There’s something magical about watching nature transition from one season to the next, and the shift from summer greens to the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds of fall is especially stunning. Autumn reminds us that change is imminent — and natural. And while it can be short-lived, there is no season quite as colorful.
Each year, the colors of fall drive leaf-peepers to make their annual pilgrimage to capture and walk among the beautiful maple, aspen, hickory, birch, and beech trees, to name a few. And while New England may be best known for its fall hues, there are small towns all over the U.S. that showcase their autumn best year after year.
From New Mexico and Indiana to New York and Vermont, we’ve curated a list of small towns across the nation that shine when the weather moves toward fall.
Stowe is a tiny town with a big reputation — not only for its ski slopes, which tempt powder hounds year after year, but also for its abundance of sugar maples that come alive in the autumn. With the colors peaking between early September and late October, Stowe makes it easy to hike, bike, or drive through the expanse of fall foliage. If you time it right, you may be able to make the annual Trapp Family Lodge Oktoberfest, which usually takes place in mid-September.
Fall is a thing to be feted in Oakland, which helps host the area’s annual Autumn Glory Festival — a five-day celebration that has been going on for well over 50 years. And once you arrive in this tiny town, you’ll understand why autumn is so celebrated. Oakland’s picturesque downtown sits just south of Swallow Falls State Park, home to crashing waterfalls and plenty of hiking trails where you can walk beneath a canopy of fall colors.
Snowmass Village, Colorado
Just west of Aspen lies the unbelievably beautiful town of Snowmass Village. Sitting at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the village is known for its year-round recreation and ubiquitous aspen trees, which make a stunning (albeit short) shift from fluttering green to bright yellow and orange with hints of red. To get out among the colors, enjoy a backpacking trip to Snowmass Lake or spend the day on Crater Lake trail, which takes you past two beautiful (and in the fall, colorful) high-alpine lakes.
Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico might not be the first place you think of when it comes to fall colors, but the tiny town in the high desert offers visitors just that, in addition to its historic adobe buildings and a rich Native American history. When the temperature begins to cool and the leaves start to shift, hop in your car and take on the 84-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which circles the highest peak in New Mexico and delivers a stunning array of fall foliage.
You might not have heard of Nashville, Indiana (and that’s what makes it so great), but this tiny town has a big fall reputation. Each autumn, between late September and early November, the leaves make their colorful transformation. While you’re in town, visit Brown County State Park, home to nearly 20 miles of colorful, tree-lined roads and a network of hiking and biking trails.
Lake Placid, New York
It would be impossible to curate this list without including Lake Placid, a lakeside village situated in the Adirondack Mountains. Start your journey on the Olympic Trail scenic byway, which passes through Lake Placid and is lined with maple, birch, aspen, oak, and beech trees that welcome visitors with a pop of color.
When you’ve had a proper introduction to the area, hop on the gondola at Whiteface Mountain for a bird’s-eye view of the colors, or rent a kayak and see the yellows, oranges, and reds from the water. The colors in Lake Placid tend to peak between late September and the first couple weeks of October.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is just as well regarded for its quaint streets and water-bound location as it is for its access to Acadia National Park. But what many forget is that the town is also one of the nation’s top leaf-peeping destinations. Every fall, between mid-September and early October, the foliage makes its colorful transition, drawing people from all over the U.S. You can hike Cadillac Mountain, visit the Cranberry Islands, or walk the Shore Path from the town pier among the stunning flora.
Munising is a spectacular destination all year round, thanks to its eye-catching sandstone cliffs that tower over Lake Superior. To see the views, you’ll want to visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but the colorful cliffs are arguably the most stunning in the fall when the shoreline is covered in reds, oranges, and yellows. Walk one of the lakeshore’s many trails, take a boat to Grand Island, or hike to Munising Falls for a blast of cool water paired with vibrant colors.
As you might expect from the destination that acts as the gateway to the expansive Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg isn’t short on views or things to do — an aerial cable car, a ski resort, and a 407-foot observation tower with park views, to name a few.
The autumn season is well celebrated during the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, which runs from mid-September to late November, encompassing the full spectrum of colors, including the peak in mid- to late-October.
Port Townsend, Washington
Port Townsend seems to have it all — a waterfront location on the Olympic Peninsula near Olympic National Park, distant white-capped mountains, and, of course, stunning fall foliage. Walk along the bay, venture to Fort Worden Historical State Park, or make your way to the iconic Point Wilson Lighthouse and enjoy the vibrant fall colors along the way.
Lenox is one of those beautiful East Coast towns with quaint inns and rolling hills that pulls out all the stops come autumn. Nestled in the Berkshires, Lenox is the place to be when the leaves begin their annual shift. Visit the pond and trail system in the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary or hike in the nearby Kennedy Park and watch as the fall colors seem to change in front of your eyes.