10 Fall Foliage Destinations That Aren't on Your Radar, But Should Be
The quintessential fall destinations are beautiful, but they’re also not going anywhere. Sleepy New England towns and autumnal drives in the Catskills are a treat, of course, but there are plenty of underrated fall destinations vying for your leaf-peeping attention. So why not save your Vermont excursion for next year, and instead plan an unconventional autumnal escape?
Fall is shoulder season for a lot of gorgeous national parks around the world, which makes September to November the perfect time to visit.The summer crowds have cleared out, which means you’ll have some of these foliage destinations all to yourself. The air is cooling off, but you don’t need a heavy down jacket yet, nor do you have to worry about your extremities freezing on a hike.
Picture this: Leaf-peeping galore, autumnal flavors at local restaurants, and inviting towns you’ve never been to before painted brilliantly gold, red, and yellow. Sounds like the perfect October vacation to me. Here are 10 unexpected foliage destinations for travelers looking for a new adventure this fall.
October brings stunning colors to Mont Tremblant, but it’s nice and quiet during the calm before ski season. Locals refer to the fall as “les couleurs” (which means “the colors” in French) because the autumnal views are so impressive. You can take the Mont Tremblant gondola if you want to summit without hiking the steep mountains, or you can zipline through the Tremblant foliage.
Hraunfossar Falls: Iceland
Iceland is the land of waterfalls, but Hraunfossar takes it one step further: lava falls. Situated in West Iceland, the lava falls are a spectacle you won’t come across too often. Water flows down lava rocks, and in autumn, the falls are surrounded by lush foliage. The vegetation around the lava rocks lights up with reds, yellows, and golds, making it an unusual and unexpected leaf-peeping destination.
The foliage season in Kyoto lasts nearly two months — mid-October to mid-December — with the true peak around November 15. Experiencing the leaves turning on the maple trees that flank the temples of Kyoto is well worth the journey. Explore the gardens of Ginkaku-ji Temple and amble through the expansive Imperial Palace Park. Kyoto, a World's Best Awards winner, is calmer in the fall than it is during cherry blossom season, but it still commands quite a crowd. For an off-the-beaten path foliage view, take the train to Kurama, a nearby mountain village.
Plitvice Lakes National Park: Croatia
The roaring waterfalls of Plitvice contrasted with foliage-laden trees is a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Leaf-peeping starts in September in Plitvice Lakes National Park, but you’ll have the hiking trails mostly to yourself because the summer crowds have thinned by fall. The park is divided into the Upper and Lower Lakes, but both have rich foliage and awe-inspiring lakes. Plitvice is about two hours from Zagreb, though you can stay right in the park.
Banff National Park: Canada
The splendor of the Canadian Rockies is showcased perfectly at Banff National Park, which is the third oldest national park in the world. Try an overnight horseback ride through the foliage-filled Rockies, or take the Vermillion Lakes Drive to see the gold larch trees. From the out-of-this-world sunrises over the autumnal vistas to the vibrant lakes, Banff scenery is otherworldly.
Snowdonia is a mountainous region in North Wales and home to Snowdonia National Park and Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. You can take in the foliage from the 1,500 miles of hiking trails through Snowdonia. For unforgettable leaf-peeping, stroll around Glynllifon Park and visit Lake Bala, the largest lake in Wales.
Denali National Park: Alaska
Visiting Denali in the off-season means there’s no public transportation around the park. You’ll have to drive, and will likely want to go earlier in the season to avoid the snow. Though, if you go later in the fall, you’ll be right in aurora borealis territory. There are tons of hiking options, or you can drive 30 miles out of the park all the way to the Teklanika River. The snow capped mountains juxtapose the turning autumn leaves that light up the park with amber, gold, and red.
The foliage in Germany is not to be overlooked. There are 100 nature parks in the country, and Franconia, just north of Nuremberg, is one of the best places to take in the rustic German landscapes. Franconia is filled with mystical castles, forests thick with foliage, and bright blue rivers. You can travel through the foliage and the small cities in Franconia on the Romantic Road — yes, that’s really what it’s called — then stay in Nuremberg or in the Wurzburg wine region.
North Lake Tahoe: Nevada
Fall is the “secret season” of North Lake Tahoe, and Reno has done so much to reinvent itself as a Northwestern destination. Hike the the Flume Trail for majestic views of towering aspen trees tinged with gold set against the glowing blue of Lake Tahoe.
Glacier National Park: Montana
Glacier is serenely beautiful in the fall. It’s the season where you’re most likely to see wildlife because the animals are out preparing for winter—proceed with caution on your hikes. For drive-by leaf-peeping, take Highway 2 along the southern edge of the park, where you’ll see the famed larch trees turn bright gold. You can camp inside the park, and while camping reservations aren’t possible after Labor Day, the campgrounds typically have space in the fall.