The Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan
When Late September/Early October
If you’re lucky enough to have already seen the annual display in the upper Great Lakes, you already know that it’s almost impossible to improve upon. If you’ve done one better and made the day-long drive from pretty much anywhere to the Keweenaw, a pre-historic lava flow pouring far into Lake Superior and up toward the same latitude as Seattle, you’re not even reading this because you’re probably already back up there, having the time of your life. For everyone else: This is, quite simply, as good as fall gets. Far too remote for the usual casual foliage voyeur tourism, the peninsula’s rugged coastline, deep forests and near-magical hiking trails belong to the motivated few who manage to make the journey in the short space between summer and the region’s punishing winters. Check into the Eagle River Inn, with simple, Scandinavian-inspired rooms and full-on lake views. At ground level, you’ll find the region’s best restaurant, the relaxed, fun Fitzgerald’s, offering great smoked meats and a world-class beer list.
San Juan Skyway Colorado
When Early October
From ye olde Durango to the glamour of Telluride and a bajillion acres of pristine preserved lands, not to mention the ancient ruins of Mesa Verde National Park, this six-hour drive offers a great introduction to what makes Colorado’s southwest so unbelievably captivating. Prefer to let someone else do the driving? Climb aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which runs along a 42-mile scenic route throughout the month of October. (Upgrade to their Presidential Class, housed in a restored parlor car dating back to the 1880s.) For something slightly less sedate, Soaring Treetop Adventures near Durango will have you whistling through old growth pines and golden groves of Aspens on nearly thirty different zip lines. Then again, you could also just skip all of the running around and opt instead to enjoy the fall display from the confines of Dunton Hot Springs, an exclusive all-inclusive with luxe, cabin-style accommodations in a restored ghost town.
When Early October
Those who live within day-tripping distance eventually make it out to West Virginia’s dramatic Seneca Rocks, but fewer make the drive up the state’s highest mountain—Spruce Knob, rising to nearly 5,000 feet above sea level—and fewer still make it into the adjacent and vast Dolly Sods Wilderness, where a handful of remote roads (not all of them paved) link you to some of the East’s greatest—and most underappreciated—outdoors. Hiking along, say, an upper-elevation bog that feels more like Canada than any other place this far south, you’d be excused if you forgot that you were only a couple hours’ drive from the hubbub of the Northeast Corridor. Stay in the tiny Canaan Valley (itself a fine fall destination) town of Davis at the Bright Morning Inn, renowned for hearty, hiker-friendly breakfasts.
Canoe Bay Resort Wisconsin
When Early to Mid October
A couple of hours from the Twin Cities and along a secluded country road near absolutely nothing, you’ll find the Midwest’s best small resort, set amid 300 acres of private preserved lands along idyllic Lake Wahdoon. Canoe Bay’s early days as a youth camp are far behind it—today, the Relais & Chateaux member hotel is an exclusive, no-kids-please, couples retreat renowned for cocoon-like accommodations, ranging from traditional lodge rooms to the Prairie-influenced villa, Edgewood, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé John Rattenbury. From the wooden boxes in which complimentary breakfasts appear to meditative walking paths to tiny design details in your cottage, everything at Canoe Bay appears to have been obsessed over, and it has—this extends to nightly prix-fixe dinners, emphasizing local and seasonal ingredients. (There is an actual dining room, but you’ll be forgiven if you prefer to stay in your quarters, where dinner will be cheerfully delivered, upon request.)
Victoria British Columbia
When Mid October
If you’re looking for a kind of fall you’ve never experienced before, look no further than the coastal Northwest, where the return of the rains means the greens only get greener, while stands of deciduous stock provide pops of colorful contrast. There’s still plenty of blue sky, and temperatures remain mild, at least for now. In the land of the Northwest, only a fool would argue that Vancouver Island is not king—fall is no exception. Color-wise, you will find more quantity elsewhere, but the riotous seasonal display at Victoria’s busy (but so very worth it) Butchart Gardens, tastings at the Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse in nearby Saanichton, a brisk morning walk along the city’s Waterfront Trail (with awe-inducing views of Washington’s Olympic Mountains) and some of the continent’s finest fish and chips al fresco on the Inner Harbour at Red Fish, Blue Fish, all add up to a fall day you won’t soon forget.
Finger Lakes New York
When Mid to Late October
From classic cute in Skaneateles to the drama of Letchworth Gorge, there’s really no way to or no place to do any season incorrectly in this scenic Central New York region. And for first-timers, that’s often a problem. Where to begin? Well, it’s October, so besides appreciating the colors (and they are everywhere), you’re celebrating harvest season alongside the region’s wineries, renowned for some of the most expertly-crafted Riesling wines in the world. A two-hour tour west of Seneca Lake brings you straight to the best. Start with the pioneering Hermann J. Wiemer and Dr. Konstantin Frank, then move on to Ravines Cellars and Anthony Road, two more wineries with top-rated Rieslings. Post up at the smart Black Sheep Inn and Spa, housed in a renovated octagonal home in the charming lakeside town of Hammondsport, located along your route.
Eastern Sierras California
When Late October
Any seasoned Californian can tell you: Fall happens here. Depending on where you are in the state, it can be extraordinarily subtle, but it definitely happens. As with winter, to experience the season at its best, you will likely need to leave the coastline—and what’s more California than an epic road trip? Highway 395 delivers you from Los Angeles, carries you on through the Mojave Desert and up into the remote and magical Eastern Sierras, where the likes of June Lake and Rock Creek Canyon, not far from the ski resort of Mammoth(and just out the back entrance of Yosemite National Park, which offers its own display, if you make it in time) offer postcard-worthy fall moments that could convert even the most ardent autumn traditionalist.
When Late October
Let the unwitting crowds line up for a chance to drive those world-famous routes in Vermont. New England’s littlest state is where in-the-know peepers can be found, taking in a fairly impressive annual display. From the classic charm of the Brown University campus to the tree-lined streets of its Providence locale (College Hill is one of the most architecturally-satisfying neighborhoods in any East Coast city) and on over to the idyllic eastern reaches of Newport, where you’ll find vineyards, orchards, farm stands (Sweetberry Farm is terrific) and one of New England’s best coastal walks at Sachuest Point, Rhode Island in fall offers all the charm you could ask for with almost none of the crowds you were expecting.
Texas Hill Country
When Early to Mid November
Bursts of leafy brilliance, clear blue skies, great local wines and crisp but not cold temperatures in November, when most of the country is already brown and bare, make this idyllic patch of the Lone Star State a must for true fall aficionados. Located within day-tripping distance of Austin and San Antonio, the region’s state parks are your first stop, from the extremely popular Lost Maples State Natural Area to the peaceful hiking trails at Guadalupe River State Park, where the banks flare up beautifully in November and it can still be warm enough in the afternoons for some barefoot rock hopping. The region is known for its quaint bed and breakfasts, but aviation geeks will covet a room at the Hangar Hotel, looking directly out to the county airport in Fredericksburg, the prime spot for getting a bead on the Hill Country’s German heritage.
Natchez Trace Parkway
When Mid November
For centuries a superhighway of sorts linking numerous Native American settlements and later a vital land link between civilization and the thriving ports in Louisiana and Mississippi, each of the 444 miles of this winding memorial road feels historic. In the fall, the Trace is known as one of the South’s most colorful drives, where hickory and cypress mix it up with maple and oak for a unique and memorable drive. This late in the season, the drive between Tupelo and Natchez is one of the best. Along the way, stop off in the state capital of Jackson for oysters and craft brews at the smart Saltine before browsing the stacks at Lemuria, a thriving indie bookshop.
Booking a trip?
If you’re looking for the lowest airfares to your next destination, start by noodling around on CheapFlights or BookingBuddy—both will compare multiple sites at once, saving you a lot of running around. When you’re ready to book, we recommend Orbitz or Expedia—both offer 24-hour cancellation policies, allowing you to lock in the lowest fare while you finalize your plans. (As always, read the fine print first.) Just on here looking for hotel deals? Start by searching TripAdvisor, or Hotels.com, but don’t book anything without a stop at Priceline, where you can save up to 60% on any given night by taking advantage of their Express Deals feature. (This simple tool has probably saved us—no joke—thousands of dollars, over the years.). Finally, if you need a rental car, begin your search by swinging wide to get a sense of the market—BookingBuddy lets you check pretty much every site worth knowing, with just a couple of clicks.