The Best Leaf-Peeping Spots from Coast to Coast

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

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

by NEA Member Benefits

Sep 01, 2022

It’s autumn and there’s an explosion of color wherever you are in the United States (or there will be very soon). 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.

You can appreciate fall’s wonderful display, whether on land or water, via a hike, drive, boat ride and more. Use these expert tips to take a trip to six of the best leaf-peeping spots in North America.

1. Soak in the beauty on New England & Canadian 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: Mid- to late September in the northern New England states of Maine and New Hampshire; around mid-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 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, such as Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Cunard, Carnival, Seabourn and Silversea. Itineraries vary by length and route, and they 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 City.

As an example for pricing, a seven-day round-trip voyage from New York on Emerald Princess (Princess Cruises) in October is $798 per person (kids sail free), as of this writing.  Check out NEA Travel for more cruise deals.

2. Leaf-peep by ATV in Killington, Vermont

Star foliage: World-famous red maples
Peak overall color: Early 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)

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 $164 for one, or $219 for two), and a guide will take you to the top of Killington Mountain for sweeping views with incredible hues.

NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel to Burlington International Airport (BTV), about 3 hours away, or the larger Bradley International Airport (BDL), about 5.5 hours away in Hartford, Connecticut. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at hotels such as the cozy Greenbrier Inn Killington, for an average of $178/night, and the more modern Lake Bomoseen Lodge, which is right on the lake and includes breakfast, for an average of $179/night. They also have one- and two-bedroom condos with kitchens that are ideal for families.

Plan your itinerary: Killington | Vermont Vacation

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

Star foliage: Rich red-brown oaks, yellow birches and poplars, 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. This fall, try fly fishing, usually a peaceful activity that requires a bit more action and is a bit of a 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.

NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through NEA Travel: Flights to Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) to get great airfare prices. You might find more flight options by flying into Dulles International Airport (IAD), which is about 2 hours away. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at hotels like an average of $156 a night at the elegant Mimslyn Inn, one of the Historic Hotels of America located in charming Luray, and around $131 a night at the Holiday Inn & Suites Front Royal Blue Ridge Shadows, an IHG Hotel. Enjoy a resort experience for an average of just $107 a night at the modern yet grand Blackburn Inn and Conference Center in Staunton, which opened as a hotel in 2018. The sprawling campus that was a hospital in the 1800s has a full-service spa and gym, an on-site restaurant and bar, and there’s even a chapel that was once visited by 13th President Millard Fillmore in 1851.

Plan your itineraryVisit Shenandoah | Virginia is for Lovers

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: Mid-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, such as an ice cream social, lunch or Champagne brunch on board. One-hour cruises start at $38 for adults and $24 for kids.

NEA member travel benefits: Buy airfare tickets for Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) through NEA Travel: Flights for great prices. It’s about 36 miles away from the lake. Next, look for hotels on the NEA Travel: Hotels page. There, you could find deals like an average of $121 per night at the Cove of Lake Geneva, which includes indoor and outdoor pools and tennis courts, and $133 per night for The Ridge at Lake Geneva, a more upscale boutique resort with a spa and pools. To stay on another nearby lake, book a room at the family-friendly large Lake Lawn Resort on Delavan Lake, complete with a golf course, arcade and laser tag, spa and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. In the fall, the average price is an average of just $91 per night. 

Plan your itineraryVisit Lake Geneva | Travel Wisconsin

5. Take in the alpine splendor in the Montana Rockies

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- to late 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 Complex 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.

NEA member travel benefits: For a great deal, book a flight through NEA Travel: Flights to Missoula Montana Airport (MSO). The hotels booking page features deals like an average of $165 a night at the Courtyard by Marriott Missoula, or $182 a night for Hilton Garden Inn Missoula. Once you’re on the road, the Ninepipes Lodge in Charlo is an option for an average of just $85 a night.

Plan your itinerary: Destination Missoula | Visit Montana

6. See the city change colors in Portland, Oregon

Star foliage: Deciduous conifer larch, vine maple, red maple, aspen, big leaf maple, pin oak, paperbark maple, pacific dogwood, raywood ash
Peak overall color: Mid-October

Portland is known as a great foodie city surrounded by nature, which makes it ideal for a fall foliage extravaganza for those who prefer long city walks (stopping at cute shops along the way) to steep mountain hikes.

You’ll spot plenty of Technicolor trees strolling the Rose City’s streets, or head to the Portland Japanese Garden and Hoyt Arboretum to escape the hustle and bustle a little. You can also take a day trip to the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s beloved wine country just an hour-and-a-half away by car, where you can also peep color-changing grapevines and even experience the fall harvest.

NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX); NEA Travel: Flights is a great place to find great prices on airline tickets. Then on the hotels page you can find prices like an average of $115/night at Hotel Zags Portland, a fun and colorful hotel loaded with art. For some old Hollywood glamour, book a room at Hotel deLuxe (average of $126/night), which is right in the center of downtown inside a 1912 Art Deco building. Families might prefer the spacious rooms at Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Downtown for an average of $141/night.

Plan your itinerary: Travel PortlandWillamette ValleyTravel Oregon

Save on a fabulous fall trip