Best Affordable Fall Foliage Towns
Petersham is a quiet village in Central Massachusetts with all the requirements of a quintessential New England town: central green, main street with 19th-century clapboard houses, white-steepled church, general store. And it’s surrounded by dense forest that explodes into red, orange, and yellow come late September.
What it doesn’t have is tour buses and high prices. Instead, there’s the Inn at Clamber Hill, a five-room bed-and-breakfast where a double room in fall high season runs a reasonable $169.
Related: America's Best Fall Foliage Drives
Petersham is not alone. It’s still possible to find small towns that aren’t crawling with camera-toting gawkers or have outrageously expensive hotels that have hiked up their prices to cash in on the all-too-brief foliage season.
We scoured the country to find some delightful small towns, places where it won’t cost a fortune to spend an autumn weekend. Many of these towns feature small inns or bed-and-breakfasts that offer good value and a central base for your foliage adventures. These are places where you can sit on a porch rocker and breathe the cool country air, and where a filling breakfast sends you out the door for a day of exploration.
Middlesboro, KY, for example, has a historic downtown and is the gateway to the Cumberland Gap. From mid- to late October, the colors peak on the surrounding sugar maples, beech, birch, and basswood trees. And the Cumberland Manor Bed and Breakfast, a grand Victorian home dating from 1890, has double rooms with breakfast that start at just $99.
Even Arizona, better known for its desert climate, offers the tiny aerie of Alpine, set at 8,000 feet and considered the Switzerland of the state. And the area’s colorful aspen and oak trees make a pretty compelling argument. Seclude yourself at the Hannagan Meadow Lodge, set at 9,100 feet in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, where doubles start at $65.
As with every year, some basic color-viewing suggestions can make your fall journey even better. While car touring is the classic way of appreciating the changing season, consider traveling under your own power. Many of these locales offer superb hiking trails and mountain-biking trails. They also offer untrafficked roads in many cases, where you can ride a road bike at your own pace, slow down, stop at farm stands, and really appreciate the colors.
Of course, finding the season’s elusive peak—that annual ritual of predicting color progression and “leaf drop”—is far from an exact science. In general, a succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights (but not frost) is what seems to bring out the most spectacular color displays.
The best thing to do is check out the state tourism boards’ websites for information on how the colors are progressing. But you’d be well advised to book now and to go midweek if you truly want the winding country roads to yourself.
With a charming historic downtown, Middlesboro is close to the Cumberland Gap, which was the gateway to the West for countless pioneers, including Daniel Boone. Two hours south of Lexington, KY, it’s far less crowded than the better-known Great Smoky Mountain National Park. If you want to see peak colors on the sugar maples, beech, birch, and basswood, plan to travel here from mid- to late October.
Fall Color Hotel: The Cumberland Manor Bed and Breakfast is a grand Victorian home dating from 1890 with five guest rooms. Doubles from $99.
Two hours northeast of Atlanta lies Clayton, an old mountain town with a well-preserved main street and an assortment of antiques shops, galleries, and restaurants. It’s a fine base to explore the colorful hardwood trees in adjacent Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in the lush southern Appalachians. You can visit here as late as the last week in October and still find the foliage at peak color.
Fall Color Hotel: The Beechwood Inn in Clayton is in the heart of the scenic Georgia Wine Country and offers special wine dinners. The Inn has seven rooms and one cottage. Doubles from $159.
This artsy town in southern Oregon—a few hours south of Portland—has galleries, ethnic restaurants, and day spas that utilize the Lithia Springs mineral waters. It’s a good combination with the amazing fall foliage, which peaks in mid-October. Hike or mountain bike in the surrounding hills to really appreciate the changing scenery.
Fall Color Hotel: Chanticleer Inn is a six-room bed-and-breakfast with a view of the Cascades. It has a garden, koi pond, and hammock. Doubles from $165.
The Coen brothers chose Brainerd as the setting for their film Fargo, and this town epitomizes much about the northern Midwest. The town fathers claim Paul Bunyan as their own, but for the average leaf peeper, it’s the surrounding lakes and forest that offer the best reason to come here in fall. The foliage tends to peak in late September and early October—the perfect time to take a slow ride around Gull and Round lakes or drive a longer loop on the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway.
Fall Color Hotel: Whiteley Creek Homestead Bed and Breakfast offers two guest rooms and three cottages, all rustic, quirky, and charming, surrounded by organic gardens. Doubles from $95.
A small town with a handful of cafés and restaurants, Alpine is a true getaway from greater Phoenix, which lies five hours west. While you might not think of the Alps and Arizona as related, locals in Alpine tend to equate their town with Switzerland. Given that the surrounding White Mountains are covered with aspen, oak, pine, and fir, it’s not that far-fetched. Alpine is the perfect base for a drive along the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.
Fall Color Hotel: Hannagan Meadow Lodge is set at 9,100 feet in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. There are seven lodge rooms and 10 cabins. Doubles from $65.
Lake Willoughby, VT
Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom—the wildest and least-populated corner of this rural state—may be off the beaten path for Vermont foliage watchers, but it’s no less beautiful than the southern and central part of the state. While there’s no town per se, you’ll find Lake Willoughby, which is flanked by the cliffs of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor and resembles a Norwegian fjord. Hike the mountains or take a canoe onto the deep, glacially formed lake.
Fall Color Hotel: Willough Vale Inn and Cottages has 10 guest rooms and eight cottages on the shores of Lake Willoughby. Ask for the Robert Frost cottage. Doubles from $155.
The Berkshires may be more famous than the rolling hills of Central Massachusetts, but this sleepy area offers timeless towns like Petersham. Just 90 minutes from Boston, Petersham offers a classic New England town green, white clapboard houses, and century-old maple trees, while the surrounding dense forest explodes into reds, oranges, and yellows come late September.
Fall Color Hotel: The Inn at Clamber Hill in Petersham is a five-room bed-and-breakfast surrounded by forest. Doubles from $169.
Alexandria Bay, NY
A classic riverside tourist town on the St. Lawrence River in the heart of the Thousand Islands area, Alexandria Bay sits on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, which follows the shoreline of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence—some 454 miles of two-lane roads perfect for foliage watching. Alexandria Bay has a well-developed downtown of shops and inns; the foliage in the Thousand Islands area peaks in late September.
Fall Color Hotel: The Captain Visger House in Alexandria Bay is a restored Victorian B&B with four guest rooms. Doubles from $189, based on a two-night stay.
Union Dale, PA
Many travelers come here to ski Elk Mountain, but fall foliage season is also prime time, offering some of the most spectacular pastoral landscapes in the East. It’s remarkably quiet here, given that greater New York City lies just three hours away. Union Dale is typical of this area of small towns, rolling hillsides, and family farms. Peak viewing time is usually the first week of October.
Fall Color Hotel: The Stone Bridge Inn and Restaurant is set on 200 acres and has 14 rooms. Doubles from $90.
High above the Connecticut River that separates New Hampshire from neighboring Vermont, Cornish redefines the term bucolic. There’s no town proper, or even a main street—just a handful of villages. And neighboring Mount Ascutney makes for great color viewing. Be sure to cross the Cornish-Windsor bridge into Vermont—the longest covered wooden bridge in the world.
Fall Color Hotel: Chase House Bed and Breakfast in Cornish is a 10–guest room inn that dates back to 1776. Doubles from $165.