As September folds into October, maple, aspen, birch, and a variety of other trees across the country brighten the landscape with hues of orange, red, and yellow. Why do leaves put on this performance of changing color every fall? “Because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process,” according to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.”
Every year, this scientific process leads a migration of outdoor enthusiasts and leaf peepers to hunt for the best places to view fall foliage. While fall in New England explodes with a blaze of color and tourists, here are a variety of other underrated fall foliage locations in the U.S.
New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
With Shenandoah National Park to the east, New River Gorge National Park is often overlooked even though the oak, beech, locust, and sumac awash the New River with hues of warm yellows and crimson reds. The quintessential New River Gorge Bridge adds to the spectacular show of West Virginia in autumn. Hike Long Point trail or kayak New River for the best views.
Visit in mid- to late October for the best fall foliage.
The best RV camping near New River Gorge National Park:
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
In eastern Pennsylvania lies unassuming, but quaint, Jim Thorpe. A church spire stands out amongst the rolling hills and forest of the Poconos, offering the perfect opportunity for landscape photographers. The town hosts an annual Fall Foliage Festival where you can celebrate the colorful display. This year’s festival will be held throughout October, and you can elevate your experience by taking a train ride through the area with the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.
The best time of year to watch Pennsylvania’s oaks change color is in mid-October.
The best RV camping near Jim Thorpe:
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
The unique landscape of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore during the fall months is worth the trek to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lake Superior paints the shoreline with blue and turquoise, while the trees pepper the rock formations with shades of fall.
Leaf peepers may enjoy Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by boat, kayak, foot, or car. There are a variety of tours available to experience the most scenic areas, like Chapel Rock and Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse. Nothing says fall quite like a lighthouse nestled amongst the changing leaves.
The best time to visit this underrated fall foliage location is at the end of September or the beginning of October.
The best RV camping near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore:
Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin
Drive along the Great River Road as the changing oaks, dogwood, and maple trees welcome you to Wyalusing State Park located at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. At sunset, pull over and watch the leaves and river transform into an astonishing natural glow.
Aside from the fall foliage, this 2,268-acre park is home to waterfalls, pine plantations, wetlands, and diverse wildlife.
The best time to visit Wyalusing State Park is in late October.
The best RV camping near Wyalusing State Park:
Grand Mesa, Colorado
When people plan to visit Colorado it’s usually to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, but there’s something incredibly understated about fall in Colorado, especially in Grand Mesa. There are fewer crowds, and it feels like the landscape creates a golden hour just for you.
While places like Aspen do draw crowds, Grand Mesa is worth the trek just to see the lakes, vistas, and one of the largest flat-top mountains dipped in aspen gold. Watch the show while driving on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, camping in Grand Mesa National Forest, or fishing at one of the many lakes. The best time to visit Grand Mesa is in early October.
The best RV camping near Grand Mesa:
Salmon River, Idaho
Idaho is one of the most underrated vacation destinations in the country, especially during peak fall foliage. The best way to see the Gem State is by following the Salmon River along the Salmon River Scenic Byway.
The Salmon River Scenic Byway snakes its way along the river through snow-covered mountains, small towns, and hot springs. The colors are unexpectedly fantastic and intense against the rushing water. You can practically feel the crisp leaves and the cool splash of water from your car.
Visit in mid- to late October for optimal fall foliage.
The best RV camping along the Salmon River:
Willamette National Forest, Oregon
While Douglas firs drape the forest with a green hue, Willamette National Forest is also dotted with yellow and red highlights of shrubs, vines, and deciduous trees. Imagine running, biking, or hiking through waterfalls, lava fields, and pools of turquoise, while the vegetation lines your path with changing colors.
One of the best ways to enjoy fall foliage in Willamette National Forest is by mountain biking the McKenzie River Trail, an exhilarating 26-mile single-track rollercoaster with a beautiful landscape as its backdrop.
The ideal time to visit Willamette National forest for fall foliage is in mid- to late October.
The best RV camping near Willamette National Forest:
As fall foliage season begins to peak, branch out from New England and point your RV in the direction of these underrated fall foliage locations in the U.S. Watch the leaves change along the shorelines of the Midwest or witness snowfall blanketing peaks in the West. Regardless of where you go, prepare yourself for an epic road trip by consulting state-by-state fall foliage maps, and bringing along plenty of comfy clothes and warm drinks.