If ever there were a time to go out leaf-peeping, 2020 is the year. With the lot of us stir-crazy from months of cabin fever, a beautiful scenic drive to take in the natural beauty of the landscape could be just what the doctor (or therapist) ordered.
Not only will we be able to enjoy the rusty colors of the forest canopy in fall and the crisp air pouring through the car windows, but we can do it with no special effort to social distance or address any of the other COVID trappings that have become commonplace this year.
The autumn leaves are an annual event that people have long appreciated. They are one of the remarkable moments in the natural world that can remind us of just how amazing the planet and its cycles are.
Lucky for us, the temperate climate is the place to bear witness to fall foliage, and the United States has some of the premier spots for leaf-peeping.
1. White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire
Source: White Mountains TV/Youtube
The White Mountains of New Hampshire has global acclaim amongst leaf lushes, and every year from late September into October, the forests there dazzle with autumn hues. Cherries, maples, oaks, birches, aspens, ash, and alder put on a speckled display of colors across the landscape. This site makes all the lists, and there are several great car routes for taking in the leaves.
2. Upper Peninsula in Michigan
Things get cold early in Michigan, so this is a spot best visited in September if it’s fall foliage you are after. At least if you are looking for it to still be on the trees. The UP is considered one of the top spots for leaf-peeping in the US, and even better, the colors in the trees are often reflected in the surrounding lakes for a second round of appreciation.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
The high elevation and rugged wilderness of the Colorado Rockies is spectacular throughout the year, but autumn brings its own special brand of beauty as the aspens yellow out against blue skies and neighboring evergreens. For those who will brave driving the steep mountain roads, there is a collection of lovely scenic drives from which to enjoy the autumn colors.
4. Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina
Surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway through much of North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest is massive and a pinnacle for appreciating the Blue Ridge Mountains and other Appalachian mountain ranges. With Asheville as a trendy base, or any number of quaint mountain towns around Western North Carolina, this area is a national treasure for outdoors lovers. October is the peak time for leaf-viewing on the peaks.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee
Geared for the thousands upon thousands of visitors it receives each year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park works just as well without stops into tourist mainstays like Dollywood and Gatlinburg. After all, the real reason for visiting the park is to enjoy the forests, mountains, streams, and waterfalls. This autumn is a great time for remembering that and taking advantage.
6. Zion National Park in Utah
The national parks in Southern Utah—Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands—are usually associated with aridity and desert rock formations. However, when we imagine that contrasted with fall foliage, well, that just ups the ante, doesn’t it? Zion National Park might be the best of the collection for leaf-peeping. Check out Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway while in the area.
7. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in New Mexico
New Mexico definitely has the reputation of being a desolate desert, but there is a lot of nature and forest to encounter in the state. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway near Taos is a, no doubt, enchanted place for enjoying autumn leaves. It’s an 83-mile loop that explores towering peaks, plunging valleys, and sprawling mesas, all dotted with long-standing settlements and stunning forests.
8. Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania
Source: Travel To Blank/Youtube
There are over 125 different species of trees in the Pocono Mountains, and there are three different regions—Northern, Central, Southern—from which to view them. Each region peaks at a slightly different time over the course of about a month from late September to late October. There are lots of small mountain towns to cruise through while in route to leaves.
9. The Ozarks in Missouri
Encompassing much of southern Missouri and pushing into northern Arkansas, the Ozarks are beloved for their natural splendor, and the fall only brings out these splendid qualities even more. Lake of the Ozarks, thought of as more of a summer destination, gets top billing amongst Missouri’s (and the US’s) many impressive fall foliage vistas.
10. Columbia River Gorge in Oregon
While 2020 unfortunately is not the year for autumn leaves in Oregon, hopefully, the Columbia River Gorge. There are two beautiful drives, Evergreen Highway on the Washington state side and Historic Columbia River Highway on the Oregon side. Between the two roads, there are hundreds of miles to explore and hours of entertainment.
In no way does the list encapsulate all of the great spots across the nation to enjoy autumn leaves, but we have to start somewhere. Why not start at the top spots for leaf-peeping and see where we go from there?
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- Planting Trees in the Fall: How, When, Which, and Why You Should!
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