New England comes first to mind for taking in fall's brilliant hues of yellow, red, orange, and green, but there are gorgeous locations around the country with fall colors that would impress even a lifetime leaf peeper. Here are some of the best under-the-radar spots to enjoy the spectacle of autumn.
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BUFFALO PASS, COLORADO
Just west of Steamboat Springs, Buffalo Pass is filled with aspens that seem to glow yellow and orange in the fall months. The drive along the pass brings visitors near the Continental Divide, where the elevation grants views of foliage for miles around. Hikers can plan a trip on the Three Island Lake Trail in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, a 12.2-mile trail with views along the way and a stunner at the highest point.
FALL CREEK FALLS, IDAHO
Fall Creek Falls is, of course, a waterfall, but it just so happens that fall is a good time to explore the surrounding Caribou-Targhee National Forest. An hour's drive from Jackson Hole, Fall Creek Falls is quiet, with beautiful orange foliage, and has free overnight camping. The falls themselves are worth the trip, and the golden background of foliage creates a view that is not to be missed.
CLARKSON COVERED BRIDGE, ALABAMA
A fall visit to Clarkson Covered Bridge in Cullman County is tranquil and educational as well as visually stunning. The 270-foot wooden bridge over Crooked Creek -- a historical site built in the early 1900s for farmers and travelers -- is surrounded by maple trees that change to yellow in autumn. Visitors can easily spend a day taking in the views, hiking, and picnicking.
GLACIAL RIDGE TRAIL SCENIC BYWAY, MINNESOTA
The 220-mile Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway in western Minnesota is lined with woods, prairies, and hundreds of picturesque lakes. State parks along the way -- Sibley, Monson, and Glacial Lakes -- all showcase colorful foliage, including maples that turn brilliant red during peak season. Access to the parks and their hiking, bird watching, and fishing recreation is $5 by vehicle.
SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Yes, some parts of California see fall colors, too. The lush Santa Ynez Valley has sycamores and golden cottonwoods on full orange and red display in late fall. Local vineyards show off sensational colors (not to mention some of the country's finest wines) during this off-peak season, meaning hotels will have lower nightly rates to offer compared with the touristy summer months in nearby Santa Barbara.
SUSSEX COUNTY, DELAWARE
Sussex County transforms in late October, when the fall colors reach their peak. Kayaking along the Nanticoke River water trail takes visitors through bald cypress trees that turn a brilliant red and play host to birds such as great-horned owls and several types of hawks.
LAKE SACAJAWEA, WASHINGTON
Photography buffs will find plenty of opportunities for stunning images in the reflection of the changing maple tree leaves on Lake Sacajawea. A hike there from nearby St. John's Hospital provides a chance to enjoy the sights (as well as an educational "Solar System Walk" installed by an astronomy club).
LAKE ANN, OREGON
A hike to Lake Ann in the Northern Cascade Mountain range in Oregon reveals a brilliant palette of autumnal colors. The Maple Pass loop hike is 7.2 miles lined with maples and alpine larches, which bear golden leaves that pop out in mid-October. Expansive views of nearby mountains make Lake Ann a good place to take in this region's fall beauty.
SWEETWATER CREEK STATE PARK, GEORGIA
The northern part of this Southern state is resplendent with fall foliage. Sweetwater Creek State Park in northwestern Georgia not only has a rainbow of fall hues but also recreational activities perfect for taking in the views in September and October, including hikes and kayaking trips on the creek led by park rangers. Parking is $5 and activities cost up to $25, including use of the gear.
CUMBERLAND FALLS STATE RESORT PARK, KENTUCKY
Camping in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park brings visitors up close to abundant dogwood and maple trees in a palette of reds and oranges, matched in beauty by the falls for which the park is named. Be sure to bring a camera for snapshots; the falls produce their own rainbow amid the colors of the foliage.
COPPER PEAK, MICHIGAN
Copper Peak in the Upper Peninsula is home not only to the largest artificial ski jump in America but to panoramic views of fall foliage. On clear days, a lift ride to the top of the slope offers an eyeful of orange and yellow leaves in three states (sometimes even past Lake Superior and into Canada). The unique view of the glorious fall colors from above costs $20 for adults, $8 for students 5 to 14, and is free for children under 5.
Hikers can take in the foliage of this wilderness mecca from a vantage point on Mount Sentinel, where the whole Missoula Valley can be seen. But the simplest way to enjoy the fall colors in Missoula is to walk the streets of the city's University District (from downtown to the University of Montana), which are lined with trees showing hues of green, red, orange, and yellow.
DEALS GAP, NORTH CAROLINA
Deals Gap, also known as "Tail of the Dragon," is 11 miles of winding fall splendor. The short but spectacular drive features bright reds and oranges around 318 turns. Roll down the windows or hop on a motorcycle to savor the crisp autumn air along with the popping colors.
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The Northwoods' hundreds of miles of trails and scenic roadways take visitors through woods and along lakeshores. A scenic round-trip route from Hayward to Bayfield is about 250 miles, showcasing breathtaking views of diverse fall colors. Points of interest on the way include the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center west of Ashland and Angry Minnow brewery in Hayward.
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