As the dog days of summer wind down, we know that back-to-school-and-work life is coming up fast. But sweater weather doesn’t mean an end to travel. These sixteen autumnal travel destinations make for fabulous fall vacations across North America and beyond. From sunny California to the golden larches of Banff, the bright lights of New York to festive Munich, planning where to travel for fall colours and leaf peeping is as easy as watching leaves fall from the trees.
Sixteen Leaf Peeping Destinations for Fall Vacations
Vancouver is well known for natural beauty, but the city’s cultural scene really shines in the fall. Fall is a great time to visit this vibrant west coast city. The International Film Festival and Vancouver Writers Fest are just two excellent reasons to plan an autumn visit.
The September to November period is a perfect time visit Vancouver, because of the great weather, low hotel rates and fewer summer crowds. Outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking remain accessible and snow-free, the culinary scene is quieter but no less tasty, and main attractions like Stanley Park and the Vancouver’s museums are less crowded and more enjoyable.
The fall season is brief and fleeting in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Summer can quickly turn into winter with an overnight snowfall. But if you’re lucky, a September visit will coincide with warm snow-free days, cool nights, and magnificent hiking opportunities through golden forests.
Fall is larch season in Banff National Park. These unique pine trees loose their needles, which turn golden before dropping to the ground during a few weeks in September and early October. Accessible hiking trails into larch country make it easy to enjoy and appreciate this annual miracle of nature. Be sure to rent a canoe to paddle on Lake Louise, or enjoy forest bathing in Banff before enjoying a fabulous cocktail and some great dining options in town.
Bar Harbor, Maine
The coastal paradise of Bar Harbor, Maine, becomes a magnet for fall foliage fans in October. Tourists flock to the town to drink in the sight of the gorgeous fall leaves while they fill their lungs with the salty sea air.
Acadia National Park and the scenic Park Loop Road are two of the best places to see fall foliage in Maine, while Gorham Mountain offers spectacular views of the beautiful fall scenery in the harbour below.
And while you’re not leaf peeping in Maine, you can also go kayaking and whale watching or check out the quaint shops in downtown Bar Harbor.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
The Cabot Trail traces a path around the north shore of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. It is often described as one of the most beautiful drives in the world and if you visit Canada in the fall, you can see the trail at its most spectacular. The island’s highlands are swathed in crimson, orange and red foliage from mid-September onwards, with the display reaching its colourful peak in the first half of October.
The Cabot Trail will also take you through the dramatic landscape of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and other excellent locations for leaf peeping in Nova Scotia include Kejimkujik National Park, Wentworth and Bear River.
If you happen to visit Cape Breton in mid-October, you can also join in a celebration of the area’s Celtic heritage at the Celtic Colours International Festival. The line-up generally includes concerts, workshops and other events celebrating Celtic culture.
Chicago is a favorite destination among fall travelers. The cooler weather makes it comfortable to walk around this urban gem, the third largest city in America. Some must-see things to do in Chicago with kids include Wrigley Field, Millennium Park and the Shedd Aquarium.
There are also myriad food, art and cultural festivals in the windy city in the fall months, including the fantastic Chicago Museum Week. Enjoy discounted visits to more than ten of Chicago’s best art and historical museums during the autumn season.
Laurentian Mountains, Quebec
Sugar maples, yellow birch and American beech trees give Québec the dramatic fall colours that it’s renowned for. The fall season in Canada sees the leaves begin their transformation in the second half of September before reaching their colourful peak towards the end of the month. The display then continues through to the second half of October in low-lying and more southern locations.
The Laurentian Mountains offer some of the most beautiful fall foliage in Canada, and the ski resort of Mont Tremblant is a particularly popular leaf-peeping spot for locals and tourists alike.
Of course, Mont Tremblant also hosts a wide variety of other activities including winter sports, canoeing, golf and a shopping village.
Munich is one of the few places that actually fills up during the fall instead of emptying out, and that’s all because of Oktoberfest. This world-famous, 16-day event takes over the streets of Munich in celebration of the harvest and of course, beer. The festivities include carnival rides, tons of food and all the beer you can imagine.
This destination is a bit of a black sheep on this list. Because of the popularity of Oktoberfest, you will see higher hotel prices and an influx of tourists. But this kind of festival a one-of-a-kind experience for beer lovers, so Munich in October is the place to be.
Music City is especially beautiful and just as lively during autumn as the busy summer months. Anywhere you turn in Nashville in the fall, you’ll see a festival. From music to craft beer to food festivals, Nashville is home to all kinds of festivals, and the cool weather makes it perfect for strolling around the streets taking it all in.
With constant free, live music playing on the streets of Nashville, football season kicking into high gear and great hiking trails near the city, there’s more than enough fall fun for the entire family to enjoy. Plan a fall vacation day trip or road trip to enjoy leaf peeping in Tennessee’s famous Smoky Mountains.
New York City
The beauty of a fall getaway to New York City is not to be underestimated. The heat and mugginess of summer are history, and everyone is wrapped up in the latest fall fashions. Stroll through Central Park to enjoy the leaf peeping show or head north to the Cloisters for some medieval art appreciation.
Soak in the arts and culture of New York City’s museums and art galleries, without the summer crush of tourists. Then hit the always beautifully decorated patio of Eataly for cocktails and snacks, or any of NYC’s countless restaurants and eateries to fuel your exploration of the Big Apple.
The Enchanted Circle, New Mexico
When you mention fall foliage, many people automatically think of leaf peeping in New England. But the deserts of the South-West also have their fair share of dramatic seasonal foliage.
New Mexico is home to one of America’s most scenic drives, the 84-mile Enchanted Circle which links the towns of Eagle Nest, Red River, Questa and Taos. Bright yellow and orange aspen trees give this area some of the best fall foliage in New Mexico, and driving the Enchanted Circle is a great option for a leaf peeping day out.
If you prefer to explore the area on foot, the Colombine Trail, Williams Lake Trail #62 and Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67 are popular hiking trails. Alternatively, the Chile Express chairlift at Angel Fire Resort offers visitors a more relaxing option to view the landscape.
The crown jewel of Ontario’s provincial park system, Algonquin Park is a beautiful 7,725 square kilometers of forests, rivers, lakes, and wildlife, including bears. Walking or canoeing in and around this picturesque park during the changing colours of the fall landscape is an experience to remember. Simply put, autumn is an incredible time of year to plan a fall vacation and stay in Algonquin Park.
If you want to be at one with the glorious fall foliage, plan a camping trip in the park or stay in a yurt. Northern Ontario is a great escape for those who love nature and are looking for a quieter destination away from the bustle of the city.
San Francisco, California
The weather in San Francisco is amazing during the fall. The summer is often foggy and cool, while the city enjoys warm days in autumn, making it perfect for exploring. Go for the true San Francisco experience by taking a ride on a cable car, wandering Fisherman’s Wharf, and don’t forget to check out the Golden Gate Bridge.
If that’s not enough to convince you, the Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival is in September. Are you really going to pass up an opportunity to celebrate chocolate? (Answer: No)
Who can resist the pull of sunny SoCal? From the surfing capital of Huntington Beach to the theme parks of Anaheim and chic shopping of Newport Beach, the towns and cities of southern California are ideal fall vacation destinations.
There’s something for everyone; you can hit the rides of Disneyland one day while searching for sand dollars in Long Beach the next. The fall harvest ensures that Southern California’s restaurants feature the best farm to table ingredients to fuel your days of California adventures.
Vermont is renowned for its stunning leaf colours, and Stowe is probably the best place to view fall foliage in Vermont. The town is blessed with trees that turn a myriad of shades of gold, orange and red throughout September and early October, giving the town its well-earned nickname of “Fall’s Color Capital”.
Wiessner Woods, Kirchner Woods and Bingham Falls are great spots for leaf peeping in Stowe, or you could hike up Vermont’s highest mountain, Mount Mansfield, to enjoy breathtaking views. If you’d prefer a less energetic option for leaf peeping in Vermont, Route 100 offers a scenic drive through Stowe’s fall colours.
While you’re visiting Stowe, don’t forget to check out the other activities on offer including winery tours, gondola rides and river tours.
Tofino, British Columbia
Feel the force of the seasons change at the edge of the world, in the village of Tofino on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. While this town bustles in summer and during its winter storm season, the fall is a more laid-back time to visit. So much so that autumn may become Tofino’s new ‘it’ season (but don’t tell anyone).
The Pacific ocean waves are still plentiful for cold water surfing, the hotels and restaurants are less crowded (and cheaper), and the beautiful Tofino hiking trails and beaches are wide open for strolling and tide pooling, a favorite activity when visiting Tofino with kids.
Whistler, British Columbia
Located just 90 minutes from Vancouver along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, the alpine village of Whistler often surprises guests with the wide variety of fall activities it offers.
From art and First Nations appreciation, to hiking or mountain biking along gloriously scenic trails to experiencing the gut-busting gastronomy of the annual Cornucopia celebrations, fall in Whistler is a busy and beautiful time to be in Canada’s largest ski resort, without having to actually ski.
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What are some of your favorite destinations for fall travel? Share your tips in the comments.