Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

Top 10 Leaf Peeping Destinations

September 3, 2009, 11:06 am

One of our favorite parts of autumn is beautiful change in foliage. From green to different shades of orange and red and yellow, trees in some places begin to change as early as late August. If you’re interested in some leaf peeping this fall, then plan a visit to what we think are the best national parks for fall foliage.

1. Adirondack Mountains, NY

The last two weeks of September are thought to be the best for leaf peeping in the Adirondacks. You can take in the beauty of the season from mountaintops and backpacking trails. The 6 million acres of the Adirondacks offer a variety of trees, from maple to birch and ash to cherry. What better way to enjoy the sites than from the comfort of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad? You can hop on the train at Union Station in Utica, Thendara Station near Old Forge, Saranac Lake Union Depot and Lake Placid Station in Olympic Village. Check out the New York State fall foliage guide to help you plan your trip.

2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park. TX

Witness firsthand as the big-tooth maples, grey oaks and littleleaf walnuts explode into their autumn colors. It is said that the best way to enjoy the display in Guadalupe Mountains is to take the seven-mile hike through McKittrick Canyon. Of course there are other ways to see the magic of the fall foliage. With 80 miles of trails, the possibilities are endless.

3. Willamette National Forest, OR

In Oregon, Willamette National Forest allows you to check out the foliage while enjoying the outdoors. With mountain peaks and volcanoes as a backdrop, take in the deep red colors of maple leaves and pick the ripening huckleberries while hiking, backpacking and mountain climbing. Totaling eight wildernesses and 380,805 acres, your leaf peeping opportunities are endless.

4. Sequoia National Park, CA

Take a trip to Sequoia National Park, home to the largest living trees in the world.  Weighing in at nearly 3 million pounds, the General Sherman Tree is said to be more than 200 years old! The fall brings fewer crowds making your visit more enjoyable, and a drive through the park will reveal the crisp orange and yellows of the park’s deciduous trees. The Giant Forest lures in visitors with its beautiful meadows and sequoia groves. It is truly a sight to behold. The 2-mile Congress Trail allows you to see most of these trees. Also consider walking the short 2/3-mile Big Tree Trail. 

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC & TN

The mountains for which the park is named are thought to be at least 200 million years old! Come visit the park that crosses state lines and has more than 800 miles of trails for the hiking enthusiast in you. From mid-September to early November, you can experience the beautiful change in foliage. From the yellow hickory mountain ash and scarlet maple tree to the red dogwood, Great Smoky Mountain provides you with an abundance of fall colors. We recommend taking a drive on Clingmans Dome Road and The Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the sights.

6. Acadia National Park, ME

With the burst in autumn colors comes the increase in park visitation. Visitors flock to Acadia National Park to witness the beauty the fall foliage has to offer. The best time to take pleasure in the sight would be in mid-October. If the weather is not the best, don’t fear! The beautiful colors are sure to amaze you rain or shine. If you want to sit back and enjoy the foliage, take the 27-mile drive down Park Loop Road and experience all the splendor that Acadia has to offer.

7. Shenandoah National Park, VA

Through mountains and amazing landscapes, Skyline Drive is the best way to catch sight of the foliage. You can also hike along the Appalachian Trail, with oak trees lining the way. Since Shenandoah National Park is more than 95 percent forested, whether you’re driving or hiking you can expect to experience the marvelous sight of the autumn foliage. The trees range from birch to basswood and yellow poplar to ash. 

8. Denali National Park, AK

In terms of scenery, Denali has a lot more to offer than just snow. At the top of that list is its fall foliage. A spectacular sight that, despite the cold, is amazing to behold. The leaf peeping season starts early in Denali in mid-August and reaches it’s peak in late September. Tours along the 92-mile shuttle road are ideal for taking in Denali’s autumn colors.

9. Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, VT

Within Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, you should begin your leaf peeping excursion in Mount Tom Forest. With 20 miles of scenic roads and trails, trees are never in short supply. If you’re looking for more adventure than the roads offer, consider climbing to the top of Mount Tom. From there you can witness the wonder of the sugar maples, 400-year-old hemlocks, and beeches from a birds eye view. For up-to-the-minute information, check out Vermont's online fall foliage tracker.

10. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Complete with breathtaking experiences and adventures, Rocky Mountain National Park is the place to visit this fall, as the park’s famous aspen trees turn a brilliant orange. The best places for fall foliage include Hidden Valley, the East Inlet Trail, the Kawuneeche Valley, Wild Basin and Bear Lake Road. Also take a drive along Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous motorway in the United States. Winding from Grand Lake to Estes Park, the road allows you to take in the majestic scenery and wildlife.

Image Source: Adirondack Regional Tourism Council