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10 States to See Stunning Fall Colors

By Kristi Bray, Recreation.gov

Plus: Historic Hotels near the Fall Foliage

A colorful representation of fall colors in Inyo National Forest (Stephen Anderson, Share the Experience)
A colorful representation of fall colors in Inyo National Forest (Stephen Anderson, Share the Experience)

Relish in a lovely picnic under the vivid autumn maples of New England or a crisp morning stroll surrounded by golden aspens of the Mountain West. You can discover the beauty and exceptional fall colors on public lands in just about every state.

As you get out for some leaf peeping keep an eye out for a Historic Hotel of America along the way. These hotels are known for their charm, intriguing and storied past, as well as quality accommodations and are often located in gateway cities to many of the outdoor destinations listed below.

Want to learn more about the science of these gorgeous fall colors? Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for nature's fabulous fall foliage recipe.

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Arizona

Aspens on Mount Lemmon at sunset (Debbie Angel, Share the Experience)
Aspens on Mount Lemmon at sunset (Debbie Angel, Share the Experience)

Stop by Phoenix and relax at the Hotel San Carlos. (HHA)
Stop by Phoenix and relax at the Hotel San Carlos. (HHA)

Fall color in Arizona? Yes, in the state's southeastern mountains. The Catalina Highway Scenic Drive in the Coronado National Forest summits within an ecological "sky island." The road begins in a forest of saguaro cacti on the floor of Sabino Canyon and rises to over 9,000 feet (2,743 m) on Mount Lemmon, passing through several life zones before reaching a forest of aspens.

If you head north to explore, consider making Phoenix your home away from home. The Historic Hotels of America member Hotel San Carlos dates back to 1886 and has hosted famous guests such as Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, and Spencer Tracey.

California

Deer in Yosemite National Park during fall. (Kathryn Dannay, Share the Experience)
Deer in Yosemite National Park during fall. (Kathryn Dannay, Share the Experience)

Enjoy the surrounding views at the Inn at the Presidio in San Francisco. (HHA)
Enjoy the surrounding views at the Inn at the Presidio in San Francisco. (HHA)

Yosemite National Park and the adjacent Inyo National Forest are great places to view the deep reds of dogwoods, non-native sugar maples, spectacular aspens, and yes, even poison ivy and poison oak. With the arrival of fall, you might even have better luck reserving a Yosemite campsite. For a scenic drive on the Inyo, try U.S. Route 395 from Lone Pine to Bridgeport through the Mammoth Lakes area, with many hiking opportunities (try the Panorama Dome Trail) and campgrounds.

If you venture to the incredible city by the bay during your California getaway, head to the National Historic Landmark Inn at the Presidio. Stunning views, hiking trails and elegant comfort make the Presidio the perfect autumn National Park destination.

Colorado

Autumn colors of the White River National Forest. (Athena Burns, Share the Experience)
Autumn colors of the White River National Forest. (Athena Burns, Share the Experience)

Discover The Cliff House at Pikes Peak history and nearby hiking. (HHA)
Discover The Cliff House at Pikes Peak history and nearby hiking. (HHA)

If you are near the White River National Forest, pack your picnic basket because late September is full-on fall foliage in the Colorado Rockies! The Maroon Bells, two of the most photographed peaks in North America, are even more photogenic when dressed in the golden yellows to fluorescent hot pinks of autumn aspen leaves. Start in the town of Aspen to visit the Maroon Bells – traffic is restricted during the summer season, however, bus tours are provided during this busy time, so sit back and take in the view.

If hiking and history catch your eye, there is no better place to go than Pikes Peak. The Cliff House at Pikes Peak is older than the state of Colorado itself and boasts luxurious accommodations and outdoor adventures.

Idaho

Western larch in the fall.  (Kevin Palmer, Share the Experience)
Western larch in the fall. (Kevin Palmer, Share the Experience)

Visit the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in northern Idaho to see the golden-maize color of western larch along the North Fork Clearwater River. Drive up Forest Road 250 starting at "the Bungalow," an old work station and undeveloped campsite at the junction of Forest Road 247. Along the route, stop for a break and hike along Fourth of July Pack Bridge (Trail 167).

New Hampshire

Hiking among the fall foliage at White Mountain National Forest. (Aaron Chen, Share the Experience)
Hiking among the fall foliage at White Mountain National Forest. (Aaron Chen, Share the Experience)

Relaxing on the front porch at Omni Mount Washington Resort. (HHA)
Relaxing on the front porch at Omni Mount Washington Resort. (HHA)

Rushing rivers, covered bridges, breathtaking vistas? Check. A scenic drive through New Hampshire is sure to meet your fall foliage expectations. Try the Kancamagus Scenic Byway (aka, the "Kanc") to observe the kaleidoscope of fall colors. From mid-September to mid-October, plan on peak foliage displays as you wind through the White Mountain National Forest, where you just might catch a glimpse of an elusive moose. Why not take in a little history on your trip across the "Kanc"? The Russell-Colbath House, in Albany, is a 19th century farmhouse with period furnishings that operates as a historic house museum with an on-site historic interpreter. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is seasonally open to the public. Contact the Saco Ranger District for hours and visitor information, (603) 447-5448.

Book a reservation at the Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods during your New Hampshire adventure. This hotel listed is in the National Register of Historic Places, is surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest and is a 4-diamond resort.

Utah

Wasatch-Cache National Forest (John LeVasseur, Share the Experience)
Utah's golden aspen trees in the fall. (John LeVasseur, Share the Experience)

Rising as an oasis in central Utah, the mountains and plateaus of the Fishlake National Forest offer a dramatic landscape for anyone with a sense of adventure. This oasis seems on fire in late September when aspen groves blaze yellow and orange. The forest is famous for an aspen stand near Fish Lake, considered to be the most massive living organism on earth. The Fish Lake Scenic Byway winds through the Fish Lake Basin at about 8,850 feet (2,697 m) and is named after the largest natural mountain lake in Utah. The basin contains many alluring trails including the Lakeshore National Recreation Trail. Other great bets for fall color are the Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, Timpanogos Cave National Monument or the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Vermont

Green Mountain National Forest (Lorianne Simon, Share the Experience)
Vermont's roadways lead to spectacular fall colors. (Lorianne Simon, Share the Experience)

Green Mountain National Forest (Daniel Liebowitz, Share the Experience)
Green Mountain National Forest (Daniel Liebowitz, Share the Experience)

Vermont is famous for its blazing red maple trees and sweet maple syrup. You'll find plenty of both in and around the Green Mountain National Forest. Consider a visit to Hapgood Pond Recreation Area for a walk around the Hapgood Pond Trail, or try the Robert Frost National Recreation Trail, where Frost's poems are posted along the trail. If you're driving, try the Crossroad of Vermont Scenic Byway for autumn colors, quaint New England villages, covered bridges and rugged mountain scenery.

Virginia

Fall highlights as seen along the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Michael Orban, Share the Experience)
Fall highlights as seen along the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Michael Orban, Share the Experience)

The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, Curio Collection by Hilton provides a nearby getaway. (HHA)
The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, Curio Collection by Hilton provides a nearby getaway. (HHA)

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park offer nearly 600 miles (965 km) of gorgeous leaf peeping; check the fall color report for observations from local rangers. On the southerly Virginia-end of the Parkway, Mabry Mill (at milepost 176) is a popular stop for photographers. On October weekends, wander around the old mill, hear live old-time mountain music and join in the flat footin'. In the nearby town of Meadows of Dan, travelers can enjoy the kid-friendly corn maze and the local fudge factory. Read more in our spotlight article.

In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains you will find The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, Curio Collection by Hilton. This hotel boasts the urban delights of bustling Roanoke at night and the gorgeous Mountains to explore during the day.

Washington

Vibrant colors at Mt. Rainier National Park (Claudia Cooper, Share the Experience)
Vibrant colors at Mt. Rainier National Park (Claudia Cooper, Share the Experience)

Stay at The Montvale Hotel in Spokance after your adventure. (HHA)
Stay at The Montvale Hotel in Spokance after your adventure. (HHA)

The White Pass Scenic Byway passes through the Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and offers striking views along its entire 110-miles (177 km) including some of Washington State's best wildlife viewing opportunities. Early fall can also be a great time for hiking. There's the autumn foliage, of course, but the trails are mostly bug-free and still snow-free. The byway passes the southernmost tip of Mount Rainier National Park, where you can catch a glimpse of the peak or just go there—it's a 78-mile (126 km) side trip to the park from the town of Packwood. Stop in at Destination Packwood Visitor Center for details or give them a call at (360) 494-2223.

Begin your exploration of Washington’s fall offerings in the historic town of Spokane. Book a stay at the National Register of Historic Places listed The Montvale Hotel to ensure that you stay in style.

Wyoming

Snake River in Grand Teton National Park (Dawn Wilson, Share the Experience)
Snake River in Grand Teton National Park (Dawn Wilson, Share the Experience)

The Western style Sheridan Inn was built by Buffalo Bill Cody. (HHA)
The Western style Sheridan Inn was built by Buffalo Bill Cody. (HHA)

Look west to Grand Teton National Park for rugged mountain scenery framed in the gold of cottonwood, aspen and willow leaves. The peak season for fall brilliance in the Teton Range is historically the third week of September, but it varies with the weather. The fall season is also a great time to view wildlife—you may see bears actively preparing for hibernation or witness the annual elk rut. The Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center in Moose, 12 miles (19.3 km) north of Jackson, is open through October and provides area information, guided walks and talks, and natural history exhibits.

If you continue your tour to the Bighorn National Forest, make sure to plan an overnight stay at the Sheridan Inn. The Sheridan was built by Buffalo Bill Cody himself- ensuring that your family enjoys the most authentic Western accommodations in Wyoming.

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