Fall hits different in the mountains. Cool temperatures and colorful leaves are a springboard for hiking, kayaking, and biking, while the fresh air builds an appetite for autumn treats from plump donuts to fresh-pressed cider. With apple picking, corn mazes, and Halloween vibes and spooky stories tossed in for good measure, the best mountain towns in the U.S. feel especially welcoming in the fall months.
If you’re in the mood for fall vacation ideas where the vibrant palette of crimson, gold, and pumpkin-colored leaves takes center stage, then pack your sweater and get ready for some high-altitude leaf-peeping. The hotels are cozy and the trees are ablaze with foliage at America’s most scenic mountain towns in the fall.
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1. Bethel, New York
Situated just two hours from New York City and boasting a wide variety of deciduous trees packing a big autumn color punch, The Catskills have long been a popular New York vacation destination for outdoorsy urbanites. And the town of Bethel, one of the area’s historic hamlets, is a cozy-cute starting point for clean lakes, mountain trails, and leaf peeping galore.
Visit on Sundays in the fall for the annual Harvest Festival featuring a farmers’ market, live music, circus performers, and even a tortoise sanctuary. Stay at Kenoza Hall, a lakeside property a few miles from Bethel where you can rent a chic bungalow and enjoy the heated saltwater pool (open until mid-October), family yoga, and complimentary canoes.
2. Park City, Utah
Leaf peeping season in the Wasatch Mountains presents a golden wonderland of aspens with a smattering of reddish scrub oak and red-orange maples. At the center of it all is Park City, a year-round destination that’s a paradise for cyclists in the fall. Mountain bikers can pedal 40 miles of trails at Round Valley Trail System, including paths shaded by a canopy of tall pines.
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For more leisurely fall foliage sightseeing, lace up your hiking boots and walk the 1.6-mile McPolin Farm Nature Trail, an interpretive loop designed to introduce visitors to native plants and wildlife. Stay at the posh St. Regis Deer Valley for an array of activities ranging from guided hikes to cookie decorating to splashing in the year-round pool.
3. Skytop, Pennsylvania
Ringed by Alpine scenery that’s especially brilliant in the fall, Skytop is a bucolic spot to enjoy autumn colors in the Pocono Mountains. Just a few miles north is Promised Land State Park and its hiking trails, two lakes, and wildlife observation station for spotting eagles. An abundance of rich green pines offset the fiery red and orange hues.
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Stay at the spectacular Skytop Lodge nestled among 5,500 acres of woods with waterfalls and wildlife. Nonstop activities and stellar service make this kid-friendly resort one of the most popular in the entire country, while the option to include a meal plan makes it easy to budget your stay similar to other all-inclusive resorts in the U.S.
4. Schroon Lake, New York
In the late 19th century, wealthy industrialists built extravagant lakeside retreats in the Adirondack Mountains. Today, you can immerse in beauty that borders on poetic just as those tycoons once did at Schroon Lake, a tiny hamlet at the northern tip of its namesake lake.
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With a plentitude of rambling paths adorned with a crunchy carpet of fallen leaves, expect solitude on the hiking trails. After dusk, the dark sky provides ideal conditions for celestial observations. And the lake itself begs to be explored by boat. Autumn crowds are thin and often the silence is broken only by the call of the loon. Base yourself at The Lodge at Schroon Lake for a lakefront setting that’s truly gorgeous when autumn leaves are reflected in the clear water.
5. West Dover, Vermont
With a windfall of colorful foliage, fall is breathtaking across Vermont. But in the village of West Dover, the locals are especially committed to maintaining the region’s rural roots, and the result is a pastoral landscape punctuated by covered bridges and brilliant bursts of color. To experience the foliage from on high, ride the Bluebird Express to the summit of ski resort Mount Snow for a panoramic look at Mount Monadnock and the Somerset Reservoir.
Or, take to the Valley Trail on foot or bike—a section of the pedestrian and cyclist pathway is paved in West Dover, making it easy enough even for little cyclists who still use training wheels. Top it off with a romp in Dover Town Park’s playground. Stay at the elegant and inviting Hermitage Inn, where kayaking, archery, and fly-fishing will keep kids busy, while the pocket-sized spa provides parental pampering.
6. Aspen, Colorado
It may be best known as an upscale winter ski destination, but fall foliage season is a beautiful and less expensive time to visit Aspen. The town’s ubiquitous aspen trees present a sweep of yellow leaves against a bluebird sky. Hiking the peaks of Maroon Bells is a local favorite.
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And if you’re looking for weatherproof fun, the Aspen Art Museum has family programming and free admission. At the end of the day, soak in a cerebral vibe at Aspen Meadows Resort, a hotel that’s also home to the Aspen Institute, a prestigious think-tank.
7. Williamstown, Massachusetts
Sprinkled throughout with a patchwork of quaint New England villages, the Berkshire Mountains present painterly scenes with a cornucopia of oak and maple trees tinged scarlet and marmalade. Collegiate Williamstown is home to the Clark Art Institute, where a world-class collection of Impressionist art is surrounded by walking trails and a herd of pastured cows.
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For easy fall hikes with a big visual payoff, Mountain Meadow Preserve is laced with four miles of forest, field, and wetland trails. Top off your visit at The Williams Inn, built with accents of native Berkshire stone and timber and located right in town.
8. Yosemite National Park, California
In the heart of the Sierra Nevada range, Yosemite National Park protects a vast wilderness. Many of the trees are evergreen, but there are enough deciduous varieties (including maples, black oaks, and dogwoods) to thread vibrant notes of red and bronze through a sea of forest green.
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The park is much quieter after Labor Day, making a hike to Carlon Falls and other scenic areas within the park a peaceful proposition. With an outdoor swimming pool and fun family game room, Rush Creek Lodge is located just outside of the park and makes a great base for exploring the national park in fall (read our full review here).
9. Spearfish, South Dakota
In autumn, a hodgepodge of yellow birch and aspen leaves are sprinkled with crimson vines against a landscape of limestone cliffs and foamy waterfalls along the 19-mile Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway in the Black Hills. Mountain goats and deer roam freely here, and it’s just a 75-minute drive to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, where you’ll be wowed by the stone faces of Presidents Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. Commune with nature and fall colors at Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
10. Gorham, New Hampshire
Perched in the shadow of New Hampshire’s towering Presidential Range, Gorham boasts a wide mix of tree species that give great color as the leaves change in the fall. The carriage roads of Gorham’s Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center are bordered with fluffy ferns and crunchy leaves in a rainbow of autumnal hues, a paradise for bikers and hikers.
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Adjacent to the outdoor center, The Glen House offers sweeping alpine vistas from its modern guest rooms. Frosty weather tends to arrive early in this mountain town, though, so pack a warm jacket alongside your hiking boots.
11. Hocking Hills, Ohio
For kaleidoscopic color on a Midwest fall getaway, head to Hocking Hills. Dotted with waterfalls, hemlock-shaded gorges, and natural rock bridges, Hocking Hills State Park is a prime leaf peeping location and a fine spot for getting out in nature on foot or kayak. The skies are largely undisturbed by light pollution and autumn’s early nightfall makes for fine stargazing at a bedtime-friendly hour, too. Elevate your experience and sleep in a treehouse at Among the Trees for an extra close look at the fall colors.
12. Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Blue Ridge Mountains
For small-town charm and scenic fall drives off the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina’s Beech Mountain hits all the right notes as the highest town in the eastern U.S. Take the chair lift up Beech Mountain and glimpse fall color in five states on a clear day. Hike the Emerald Outback and enjoy a myriad of scenic overlooks.
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Oz lovers will want to follow the yellow brick road and join fans of The Wizard of Oz for the annual Autumn at Oz festival; held over three weekends in September, it’s a magical immersion in all things Oz-related. Stay in spacious apartment-style accommodations at 4 Seasons at Beech, conveniently located near hiking trails, cycling routes, and two lakes.