The onset of fall is a lovely time of year. It’s the crispest and coziest season of them all. Not to mention, it’s also when the treetops transform into dazzling red and golden color palettes.
Because autumn is so enchanting, we went on the hunt to find the best fall vacations. We conducted an AARP survey of 1,000 Baby Boomers to curate our list. Senior travelers, 45 years and older, gave us their favorite fall recommendations. These U.S. destinations showcase some of the finest fall foliage, according to travelers like you!
1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Dreaming of rusty red and vermillion orange leaves? Make your way to Gatlinburg to see the mountains’ vibrant palette at play. The Great Smoky Mountains, of course, dazzle with over 1,000 native trees. From yellow birch to red maple, the rich colors transform throughout the season, depending on the elevation.
Take a fall vacation to Gatlinburg and leaf peep from the seat of your car. Cruise along scenic roads, such as Parsons Branch Road and Clingmans Dome Road. Prefer to hoof it? Listen for the crunchy sound of leaves under your hiking boots as you explore the local trails. For the brightest foliage, venture along the Sugarland Mountain Trail or Andrews Bald.
Rest up at one of the Gatlinburg hotels
2. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
The Upper Peninsula fall colors are absolutely spectacular. The region boasts more than 8 million acres of tree coverage. Discover flaming maples, oaks, and hardwoods. Everywhere you look, you’ll be rewarded with the rich, rusty shades.
There are endless ways to experience the magical fall scenery in the UP. Chug along on one of the Upper Peninsula fall color train tours. The Toonerville Trolley Wilderness Train is a great option. Or hit the scenic trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Leaf peep your way into Marquette County and keep your eyes peeled for the local moose herd! For something unique, go to the Black River Scenic Byway and brave the suspension bridge.
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3. Ithaca, New York
When it comes to some of the prettiest fall scenes, senior travelers picked Ithaca. Located in the Finger Lakes region, this city bursts with color come autumn. Leaf peeping season can start as early as September and go all the way through November if the conditions are just right.
What’s better than viewing the beautiful colors? Viewing them with a glass of wine in your hand! Sip your way through the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail—fall is harvest season after all. Rather break a sweat? Take an Ithaca waterfall tour, from Taughannock Falls to Buttermilk Falls. For more crisp colorfulness, hike along the Finger Lakes National Forest Trail. You won’t be disappointed!
4. Door County, Wisconsin
What is Door County known for? Well, its fall colors certainly leave an impression, that’s for sure! To get in a fall frame of mind, attend Fall Festival in Sister Bay or the Pumpkin Patch Festival in Egg Harbor. However you decide to admire the season, you’re in for an amazing leaf-laden show.
Get behind the wheel and wind along the picturesque roads. Drive on Door County Coastal Byway and Skyline Road to see the trees popping with color. The journey from Egg Harbor to Horseshoe Bay Farms along Sturgeon Bay promises lovely scenery, too. For those who like to hear the crunch of the leaves beneath their feet, hike Peninsula State Park.
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5. Nashville, Indiana
Nashville tends to have a relatively short leaf-peeping season, so experience it while you can! The best time to visit is usually late September to mid-October or early November. If you visit early in the season, look out for the tulip poplar trees that often to change color first. Sycamore and walnut usually change next.
Brown County State Park is by far the best place to relish the fall colors. Explore the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve and hop on Trail 5. This path will lead you to the rare and endangered yellowwood tree. Don’t miss the park’s Nature Center. You can learn more about fall in the area and attend free October programs.
6. Duluth, Minnesota
You may have heard of the much-anticipated Chester Bowl Fall Fest, and for good reason! This autumn fest will get you in the spirit with crafts, live music, and activities. Once you’ve celebrated the on-set of the new season, get ready to admire the city’s changing colors.
All aboard! Snag a seat on the North Shore Scenic Railroad and wind through the vibrant north woods. The route along Lake Superior is magical during the fall. Next, zip around Skyline Drive and North Shore Scenic Drive. Take off on two wheels around Spirit Mountain or discover the waterfalls at Gooseberry Falls State Park. The colorful leaves make a magnificent backdrop.
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7. Branson, Missouri
What is fall in Branson, MO like? Brilliant! The fall foliage in this area creates a colorful setting. It’ll make you want to slip into a sweater and sip apple cider. Ride a train or take a hike—there are so many ways to experience the vivid colors!
Ride the rails aboard the Branson Scenic Railway. The train chugs all around the foothills of the Ozarks, giving you a front-row view of the autumn canopies. Nearby Table Rock Lake is another popular place for leaf peeping. Pack a picnic or take a boat out for a spin on the lake. For more shades of leaves, spend an afternoon exploring the peaceful Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area.
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8. San Antonio, Texas
Senior travelers are in the know when it comes to giving this area props for its leaf peeping. The heart of San Antonio may not be famous for its fall foliage, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you venture just outside the city. A short drive will bring you to some of the finest displays of color in the area. Buckle up and get ready for the show!
San Antonio sits to the south of Hill Country, where you’ll find some of the best leaf peeping in the state. Make your way to Lost Maples State Natural Area for radiant oaks, maples, and sycamores. Look for the crimson color of Texas red oak and bigtooth maples throughout the park.
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9. Tacoma, Washington
Leave your hiking boots at home. When it comes to Tacoma, simply step outside to get your fill of fall foliage. You don’t need to venture far to see neighborhood sidewalks and streets covered in orange and yellow leaves.
If you’re looking for a leisurely way to soak in the fall colors, picnic in one of the many local parks. Wright Park has more than 630 trees, which promise to change the most majestic colors. The leaves in the Point Defiance Park’s Japanese garden are divine, too. Craving more adventure? Zip over to nearby Mount Rainier and explore Sheep Lake or Sourdough Gap.
10. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs was another fall favorite, according to senior travelers. Once you set your sights on the autumn shades, you’ll understand why. This Colorado city knows how to put on a good show.
Hiking belongs at the top of your list when you visit this region. Good thing, too, because it allows you to see the fall colors in all their glory. Grab your hiking gear and head to Garden of the Gods. The bright leaves look so dramatic against the famous red rock formations. Rather sit back and watch the colorful trees whiz by? Take a scenic drive along Pikes Peak Highway or hit the nearby Rampart Range off-road trail.
11. Cherokee, North Carolina
Turn your attention to the glorious display of colors scattered throughout Cherokee. Sitting in western North Carolina, this town showcases the golden colors of Appalachia.
Perhaps one of the best ways to admire the blazing leaves is driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This mountain road winds through the radiant foliage, passing 26 tunnels along the way. For those who want to get in the thick of it, head to the trails. Check out the brilliant hues from the Fire Mountain Trails, where you can bike or hike under the canopies. Next, chase waterfalls at Mingo Falls. The 120-foot waterfall is surrounded by stunning autumn shades.
12. Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Head to Jim Thorpe for its charming Fall Foliage Festival, but stick around for the scenery. The town is known as the Gateway to the Poconos—home to more than 127 varieties of trees, shrubs, and plants. It’s no wonder senior travelers picked this town as a favorite fall spot!
Ready to admire the scenery? Get up close and personal with the intense fall colors with a hike to Glen Onoko Falls. The tree-covered trails will bring you to multiple cascading waterfalls. For those who prefer a slower pace, admire the autumnal colors around the local vineyards. Venture out to Galen Glen Winery and imbibe with legendary views.
After your adventures, rest at one of the hotels in Jim Thorpe, PA
When it comes to travel recommendations, who better to ask than wise travelers like you? Add these destinations to your itinerary and get ready for some vibrant fall colors! For more inspiration, check out 5 Places to See Fall Foliage in the U.S.