The Best Leaf-Peeping Spots from Coast to Coast

Cruise to Canada, go fly fishing in Virginia, map a route through Montana’s Rocky Mountains and more: Our guide to 6 fall foliage tours.

The Best Leaf-Peeping Spots from Coast to Coast - Sunrise in Autumn at Shenandoah National Park

by NEA Member Benefits

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It’s autumn and there’s an explosion of color wherever you are in the United States. On the East Coast, trees change their verdant array to warm oranges and reds mixed with golds and bronzes. On the West Coast, the preference is toward bright yellows. This dramatic display of colorful foliage generally starts in late September in the Northeastern United States and reaches the Southeast and the West by early November.

Appreciate fall’s wonderful display whether on land or on the water. Take a trip to six of the best leaf-peeping spots in America.

1. New England & Canada leaf-peeping cruises

Star foliage: Reddish-orange mountain maples; purple sumacs; gold and yellow hickory, poplars, birch, elms and ginkgoes; crimson and scarlet dogwood, sassafras, red oak and maples
Peak overall color: Late September in the northern New England states of Maine and New Hampshire; around late October in the southern New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Renowned for its Technicolor autumn display, New England is a leaf-peeper’s paradise, and Canada’s maples, red oaks, aspens and tamaracks are a sight to behold during the fall. A Canada and New England cruise provides the perfect setting for a peaceful foliage tour. (Plus, you can also view seaside villages, tour opulent mansions and learn about U.S. colonial history.) Itinerary highlights may include an exceptional fall foliage display at Boston Common and Public Garden, America’s oldest park; Frenchman Bay in Bar Harbor, Maine; Montreal Botanical Garden and Irving Nature Park in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Book a voyage aboard any of the lines that cruise this region in the fall: Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Cunard, Carnival, Seabourn and Silversea are some options. Itineraries vary by length and route, and feature many ports of call. Embarkation homeports in the U.S. include New York, Boston and Baltimore, while Canadian sailings typically depart from Montreal and Quebec.

As an example for pricing, a five-night round-trip voyage from New York on Regal Princess (Princess Cruises) at the end of October is $449 per person. Check out NEA Vacations for more cruise deals!

2. Leaf-peep by ATV in Killington, Vermont

Star foliage: World-famous red maples
Peak overall color: Early to mid-October (maples tend to turn earlier than oaks and birches so you can find spectacular color—and fewer crowds—if you visit in mid to late September)

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If you’re more comfortable on land, how about a foliage tour by ATV? In Killington, Vermont, leaf-peeping becomes an adventure. Scale mountains and go off-road for out-of-the-way viewpoints and hard-to-reach vistas in a matter of minutes. A well-known ski destination, Killington provides the perfect rugged ride for fall foliage viewing in September or October. Try out the brand-new Polaris vehicles at ATV Vermont (from $119 for one or $159 for two), and a guide will take you to the top of Killington Mountain for sweeping views with incredible hues.

Plan Your Trip: Killington | Vermont Vacation
Driving Distances: 2 hours from Concord, New Hampshire and Burlington, Vermont | 2 hours 30 minutes from Albany, New York and Springfield, Massachusetts | 3 hours from Boston, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut | 3 hours 30 minutes from Portland, Maine  |  5 hours from New York, New York

3. See the foliage and fly fish in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Star foliage: Rich red-brown oaks, yellow birches and poplars, and red and orange black gum, sumac, red and sugar maples, and golden yellow hickories
Peak overall color: Mid-October

Experience a whole new perspective to your leaf-peeping in Shenandoah National Park. With more than 70 trout-filled streams, plus the beloved Rapidan River, known for its abundance of brook trout, this stunning parkland is ideal for fishing. But this fall, go fly fishing, usually a quiet, peaceful activity that requires a bit more action and is a great workout too. Wade up a creek or river against currents, casting as you go. Surrounded by vibrant fall colors, fly fishing offers views you may not be able to get on land. Never gone fly fishing before? Take a lesson and rent or buy equipment from Murray’s Fly Shop. Some classes cost just $20 per person.

Plan Your TripVisit Shenandoah | Virginia is for Lovers
Driving Distances: 1 hour 30 minutes from Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia | 3 hours from Norfolk, Virginia | 3 hours 30 minutes from Durham, North Carolina and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 4 hours from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Charleston, West Virginia

4. Watch the leaves turn by boat on Geneva Lake, Wisconsin

Star foliage: Orange-leafed maples, magenta-hued witch hazel, black walnut, hickory, oak, cranberry
Peak overall color: Second week of October

Geneva Lake is a crystal-clear freshwater lake that covers more than 5,000 acres in Southeast Wisconsin. In autumn, it becomes a mirror that reflects the vibrant colors of the surrounding nature for a 360-degree extra beautiful experience. Enjoy views of the lake from Big Foot Beach State Park, which is perfect for picnicking, camping and fishing. Or, rent a speedboat, WaveRunner or Jet Ski from Elmer’s Lake Geneva Boat Line. You can also charter a 30-foot catamaran, or book one of the various tours around the lake offered by the Lake Geneva Cruise Line; these lake tours come with extras, like an ice cream social, lunch or Champagne brunch on board. One-hour cruises start at $29 for adults and $16 for kids.

Plan Your TripVisit Lake Geneva | Travel Wisconsin
Driving Distances: 1 hour from Milwaukee, Wisconsin | 1 hour 30 minutes from Madison, Wisconsin | 2 hours from Chicago, Illinois | 3 hours from Minnesota

5. Montana Rockies alpine splendor

Star foliage: Western larch, also called tamarack by locals, is the rare coniferous tree that isn’t an evergreen. Every autumn, its tiny needles turn golden before falling to the ground. 
Peak overall color: Early to mid-October (Note: Aspens peak in mid-September)

A road trip is a classic way of seeing the vibrant leaves in autumn, but there’s nothing typical about driving through the Montana Rockies. On Highway 200 out of Missoula in Northwest Montana, you’ll spot moose and elk along the Blackfoot River. Turning north onto Highway 83, you’ll pass through the Seeley and Swan valleys, where a string of hundreds of scenic glacial-carved lakes, from tiny no-names to the twin valley namesakes and nearby 200-square-mile giant Flathead Lake, dot the landscape. And your drive is framed by the soaring peaks of the Mission Mountains to the west and the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the east. In every direction, golden western larch glow in the sunlight.

Detour to nearby Swan River National Wildlife Refuge, where viewing platforms help you see how nature inspires the paintings, carvings and photography of local artists, along with migrating waterfowl and bald eagles.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Montana
Driving Distances: 1 hour 15 mins from Whitefish, Montana | 2 hours from Missoula, Montana | 4 hours from Great Falls, Montana | 5 hours from Spokane, Washington

6. See the colors in California

Star foliage: Dogwoods, black oaks, aspen, black cottonwood, big leaf maples, Oregon ash, red alder, white alder
Peak overall color: Fall color starts in August at about 10,000 feet and drops by elevation at a rate of 500 to 1,000 feet a week for three months.

East of San Joaquin Valley, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, lies Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, where you’ll behold amazing vistas of leaves changing color. Some of the best color in the Tahoe area can be found along Highway 89 from South Lake Tahoe to Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park. Another standout is Humboldt Redwoods State Park, south of Eureka on Highway 101.

Plan Your Trip: Visit California
Driving Distances: 2 hours from Fresno, California | 3 hours from Bakersfield, California | 4 hours from Stockton, California | 4 hours 30 mins from San Jose, California | 5 hours from Sacramento, California

Save on a fabulous fall trip