Fall is a great time to travel, and there is a well-worn path heading to America’s most popular leaf-peeping destinations to see the fall colors every year. You have to try to get your reservations early for fall foliage viewing, and then fight the crowds, which doesn’t sound like much fun to me. But then again I try to stay away from crowds whenever I can, so if you are looking for a different way to experience fall colors, here are my best suggestions for atypical fall foliage destinations — and they’re not just in America.
Minnesota from Above
While everyone heads east, why not just head north to Minnesota? There’s an excitement in Minnesota in the autumn as everyone tries to soak up every last minute of great outdoor time they can before the harsh winter comes. The Land of 10,000 lakes also has thousands of trees, and viewing them from above in a hot air balloon is a great way to see the fall colors.
Minnesota is the land of 10,000 Lakes, and colorful trees. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Even the fall cornfields are colorful from above. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Alaska in August
Don’t blink or you may miss it! Fall comes and goes really fast in Alaska so timing is everything. The beautiful backdrop of snowy mountain peaks and glaciers is a great way to experience fall colors. The blooming pinkish fireweed quickly turns to a rustic red color and the birch trees start glowing bright gold. They practically look illuminated next to the green pine trees. You’ll want to plan your fall color viewing trip for the end of August/beginning of September. Or if you are planning on going further north above the Arctic Circle, then you’ll see the fall colors much earlier in August!
Related: America’s Best Fall Foliage
How about a glacier with your fall colors? That’s what you’ll get at Ross Glacier Wrangell St Elias National Park. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Hike among the changing colors on the tundra above the Arctic Circle near Coldfoot, AK. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Long Walks Along Turkey’s Lycian Way
Instead of experiencing autumn from the inside of a car or bus, why not get out and walk…for a very long time. The best time to do long-distance hikes is during the fall months. You’ll get to experience the change of seasons at a much slower pace, making you appreciate Mother Nature even more. I hiked 150 of the 335 miles that make up the Lycian Way in Turkey for two weeks in October — the perfect time for cooler hiking weather, beautiful colors, and plenty of apples to eat along the trail! The fall is also a great time to take the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I walked it myself in spring, but during the autumn you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and cooler temperatures.
It’s the perfect time to hike the Mediterranean coast in Turkey. The beautiful colors takes your mind off of the challenging hike. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
It’s pomegranate season in Turkey, a great hiking snack. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Ireland During Shoulder Season
Most travelers have left Ireland by October, but I arrived there in October ready for a road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way, a super way to experience Ireland in autumn. No crowds mean more local experiences too. Just layer up and be prepared for the changing weather, but I promise you, you’ll have the colorful coast to yourself!
The ultimate fall drive in Ireland, just watch out for the sheep. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Stop along the way at places like the Muckross House Gardens in Killarney to take a stroll through autumn scenes. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Natural Beauty in NYC’s Inwood Park
Don’t discount urban leaf viewing; sometimes you can find great autumn serenity in your own backyard — even if it is surrounded by skyscrapers. A few years ago while in New York, I decided to go to Inwood Park in Northern Manhattan — a place seldom visited by downtown locals or tourists. The park is surprisingly full of hills and large boulders that you wouldn’t expect to find in an urban area. You’ll also find such beautiful views of the Hudson River that you may even forget you are in the city at all.
See a new side of NYC. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Inwood Park is a short subway ride uptown, but worlds away from the bustle of the city. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Trekking Season in Nepal
Looking to do something more epic for your foliage vacation? October means trekking season in Nepal! My father and I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in October and even though the trail was a bit more crowded, the temperature was perfect. Keep in mind that there’s a small window of opportunity after monsoon season and before winter in the mountains. But if you go during that sweet spot, you’ll get to see the harvest season play out before your eyes in the little mountain villages.
Even the rice terraces along the Annapurna Circuit at lower elevations have a golden glow. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
Snowy Himalayan peaks accent the fall colors along the Annapurna Circuit. (Photo: Sherry Ott)
What’s your favorite fall destination?