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Fall comes and goes all too quickly, and if you don’t take advantage of the world-class leaf peeping we have here in the U.S., it’ll fade before you know it. Autumn faithfuls tend to focus on the foliage offerings in the Northeast, but there’s a whole country of leaf peeping out there to explore. Get out of the Northeast this fall, and find the country’s best non-New England leaf peeping in these 10 under-the-radar fall hotspots.
Gold Coast, Michigan
The dramatic coastline skirts along Lake Michigan, lighting up the cliffs with reds, greens, and oranges. The drive starts in Traverse City, where you’ll find Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and winds all the way to St. Joseph.
Glenn Highway, Alaska
While tourists don’t think of Alaska as a fall destination, the colors are out in full force, and the towns are quiet and welcoming in autumn. Glenn Highway is a 27-mile drive between Palmer and Chickaloon, with unreal views of the Matanuska Glacier. The scenery of ice and trees drenched in color is unlike anything you can find on the U.S. mainland.
Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway, New Mexico
This 16-mile stretch is one of two scenic byways in the Santa Fe National Forest, the other being the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway. The route brings visitors into the valley of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—and the drive starts in the middle of Sante Fe. Expect the colors to peak at higher elevations in early-to-mid October, and lower elevations in mid-October to early November.
Mount Hood Scenic Byway
It’ll take you three to four hours to drive the 105-mile byway, and you’ll get views of the Hood and Columbia rivers along the way. While the drive is gorgeous year round, the towering trees lining your drive will display irresistible foliage around the middle to end of October.
Cades Cove, Tennessee
Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove is a great destination for spotting Tennessee wildlife like black bears, turkeys, and white-tailed deer. You can drive the 11-mile loop to see the fall foliage, but allow two to four hours for the journey, because you’ll want to stop frequently, and the road tends to be congested with fellow leaf peepers.
Big Bear Lake, California
For the best foliage views surrounding Big Bear Lake, you can hike up to a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail lined with trees and providing panoramic views of the lake. The Pine Knot and Castle Rock Trail will also expose visitors to cottonwoods, aspens, and oaks, all of which change colors from mid-October to early November.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
There are three main trees on display here: sugar maples, red maples, and oak trees. They get a vibrant crimson-and-gold tint toward the end of October, and the park is right between Akron and Cleveland, making it easily accessible from both metropolises.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Fall is shoulder season in the Tetons, sandwiched between the bustling summer and the hordes of skiers that come in search of powder each winter. You’ll have the park to yourself to languish in the shade of the majestic peaks and the golden-colored aspens.
Harper’s Ferry National Park, Virginia
Harper’s Ferry touches Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia—and parts are just a short drive from Washington D.C. You may share the scenic overlooks with hikers following the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the park.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
September is the ideal leaf peeping time if you’re a fan of the Rocky Mountain aspens. If you follow the Twin Sisters hike, you’ll find a well-kept but fairly empty trail that will lead you to some of the best foliage views in the park. Bundle up, because the high-altitude can make it cool despite Colorado’s supposed 300 days of sun.