Photo: shawnccf via 123RF

As the weather cools, it’s time to head outside for fun family adventures! Capitalize on the season by taking a cross-country leaf-peeping trip to see the fall colors change. Here’s everything you need to know to plan this memorable trip.

What is Leaf Peeping?

Known affectionately by this name, leaf peeping is essentially a trip to see the colors change on the trees during early to late autumn. You can take this trip and stay in the car the whole time, driving through mountain passes to see the best colors, or plan to get out and hike a bit to experience some of the spectacular views.

Essentials for the Best Trip

Pack the essentials when planning a leaf-peeping trip with the family. Because it’s autumn, temperatures can change quickly, and higher elevations are much colder than down in the city. Wear layers to avoid getting too hot or cold as you’re on the trek. You should also pack plenty of snacks and water. Even if your trip is only a few hours, part of the fun of being immersed in the trees is getting to sit, refuel, and enjoy the view!

Where to See the Best Leaves

Depending on your location and available time for a trip, various destinations offer families a tremendous leaf-peeping opportunity and other nearby attractions. Here are some of the best across the country.

Photo: fesus via 123RF

West and Southwest

If you’d like a vacation that’s an immersive experience, hop on board the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado. You’ll ride the train miners used in the 1880s as you experience the fall colors, wildlife, and waterfalls. You can also explore the town of Durango, which has plenty of shops and museums.

Looking for somewhere with a little more adventure? Head to Aspen, where you’ll find a mountain town surrounded by some of Colorado’s highest peaks. For the best fall colors, Independence Pass offers stunning views and is an excellent driving option. For hikers, head to Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. While you’re there, check out the Aspen Recreation Center and Harvest Party in October.

New England and East Coast

Would you like a trip that offers plenty of variety? Head to Maine, where almost the entire state offers beautiful fall colors. In late September, the northernmost parts of the state start to experience a color change, progressing over a few weeks down south until the end of October. A few favorite spots for families include Camden Hills State Park, where kids can hike the Mount Battle Trail and head to Camden Lighthouse. You can also take a boat tour near Acadia State Park for a memorable leaf-peeping experience. 

For the family who wants lots of hiking options and quintessential scenic drives, head to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the top of the highest peak in the Northeast for some spectacular fall colors in late September and early October.

Later in October, you’ll find the best fall colors further south. Asheville, North Carolina is a family-friendly spot with spectacular colors in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway or hike the Beacon Heights Overlook Trail, which is under a mile. Stop by a local orchard for apple-picking to add to the fun.

Southeast and South

For perhaps the most interesting leaf-peeping journey, head to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and hike the hills with a llama! Smoky Mountain Llama Treks offers families (ages 5+) the chance to guide llamas through private trails while taking in the sights. Make reservations early if you’re going during peak leaf-peeping season!

Ozark National Forest in Arkansas offers over a million acres of mountains and plateaus with stunning colors in mid to late October. Stop by Farmland Adventures nearby for an extended harvest experience where kids can pick pumpkins, visit a petting farm, and take a hayride.

Midwest

The Midwest region offers many family-friendly fall color adventures. Brown County, Indiana has many beautiful trails in the State Park, most suitable for children. After seeing the colors, you can also head to Kelp’s Greenhouse & Pumpkin Patch for more fall fun. Door County, Wisconsin offers bright colors as early as September, so head up north if you’d like to see the first leaves of the season. The many lighthouses in the area make for fun adventures and incredible leaf-peeping vantage points. For a more adventurous trip, head to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and ride the chairlift at Porcupine Mountains Ski Area to reach some of the prettiest views in the state.

No matter where you go leaf-peeping, take a few photos and experience the beauty together in the moment.