It’s a given that fall foliage will be spectacular here, considering the city’s namesake shimmery golden trees, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be at all prepared for it when you see it. It’s worth a trip to this resort 160 gorgeous miles southwest of Denver just to spot bright yellows and oranges contrasted against regal snow-capped mountains. Visit the nearby Maroon Bells, an iconic vista and the most-photographed mountain range in North America, then enjoy a gold-flecked bike ride up the Rio Grande Trail.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
America’s most visited national park relies on more than just the Old West photos in Gatlinburg. Summer hiking and winter skiing aren’t even the best reasons to go. The best time to visit here is the fall — especially mid-October through early November — when the Great Smoky Mountains explode into a sea of orange, yellow, and red. One of the best ways to scope that splendor is to hike to Looking Glass Falls.
Upstate New York
While the final two weeks of September in the Adirondacks might be the peak of leaf-peeping season, festivals in the region run almost every weekend through October. A few hours South lie the New York Catskills, where the famous “Five State Lookout” in East Windham will have you scoping leaves in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut simultaneously. You can also summit the Catskills’ 3,214ft Mount Utsayantha for a 360-degree fall foliage experience. If you’re not so active, there’s a chairlift at Hunter Mountain that’ll give you a nice slow look at the changing colors.