Plan a perfect autumn adventure with these top spots for fall colors—plus, use our foliage map to know exactly when to go.
It’s no secret: We have a national obsession with autumn here in the US. For some, this cozy time of year means breaking out comfy sweaters and pumpkin spice everything. Others are allured by cool foggy nights and Halloween celebrations. Either way, most agree that fall is a beautiful time to be outside, when the leaves take on hues of gold, crimson, and saffron before ultimately falling to the ground. Fall camping is top-tier.
Plenty of people plan trips around fall colors, but because there’s some variation in when leaf colors are at their brightest, timing your leaf-peeping trip can be a challenge. Fortunately, it’s possible to loosely forecast peak fall foliage dates throughout the country to make trip planning easier.
And the Hipcamp data team did just that. We analyzed a variety of factors—think temperature, precipitation, satellite image data, and more—to create a 2023 fall foliage map and predict the optimal times to experience the best fall colors in every part of the US. We then layered that data on top of available tent campsites, RV sites, cabins, and yurts to change the way campers plan leaf-peeping getaways. Simply navigate the fall foliage prediction map to find an area of interest, then use the slider to see what leaves will be like on different dates.
Many factors prompt the leaves of deciduous trees to turn from shades of green to hues of red, orange, and yellow as the season turns, according to Dan Tomko, Hipcamp Lead Data Analyst. While weather plays a part—with the most vibrant hues in areas with warm days and cool nights—it's day length that makes leaves change color before eventually falling to the ground.
As fall approaches, days become shorter and less sunny, prompting chlorophyll production to slow down and eventually stop. At the same time, carotenoids—which are responsible for making things in nature orange or yellow (think carrots)—and anthocyanins, pigments that come in shades of red, blue, and purple, increase as sugars in leaves break down. This happens at different times for different species and naturally varies by latitude and location.
“There are primary cues such as sunlight and temperature,” Tomko says, “but there are other factors to consider when trying to predict peak fall foliage timing: weather conditions during the growing season, tree species, nutrient availability, elevation, and wind. In general, fall colors peak earlier in the north and at high elevations, and tend to peak later in the south and at lower elevations.”
As you’ll see in our map, gorgeous fall foliage can be found all over the country. Here are some of our favorites.
New England is synonymous with fall colors. While the changing hues of trees are a worldwide phenomenon, it's spots in the Northeast like New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine where you’ll find some of the nation’s best fall foliage spots. Although it’s tough to know when fall colors will start, even with foliage reports, you can generally expect things to change by late September or early October, with peak color in mid- to late October. New York state is another great place for fall foliage camping, particularly in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.
If you're planning a leaf-peeping trip, the Smoky Mountains are a great place to go. In Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers exceptional fall foliage, though peak fall colors vary considerably depending on the week. The higher elevations (above 4,000 feet) tend to get fall colors earliest—head to the Blue Ridge Parkway or Clingmans Dome Road to see them. The prettiest displays are at lower elevations—ideal for fall foliage camping—and usually come during the second half of October.
The Pacific Northwest is better known for its evergreen conifers than its deciduous trees, but there are still plenty of spots to catch fall colors in the region. While you’ll be able to see colorful trees throughout this forested region, colors start first in central and eastern Washington and Oregon. These areas also generally have less rainfall than west of the Cascade Mountains, making them ideal for a fall camping trip.
Running along the California-Nevada border, the Eastern Sierra region gets its peak fall colors a little earlier than some of the other parts of the country, and the aspens found in this area often start to change to yellow in September. If you want to experience these vibrant pigments for yourself, consider heading to one of California’s national parks, such as Yosemite or Sequoia, or head up to Mammoth Lakes or Inyo National Forest for a camping trip.
As with the Eastern Sierra, aspens and cottonwoods account for much of the fall colors in Colorado. These trees also change to golden hues early, sometimes before summer is even out. While you should always check our fall color tracker for up-to-date information, you can generally expect to see golden leaves in September. Just be prepared for cold nights, and know that most Rocky Mountain National Park campgrounds close in September. Choose a private Hipcamp nearby instead.
Along with New England, the Midwest is a key destination for fall leaf peeping. While the whole region is ideal for this fall activity, you’ll find some of the prettiest autumn displays in Door County, Wisconsin; in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on Michigan's Upper Peninsula; and around the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.
If you’re worried that you've missed peak fall foliage season, fear not: You can always go to the South, where fall foliage comes in late, particularly at lower elevations. The weather stays pleasant well into fall in much of the South, making it ideal for a late-season camping trip. The region also offers some particularly scenic drives for leaf-peepers, including the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, and Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway.
A fall camping adventure requires preparation, especially if you’re hoping to camp in an area rich with reds, yellows, and oranges. Here are a few things to keep in mind.