Road trips that weave through forests of scarlet, orange and gold are a popular way to experience fall foliage. But why admire this colorful show by Mother Nature from behind the window of your car when you can truly immerse yourself in it?
Go from passive observer to active participant: Step out of the car and journey into the woods to experience this seasonal spectacle in a much more intimate way. One of the biggest benefits is that all your senses will be activated when you ditch the car for a multisensory adventure in nature. Hear the rustle of the leaves. Feel the crisp breeze. Smell the fragrances of a forest in seasonal transition. See the dazzling colors that only come with this time of year.
Here are some ideas for leaf-peeping adventures on the ground, on the water, and in the air. Although we’ve highlighted a handful of specific destinations for each, many of the activities mentioned can be done anywhere fall foliage unfolds.
Lace up the hiking boots. Without a doubt, this is the most popular way to immerse yourself in the kaleidoscope of color that comes with autumn. Feel the fresh air against the skin and crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet as you meander the more than 150 miles of trails at Acadia National Park in Maine or the more than 60 miles of trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. Add some camping into the itinerary for a truly immersive experience.
Let a horse do the “walking” for you. Saddle up and go horseback riding along the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Asheville, NC. The Biltmore Equestrian Center offers horseback and carriage rides that allow you to experience the mountains and its spectacular fall foliage without tiring out the feet.
Roam on two wheels. For a more energetic journey, bike through beautiful forests exploding in color. Vermont is a favorite setting for a fall foliage bike ride—whether it is just for a few hours or over a few days. The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT, features an expansive network of mountain bike trails that wind through mountains, fields, and forests. Rent a bike, take a lesson, or hire a local guide to help show you the most stunning trails and sights.
CRANBERRY BOG TOUR
Visit the bright red cranberry bogs of New England while they are framed by vibrant trees and a bright-blue sky. From mid-September through fall, it’s harvest time across Cape Cod’s most famous cranberry bogs. Join a tour to experience this beautiful fall setting—and take some cranberries home as a tasty souvenir for your next meal.
Pair your leaf peeping with some vino. Winery tours in the Finger Lakes of New York are popular come October, especially with those looking to escape the nearby urban enclaves of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The wine trails that weave around Cayuga, Keuka, Canandaigua, and Seneca lakes are nestled amidst forested shorelines that burst with color come fall. Soak it up while sipping on the region’s finest Rieslings and Gewurztraminers.
Harvest apples from the trees while surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of autumn. Apple orchards and cider mills across Michigan welcome visitors to come experience this seasonal activity. The warm donuts and fresh cider typically served in these settings are an added perk.
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES
Enjoy vibrant landscape views as far as the eye can see while rising high… higher… and higher in a hot air balloon. It’s a serenely mesmerizing, not to mention romantic, way to experience the panorama of color. Catch a flight over the Green Mountains of Vermont with Above Reality Hot Air Balloons; or be dazzled by the rolling hills and farmland in Bucks County, PA, by booking a ride with the US Hot Air Balloon Team.
ZIPLINE CANOPY TOURS
Coast high amidst—and sometimes high above—the colorful treetops. Zipline parks have been sprouting up all over the country in the last decade, providing an exhilarating vantage point from which to admire the changing landscape below. Soar like a bird at one of New England’s zipline parks, or strap up in Branson, MO, for a zipline adventure in the Ozark Mountains.
Add an adrenaline rush to your leaf peeping with a tandem hang-gliding flight with a professional pilot. Morningside Flight Park offers introductory lessons out of Charlestown, NH, not far from the spectacular White Mountain National Forest. You’ll fly 2,000 feet above the Connecticut River Valley—an incredible sight in fall for those willing to brave the heights.
Sign up for a rock-climbing adventure. The effort you put into the climb will be rewarded with amazing fall foliage views from the summit. Boone, NC, has been praised by rock-climbing enthusiasts as being one of the best climbing towns on the East coast, with its climbing locations at area parks and gorges offering incredible access into the Appalachians. Local outfitters such as Rock Dimensions offer guided half- and full-day clinics for beginners and experts.
Paddle across a serene lake framed by a shoreline bursting in fall colors—and do it so quietly that you can hear the wind tickle the leaves of nearby trees. Long Pond is a favorite in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire. It’s a beautiful lake ringed by an undeveloped shoreline of forested hills and is home to unspoiled islands that beg for exploring. Saranac Lake in New York’s Adirondacks is another spectacular setting for paddling in autumn months. Its St. Regis Canoe Area is the only designated canoe area in the state.
STAND-UP PADDLING BOARDING
Instead of sitting to row, row, row your boat… try it standing up. Stand-up paddling boarding, or SUP for short, is another way to marvel at the fall foliage from the water. Experience it on the Tennessee River Blueway, a 50-mile stretch of river trail where a habitat of more than 1,000 varieties of trees, plants, grasses, and flowers deliver spectacular shades in fall. Access it from Chattanooga, where local SUP outfitters can also guide you to the Tennessee River Gorge, known as “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon.”
Fish lakes and streams framed by dramatic fall foliage. Autumn brings relief from summer heat and ushers in refreshing afternoon breezes—optimal weather for any aspiring fisherman or fisherwoman. Not to mention, these bodies of water tend to be less crowded in fall. From mid-September into October, Moosehead Lake in Maine is home to trout and salmon as they feast and spawn ahead of the incoming snow and ice. Just be warned: The colorful views that surround this massive mountain lake might distract you from the bites on your line.
FALL FOLIAGE CRUISES
Wrap your hands around a warm cup of coffee or hot apple cider while enjoying brilliant fall colors from the open-air deck of a boat. New England fall foliage cruises sail in September and October from harbors, rivers, and lakes throughout the region. Many even depart from cities like New York and Boston for day sailings into the Hudson Valley and out to the Boston Harbor Islands, respectively. Those who opt for a multi-night experience with a major cruise line, however, will be rewarded: In addition to spectacular leaf-peeping opportunities as these ships sail from port to port, you’ll have ample opportunity to explore cute harbor towns like Portland and Bar Harbor, home to fascinating maritime history and fresh seafood.