6 destinations where it’s not too late to see fall foliage
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The weather’s changing, temperatures are dropping and the holiday season is well underway. But it’s still not too late to get your fill of fall foliage before everything turns brown. Here’s what you’ll need to know to be strategic about late fall adventures.
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Every year, the Smoky Mountains National Park publishes an interactive fall foliage prediction map. And while this tool and others like it obviously can’t say with complete certainty when and where the leaves will be their most colorful, the creators pull millions of data points to assemble the map at a county-specific level.
So, if you haven’t done your leaf-peeping yet, it’s definitely time to start.
Peak season for Colorado and the Northeast is just about over, but there are still some seriously noteworthy contenders elsewhere in the continental U.S., including destinations as far south as New Mexico and Arkansas.
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In order of predicted times according to the map, the U.S. regions experiencing peak fall foliage right now include the southwest borders, Texas, the southern states and parts of Kentucky as well as the Carolinas.
By the time Halloween is over, the fall foliage will begin appearing in the South. Follow the lakes and rivers toward some of the most beautiful scenery that the south-central states have to offer.
Lake of the Ozarks
Americans voted the Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri, as its second-best destination for viewing fall foliage in 2018, according to USA Today. (The first, if you’re wondering, is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.) Maple, oak, hickory and ash trees abound along the 1,150 miles of shoreline — perfect for getting lost in nature.
But when you’re ready to find yourself again, stop in to civilization without spending a fortune. Marriott’s beautiful Category 4 Willow Ridge Lodge in Branson, Missouri, is just 22,500 points at the Pointsavers rate or $124 per night over the first weekend of November. Alternatively, rates at the Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing begin at 32,000 Hilton points or $122 per night.
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
The most popular road trip in this region, the National Forest Scenic Byway winds around Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico at a cool 13,161 feet. But no matter where you are in the area, you won’t fail to find incredible views near the town of Taos.
You’ll probably be tired after your long drive, so check out the Hotel Don Fernando de Taos, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton property. Room rates begin at just $115 per night, or 30,000 Hilton points.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
Located in northwest Georgia, Cloudland Canyon State Park sits on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, just 25 miles southwest from Chattanooga, Tennessee. You’ll be able to enjoy beautiful views of the late fall foliage along the Waterfalls Trail — a short, steep hike that leads to Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls. Check out the nearby cave to admire the striking mineral formations as well.
The mid-Atlantic states finally get welcome peak fall foliage season right before Thanksgiving.
Great Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains are located in one of the most beautiful regions of the country around this time of year, and the eponymous national park is the one we have to thank for the foliage prediction map we’re using to suggest leaf-peeping destinations.
This site provides a dedicated resource for visitors keen on spotting the best fall foliage each year. Visitors to the national park and surrounding areas will rejoice at the bounty of points hotels available here, especially in historic areas such as Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Check out the Courtyard Gatlinburg Downtown (rates from $187 or 35,000 Marriott points per night); the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Smoky Mountain Resort (from $190 or 35,000 IHG points per night); or the beautiful Black Fox Pigeon Forge Lodge, Tapestry Collection by Hilton (from just $119 or 34,000 Hilton Honors points per night).
Louisiana can conjure up mental pictures of Bourbon Street, live music and swampy bayous, which may not strike you as the best spot for autumnal hues. But this dreamy road trip map through the northern part of the state may change your mind.
Kisatchie National Forest, located a few miles outside of the city of Alexandria, is the only natural forest in the state, with more than 600,000 acres divided across five ranger districts spanning more than seven parishes. What that means for the average visitor is simply that there’s a ton of variety here for any type of nature experience. The trails in Kisatchie are great for novice and seasoned hikers alike, with trails ranging from just a couple of miles in length to strenuous treks that wind through rolling hills and afford stunning views.
Big Bend National Park
Everything’s bigger in Texas — even the state parks. This national park in the southwestern corner of Texas boasts the nation’s largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert. Big Bend is great for nature lovers, with more than 1,200 species of plants, over 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals within its borders. Big Bend is a great place to camp and hike, with backpacking trails such as the Chimneys Trail, that wind through a rock formation in the desert. You’ll get beautiful views like the one above from Santa Elena Canyon Trail, along the Rio Grande River.
Featured photo by Denis Tangney Jr / Getty Images.
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