8 Off-the-Beaten-Path Places to See Fall Foliage

Enjoy bright autumn colors and scenic views without the crowds.

By Claire Volkman, ContributorOct. 2, 2015
By Claire Volkman, ContributorOct. 2, 2015, at 10:34 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

8 Off-the-Beaten-Path Places to See Fall Foliage

Young couple strolling in autumn park, Vienna, Austria

At these unexpected and uncrowded fall foliage destinations, you can enjoy blazing colors without bursting your budget. Getty Images/Cultura RF

Destinations all across the United States are erupting in dazzling shades of orange, red and yellow from now until Thanksgiving. Since leaf-peeping is one of the easiest (and most inexpensive) ways to experience America's breathtaking natural beauty, popular fall foliage destinations can get a little crowded. In fact, many New England tours and foliage-themed getaways are booked up to a year in advance, meaning you're out of luck if you want a spur-of-the-moment trip to Vermont or New Hampshire this autumn.

Instead of battling crowds for a beautiful photo or paying too much for a hotel stay in peak-season, head to one of these lesser-known locales where the trees and forests put on just as stunning a show.

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Home to over 20 forested state parks and 4 million acres of smoldering aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak and sycamore trees, Michigan's Upper Peninsula  comes to life in a spectacular array of fiery fall colors each October. What makes this area especially striking at this time of year is the contrast from the sapphire waters of the Great Lakes, the eroded white limestone of the cliffs and the brightly painted leaves. For a memorable hotel stay, retreat to one of the state's largest lighthouses, Sand Hills, which also happens to be an eight-room inn.

F.D. Roosevelt State Park, Georgia

Fall is easily one of the most beautiful seasons in the South, especially in Georgia. Just south of Atlanta in the rolling hills and mountains of Dowdell's Knob you'll find F.D. Roosevelt State Park, the largest park in the state. From late October through early November you'll be greeted with bright bursts of yellow and gold throughout the park. The best way to take in the color display is by hiking, biking or picnicking along the 40-plus miles of trails.

Door County, Wisconsin

Though many residents would argue Door County's crisp fall foliage is no longer a secret, the scenic 75-mile Wisconsin peninsula still welcomes tourists with small-town hospitality. Nestled between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, this peninsula erupts in eye-catching shades of orange and crimson. What makes Door County even more splendid in autumn is the plethora of activities happening all over the county, from harvest festivals to roadside hot cider stands to farmers markets, lake cruises and more. For sweeping views of the trees from above, book a scenic airplane tour over the area.

Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania

Stretching across nearly 50 miles, Pennsylvania's Pine Creek Gorge features a breathtaking fall display of deep reds, yellows, oranges and purples in early October. For show-stopping views of the trees splendor, hike or bike the historic 60-mile Pine Creek Trail. The path winds through the gorge, offering up-close and personal views of the ever-changing colors of countless trees. Another local favorite is Colton Point State Park, which covers 368-acres and offers impressive views of the canyon and river. 

Rock Creek Canyon, California

Away from the crowds of Yosemite National Park and adjacent to the eastern Sierra Nevada sits Rock Creek Canyon. Covering more than 20 miles between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, this canyon is decorated with blazing colors (like golds, greens and oranges) during October. The best views can be found at the Little Lakes Basin, which is a collection of high-elevation lakes linked by stunning hiking trails. The reflection of the trees and the Sierra's staggering 13,000 foot peaks in the glistening lakes make for some truly unforgettable fall photos.

Middlesboro, Kentucky

Close to the beautiful Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Middleboro offers a quaint and quiet downtown. Located about two hours south of Lexington, Kentucky, the Gap offers the same spectrum of foliage splendor as the more crowded Great Smoky Mountain National Park with a fraction of the tourists. Nearly 24,000 acres of the park is pure wilderness and offers truly spectacular hiking, biking and camping in the fall. Plus, in early October, the park offers fun activities (like a fall festival and elk-viewing tours) worth checking out. For the autumnal hues, arrive between late September and late October.

Minneapolis - St. Paul

You don't have to escape to the rural countryside to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn. The bustling capital city of Minneapolis offers stunning views coupled with big-city amenities (like public transportation and veritable brewpubs). But what sets Minneapolis apart is its beautiful composition of red, orange and yellow trees reflecting in the city's many lakes. According to locals, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a must-see spot with its sprawling gardens in the heart of downtown.

Black Hills, South Dakota

In autumn, the scenic Black Hills in South Dakota transform into a sea of gold-draped cottonwoods and aspens. The towering mountain range stretches across thousands of acres is best-known for containing Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore. However, it's also one of the best places to chase the changing leaves. Stop into Custer State Park to view the leaves against a backdrop of granite spires, rolling mountains and 1,500 bison grazing. Most tourists visit the park in late September to watch the Buffalo Roundup, so if you want to enjoy the scenery without heavy crowds, arrive in October. Embrace the magnitude of the mountains with a bike ride, run, hike or walk on the crushed stone surface of the George S. Mickelson Trail, which yields epic views of the leaves. Another favorite viewing spot is Spearfish Canyon, where limestone cliffs meet dense forests of red, yellow, green and orange birch, aspen, oak and cottonwood trees. 

Claire Volkman, Contributor

Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent ...  Read more

Tags: travel

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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