Oregon – Willamette National Forest
The signature trees of the Cascades are evergreens—red cedars and Doug-firs on the western slopes, ponderosa pines on the drier east slopes. Fall makes its mark here in lovely ways: pockets of vine maples erupt into deep red, and huckleberry shrubs turn a wine-red and sprout delicious blue fruit.
Snowcapped volcanoes and the impressive sights of Broken Top Mountain and the Three Sisters make this trip worth your time. Don’t forget to dip your feet into Clear Lake and stop by one of many lava fields that litter the landscape of the Cascades.
Arizona – Coconino National Forest
Crisp fall weather and glorious foliage isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Arizona. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what you’ll find in north-central Arizona’s Coconino National Forest. Much of Coconino is high-elevation – the peaks top out at 12,100 feet, and a lot of the land is atop the lofty Mogollon and Coconino Plateaus.
Changing leaves herald fall’s coming as early as mid-September. The gold rush begins on the higher slopes of the forest’s volcanic highlands as the aspen leaves change to amber while summer is still in the air. The climax of this parade of color generally occurs around the second week of October, but remnants of reds, oranges, and yellows linger in the canyons as late as mid-November.
Wisconsin – Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
Preserving large swaths of Wisconsin’s north woods, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is as good as it gets in the Midwest come autumn. Gold, scarlet, and auburn leaves make a mosaic of rich colors heralding seasonal change. A drive through the countryside will have you rolling past farm stands selling pumpkins and other fall produce.
Both units of the forest offer recreational activities, from hiking to mellow canoeing to outstanding mountain biking. The westerly Chequamegon unit also hosts a major-league mountain-biking festival, the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, in mid-September. Don’t miss standing atop the Penokee Overlook for a vista of the fall glories. With the Peshtigo, Brule, Pine, and Popple Rivers, the Nicolet is a magnet for canoeists and fishers.
Missouri – Mark Twain National Forest
Noted for its beautiful scenic qualities, Mark Twain National Forest lies mostly within the Ozark Plateau. It’s dotted with remnant hills from one of the country’s oldest mountains, the Ozarks. Landscapes here range from gently rolling plains to heavily dissected areas with deep sinuous valleys containing clear, cool, spring-fed rivers and streams. Exposed rock and open glades add visual interest in many areas, and the fall color is vivid – the oaks, sweetgum, and sugar maple put on a show of yellow, orange, and red.
To catch the peak foliage show, plan on arriving between mid-October and early November. You can take it in from a number of scenic drives through the forest. Off the roadways, there are more than 700 miles of trails in the forest. Fourteen floatable streams and 16 lakes, from three to 440 acres await you.
North Carolina – Pisgah National Forest
The northern forests of New England and the Midwest may get most of the fall-foliage hype, but south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the Blue Ridge puts on a vibrant show of its own. Come October, few places are more inviting than the deeply wrinkled topography around Asheville, North Carolina, most of which lies within the borders of Pisgah National Forest.
Crisp fall weather brings every shade of gold, red, and auburn to Pisgah’s “cove forests,” the mixed-hardwood glories of the southern Appalachians. There’s no better vantage on all this splendor than the hundred miles of Blue Ridge Parkway that wind through Pisgah’s highlands, and the falling temperatures make the forest’s bounty of footpaths, fat-tire bike trails, horse trails, two-lane cycling routes, and paddling waters all the more inviting. Just remember: If you want to tour the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall, have your camping or lodging reservations made long in advance.
Vermont – Green Mountain National Forest
Only when the rhythm of these rolling old mountains’ seasons are deep in your bones will you be able to take the fall color for granted—drive along one of the ravine-like “gulfs” or up over one of the Green Mountain “gaps” at peak color and each intensely hued tree is outdone by another burning even brighter.
Some of Vermont’s highest peaks and many of its finest trails, quietest corners, and most flamboyant hardwoods are within the confines of Green Mountain National Forest, a landscape that is at its finest in autumn.
When driving around the region, be on the lookout for moose as they frequently walk on or near the roadside. There are even Moose Viewing Drives! If you like a quiet getaway in rugged landscapes with unbeatable wildlife, you won’t want to miss this area.
Camping out this fall? Check out our tips for making the most of fall camping.