest not including wind chill was -47 degrees.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downbound Train: Return to Marshfield

Upon reboarding the train we noticed that the seats had been flipped back to face down the mountain. The locomotive was now at the lead end of the train and the Brakeman was inside at the brake wheels.

While the route down the mountain is the same, the vista seemed wider. We could appreciate the ruggedness and vast expanse of this sub-arctic terrain as it all unfolded in front of and around us. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the tracks curved to the left and pitched over onto Long Trestle and Jacob’s Ladder the entire length of the railway could be seen ahead and below—Halfway House, the Waumbek passing loop, and Marshfield Station. We could follow the line of Base Station Road out to Route 302, the red roofs of the Omni Mount Washington Resort, and the ski slopes and gondolas at Bretton Woods.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter comes early

Winter comes early to the higher elevations of the White Mountains and by the first week of October, the summit usually sees a frosting of feathery rime ice (frozen fog) and snow. Columbus Day weekend marks the end of the season for Mount Washington State Park as well as the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after the State Park summit facilities shut down for the winter, the Cog Railway summit operations cease as well. Weather permitting through the end of October and then again in the early spring, they may run trains up as high as Skyline but the primary destination throughout the winter is Waumbek Station (elevation 4,000 feet).

Related article: Boston Freedom Trail

Note: Plan to arrive 45 MINUTES before departure time to allow plenty of time for ticketing and restroom visits. All trains board 15 minutes before departure time.

Worth Pondering…

What New England is, is a state of mind, a place where dry humor and perpetual disappointment blend to produce an ironic pessimism that folks from away find most perplexing.

—Willem Lange