Now that we are into September and facing a long Winter of (probably) no travel, it’s probably a good idea to take a little trip before the snow (or cold, depending upon where you live) arrives. Even though traditional travel has been curbed because of COVID restrictions, Americans are still able to go on beautiful “Fall Foliage” trips at various locations in the USA.
I’ve taken our suggestions from USA Today’s “10 Best“ List and have done research to ensure that there are plenty of outdoor activities (aside from the foliage) even in a socially distanced World. Before I share said list, however, I’m throwing a little info out there that I thought was interesting. Do you know why leaves turn in Autumn?
As you probably learned in Science Class, chlorophyll is the reason leaves are green. As the days become shorter and we creep toward Winter, the production of chlorophyll grinds to a halt, eventually giving way to the ‘true’ color of the leaf.
Beta-Carotene is one of the most common color-creating components present in leaves. Strongly absorbing blue and green light, it reflects yellow and red light from the sun, giving leaves their orange hue. Unlike the carotenoids, an element called anthocyanin increases dramatically with Autumn. Anthocynin protects the leaf, prolonging its life on the tree throughout the Autumn season, and also provides the beautiful red color to the leaf. Finally, proteins called flavonols, which are always present in leaves, contribute to the yellow color and coming out of hiding when the production of chlorophyll begins to slow.
Now that we know more about the hard work that goes into the leaves giving us our stunning Fall show, we’ll take a look at where “leaf peepers” (yes, they have a name!) can witness this splendor.
1. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
This part of the country mainly draws visitors from really across the Midwest and has always been a favorite destination for residents of downstate Michigan, the “Chicagoland” area, and Northern Wisconsin/Minnesota. With over seven million acres of tree coverage on the scenic shores of three Great Lakes, the “UP” offers picturesque historic lighthouses, peaceful inland lakes and raucous waterfalls in addition to the color show. Peak season in the UP can range from mid-September to mid-October.
2. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Autumn in Gatlinburg is a very special time of year. Set against the backdrop of mountains painted with brilliant fall color, Gatlinburg is consistently recognized as one of the top places to see fall foliage in the United States. Downtown Gatlinburg follows suit, as the whole city is adorned with lavish fall decorations to kickoff Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival. Combine beautiful surroundings with craft shows, special events, great food and plenty of fun things to do, and visitors are guaranteed a memorable trip to Gatlinburg during the Fall season.
Locals anticipate seeing colors in the highest elevations near mid-October and then slowly spilling to the lowest elevations (Pigeon Forge) until mid-November.
3. Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
The Western region of the Keystone State is quick to let the rest of the country know how beautiful Fall is in the Laurel Highlands. Just east of Pittsburgh and covering 3,000 square miles, this area displays the brightest colors during the month of October.
“The Laurel Highlands has always been a popular destination for leaf peepers,” said Ann Nemanic, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “The region boasts designated routes for motorcycle enthusiasts, historic routes like the National Road and the Lincoln Highway; and the 68-mile Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway is a must during the fall season.”
4. White Mountains, New Hampshire
The “Colors of Autumn” in the White Mountains are known to be some of the brightest and best. Every September and October, people travel from all over the World to view the region’s annual display of color.
New Hampshire draws millions of visitors to see the show which plays out during the early and unique weeks of weather here because of the vast variety of trees that undergo this transformation and the rugged terrain. Peak foliage typically occurs up here in the White Mountains from the end of September through the second week of October. Even after leaves reach their peak in a certain area, the colors can hang on for a week or two. Look here for frequent updates.
5. Door County, Wisconsin
Known for its picturesque coastal towns, specialty shops, fish boils and fruit orchards, Door County, Wisconsin is often referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” With the waters of Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, the Door Peninsula offers spectacular waterfront views.
The best time to see Fall colors in Wisconsin is late-September to mid-October, but breathtaking color can be found in the area all Autumn long.
The famous New England village at the base of Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe is the perfect place for an Autumn getaway. From early September through late October, peepers can experience Stowe’s legendary foliage while enjoying a number of other outdoor activities. Take in landscape views burning with vibrant autumn reds and oranges and discover hidden avenues along Stowe’s many charming back roads. According to www.gostowe.com, the area has been recognized as one of the top destinations to view foliage by:
- TripAdvisor — The number one of “Top 10 Fall Foliage Destinations in the U.S.”
- USA Today 10Best – Green Mountains for “10 Best Destinations for Fall Foliage”
- Travel + Leisure — One of “The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in the United States,” one of “The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in New England” and one of “12 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Vermont”
- U.S. News Travel — One of “50 Small Towns Across America with Gorgeous Foliage”.
Finger Lakes, New York
Often overlooked because of it’s location outside of New England, The Finger Lakes Region of New York State is a 9,000 square mile Utopia set against a backdrop of Mother Nature’s best work: from waterfalls to rolling hills to miles of spectacular shoreline around 11 glacial “Finger” lakes and one Great Lake.
class=”body-link” target=”_blank” href=”https://www.visitfingerlakes.com/listings/carolabarb-park/184/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer” data-sv-linklookup-id=”184″ data-sv-linklookup-type=”plugins_listings_listing”>Carolabarb Park.and take in a breathtaking view of the fall foliage and Canandaigua Lake. For an even closer look, there are two viewfinders available for public use.
If you’d like to enjoy some good wine while you enjoy the view, there is an impressive collection of wineries on nearby Canandaigua Lake. Some wineries are large, others smaller and more intimate, with some offering beer or cider as well. If you’re visiting in 2020, be sure to call ahead for reservations!
Asheville, North Carolina
No list of Fall foliage would be complete without the addition of Asheville, North Carolina. The brilliant show in the mountains and foothills surrounding Asheville in western North Carolina brings a kaleidoscope of leaf colors for many weeks. The Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains have one of the longest autumn color seasons in the country, thanks to their 6,000-foot peaks, deep valleys and varying microclimates. Experience a 5-week span of color that slowly descends from the tallest ridges down to the lowest valleys.
While in Asheville, The Biltmore, America’s largest home, is a “must-see”. This French Renaissance castle in the heart of Asheville is an architectural wonder. The home features 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. In addition to the house, the 8,000-acre estate is home to forested trails and beautiful gardens, which include one of the country’s most complete collections of azaleas.
In the words of The Biltmore’s Director of Horticulture, Parker Andes, “The heat and afternoon thundershowers of summer will soon be a memory as the seasons begin to change in October. Late summer garden annuals perk up with the cooler nights, only to be replaced with chrysanthemums later in the month. We plan fall floral displays to provide good color in October, with peak bloom through the middle of the month.”
“By November, large, some century-old, red and white oaks and fall grasses in the Deer Park below the house finish off the autumn season. At 2,000 feet in elevation with spectacular views of the nearby 5,000-foot+ elevations of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, Biltmore is the perfect place to experience great fall color from October through early November.”
Utah’s national parks — Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon among them — may be best known for their incredible sandstone cliffs and arches, but in October, they’re also fabulous places to enjoy peak Fall foliage. If you’re hoping to photograph the colors, the autumnal light illuminates the red rocks, making for a perfect picture. Just get there early! By the first week of October, all the leaves in Utah should be at or near-peak.
Where is your favorite scenic Autumn destination?