Dodge crowds and revel in stunning shades at little-known spots across the country.
Scattered along rolling hillsides or beneath towering mountains, nestled beside rushing rivers or flanked by towering trees in radiant orange, yellow and red hues, the country's quaint towns come alive in autumn. Not only are they crowd-free, with less than 100,000 full-time residents, they are multifaceted, from their quirky locally owned shops lining cobblestone streets to their fun fall festivals in the center of town and warm, welcoming locals. So, if you want to dodge New England crowds and check out little-known but equally enchanting small towns across America, head to these charming spots instead. Just don't forget your camera to capture beautiful scenes across the country.
The gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg has long lured hikers, mountain bikers and campers with its unmistakable homemade fudge, eccentric local shops and small-town eateries. Before hitting the trail, fuel up at the Log Cabin Pancake House, a kitschy but surprisingly delicious eatery serving up stacks made from cornmeal, banana and more. Also, don't miss the farmers market on Glades Road, which takes place from August to early October, or the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, which runs until the end of October.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Located just over 60 miles northwest of the nation's capital, Harpers Ferry is the perfect place to soak up fall colors and step back in time. Nestled between the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, Harpers Ferry, a nationally registered historic site, offers thrilling ghost tours (where the hosts don period attire) that weave through shops where you can purchase your own 18th-century attire. And for outdoor lovers, the area boasts more than 4,000 acres of hiking and biking trails lined with colorful giant oak and fir trees.
You would be hard-pressed to find a place with the fall views of Wellsboro. Set in the radiant Pine Creek Gorge, Wellsboro shines with spectacular autumnal colors from mid-September to late October. Here, you can kayak and fish (if you're not scared off by the chilly water) or simply hike through the east rim of the canyon for stunning aerial views. The town is also worth a visit, with its festive harvest-decorated shops and small restaurants and bistros.
Located in the picture-perfect Keweenaw Peninsula, this fall wonderland boasts some of America's most gorgeous fall foliage vistas. Surrounded by scenic rivers, the area is not only a beautiful and serene place, but it's also fun to explore thanks to its numerous breweries (hat tip: Keweenaw Brewing Company), shops and award-winning restaurants like Fitzgerald's. To explore the city from above, brush up on the area's mining history and regale in the stunning fall colors, tour the Quincy Mine, which takes visitors on a rebuilt mining car down into the mines to check out the city's past firsthand.
Lake Placid, New York
Framed by the staggering Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid is one of New York's most coveted fall destinations. The mountains are famous for their cornucopia of blazing colors and diverse collection of trees – from birch to oaks and beech oaks. Get lost in the dazzling array of colors with a drive along the Olympic Byway, which stretches for more than 170 miles and to Lake Placid. The town itself is just as rustically beautiful, with lodges, shops and restaurants clustered along Main Street. For five-star service and impeccable lake views, stay at the Whiteface Lodge.
More than a top skiing destination, Vail offers beautiful scenery starting in mid-September, with towering white birch trees glowing in beaming shades of yellow. With snow only scattered atop glistening mountains, the runs used for skiing are open for other outdoor activities, such as hiking, zip lining and mountain biking. Since it's also the off-season for the village in fall, you can snag rooms, flights and activity packages (think: gondola rides and tickets to Vail Mountain's Epic Discovery) at affordable prices. In town, make sure to dine at Sweet Basil and Mountain Standard, two locally owned restaurants serving some of the village's most innovative dishes.
One of the most historically significant towns in Massachusetts, Salem's reputation is best known for the haunting Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century. The town, perched on the Atlantic coastline, is flanked by gradient-hued foliage starting in mid-September, making the drive absolutely astonishing. Thanks to its rich and illustrious history, Salem honors its spooky heritage with a month-long festival leading up to Halloween. Here, you can go on tombstone tours, take part in séances, listen to ghost stories and tag along on haunted tours.
Nestled along rolling hills surrounding the banks of the Galena River, the town of Galena is inspired by its natural surroundings. In fall, Galena especially shines, with trees speckled beside mid-century farm houses and enticing brick-lined shopping streets. If you're craving an outdoor adventure, take a panoramic cruise along the Mississippi Explorer for views of the ever-changing trees. If you would rather enjoy some hiking, head out to the 85-acre Casper Bluff to reveal 1,000-year-old Native American burial grounds. And if you want to pick up some souvenirs, check out the locally owned boutiques lining historic Main Street, which offer goods ranging from infused olive oils to jewelry.
Door County, Wisconsin
With brilliant fall colors luring leaf peepers near and far, Door County has long been a hot spot for autumn visitors. For the best views, cruise along the Door County Coastal Byway, a 66-mile stretch that rolls through the Green Bay and Lake Michigan coastlines, affording incredible views of vibrant leaves and blue waters. For magnificent vistas of the leaves from the water, book one of the county's boat cruises, which transports visitors to the area's most scenic vistas such as Gills Rock, Fish Creek and Sister Bay. The area's state parks, including Peninsula State Park and Whitefish Dunes, also feature lookout towers that yield unparalleled panoramic views.