En español | Fall is a gorgeous time of year across much of the country, with popular destinations drawing crowds of tourists looking to feast their eyes on colorful displays and enjoy crisp autumn weather. But there are also plenty of less-visited areas, from the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan to western Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley, where you can keep your distance during the pandemic while reveling in the seasonal show. Below are nine to consider.
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PHOTO BY: Ruth Peterkin / Alamy Stock Photo
New Paltz, New York
An 80-mile drive north from New York City gets you into the Hudson Valley's Shawangunk Mountains (just call them the Gunks) and the village of New Paltz, with its preserved 17th century homes, farm-to-table eateries (Main Course is a favorite) and all-around inviting ambience. The area is most famous for being home to the Mohonk Mountain House, a resort that sprawls like a Victorian castle above Mohonk Lake, with direct access to the hiking and biking trails in the beautiful 8,000-acre Mohonk Preserve. But if a lakeside cabin or farmhouse is more your style, there are plenty of rentals offered in the area, too. Visit in early to mid-October for gasp-inducing views of the changing red and sugar maple, white ash and yellow birch trees.
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PHOTO BY: Sevierville CVB
For a fall foliage vacation at the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park that's a bit less crowded than nearby Gatlinburg, Dolly Parton's hometown of Sevierville is hard to beat. Take a self-guided driving safari through the riotously colored scenery by following the Douglas Lake Fall Driving Tour: It'll take you down country roads for Smoky Mountain vistas and panoramic lookouts over the lake. The Middle Prong Fall Driving Tour is another favorite in the area: It winds through the foothills of the Smokies, past old barns and over a covered bridge across a roaring river. The area's vast array of vacation rentals include log cabins in the woods and waterfront retreats on Douglas Lake. From mid-October to mid-November are when leaves are at their peak.
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PHOTO BY: Photo ©Tan Yilmaz / Getty Images
Vibrant red maple leaves and thick forests of birch, beech and more blanket Michigan's Upper Peninsula every autumn. On the southern shore of chilly Lake Superior, Marquette, home of Northern Michigan University (about six hours from both Detroit and Chicago), has cool coffee shops, breweries and hiking trails all around. It's also an idyllic base for exploring the scenic sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in nearby Munising. The lakeshore is particularly gorgeous in fall, when the trees atop them appear to be aflame. Pictured Rocks Cruises runs boat tours into mid-October, offering incredible views of waterfalls, the colorful rocks and foliage. Cottages, log cabins and lakefront homes are among the many vacation rentals here, and inexpensive family-run motels and inns also abound in the area.
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PHOTO BY: Ed Callaert / Alamy Stock Photo
Black Mountain, North Carolina
About 15 miles from downtown Asheville and the historic Biltmore Estate, quaint Black Mountain has a welcoming central square where you can sit and relax in rocking chairs (its motto is “the little town that rocks") or visit the many galleries and cafés that spotlight the talent and tastes of southern Appalachia. In fall, especially from mid- to late October, the area is awash in color, so you'll want to stay outdoors: Lake Tomahawk is a favorite picnic spot, and you have lots of choices when it comes to hiking, biking and birding trails. They include the Point Lookout Trail, a paved path that winds for just over 3 miles through Pisgah National Forest. Choose among inns (including a reasonably priced Hampton Inn) and all kinds of vacation rentals — from cozy cabins to palatial hillside homes, many with expansive decks offering views of the glowing mountainsides.
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PHOTO BY: Anna Gorin / Getty Images
By mid-September, the fall colors are usually in full display along Payette Lake in the gorgeous lakeside town of McCall, Idaho, about two hours north of Boise. Spend your days strolling the paved wildlife trails within Ponderosa State Park, on a peninsula in the lake, where you may spot deer. The park has several cabins and camping sites for overnight stays. In town, the Shore Lodge has a smack-dab setting on the lake, with views from rooms with a private balcony. A visit to nearby Burgdorf Hot Springs, where natural mineral waters bubble up in rustic pools originally built by miners in the 1800s, is a must for the most spectacular soak with views of the flaming gold Salmon River Mountains around you. (Rustic cabins are also available to rent on-site.)
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PHOTO BY: Mark Sunderland Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Late September is perfect timing to be in this friendly and exceptionally livable town in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley. About three hours west of Denver, Carbondale is home to independent restaurants, art galleries and a mile-long linear park you can stroll called the Rio Grande ARTway. And if you've never seen autumn sunlight flickering through the delicate leaves of golden aspens, you're in for a treat. One of the prettiest fall drives takes you south from Carbondale along a portion of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway (Highway 133), where you can detour in tiny Redstone for ice cream at the general store in the historic district. Then carry on to Marble for a barbecue lunch at Slow Groovin. Browse online for vacation rentals in the Crystal River Valley area. Or stay in a rustic cabin at Avalanche Ranch & Hot Springs, where you can soak in its hot spring pools (you can also buy a day pass if you are staying elsewhere).
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PHOTO BY: VisitHermann.com
About 1.5 hours (80 miles) west of St. Louis, the small town of Hermann — settled by German immigrants in 1837 — looks like it came straight from a storybook, with a historic district full of brick buildings and a placid waterfront setting along the Missouri River. You'll find distilleries and breweries, as well as six wineries along the Hermann Wine Trail, which glows with autumn colors come fall (mid-October is peak foliage time), as it follows the Missouri River for 20 miles between Hermann and New Haven. There are also many options for scenic walks, including the Daniel Boone Conservation Area, about 15 minutes from town. Among the area's inns and bed-and-breakfasts, the Cottage is probably most unique: It's “a bed-and-breakfast with altitude” that has three private tree house accommodations for overnight stays.
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PHOTO BY: Jon Lovette / Alamy Stock Photo
At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and less than an hour from busy Washington, D.C., the tiny town of Middleburg is at the heart of Virginia horse and hunt country — an idyllic area for enjoying the mid-Atlantic's fiery foliage. Drive along country roads and visit bucolic vineyards for wine tastings. Stroll the trails at the 34-acre Salamander Resort & Spa (you don't need to stay at the luxury spot to explore its grounds) or Whitney State Forest in nearby Warrenton. Vacation rentals include farmhouses, quaint cottages and cabins, or you can go seriously upscale: Two options are Middleburg's historic Red Fox Inn & Tavern, established in 1728, and Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, where seasonal menus pull from the inn's farm and you can stay in a private cottage on the 265-acre estate.
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