West Virginia State capitol on fall day.

The 12 Best Cities To View Fall Foliage

Lauren Nowacki7 minute read
September 14, 2022

Mid-September to early November is often considered the most colorful and vibrant time of year. The kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, golds and browns bring many visitors to cities across the country to engage in leaf peeping – the practice of traveling to various destinations to check out autumn’s brilliant hues.

From the Pacific coast to the Atlantic – and everything in between – we found some of the top (and lesser-known) destinations for taking in the natural beauty of fall. There’s something for every leaf-peeping preference in our list of best cities to view fall foliage – which includes scenic drives below a canopy of colors, peaceful walks through a lively college campus and panoramic views of normally green mountains set ablaze by fiery shades.

Finding The Best Cities To View Fall Foliage

The researchers at BestPlaces.net used the following metrics to determine the best cities in each census region to view fall foliage and the best day to see it in each location. 

  • Square miles of metro area covered in deciduous trees
  • Percent of metro area covered in deciduous trees
  • Freezing temperatures relating to plants (plant hardiness zones)
  • Latitude of metro area
  • Elevation (feet above sea level) 

To ensure we had an eclectic mix of cities from all parts of the country, our list includes the top 3 metro areas of each region of the United States with a population size over 100,000. We also removed cities within 200 miles of a higher-ranking city in the same state.

The Northeast

Autumn in foothills of Appalachian Mountains near State College Pennsylvania.

1. State College, Pennsylvania 

  • Population: 162,385
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 17
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 58.5% 

The top of Mount Nittany in State College greets hikers with stunning views of the city, Penn State University’s campus and a dense forest of bronze oaks and yellow birches, ashes and witch hazel bushes. Down below, PSU’s grounds are full of life and color as campus activities commence and the more than 17,000 campus trees – including the beloved and iconic elms – change hues. Those who come during the peak viewing time may also catch State College’s annual Downtown Fall Festival.

2. Norwich, Connecticut 

  • Population: 265,206
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 15
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 51.4% 

Norwich has long been admired for its natural beauty. Named the “Rose of New England” for its beautiful rolling hills that resemble rose petals, the city is covered with trees and features two rivers that join to form the Thames River. These features make it a prime place for taking in one’s surroundings. Mohegan Park’s vegetation is mostly deciduous forest, turning the park into a multi-colored oasis in the fall. There, visitors can walk along ponds, hike trails, enjoy seasonal pavilion rentals and visit a sprawling rose garden. Another spot for leaf peeping is the Yantic Falls, an historic, 40-foot waterfall surrounded by trees with a pedestrian bridge that offers views of the falls from above.

3. Kingston, New York

  • Population: 177,573
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 10
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 49.6% 

Kingston offers a unique fall perspective aboard the Catskill  Mountain Railroad’s Fall Foliage Adventure train. Running late September through early October, the train takes passengers on a 1-hour, 15-minute train ride through the Catskills to view the vivid fall colors of the mountains. Out of the mountains and into the city, visitors can take a scenic trolley ride through town and along the Hudson River waterfront. Run by The Trolley Museum of New York, the trolley runs on weekends and is open through late October.

The Midwest

Aerial shot of a village with houses and buildings surrounded by trees in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

1. Bloomington, Indiana 

  • Population: 169,230
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 20
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 59.7%

From the Hoosier National Forest to the Dunn Meadow, from nature preserves and wetlands to wineries and urban trails, Bloomington has plenty of ways for visitors to immerse themselves in autumn. And while the colors can be enjoyed up-close and from afar, one of the best and most unique ways to do it in Bloomington is from above. Standing 110 feet tall, the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower is a popular spot to view sunrises, sunsets and gorgeous fall shades over the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. The last lookout tower left in the Hoosier National Forest, the tower was built in 1939 and used to detect fires until the 1970s. Now the public can climb the 133 steps to the top for breathtaking, multicolor views of Monroe County.

2. La Crosse, Wisconsin

  • Population: 136,616
  • Best Day For Viewing: September 27
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 39.3%

Beginning in late September, the trees in La Crosse trade their green hues for striking oranges, yellows and reds – made even more dramatic when reflecting off the Mississippi River or blanketing the city’s ancient bluffs. The colorful leaves can be enjoyed up close at the area’s nearby pumpkin patches, wineries and apple orchards, where visitors enjoy various fall activities, like traversing corn mazes, drinking seasonal crafts and apple picking.

3. Carbondale, Illinois 

  • Population: 123,347
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 24
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 37.2% 

Carbondale is surrounded by numerous parks, nature preserves and lakes to view the changing colors of fall. Just 25 miles away, Shawnee National Forest provides wilderness trails, National Scenic Byways and 280,000 acres of land to explore. Meanwhile, nearby Giant City State Park features more than 75 varieties of trees, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers and 12,000-year-old sandstone bluffs that can be viewed on foot, horseback or kayak.

The South

View of Fall foliage Daniel Boone Park in Charleston West Virginia.

1. Charleston, West Virginia

  • Population: 48,018
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 23
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 81.3% 

Charleston is such a popular place to view the splendor of fall that it can often be found in West Virginia’s leaf map, which features live updates on where the best and brightest leaves can be found. Along with a location, users submit pictures of vibrant trees, from crimson dogwoods to pale yellow hickory and deep brown oaks. One popular place on the map is the historic Sunrise Carriage Trail, a forested trail that’s located near the downtown area and features century-old stone walls imprinted with local leaves.

2. Ashland, Kentucky

  • Population: 349,485
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 22
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 74.3%

Ashland’s Central Park is made up of 47 acres consisting of more than 1,100 trees dressed in autumn tones. The city is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and offers some of the best views of beautiful fall foliage starting mid-October. And less than 10 miles from Ashland is another October fall favorite, the Kenova Pumpkin House, where thousands of hand-carved pumpkins line the famous West Virginia home.

3. Fayetteville, Arkansas

  • Population: 557,741
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 30
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 51.8%

Along with an abundance of parks inside the city, Fayetteville is also a central hub for other state and national parks. The city sits near Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, home to the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, a popular 19-mile stretch of leafy canopy tunnels that engulf cars in bright oranges, reds and yellows. In the heart of the forest is Whitaker’s Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag, which is touted as the most photographed place in Arkansas. Just outside of the forest is Devil’s Den State Park, filled with several hiking trails and some of the first mountain biking trails in Arkansas. As one of the best places to raise a family, Fayetteville is a great place to bring the kids to see the changing colors – especially in late October and early November, during peak foliage season.

The West

Aerial view of snow basin in Utah filled with brilliant fall foliage near Mt. Ogden.

1. Ogden, Utah

  • Population: 683,864
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 21
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 22.1%

Ogden has several trails for hikers, bikers and climbers to check out fall colors. And now, thanks to Visit Ogden, motorists can follow special road trips around the city that are specifically mapped out for the best scenic drives. Leaf peepers may feel more at ease as they check out the scenery, too, as Ogden is also one of the top five least stressed cities in America.

2. Grand Junction, Colorado

  • Population: 154,210
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 22
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 17.1% 

From red rock landscapes to maroon leaves and robust merlots, Grand Junction – also known as Colorado’s Wine Country – features an abundance of different reds in the fall. It’s also less than an hour from the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway and Powderhorn Mountain Resort, which offer sweeping vistas of bright, golden aspen trees from roads, hiking trails and even chairlifts.

3. Bremerton, Washington 

  • Population: 271,473
  • Best Day For Viewing: October 13
  • Percent of Deciduous Tree Coverage: 5.5% 

Located on the Kitsap Peninsula, Bremerton is just a ferry boat ride from downtown Seattle. And while coniferous trees dominate Washington, visitors can still find vibrant colors popping out from the greens at more than 30 parks sprinkled throughout Bremerton. The city is also home to the Elandan Gardens, which feature various types of trees, including colorful bonsai trees. The stunning trees are placed along waterfalls, sculptures and ponds and perfect for photographing.

Methodology: Finding The Best Cities To View Fall Foliage

The research team at BestPlaces.net collected and analyzed the most recent data from a variety of sources which measure the factors regarding which places have the most and best trees for fall color, and the times of the year to plan a getaway to see the colors at their peak. We chose metrics which are as current as possible and as detailed as possible to provide the most relevant insight.

The places analyzed in our best fall foliage study are the 383 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. These 383 metro areas are home to over 85% of all U.S. residents. Metropolitan areas are particularly useful for our rankings because they include not only each area's major cities but also the surrounding counties, small towns and mountain towns, which include forests of beautiful leafy trees.

For this study of the fall color hotspots, we didn’t use weighting. Instead, we searched for the areas with the greatest concentration of deciduous trees, which are the variety which lose their leaves each fall in a flaming riot of crimson and gold.

We also determined the peak times for viewing nature's spectacular fall show by using the area's latitude to measure the effect of increasingly shorter days (which triggers the tree's chemical changes) and the USDA Hardiness Zones which measures the onset of freezing temperatures.

 

Metric

Level

Source

Deciduous tree coverage

Metro

U.S. Forest Service, Tree Canopy Cover dataset, 2016

Percent of deciduous tree coverage

Metro

U.S. Forest Service, Tree Canopy Cover dataset, 2016

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

Metro

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Latitude

Metro

U.S. Geological Survey

Elevation

Metro

U.S. Geological Survey

Lauren Nowacki

Lauren is a Content Editor specializing in personal finance and the mortgage industry. Her writing focuses on reporting the best places to live in the U.S. based on certain interests and lifestyles. She has a B.A. in Communications from Alma College and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.