Small towns with a big draw
There is nothing quite like leaf-peeping in autumn. A colorful kaleidoscope swirls around you, vibrant leaves crunch beneath your feet, and the unmistakable scent of fall fills the air. Small towns offer unique opportunities to enjoy leaves as they turn to rich shades of red, yellow, orange, and gold against unspoiled, natural backdrops, as well as to experience some other all-American beauty. Each one is as unique as the leaves falling from the trees and makes for the perfect fall getaway. For even more options, check out these easy fall day trips from major U.S. cities.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is one of the most unique vacation spots in the United States, and it’s arguably even more amazing when the brilliant colors of fall are on display. The first thing you need to know: Cars aren’t allowed on the island. Instead, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and walking are the typical modes of transportation, letting you breathe in the beauty of autumn in a truly intimate way. More than 80 percent of the island is a state park, and the rich colors of the forest leaves are reflected on the crystal-blue waters of Lake Huron.
There is perhaps no place better to peep at fall leaves than on the giant front porch of the Victorian-era Grand Hotel, one of the most luxurious and romantic hotels in the country. If you think it looks familiar, you’re not imagining things! The cult-classic Somewhere in Time was filmed there. Here are more U.S. hotels where your favorite movies and TV shows were filmed.
Estes Park, Colorado
Delight in the spectacular colors of fall while exploring the picturesque mountain town of Estes Park in Colorado. To see the majesty of the state’s famous aspen trees as they turn color, take a scenic drive through Trail Ridge Road or Old River Fall Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for elk and bighorn sheep beneath the brilliant canopy of red and gold leaves. Then spend the night with a view of the mountains at the historic Stanley Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted and served as the inspiration for The Shining. If this sounds right up your alley, you’ll definitely want to check out more of the most haunted hotels in America.
Ashland is best known for its Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but this gem of a town also boasts some of the most spectacular fall foliage in the Pacific Northwest. The best place to soak it in is Lithia Park. Located downtown, this 93-acre paradise explodes with red, yellow, orange, and gold each fall. Don’t miss the Japanese Gardens, duck ponds, and hiking trails, which are especially vibrant and photo-worthy this time of year.
Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites is the perfect place to lay your head at the end of the day. The retro-modern decor is fun and attractive, but the real selling point is the hotel’s gorgeous mountain views. You’ll also enjoy some of the best amenities in town, including a swimming pool, tennis courts, and complimentary breakfast. Ashland also made our list of the 25 small towns that are about to become more popular.
Lewiston, New York
If you’re looking for a scenic small town filled with historic delights, you’re in the right place. Lewiston boasts cobblestone streets, homes and churches dating back to the 1800s, and inspiring monuments dedicated to Native American history and the courage of people who escaped slavery. Located on the shores of the Niagara River, it is also a fantastic place to feast your senses on a dazzling array of fall leaves. You won’t want to miss Artpark State Park. In addition to its stunning foliage, Artpark is known for live arts and cultural events, visual art displays, and walking trails.
Lewiston is also known for fantastic restaurants, so be sure to arrive in town with an appetite. If you’re looking for a place to stay, the historic Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa offers amazing views of the river and the leaves, and it’s just minutes from Niagara Falls. Looking for something fabulous a little closer to home? Check out the most gorgeous waterfall in your state.
The small town of Lexington, Virginia, holds equal appeal for nature lovers and history buffs. It makes its home in the Shenandoah Valley Region between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. The visitors center offers complimentary maps of 46 historic sites downtown, as well as a map of grave sites of significant figures laid to rest in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. In the fall, the mountains and trees surrounding Lexington are ablaze with color. They put on a real show if you hike up to Devil’s Marbleyard, but they are just as jaw-droppingly beautiful if you prefer a scenic drive on the Appalachian Parkway.
To experience Lexington at its best, stay the night at The Georges. This restored 200-year-old hotel is famous for its sumptuous and complimentary cooked-to-order breakfasts, luxurious amenities, and impeccable hospitality. Here are more of the best American cities for history buffs.
Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee
Technically a part of Franklin, the tiny Tennessee village of Leiper’s Fork is spectacular in fall. Log cabins and charming storefronts line the streets as you crunch your way across the brightly colored leaves that cover the ground. If you need a rest, have a seat in front of one of the many fire pits scattered throughout the village. For a true treat, take a scenic drive across the Natchez Trace Parkway. This two-lane scenic byway is beautiful any time of year, but this is never more true than when it’s bursting with the colors of fall.
Afterward, indulge yourself in an evening at the Harpeth Hotel in historic downtown Franklin. After a day of leaf-peeping, there’s no better place to relax than in front of the fire in the library of this luxurious hotel. As an added bonus, the Harpeth’s incredible restaurant rivals anything you’ll find in larger cities like nearby Nashville. Concerned about traveling right now? Consider these 14 great socially distanced weekend trips.
Walhalla, North Dakota
The Rendezvous region of North Dakota has everything you need for an amazing fall road trip—rolling hills, spectacular foliage, incredible parks, and rambling rivers. And the small town of Walhalla is the perfect place to experience the best this stunning area has to offer. For a truly amazing perspective, rent a kayak and take in the wildlife and vividly colored leaves as you paddle along the Pembina Gorge. When the sun begins to fade, check into the Cobblestone Inn & Suites in nearby Langdon. The hotel offers road-trip-friendly amenities like guest laundry facilities and a 24-hour convenience store to help you prepare for the next leg of your trip. For more stellar options in other parts of the country, take a look at our list of the 55 best road trips in America.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
The lovely little town of Jim Thorpe is often referred to as the gateway to the Poconos, and it has everything you could want for a fall getaway. Downtown is full of historic architecture, museums, and small-town charm, while the surrounding area is filled with rivers, waterfalls, mountains, hiking trails, and trees that light up with fiery red and blazing orange each fall. For a unique leaf-peeping experience, hop the train and travel along the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, a 70-minute, round-trip ride over parks, bridges, and glens.
Stay the night at the Dolan House. Housed in one of Jim Thorpe’s incredible historic mansions, this elegant bed and breakfast is filled with art and antiques. It’s also conveniently located within walking distance to major historic sites and restaurants downtown. For a glimpse into America’s past, check out these 20 small towns that look like they’re frozen in time.
You can’t get much more photogenic than the small town of Galena in autumn. While it may be famous for its beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings, including the home of Ulysses S. Grant, Galena is gorgeous in every way. It’s located along the banks of the Mississippi River, and there are trees bursting with color everywhere. If you visit, make sure to drive up to Horseshoe Mound to take in breathtaking views of the foliage from up above. As for a place to stay, you can’t go wrong with the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson. If you’re traveling with young children, you’ll appreciate the free breakfast, and the indoor pool with an amazing slide will make you a hero. Don’t miss these other small towns with beautiful architecture.
Littleton, New Hampshire
Nestled between the White Mountains and the Connecticut River, this New Hampshire town is famous for sporting a brilliant array of fall colors every year. There’s no better place to explore the glory of autumn than on the 22-mile network of hand-built trails that surround this charming town. When you’ve had your fill of nature, the historic Thayers Inn combines modern amenities with old-world aesthetics. It’s also within walking distance to most local attractions downtown, where you should make sure to spend a little time searching for treasures at the unique shops. To see more of this gorgeous region, check out our guide to a White Mountains road trip.
Maine is known for its postcard-perfect small towns, and Camden doesn’t disappoint. Located on the shores of Penobscot Bay, this charming community is home to parks, boutiques, incredible seafood restaurants, amazing views, and, of course, stunning fall foliage. Camden Hills State Park is the perfect place to enjoy the vibrant fall leaves. At its highest points, you’ll be treated to sweeping vistas of spectacularly colored trees, as well as the lighthouses and islands down below. Book a room at the Grand Harbor Inn, located on the waterfront with a view of the marina; each room has luxury amenities like jacuzzi tubs, electric fireplaces, and private balconies.
Cashiers, North Carolina
With a population of less than 200, this North Carolina town is small even by small-town standards. However, it delivers big-time when it comes to fall foliage. Often referred to as the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cashiers treats visitors to temperate rainforests, waterfalls, lakes, and stone mountains. Grab your camera and take a low-impact hike up to Silver Run Falls for gorgeous shots of the brilliant fall leaves framing a dramatic waterfall. When you’re all tuckered out, head to the charmingly rustic Laurelwood Inn. Located on four acres of woods, it offers even more opportunities for leaf-peeping right out your window. Here are 25 fun things to do on your next hike (besides hike).
Vail is one of the best ski destinations in the world, but its appeal doesn’t end on the slopes. Located in the Rocky Mountains, this Colorado mainstay’s aspen trees light up with color in the fall. For an experience you’ll never forget, take a ride up Vail’s scenic Gondola One to enjoy gorgeous views of the foliage from up above. The area is also home to incredible restaurants, exquisite shops, and amazing hotels. After a full day of activities, pamper yourself at the Grand Hyatt Vail, where you’ll find global cuisine, an alpine-inspired spa, and even more breathtaking mountain views. If this sounds like your idea of heaven, check out these other majestic mountain towns in America.
The small town of Kent, Connecticut, is full of beauty all year round, but it’s especially gorgeous when the leaves radiate with the dramatic colors of fall. Soak in the sights and smells of autumn at Kent Falls State Park, with its stunning waterfalls, and Bull’s Bridge, a covered wooden bridge surrounded by brightly colored trees. To fully experience the charm of the area, stay the night at the Cozy Inn of Connecticut. This bed and breakfast is aptly named, and it combines antiques and quaint charm with eco-friendly touches like solar facilities and electric-car charges. While you’re in Connecticut, take a detour to the town of Washington and find out why it made our list of the East Coast vacations you need to take at least once.
Bristol, Rhode Island
If your autumn dreams include the smell of leaves mingling with the scent of sea salt, Bristol is calling. The downtown area is charming and filled with historic architecture, antique shops, and galleries, and the trees at Colt State Park burst with fiery reds, yellows, and oranges in fall. The grounds of the incredible 45-room Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, & Arboretum are also spectacular when filled with the vibrant colors of fall. To make the most of your time in Bristol, book a room at William’s Grant Inn. Set in the 1808 home of a sea captain, this lovely inn is within walking distance to many of the shops and restaurants downtown, and a delicious gourmet breakfast is included in your stay.
Fall is so spectacular here, it gets celebrated with an Autumn Glory Festival each year. If you’re not there for this particular weekend of festivities, you can still see your fill of the season’s vibrant hues at Swallow Falls State Park and Deep Creek Lake State Park. During your visit, make sure to leave ample time to explore Oakland’s lovely historic district, and treat yourself to a night at the Inn at Deep Creek, where you’ll enjoy lovely views of fall foliage as well as access to a private beach. Discover the best state park in every state.
If you prefer your leaf-peeping with a cup of fresh-pressed apple cider, Stowe is at your service. This lovely New England town is known for orchards, gorgeous historic architecture, ski slopes, hiking trails, and so much natural beauty that visitors start daydreaming about their next visit as soon as they leave. Stowe is particularly beautiful in fall, when the dense forests surrounding the town explode with rich, vivid color. To fully take it in, drive to the top of Mount Mansfield for sweeping views of the area.
After you’ve had your fill of nature, the Lodge at Spruce Peak offers more spectacular views of the leaves and the mountains, as well as unique amenities like an indoor climbing facility, gondola rides, a zipline, and a full-service spa. Need some extra motivation to book that trip? Take a look at these 20 stunning photos of New England in the fall.
Bar Harbor, Maine
The picture-perfect town of Bar Harbor, Maine, is famous for gorgeous views and charming, colorful architecture. In fall, it’s also famous for dramatically colored fall foliage. There is perhaps no place better to enjoy the spectacular performance of autumn than on top of the stone cliffs of Acadia National Park. Afterward, treat yourself to some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste back in town, then put your feet up at the Bar Harbor Inn. There, you’ll be treated to more views of both the harbor and the fall leaves, as well as homey amenities like fresh-baked cookies and a complimentary breakfast. Here are more of the most beautiful seaside towns in America.
Wish you could get a taste of Europe without leaving the United States? Put away your passport and hop on over to Leavenworth, which was modeled after an old-world Bavarian village. Located in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains, this unique little town in Washington is especially alluring in fall, when the alpine-inspired buildings are surrounded by vivid fall leaves. The area is surrounded by hiking trails for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with nature, but there are also spectacular views right downtown and plenty of places to enjoy them over bratwurst and beer. Leavenworth is also full of charming, whimsical shops, so be sure to build in time to do a little shopping.
If one day isn’t enough, the Enzian Inn has terrific views of the mountains. As an added bonus, it isn’t unusual to catch sight of mountain goats sunning themselves on the hotel’s putting course. Here are another 20 mountain towns that look like they’re straight out of a storybook.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
The shores of Geneva Lake explode with a colorful confetti of leaves every fall, and the small town of Lake Geneva is the perfect place to enjoy the show. Hike around the lake, or for a unique experience, let the color wash over you on a kayak or steamboat ride. While in the area, be sure to check out the many historic Victorian-era mansions that grace the lakeshore. Live the high life for a night at Maxwell Mansion, which dates back to 1856. The grounds are gorgeous, and a cocktail from the Mansion’s Apothecary Bar just adds to the ambiance. These are the most beautiful lakes in America for swimming.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Steeped in beauty and history, this tiny town played key roles in both the Civil War and the abolitionist movement. The streets of Harpers Ferry are lined with museums and historic architecture, and even the parks have a story to tell. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is incredibly beautiful, and the area’s many historic buildings, scenic hiking trails, and monuments make it a must for anyone visiting West Virginia. If you want a few days to explore, Clarion Inn Harpers Ferry offers reasonably priced rooms, a pool, and free breakfast to fuel you up before you head out the next day. For a better understanding of U.S. history, learn about these 12 American landmarks celebrate Black culture.
Park City, Utah
Park City may be best known for skiing and the world-famous Sundance Film Festival, but this lovely little town is also an incredible destination for leaf-peeping. There are numerous trails to explore the fall foliage around town, and if you hike up the Silver Lake Trail to the top of Bald Mountain, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of the sparkling Jordanelle Reservoir ringed with vibrant autumn leaves. The Hotel Park City, Autograph Collection offers still more opportunities to take in the splendor of the leaves as they change color, along with luxurious rooms and free Starbucks coffee to warm you up before you hit the trails the next day. Looking ahead to a winter trip? These are the best places to ski in the U.S. this winter.
Lake Placid, New York
The crystal-blue waters of Mirror Lake are never more beautiful than when they’re reflecting the colors of brilliant autumn leaves. Located in the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid explodes with a cornucopia of color this time of year, but that’s not its only draw. Downtown also happens to be full of charming boutiques and incredible restaurants, so be sure to build time into your schedule to explore them. For stunning vistas, hike up Mount Jo to look down on a colorful tapestry of forest leaves. When the day is through, reward yourself with a luxurious evening at Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa. You’ll find more views of the Adirondacks and the stunning fall foliage surrounding the lake. Sometimes it’s worth planning a trip around a hotel. Case in point: these beautiful lakeside resorts around the world.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The small town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is prized for elegant architecture that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. In autumn, you can add brilliantly colored fall leaves to your reasons to visit this lovely maritime community. Take a harbor cruise to enjoy the specter of fall leaves from the water. Or, if you prefer to do your leaf-peeping on land, the gardens of Prescott Park are particularly alluring right now. You can’t go wrong with a stay at the AC Hotel by Marriott Portsmouth, located right in the heart of downtown.
Looking for outdoor adventure? You’ll find it in spades here. Located in the Rocky Mountains, Whitefish is surrounded by tall, rugged peaks, sparkling lakes, and ancient valleys. In fall, this small town is aglow with the warmth of dazzling fall leaves, as the needles of the larch trees turn a brilliant orange and the aspen trees change to gold. If you drive up Whitefish Mountain, you can view them from above, along with the stunning vistas. At the end of the day, retire to the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, Montana’s only AAA Four Diamond-rated property, with its gorgeous views of the lake, fall foliage, and snow-capped mountains. You’ll want to add these 18 one-of-a-kind adventures to your bucket list.
Skaneateles, New York
The Finger Lakes region of New York has everything a nature lover could hope for—lakes, rivers, waterfalls, ancient canyons carved by glaciers, and, in autumn, a breathtaking tapestry of rich fall foliage. The best place to see the leaves is in the small town of Skaneateles and on the shores of Skaneateles Lake. Colorful leaves dot the shores in lovely contrast with the blue waters of the lake. The Mirbeau Inn & Spa, which looks like a French Country estate, is the perfect way to spoil yourself after a busy day of leaf-peeping. The lush grounds are aglow with fall color, and the rooms are so luxurious, you’ll never want to leave. In case you were wondering, this is the real difference between a pond and a lake.
Woods are right in the name of the tiny town of Woodstock, Vermont, and this lovely place is definitely as advertised. The historic buildings here exist in harmony with the trees, and they bloom into deep, dramatic colors in fall. Be prepared to swoon over the covered bridges, historic mansions, and farmhouses that make their home among 400-year-old hemlock trees. There’s no single best place to see the foliage here—colorful leaves adorn the trees everywhere you look. If you’re staying the night, 506 on the River Inn is located on six gorgeous acres and boasts a rustic yet elegant vibe. Check out these 20 jaw-dropping pictures of the world’s most amazing trees—and then see if you can find something equally amazing in Woodstock.
Cape May, New Jersey
Located on the idyllic shores of the Cape May Peninsula, this New Jersey beach town is known for its impressive Victorian-era homes and lovely views of the sea. In fall, the leaves delight visitors as they change to gorgeous, vivid colors. A trip down the promenade to the picturesque Cape May lighthouse is particularly rewarding this time of year, when colorful fall foliage stands in contrast to the lighthouse. Spend the night at the award-winning and truly exquisite Angel of the Sea, a Victorian-style bed and breakfast where you can enjoy amenities like free bicycles, afternoon tea, and wine and cheese service in the evening. Before you go, brush up on these 46 Victorian-era etiquette tips that need to make a comeback.
Salem is, of course, best known for the gruesome legacy of the Salem witch trials. Despite this history, it’s a gorgeous little town. Salem boasts architecture from the 17th to early 20th centuries, and the buildings are even more picturesque in fall when surrounded by colorful leaves. The Hawthorne Hotel was built in 1807, and the antique-filled building is filled with historic charm. It’s the perfect place to spend the night after spending the day in a town filled with so much history. Did you know that the Salem witch trials may have all started with a bad loaf of bread?
Known for historic architecture, antique shops, and art galleries, Parkville is a worthy excursion any time of year. But in the fall, the trees along the Mississippi River at English Landing Park show off with a brilliant array of colors—and the leaves in town are no less majestic. To make this a truly special getaway, book a room at the Main Street Inn Bed and Breakfast, located in a historic home built in 1885. If you want to explore more of the Mississippi River, check out our guide to driving down the Great River Road.
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