Ski Towns Where the Fall Foliage Is Almost Better Than the Snow

By Bill Fink

As autumn approaches with a chill in the air, some people are looking for an emotional lift. They flock to the forests to do some leaf peeping, appreciating a final burst of color before winter. For those looking to add a literal lift, check out one of these ski resorts, where you can ride a ski lift or gondola up a mountain covered with fall foliage, maximizing your views and getting a new perspective on an old activity.

Copper Peak, Mich.


From the top of the Copper Peak ski jump, you can see all the beautiful leaves all around. (Photo: Kevin Schneller/Facebook)

Gaze at 2,500 square miles of bold, beautiful leaves from the observation deck of a ski-jumping platform that looms 26 stories atop a hill in Michigan. Given the flat Midwestern landscape, expansive 360-degree views from the deck span three states and sometimes to Canada. Take the ski lift up 800 feet to the peak, then ride an elevator to the viewing platform, which at nearly 1800 feet above sea level, is almost the highest point in all Michigan.

Killington, Vt.


Hop on the ski lift and fly through the colorful treetops. (Photo: Killington Resort)

See some of the best fall foliage in New England from the K-1 Gondola at Killington ski resort in Vermont. Ride up the hill for over a mile surrounded by the flaming colors of fall, then exit at the 4200-foot-high summit to check out a vista spanning all the way to Canada on a good day. The truly inspired leaf-peepers can hop onto the Appalachian Trail from there, and hike amid the leaves all the way up through Maine.

Mammoth Mountain, Calif.


Hike or bike on trails through the golden trees. (Photo: Mammoth Mountain/Facebook)

The Mammoth Mountain gondola takes visitors up to 11,000 feet above sea level for panoramic views of alpine peaks and colorful tree-lined lakes below. The gondola runs until September 27, so there’s still time to get up the mountain and enjoy some fall foliage. Around the ski resort, the Mammoth Lakes boasts some spectacular fall hikes and biking trails around hills and lakes, revealing huge groves of aspens, cottonwoods, and willows in Technicolor explosions.

Park City, Utah


The Park City ski lift is a primo spot for leaf-peeping. (Photo: Park City Mountain Resort/Facebook)

Both the Park City and Canyons sides of the combined ski resort offer scenic rides up their ski lifts and gondolas through the fall season. Park City’s PayDay Lift gives adventurous leaf-peepers the added option of a high-speed descent though the fall colors via an alpine slide and “zip rider.” Via Canyons Resort’s Red Pine Gondola, extreme post-ride foliage-viewing opportunities include an impressive zip line and a serious mountain-biking park.

Snowshoe Mountain, W. Va.


Looking for a unique way to view that foliage? How about standup paddleboarding at Shavers Lake? (Photo: Snowshoe Mountain Resort/Facebook)

West Virginia may not be an international ski destination, but Snowshoe Mountain does have an impressive (for the area) 4,800-foot elevation and an expanse of fall foliage viewable from its Scenic Lift Rides through October 4th. Plus, not many mountains can also boast off-road Segway tours to go along with an array of hiking, biking, and climbing activities. Be the first on your block to do your leaf-peeping from a goofy scooter!

Aspen, Colo.


Now that’s one heck of a view! (Photo: Aspen Snowmass/Facebook)

Want to see Aspen trees in all their colorful fall glory? Where better to go than the town named after them? Ride Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola to the 11,200 foot summit of Ajax for sweeping views of hills and valleys absolutely covered in groves of aspen trees. The lift also provides access to the “highest disc golf course in America,” which, given Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana, has multiple meanings. Nearby Snowmass Mountain also has lift-accessed leaf viewing, along with scenic hiking and biking trails.

Wachusett Mountain, Mass.


New England’s fall foliage is legendary and Wachusett’s Scenic Sky Ride is a great way to see it. (Photo: Wachusett Mountain/Facebook)

Apparently there are ski hills in Massachusetts. The skiing may not be great, but the fall foliage is — so hop aboard one of Wachusett Mountain’s Scenic Sky Rides on weekends this September and October and see some of the best leaves in New England. Bonus — almost every fall weekend, the resort is also hosting a festival, including their 32nd annual Apple Fest this October 17-18, featuring canon-fired pumpkins among the entertainment offerings.

Squaw Valley, Calif.


Take a tram ride up the mountain, followed by a soak in a large outdoor pool. (Photo: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows/Facebook)

Ride Squaw’s Ariel Tram up to the High Camp area, where you can not only enjoy some leaf peeping during the ride, but soak in a large outdoor pool upon your arrival. Then go on a leafy hike toward Shirley Lake, passing waterfalls and rock formations along the way. Pro tip: hike up to High Camp (if you can handle the 8,200-foot elevation), then you can ride the tram down for free!

Whistler, B.C., Canada


See all sorts of great colors as you walk around Whistler Village. (Photo: Mike Crane/Whistler Tourism/Facebook)

If you’re going to go big on your leaf viewing, go real big and take Whistler’s world-record-setting Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the highest and longest lift in the world (1,427 feet above the ground, with a 1.88-mile unsupported span). The trees are mostly evergreen pines atop the mountain, but the lower elevations offer great hikes or 4x4 rides along colorful leafy trails. For a full autumn experience, visit Whistler’s big Cornucopia fall food and wine festival in early November.

Jackson Hole, Wyo.


Blue skies, golden trees, and all the glory of Grand Teton National Park. (Photo: iStock)

The leaves are bright yellow, the skies are deep blue, and the trout are biting in the Snake River come September and early October in Jackson Hole. Jump on the mountain’s Ariel Tram for awe-inspiring views over jagged peaks, Grand Teton National Park, and a valley below bursting forth in color. Walk among the tree branches in the resort’s Grand Adventure Park (just don’t make like a leaf and fall…).

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