While you may not be able to escape the descent of the cold in the Northern United States, you will surely take up the challenge of braving it for sights and have a hoot doing so through fall foliage. Home to some of the best fall foliage in the country, just a hop away from the nearby city, you can enjoy gorgeous hikes and drives all through the northern portion of the country. The lively downtown areas are always ready, with warm cafes and cozy shops to feed and entertain you.
These towns are the real showstoppers of the spectacle that fall in the Northern States really is. The crisper, shorter days don't have to get you down in these towns under the falltime glow of the foliage. From endless fun in the sun for apple picking in September to pumpkin spice lattes at cozy cafes in October and scenic drives in November, you will definitely enjoy leaf peep hikes with lower humidity and no bugs without even bundling up winter style.
When Breckenridge wakes for the fall season, it is only getting started, becoming more lively until the peak wintertime skiing season! The yellow haze of aspen trees, contrasting the majestic backdrop of the towering peaks, envelops the town in a warm glow. It is a really magical feeling you can capture through the golden aspens in the area along the Boreas Pass Road, along with nearby trails with views of the colorful mountains. With festivities waiting back in town like the annual Breckenridge Oktoberfest, there's also plenty of scenic R&R, like serene fishing and golf, near hotspots to bundle up when the evening chill chases you in to taste the award-winning restaurant scene.
Look no further than Breckenridge, the ideal small town in the mountains for leaf peeping, alongside the photographers who travel from near and far to this Rocky Mountain enclave to capture the colorful foliage of autumn. You can easily snatch a comfortable stay for any style that is just steps away from the buzzing outdoors for hiking, biking, or horseback riding through the kaleidoscope of colors. From the highest-rated Blue River Bistro, Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Cantina on the river, and Hearthstone Restaurant with mountain views, the Breckenridge Brewery & Pub awaits for drinks, while there's no wrong season to get the best desert at the Stir-Pan Creamery.
Camden is one of the most affordable towns in the New England region today, and what a fall time must-visit it is! The small size yet big character and liveliness deliver lasting impressions over many shareable autumn-themed experiences. For the active leaf-peepers, there's no other like Camden Hills State Park, covering the northern portion of town with water access. You can lounge with friends at the ocean views in the picnic area and the vibrant fall foliage on the other side. The tourist-friendly atmosphere is just as great for some R&R along the beach, scenic drives, and even sailing off on a cruise.
Discovered as Penobscot Hills in the 1600s, Camden only became a permanent settlement in Maine a century and a half later. Still, with plenty of history in its pocket, the town prospered in shipbuilding, anchor manufacturing, lime production, and now tourism. After a fire in 1892 that burned down most of downtown, it was rebuilt in brick to its iconic present-day historic shape that peaks through the surrounding natural beauty of fall foliage and harbor views.
Crested Butte, Colorado
At the boundaries of the largest aspen growth in the state, with 47,000 trees over 100 acres of Kebler Pass in Gunnison National Forest, you can just imagine the scenically charged falltime atmosphere that permeates the area around Crested Butte. The ambient small town, a wintertime skiing destination, wakes up under the warm glow of the aspens with festivities and outdoor adventurers for tourists on a leaf-peeping mission of their lives. Home to one of Colorado's most scenic falltime hikes, Keebler Pass, there's something for all levels, like the Three Lakes Loop, an easy three-mile jaunt through the yellow trees from near the summit of the pass at Lost Lake Campground.
Strand Hill is a flowy singletrack trail for intermediate mountain bikers for a smooth ride, unlike other notoriously gnarly mountain biking trails. It affords epic views of the Teocalli and Whetstone Mountains along broad meadows and crushes into a thick Aspen grove. With the best weather, when the leaves start turning in mid-September, you can also enjoy the town's Mount Crested Butte Chili and Beer Fest with food from amateur and professional chefs. The Wild West downtown brings the fall ambiance up a notch, with multi-colored wooden buildings mimicking the vibrant nature along Elk Avenue. You can ogle at old architecture from the late 1800s in between many cute coffee shops and cafes with a stroll through the in-town Crested Butte Town Park before the stampede of wintertime skiing enthusiasts.
This northern Belle is fantastic to visit in every season, bustling since the lead discovery in the early 1800s along the rolling hills of northwest Illinois. Latin for lead sulfide, the small mining town and the largest port between St. Louis in Missouri and St. Paul in Minnesota by the mid-1880s was a frequent stop along the Galena River. Not far from Mississippi, Galena became a tourist destination after rumors of the small town's immense natural beauty spread. The whole Jo Daviess County area is blessed with nature, along with four wineries to enjoy award-winning vintages and scenic vines from the last harvest turning gold. Galena, with sweeping foliage against the Mississippi River, is over 85 percent on the National Register of Historic Places from when Ulysses S. Grant strolled the same streets under the foliage.
Galena, the top destination in the Midwest, is charmingly wholesome for family visits with b&bs, waterfront strolls, and the Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa to soak up some goodness on a cold day. The surrounding protected preserves, with many lakes, colorful banks, and wildlife prairies, feature bald eagles in the sky and effigy mounds from the Native Americans. From golf to canoeing or paddleboarding on the Galena River, you can see it all in fall foliage from above on the Segway tour at Chestnut Mountain or a hot air balloon ride, weather permitting. Take a scenic ride along the 885-kilometer Great River Road, one of National Geographic's "500 Drives of a Lifetime," until you get hungry for the food scene awaiting downtown along with historical sights, museums, and historic home tours.
Jefferson, New Hampshire
The real golden nugget of New Hampshire, Jefferson, makes a fall-time appearance like no other in the state and New England region. Nature wakes up this sleepy town in the fall with foliage against the grandeur of the White Mountains for a truly magical season of giving thanks. The forested northern part of the state here and the quaint surrounding farms with mountains on the horizon are your oyster for incredible scenery. With views and fresh air for days, you can enjoy adventures along endless miles of trails for hiking and biking, as well as quiet paddling along the local lakes and rivers.
From the 18-hole oldest golf course in the state to one of New England's oldest and best amusement parks, there's plenty of R&R in and around town. Once you settle in town, the spectacular scenery of vibrant colors is a hand's reach away at the panoramic views of the Presidential Mountains, like Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge and farm visits for family strolls along the quiet farmland with proximity to White Mountain views.
This charming Washington town really makes a name for itself in the fall as the nation's Little Bavaria. Now is the time for one of the nation's largest Oktoberfests, with events over three weekends in September, rolling into October. Catch the foliage along Stevens Pass, 40 minutes away, or seek nature no further than on a simple stroll in the glow of the aspens and cottonwoods downtown along the winding Wenatchee River. For relentless water fans, the aqua-blue Colchuck Lake is an awe-inspiring alpine lake in the shadow of Dragontail and Colchuck Peak, the highest points in the state. A pretty sight year-round, the golden forest foliage creates a warm atmosphere around the lake with a stark reflection against the waters for double the leaf-peeping spectacle. A tough eight-mile out-and-back track is downright magnificent in the fall from Colchuck Lake Trailhead.
The Germanic village, authentically tucked in the Cascade Mountains, starts turning color in the middle of September, bursting in the peak of mid-October through the trees up the fiery mountain sides with stands of Larch trees and pines turning gold. Downtown, Front Street doubles up the German fare with first-row seating of the mountain views over traditional cuisine and brews. For more spectacular foliage, try bouldering on the river rocks along the edge of Icicle Creek Canyon. Whether you're a newbie or an experienced boulderer, the Forestland Boulders are in the thick of some of the best foliage in the area, with Breadline, a V0 featuring gentle layback moves and a clean landing.
Foliage hungry? Why not sweep by the state capital city of Montpelier? With a real small-town feel of under 8,000 locals living in the embrace of some of the top foliage of your life, you can enjoy leaf-peeping while discovering the fascinating history and culture hub of Vermont. Synonymous with maple syrup—the ultimate falltime treat—you can stock up on the gooey goodness to top your pancakes upon return! After a farm tour at the cozy Bragg Farm Sugarhouse & Gift Shop, family-run for eight generations, it would be sinful to miss their ahem, sinful maple creme, a soft-serve regional treat. For more sweetness, over two centuries in the making, Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks delights the young and old with free syrup tastings, a farm life museum, and a woodshed theater, along with a nature trail for all seasons. You can catch an evening performance at the Lost Nation Theatre, like a concert by the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra or an indie film at the Savoy Theater.
Many cozy fall evenings are made in Montpelier over craft beverages and local food delights at Woodbelly, with sourdough pizza and Bee's Knees for award-winning cocktails. The year-round farmers market offers shareable moments to browse local sights, specialty breads, cheeses, herbs, and handcrafts. For a casual small town, the smallest state capital in the US, its historic appeal and quirky character are prominent along the riverfront downtown on the Winooski River, lined by quaint shops and cultural attractions. Steps away from the gold-domed State House with Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen on the grounds and the Roman goddess Ceres atop the dome, there's also the Vermont Historical Society Museum with one of the best hikes in town behind the museum. The sweet but steep hike up a wooded hill to Hubbard Park rewards you with a circa 1930 observation tower to clamber for a great view.
Waterfalls and lighthouses, anyone? How about a lot of both and the 15 miles of shoreline trail along Lake Superior in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area, with 100 miles of scenic trails around through fall foliage? The forested park behind the lakeshore features streams, wildlife trails for hiking and biking through the woods, and water access to lighthouse views. Grand Island Harbor Front Range Lighthouse, or "Bay Furnace Lights," comprises two lights: Grand Island North Lighthouse and Grand Island North Light, or the "Old North Light." There's also Au Sable Point Lighthouse next door in Grand Marais.
Nestled on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the small town peeks through a scenically charged atmosphere along the Upper Peninsula. Home to a majestic waterfall range, these tranquil, unique, and all-natural waterfalls offer a sense of heaven in any season. With Alger Falls and Au Train Falls, to the famous state's tallest Bridalveil Falls at an amazing 140 feet, and Chapel Falls, you can chase the large cascades from the colorful sandstone cliff faces towering the lakeshore at 50 to 200 feet to the ones on the Grand Island.
New Paltz, New York
This cool college town in New York, with one of the state's finest foliages, is one of the most rewarding to visit in the fall on the edge of the Shawangunk Ridge in the Catskill Mountains. Just 90 minutes from the NYC scene, New Paltz is abuzz with student life and a string of leaf-peeping visitors during the Halloween season of giving thanks. You can enjoy all-level hikes along varied, forested terrain, with hardwood turning rocky crags, steep mountains, and Hudson River farmland into a fiery spectacle. Hard cider is a long-standing tradition in the Hudson Valley, an apple-producing region with a growing number of cideries to unwind. Brooklyn Cider, just east of town, is favored for dry and semi-sour raw ciders, unfiltered and wild-fermented.
Before leaf peeping begins, you can enjoy prime apple picking in September or pick your own pumpkin at Dressel Farms for Halloween. Open for ecotourism and protected as either a state park or preserve, the landscape shifts in color in October. September and October are optimal months to stay active in the cooler weather for climbing, hiking, and biking without breaking a sweat or needing to bundle up. The Gungs over Shawangunk Ridge feature some of the country's best climbing, with hundreds of high-quality routes. For cyclists, Minnewaska State Park offers extensive double-track carriage trails like the multi-level 25-mile grand-tour loop around Lake Minnewaska to the top of outcroppings for sweeping views.
Stowe, a picturesque village of 823 in the Mount Mansfield shadow, gets a bright fall time makeover in preparation for its wintertime fame as an alpine and Nordic skiing destination. The fall foliage through the surrounding hardwood forests dominates with fiery red sugar maples and bright yellow and orange beech and birch trees. With the most complacent hiking weather to leaf-peep from September to the peak in mid-October, you can take the Mansfield Traverse. This six-mile, arduous hike to summit Mansfield Nose, up Stowe Mountain Resort's Haselton Trail, features 360-degree views of the dressed Green Mountains and back down, zipping along the ridgeline onto the Long Trail into Smugglers' Notch State Park for more foliage. The annual Pumpkin Chunkin' Festival is a quirky event on October 1 with catapulted pumpkins and hurtling for distance.
Mountain Bike Cady Hill Forest features an easy 5.5-mile Stowe Recreation Path greenway along the West Branch of the Little River towards farm country north of town. A singletrack veers left for 11 smooth miles into Cady Hill Forest with its technicolor of leaves, while Florence awaits below after a descent with turns, rollers, and tabletops through the forest. With plentiful, fair-priced lodging for all styles in the shoulder seasons, Talta Lodge offers bike storage and a yoga room with access to the Little River and the Stowe Rec Path from the doorstep. There's also the popular Trapp Family Lodge, yes, from the musical von Trapp family from Austria, which hosted Oktoberfest this year in September, but you still have two months of fall to enjoy many more days of pretty leaf peeping, farm visits, and apple cider. Cold Hollow cider mill is a destination to taste and see how cider is made, with an emphasis on locally harvested ingredients at its on-site restaurant.
Look no further in the state for leaf peeping than this north-central Pennsylvania golden gem of Tioga County. With the closest Williamsport city over 50 miles away, Wellsboro feels frozen in time but never fails to attract fall peepers for its obscene nature. Home to Pine Creek Gorge—the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania—Wellsboro is unmissable for the best foliage hunting adventures, with a small town atmosphere like no other to settle in and explore outwards.
The 50-mile-long and 1,000-foot-deep breathtaking natural phenomenon covering 300,000 acres of forestland truly is greater-than-great outdoors for all types of adventurous leaf peeping, fall photo ops, and relaxing picnics at the awe-inspiring canyon views. Charming like no other through the Victorian grandeur downtown, Wellsboro, with gas-lit streets, has some of the region's hottest attractions. With small mom-and-pop stores and its own independent department store, Dunham's, in lieu of chain stores, it is still the center of shopping, dining, and entertainment for a large area. America's famous and most challenging event, the Sports Car Club's 14-hour Susquehannock Trail PRO Rally, runs through town.
From chasing waterfalls and lighthouses to a massive, local Grand Canyon of the east, as well as the national lakeshore along Lake Superior, there's nothing that will stop you from roaming for sights on an adventurous fall-themed escape from work. With leaves starting to change in mid-September and peeking through October, you will be primed for local Octoberfests. Nature here in the north is most responsive to the change of season, waking up in technicolor like nowhere else in the country for a real magical time before the magic of the holidays. These ten cozy towns and one state capital—okay, eleven cozy towns—really know how to dress up and delight all adventurous souls and cozy-pursuit seekers through the fall season.