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Top 13 destinations in the world to see beautiful fall foliage without the crowds

Aug. 29, 2022
10 min read
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As summer turns to fall, travel plans turn from visiting the beach to finding the best places to view autumn leaves. Leaf-peeping hot spots are plentiful – and often teeming with people during peak color times.

If you'd rather not fight the crowds, this list is for you.

We've picked 13 lesser-known fall foliage destinations perfect for a visit between late September and mid to late October. From idyllic U.S. towns to stunning European national forests, these spots are ideal for enjoying vibrant colors without the throngs of other visitors who love leaf-spotting as much as you do.

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Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania

The steep canyon walls and forested valleys of Pine Creek Gorge in the fall. VISIT POTTER-TIOGA

At its deepest point, Pine Creek Gorge extends 1,450 feet into the ground. Pine Creek flows through the gorge — often referred to as The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania — and tree-covered, rolling hills flank each side.

The gorge runs for about 47 miles, with plentiful opportunities for walking, cycling, horseback riding or taking a scenic drive. You will want to ascend the Barbour Rock Trail in Tioga State Forst for one of the most memorable views of the gorge.

In the fall, those views will include a veritable rainbow of autumn leaves, made even more vivid by the evergreen trees that dot the landscape.

New Paltz, New York

The Mohonk Mountain House reflected in Mohonk Lake in New York's Hudson Valley. LIGHTPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

You can go pretty much anywhere in New York's Hudson Valley for resplendent fall foliage, but we suggest you zero in on the town of New Paltz, New York, for your leaf-spotting adventures.

The Mohonk Preserve's visitor center serves as a jumping-off point for nature trails, including a playful sensory trail for children. There is no fee to enter the visitor center, but there is a daily fee to use the hiking and biking trails.

If you prefer to extend your stay (and the views), book a stay at the historic Mohonk Mountain House, where you can hike or "rock scramble" through large boulders.

Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

Wild and rugged, Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesota comprises hardwood forests and colossal rock formations. WILLIAM WENSEL/EXPLORE MINNESOTA

The St. Louis River intersects Jay Cooke State Park and where there's a river, there's a bridge. An impressive, albeit shaky, way to see the fall colors here is by walking across the park's 220-foot-long suspension bridge. You'll be treated to views of the river, the rocky outcroppings along the shoreline and the bright-as-gold fall leaves.

If you prefer to stay on solid ground, head for the Oldenburg Point overlook or trek the more than 50 miles of hiking trails.

Dubuque, Iowa

Take in the autumnal landscape from the Fenelon Place Elevator in downtown Dubuque, Iowa. COSMONAUT/GETTY IMAGES

Bushy trees in varying hues against a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds make Dubuque, Iowa, in fall look like something out of a Bob Ross painting.

Get a bird's eye view of the landscape from the top of the Fenelon Place Elevator. Called the world's steepest, shortest scenic railway (though other funicular railways make the same claim), the 296-foot-long railway takes passengers on one-way or round-trip tours from Dubuque's Fourth Street up to Fenelon Place.

From the top, you can view downtown Dubuque, the Mississippi river and thousands of "happy little trees." There is a small fee to ride the Fenelon Place Elevator and it only accepts cash.

McCloud Nature Park, Indiana

McCloud Nature Park's Vandalia Trail ablaze with fall foliage. MCCLOUD NATURE PARK/FACEBOOK

Indiana may be better known as a basketball state than a fall foliage destination, but you'll score big by visiting central Indiana's McCloud Nature Park to see the colorful trees. The 232-acre park boasts six miles of nature trails, one of which crosses a creek via a 100-year-old truss bridge.

The Big Walnut Crossing trail is a short, .4-mile walk that isn't short on gorgeous views. The park's Nature Center offers interactive exhibits and year-round programming to enhance your time in the great outdoors.

Katy Trail State Park, Missouri

Over half of the Katy Trail traces Lewis and Clark's route up the Missouri River. VISITMO.COM

Katy Trail State Park is home to the country's longest developed rail trail, which can be traversed by foot, bike or horseback. The Katy Trail follows the path of the Missouri River, offering many opportunities to take in the fall scenery along the way.

There are more than 26 trailheads along the 240-mile-long trail, many of which are close to bike rental facilities, dining and camping.

If you want to see the sights without having to do the legwork, seasonal tram tours are available two Tuesdays per month in May, June, September and October.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. LIPIKA/GETTY IMAGES

If your fall travels find you in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park's vivid orange and yellow foliage will stop you in your tracks. The park has a scenic railway, hundreds of miles of trails and access to the Cuyahoga River so you can experience the sights at your own pace.

If you just can't choose, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad sells "Explorer" tickets where you can ride the train one direction and hike, run, bike or paddle back to your starting point.

Greenville County, South Carolina

Liberty Bridge affords views of waterfalls and autumn foliage at Falls Park in Greenville, South Carolina. VISIT GREENVILLESC.COM

While everyone else is heading into the Blue Ridge Mountains, in-the-know travelers will head to the mountain range's foothills for a visit to Greenville County, South Carolina. While downtown Greenville has all the shopping and dining you'd expect, you might be surprised to find that you don't need to leave downtown to experience the area's fall colors.

The best way to see the waterfalls, river and sweeping green spaces is on the Liberty Bridge at Falls Park on the Reedy, located right downtown. The uniquely-shaped, curved pedestrian bridge spans 345 feet and has panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Killarney National Park, Ireland

Ross Castle looms on the outskirts of Killarney National Park. (Photo by Domingo Leiva/Getty Images)

There's no shortage of natural beauty in Killarney National Park's 26,000 acres of tranquil lakes, craggy mountains and lush forests, but the area's history makes it even more alluring. You can visit a 4,000-year-old prehistoric settlement, a castle and abbey built in the 15th century and centuries-old grand estates.

Trails range from wheelchair-accessible to the "very difficult" trail that leads to the summit of Torc Mountain. In addition to fall's fiery, red-hued leaves, you can try and spot a red deer. The park has the last surviving indigenous herd of red deer in the country.

Grizedale Forest, Cumbria, England

AWARD/GETTY IMAGES

Grizedale Forest, named for the Grizedale Hall estate that once stood on the grounds, is in Northwest England's Lake District. The land is now under the management of Forestry England and provides ample opportunities for visitors to explore the area on foot, by bike or on a high ropes course.

The blanket of green trees that covers the hills and valleys in spring and summer gives way to a kaleidoscope of red, orange and yellow hues in the fall.

While enjoying the colorful leaves painted by Mother Nature, you can also see a sculpture trail with pieces forged from natural materials, as well as stop at a children's playground and a cafe.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK ARCHIVE

Opened in 1949, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia's oldest and largest national parks, but the forces that carved the park's caves and water features are much older. Over thousands of years, water flowing over the park's rocks created unique, multi-level lakes and waterfalls that flow between them.

Related: A bucket list layover at Plitvice Lakes National Park for 38,000 points

There is a fee to enter the park, but admission includes access to sightseeing boat and train tours. You can also hike from the parking lot to see the lakes (and leaves) on foot.

The year-round dreaminess of Plitvice Lakes is enhanced further during fall when the turquoise waters contrast dramatically with the autumn-hued leaves.

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

VISIT WALES

WIthin Snowdonia National Park, you'll find Snowdon — the highest mountain in Wales. Luckily, you don't have to hike the 3,560 feet to the summit to see the brilliant fall foliage (unless you want to). There are hiking, cycling and horseback riding trails to suit all levels, as well as paved paths that are accessible for wheelchairs.

Related: Castles, culture and Cardiff: 4 reasons why Wales is on my bucket list

If you visit in mid to late October, you'll be treated to an array of orange and yellow leaves across the mountainous peaks. There are hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the park if you want to truly immerse yourself in Wales' fall beauty.

Kyoto, Japan

SEAN. PAVONE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

As beautiful as Kyoto becomes each spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, the city is equally magnificent in late fall when the trees take on a mix of jewel-toned garnet, rich yellow and fiery orange hues.

Related: Ritzy business: A review of The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

Kyoto's temples and shrines provide an extraordinary background from which to see the fall foliage and the city's top spots at the same time. Must-see stops include Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji Temple and Ginkakuji.

Bottom line

Whether you plan to travel a short distance for a look at the leaves on a crisp autumn day or you want to fly to another continent for a full-on 'fall-iday,' you'll find what you seek — without the crowds — in these destinations.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases