Every year, Mother Nature puts on a show that marks what many adventuring souls embrace as the best season of the year. Cooler nights can make a sleeping bag feel like your best friend, and campfires glow beneath the harvest moon. All over North America, you can catch the splendor of the leaves as they change from green to endless shades of orange, red and gold.
Those colors emerge as the trees gradually stop creating chlorophyll, the substance that plants produce to make food from sunlight. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color, and by breaking it down in the fall, trees save energy for the long winter ahead. The other naturally occurring pigments start to show through in a vivid display of color before the deciduous trees drop their leaves altogether.
If you want to get out and enjoy the show, you’ll get a front-row seat at any of these excellent places to see the fall colors.
- The Berkshires, Massachusetts
From late September to mid-October, you can immerse yourself in the fall colors as you trek through some of the most bucolic hills and valleys in the country. Whether you’re looking for antiques or adventure, there’s no better time to visit Western Massachusetts.
- Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
The National Park that straddles these two states comes alive with color from late September to early November as over 100 different species of native trees strut their stuff. These forests are amazing year-round, but this is when you really want to get into the woods and trek along any of the hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
- Aspen, Colorado
The Aspens that give their name to the city turn to solid gold in the fall, but the colors usually only last for a couple of weeks in late September. The display is truly magnificent, however, with the mountains providing the perfect scenic backdrop. If you’re looking for the distinctive shimmer of Aspens, you can also try New Mexico as the region surrounding Taos lights up at around the same time.
- Algonquin Park, Ontario (Canada)
Extend the season by heading north, where the tamaracks and red oaks peak towards the end of October. Almost 5,000 square miles of forests, lakes and rivers make this park a perennial favorite with both locals and savvy US adventurers.
- Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
If you’ve never been to the Ozarks, this is the time. Over a million acres of white and red oak, red and silver maples, sweetgum, and a dozen other species that all produce a panoramic display of fall foliage.
- The Laurentians, Quebec (Canada)
This is the heart of maple syrup country, and the sugar maples are absolutely spectacular in the fall. Make the most of the seasonal festivals you’ll find throughout this unique part of Canada from late September through to mid-October.
- New England – All of It!
While we led off with the Berkshires, the truth is that all New England lights up like 4th of July fireworks at this time of year. Try Portsmouth in New Hampshire or head over to Stowe, Vermont where the hills are alive with color before the ski season. Maine kicks off a little later, usually around the second week of October, and that’s also when you’re likely to find the best display in Rhode Island.
No matter where you wander, be sure to get out there this fall and appreciate nature’s curtain call to summer. Take that last hike or camping trip surrounded by an annual reminder that the best things in life really are free.