As the days grow shorter and the air turns crisp, the beauty of autumn leaves is a sight to behold and a great reason to head out on a family adventure.
Fall is a magical time of year, from the vibrant hues of red and gold to the rustling of leaves underfoot. It's the perfect season for families to get outside and explore the stunning landscapes of America.
Fall is also harvest season, so there are plenty of festivals and events to attend. From apple picking to pumpkin patches, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
In this article, we’ll explore 10 top fun fall leaf-peeping vacation ideas across the U.S. for families.
1. NEW HAMPSHIRE - Kancamagus Highway
The Kancamagus Highway, or the "Kanc" as locals know it, is one of the best spots for fall foliage in the US. This scenic 35-mile stretch of Route 112 winds through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire from Conway to Lincoln, offering stunning views of the colorful autumn landscape with plenty of places to stop and explore on foot or even for a picnic at one of the route’s many waterfalls, like "Sabbaday Falls" or "Rocky Gorge."
Ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway’s 1900-style train cars. The Cog is the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. Just as the original cog train did, the engines push the coach up the slope to the 6,288-foot (1,917-m) summit, one of the Northeast’s highest peaks, for beautiful autumn views as far as New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine.
And take advantage of the cider donuts at places like Moulton Farm in Meredith, where you can also explore the corn maze, pick your pumpkins, and get all things pumpkin, including their whoopie pie.
2. VERMONT – Green Mountain Byway
Vermont wilderness covers 75 percent of the state, and with more maple trees than anywhere else in the region, you'll find the brightest yellows, oranges, and reds.
The Green Mountain Byway is a 71-mile corridor that encircles Vermont’s Green Mountains, including Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, and the famous mountain pass of Smugglers’ Notch.
Visit historic towns and villages like Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and Stowe, one of the most famous ski resorts in the east, which passes through two state forests and three state parks. In Stowe, the ski area gondola offers a bird’s-eye view of the forested slopes and easy access to hiking.
3. NEW YORK - Hudson Valley
Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Hudson Valley, New York. The region stretches along the Hudson River from the tip of Manhattan to Albany. In Ulster County, less than 90 minutes from mid-town Manhattan, lies 250,000 acres encompassing 35 peaks and 350 miles of trails.
You can explore two scenic autumn drives: the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway and the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway, full of brilliant earth tones that emerge from the pines, oaks, maples, and hemlocks.
Walkway Over the Hudson is a pedestrian bridge that spans the Hudson River and provides breathtaking views of the fall foliage. It's an excellent place for a family walk or bike ride.
Minnewaska State Park offers the chance to walk, cycle, rock climb, and hike to a waterfall.
For more fall family fun, Weed Orchards & Winery in Marlboro hosts kid-friendly picking expeditions and a tasting room for the adults. Get cider donuts and hayrides at Hurds Family Farm. Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson has pumpkin patches, corn mazes, a petting farm, and more.
4. PENNSYLVANIA – Route 6 & Scranton
Route 6 in northeastern PA has been called one of America's most scenic drives. This magical and tranquil highway along the Keystone State's northern tier is 400-plus miles of history and heritage, small-town culture, friendly people, and wondrous sights.
At the east end of Route 6 is Scranton (the town in the hit show The Office). The kids will love the Steamtown National Historic Site, where they can become a Steamtown Junior Ranger. Learn about the history of the steam engine and see the giant locomotives that helped expand our nation. Take a fall ride on the rails, from short 30-minute trips exploring the park’s historic railroad yard to full-day trips through the Poconos.
Just north of town, go apple picking at Lakeland Orchard & Cidery and visit Roba Family Farms for pumpkin picking, cider donuts, and slushies.
Then head west on Route 6 to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, Pine Creek Gorge, where gorgeous autumn colors are displayed. The Canyon is nearly 50 miles long and 1,450 feet deep, and some of the best fall views can be found at the East Rim at Leonard Harrison State Park. Stay the night in Wellsboro, exploring the quaint shops and restaurants.
5. NORTH CAROLINA - Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest linear park at 470 miles. Its winding path leads travelers along a scenic byway along the Blue Ridge Mountains, stretching 469 miles between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Known for its stunning foliage display each fall, you’ll find countless opportunities to explore and experience the beauty of the changing season.
Asheville is a great base for exploring. To the north, you’ll find Blowing Rock, where you can explore the Blue Ridge by zip line or drive the mile-high Linn Cove Viaduct for breathtaking views of Grandfather Mountain.
South of Asheville is the Cradle of Forestry in America, another great spot for families along the parkway. Home to the first school of forestry in the nation, the historic site offers visitors educational programs and interpretive displays. Also, visit Brevard and Transylvania County, known as the “Land of Waterfalls,” with over 250 waterfalls, the largest concentration in North America, including Sliding Rock.
6. GEORGIA - Helen
Helen, Georgia, is a small town in northeastern Georgia, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city is known for its Bavarian-style architecture, implemented in the 1960s to boost tourism.
Helen offers a unique experience for visitors during the fall season, from pumpkin patches to scenic hikes. The town's riverwalk is a paved path that follows the Chattahoochee River, stunning during autumn. There’s Oktoberfest, a celebration of German culture that includes live music, food, and beer.
Helen is home to Unicoi State Park, where a nearly five-mile trail leads to the spectacular Ruby Falls waterfall. Whether you make the trek or do the zipline, views of the surrounding color-changing trees abound, making this a great town to visit to get your autumn fix.
Another must-see attraction is the Hardman Farm State Historic Site, which offers tours of the historic mansion and gardens. During the fall season, the farm hosts a variety of events, including a fall festival and a haunted history tour. Additionally, the town hosts a fall leaf art show, a hot air balloon festival, and a fall festival at the Hardman Farm State Historic Site.
7. OHIO – Cuyahoga Valley
Cuyahoga Valley National Park's vivid orange and yellow foliage will stop you in your tracks. The park has a scenic railway, hundreds of miles of trails, and access to the Cuyahoga River to experience the sights at your own pace.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad sells "Explorer" tickets where you can ride the train in one direction and hike, run, bike or paddle back to your starting point, and a collection of interactive family fun rides like Tea Party and Riding with a Ranger.
For families who prefer a more laid-back experience, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has plenty of easy, scenic hiking trails. Then refuel at the iconic 19th-century Frazee House Restaurant located in the village of Peninsula.
You can watch the Brandywine Creek drop over 60 feet to a fall foliage backdrop in nearby Brandywine Falls. And visit Hale Farm & Village. This 19th-century historic village allows families to understand rural life for pioneers of that era.
8. ARKANSAS - Scenic Byway 7
For those looking to experience some of Arkansas's best natural beauty, Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 is a great place to explore. Located in north central Arkansas, Byway 7 is one of the longest byways in the United States and provides travelers with breathtaking mountain views and plenty of fun activities to take part in.
Eureka Springs is an excellent base for your adventure. The two rivers and three lakes surrounding the city are perfect for autumn fishing, kayaking, boating, hiking, and biking. Nearby caves and caverns, like Onyx Cave and Cosmic Cavern, are perfect for exploring. Or experience the exhilarating thrill of a zip line canopy tour in the heart of the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs is perfect in the fall. This 126-year-old hotel is perched on the Ozark Mountains and has become known as America’s most haunted hotel. You can even go on a nightly ghost hunt.
From Eureka Springs, head east about 40 miles to Harrison to pick up Byway 7. Jasper, 20 miles south, is a good turnaround point if you’re in it for a leisurely ride, where you’ll also find the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks. Round trip from Eureka Springs is about 120 miles.
9. MICHIGAN – Upper Peninsula
Families on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can find endless fall fun and adventure.
Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron, Michigan, is the perfect destination for families looking to explore the changing colors of autumn leaves. The island is accessible via ferry from various locations around Michigan. During the fall season, visitors can ride horse-drawn carriages to see the vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow along the shoreline. Don’t miss visiting the historic Fort Mackinac and biking around the island. If you want a unique experience, try apple picking at nearby orchards.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a stunning area along Lake Superior, home to towering sandstone cliffs and crystal-clear waters. Families can hike the trails and take in the sights or take a guided boat tour to appreciate the beauty of this natural wonder truly. For those who prefer a unique experience, try taking a kayak tour to get up close and personal with the rocks and shoreline.
Marquette Mountain ski resort offers various fall activities such as mountain biking, zip lining, and chairlift rides.
10. COLORADO – Rocky Mountain National Park
With stunning natural scenery, charming small towns, and a variety of activities for all ages, Colorado offers a memorable fall experience.
One of the must-see attractions in Colorado during the fall is Rocky Mountain National Park, 90 minutes northwest of Denver. As the largest national park in the state, with more than 100 peaks rising above 11,000 feet in altitude, Rocky Mountain offers endless opportunities for families to explore the great outdoors. Take in the stunning fall colors with hikes along trails like the Bear Lake Trail, or take a scenic drive on Trail Ridge Road, one of the highest continuous paved roads in the United States.
Estes Park, located just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, offers various family activities, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, and fishing. Visitors can also explore the town's many attractions, including the Estes Park Aerial Tramway.
Just 20 miles west of Denver, families can explore the charming mountain towns in Clear Creek County. After the first significant discovery of gold during the Colorado gold rush in Idaho Springs in 1859, eager prospectors flocked to the area fueling the establishment of boom towns. Families can tour the Argo Mill and Tunnel, once the longest mining tunnel in the world, and walk through the original mill. Visit the Phoenix Gold Mine, a still operational mine. Take a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a train chugging from Georgetown to Silver Plume since 1884.
11. CALIFORNIA - Wine Country
California's wine country is incredibly stunning in the fall. With harvest season in full swing, Napa Valley allows visitors to witness and even participate in the grape harvest process. Several wineries, such as Cakebread Cellars and Robert Mondavi Winery, provide tours where visitors can take part in stomping grapes and learning about the wine-making process. If the thought of grapes squishing between your toes isn't your idea of fun, wineries like Frog's Leap offer family-friendly hayrides through their picturesque vineyards.
Winery Tours are fun for everyone. And some wineries even do grape juice tastings for the kids, presented like a wine tasting so they can taste along with their parents. Many wineries are also farms with winery dogs and farm animals the kids will love to see.
But wine-related activities are just some of the things to do in Napa Valley. Families can spend the day hiking in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, known for its redwood trees and scenic views, or kayaking on the Napa River, where wildlife sightings such as bald eagles, river otters, and Great Blue Herons are common.
Fall is a magical time of year; there's no better way to experience it than with a fall leaf-peeping adventure. Whether you're looking for scenic drives, hiking trails, wineries, or historic sites, there's something for everyone on this list. So, grab your family and get lost in nature this fall.
Fall Adventure Awaits!