6 destinations where it’s not too late to see fall foliage

Oct 26, 2019

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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.

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Early November

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.

Beautiful fall colors with a fishing dock in the Ozark mountains in Missouri. Calm water and a purple birdhouse make this a colorful landscape photo for tourism or vacations.
The Ozark mountains in Missouri. Photo by Getty Images.

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.

"Autumn colors along the Rio Grande outside Taos, New Mexico."
The Rio Grande outside Taos, New Mexico. Photo by Getty Images.

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.

Overlook view of Look Mountain in the north Georgia Appalachian mountain range as seen from Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn Georgia.
Overlook view of Look Mountain in the north Georgia Appalachian mountain range.

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.

Late November

The mid-Atlantic states finally get welcome peak fall foliage season right before Thanksgiving.

This image shows a natural scene of a bridge and stream within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Photo by Getty Images.

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).

Northern Louisiana

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 Ranger District in Kisatchie National Forest near Provencal, Louisiana. This area is known for its panoramic views from the sandstone bluffs of the Longleaf Vista Recreation Area (seen here.) Visitors also enjoy white sandy beaches and rocky rapids at Kisatchie Bayou Recreation Area, hiking in the Kisatchie Hills and a leisurely drive along the 17-mile Longleaf Trail Scenic Byway. ATV trail riding on the Sandstone multi-use Trail and horseback riding on the Caroline Dormon Trail can be enjoyed here as well.
Kisatchie Ranger District in Kisatchie National Forest near Provencal, Louisiana.

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

Big Bend National Park in the U.S. state of Texas has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. It contains more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. The national park covers 801,163 acres. Big Bends primary attraction is its hiking and backpacking trails. Particularly notable among these are the Chimneys Trail, which visits a rock formation in the desert, the Marufo Vega trail, a loop trail that passes through scenic canyons on the way to and from the Rio Grande, and the Outer Mountain Loop trail in the Chisos.
Santa Elena Canyon, Trail and Rio Grande River from Canyon Overlook. Photo by Getty Images.

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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