The Best Family-Friendly Destinations for Fall Foliage in the U.S—and When to Visit Them

·13 min read

Autumn can feel like a breath of fresh air, bringing outdoor fun without the sticky heat of summer. Perhaps the most quintessential sign of the season is fall foliage. From reds and golds to deep purples and oranges, the changing colors lend themsleves to gorgeous photos and leaf peeping excursions with the family.

To inspire an autumnal adventure, we rounded up 12 kid-friendly destinations with impressive fall foliage and fun activities (pumpkin picking and corn mazes, anyone?) And because colors peak at different times, we also recommend when to visit each place.

An image of a mom and her child walking in the mountains during autumn.
An image of a mom and her child walking in the mountains during autumn.

Getty Images.

Aspen, Colorado

Peak Foliage: Late September

Why You Should Go: The leaves turn to brilliant gold in this Colorado mountain town, a gorgeous canopy surrounded by the breathtaking mountain peaks. Drive down the scenic Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in the state, for wide-open vistas, or hit the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail, a 1.3 mile walk along the creek.

What Else To Do: Spend some time at the indoor Aspen Recreation Center (the "ARC") where kids can test their skills on an in-water climbing wall or float down the lazy river. Those staying later in October should head to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies' Harvest Party (October 16 and 17), where families can participate in everything from pumpkin carving and hay rides to farm tours and apple cider pressing.

Splurge on a stay at The Little Nell, which caters to kids with stuffed animals, children's books, in-room teepees, PlayStation consoles, and more. It also caters to parents with an abundance of child-friendly amenities like strollers, car seats, and cribs.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Peak Foliage: Late September to Early October

Why You Should Go: These mountains are full of hiking trails, picturesque covered bridges, and scenic drives to take in the colorful canopy. Admire the views from above with a ride on the Bretton Woods Skyway Gondola or drive up the 7.6-mile Mt. Washington Auto Road.

What Else To Do: Book a stay at the nearby Omni Mount Washington Resort, where kids can roast marshmallows for s'mores by the outdoor fire pit surrounded by breathtaking views of the mountains, or go for a carriage ride through the grounds. Kids will also love hopping aboard The Mount Washington Cog Railway for a ride to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast.

Get the whole family into the holiday spirit a little early with a visit to Santa's Village, a Christmas-themed park where little ones can ride on the Reindeer Carousel or enter Elf University. In October, families can combine Christmas and Halloween with the park's Merry Trick-or-Treating.

Burlington, Vermont

Peak Foliage: Late September to Mid-October

Why You Should Go: Grab a bike and ride along 8 miles of paved path surrounded by colorful trees and views of Lake Champlain on the Burlington Greenway bike path. Or get out of the city and head to Shelburne Farms, which boasts 10 miles of walking trails as well as a children's farmyard (think: chickens, horses, and goats).

What Else To Do: Take a stroll down the Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian-only plaza in the heart of downtown Burlington that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Later, stop by the Lake Champlain Chocolates flagship store for treats like maple caramel bars and chocolate-dipped marshmallows and the chance to see amazing chocolate sculptures.

Just outside the city, visit the Vermont Teddy Bear factory; kids can tour the factory, see the Bear Hospital, and create their own bears. You can also visit the Shelburne Museum just down the road, an art and history museum stretched across 39 buildings that features a 220-foot sidewheel steamboat and carousel.

Taos, New Mexico

Peak Foliage: Early October to Mid-October

Why You Should Go: Taos is full of gorgeous scenic drives with golden leaves painting the landscape. Drive the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway or make your way through small mountain towns on the High Road to Taos, admiring the leaves and classic architecture. Families can also hop aboard the Cumbres & Toltec scenic railroad, which travels into the mountains at 12 miles per hour, for a leisurely way to take in the foliage.

What Else To Do: After getting your fill of foliage, head to the historic Taos Plaza, first established in the 18th century. Bring the kids to Twirl, a nonprofit discovery center and store downtown, where little ones can explore the courtyard play space or shop for educational toys. On Saturdays into November, head to the square for the Taos Farmers Market to find pumpkins, local teas, and chili-spiced treats for kids with more adventurous palates.

Families visiting at the end of October will see even more color with the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally. Dozens of hot air balloons are launched into the sky from October 29 through 31. Wake the kids up early for a morning chat with balloonists as they prepare to launch.

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

Peak Foliage: Early October to Mid-October

Why You Should Go: Head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see a canopy of yellows and reds, visible from several kid-friendly hikes—the higher in elevation you go, the earlier the leaves start to change. Or hop in the car and head south onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (you can enter near Cherokee, North Carolina) for a breathtaking drive surrounded by multicolored mountains stretching as far as the eye can see.

What Else To Do: Base yourself in Gatlinburg, where kids can walk through the trees suspended high in the air on the Treetop Skywalk at Anakeesta, or take in a birds-eye view by riding up to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle.

Thrill-seeking kids can get their hearts pumping with a ride on the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster (kids must be at least 38 inches tall and 3 years old to ride). Or drive a little outside of Gatlinburg to go to Dollywood's Harvest Festival, combining fun rides with giant pumpkin decorations (think: 800 to more than 1,500 pounds each), and fall-inspired treats like pumpkin macaroni and cheese and apple pie milkshakes.

Try a stay at The Resort at Governor's Crossing, featuring indoor and outdoor water parks, a mini golf course, and Camp Firefly, which entertains kids with games and crafts. Don't miss the resort's Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, which runs through October 31, complete with a pumpkin house, a trick or treat trail the night before Halloween, and crafts—all included in your stay.

Northern Catskills, New York

Peak Foliage: Early October to Mid-October

Why You Should Go: Take a walk along the Windham Path, a 1.5-mile loop on mostly flat ground that sits just underneath Windham Mountain. Walk through trees painted with yellows and bright oranges before making your way to a covered bridge over the Batavia Kill stream. Families with older kids can take in the colorful leaves from above on a zipline tour 60 feet above the ground with New York Zipline Canopy Tours (open to kids who weigh at least 50 pounds).

What Else To Do: Get lost in the trees at Rose Hill Farm, which uses holistic growing practices. Kids will love picking apples off the trees at this wholesome farm, while parents can enjoy a glass of cider at the on-site taproom. For a different kind of farm experience. head south to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, where kids can meet rescued chickens, pigs, cows, goats, turkeys, and more. The farm is open for tours on Sundays and visitors must purchase a ticket in advance.

Later, treat the kids to a classic root beer float at upstate staple Stewart's Shops or order a big plate of fluffy pancakes at the Catskill Mountain Country Store in Windham. Don't forget to say hello to the animals outside at the restaurant's "looking zoo" and carve out some time to play on the pirate ship playground.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Peak Foliage: Mid-October

Why You Should Go: Fort Wayne offers visitors the chance to see an array of colors throughout the city, but one of its best attributes is the accessible Promenade Park. It features wheelchair-friendly trails, a tactile paver ribbon for those who are blind or vision impaired, and 3D printed maps.

What Else To Do: Each weekend through the end of October, the Kuehnert Dairy Farm hosts a fall festival with a kid-friendly corn maze (it's also wheelchair and stroller friendly), pumpkin painting, hayrides, farm tours, and more. Or head to the Botanical Conservatory for the Pumpkin Path, an interactive spot with mischievous garden gnomes and photo oppurtinities.

For a spookier time, stop by the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo for Wild Zoo Halloween. Kids will be delighted with creepy critter keeper chats, a Halloween dance party, and a mystery maze—costumes welcome!

Seattle, Washington

Peak Foliage: Mid-October to Late October

Why You Should Go: Colorful foliage may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Pacific Northwest, but there are plenty of places to see the leaves change without even leaving Seattle. Head to the Seattle Japanese Garden, which explodes with reds and golds, or make your way to Discovery Park, a 534-acre park overlooking the Puget Sound. Those looking to get out of the city can visit Gold Creek Pond, which features a gorgeous paved loop hike (so you can bring strollers) around a mountain pond tinged with fall colors.

What Else To Do: Travel just north of Seattle to Craven Farm for the fall festival. Brave kids can get lost in the 15-acre "Alice in Pumpkinland" corn maze, or try the smaller interactive kids adventure maze, meet farm animals, make a scarecrow, and more.

In the city, bring the kiddos to The Museum of Flight; they can board an Air Force One or sit in the cockpit of a fighter jet. You can also jump on board the Seattle Center Monorail, which was built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair and features giant picture windows to watch the world go by as you zoom from downtown Seattle to the Space Needle.

Interested in history? Check out the Klondike Gold Rush - Seattle Unit National Historical Park. It explores Seattle's history as a jumping-off point for many prospectors searching for gold with interactive exhibits.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Peak Foliage: Mid-October to Late October

Why You Should Go: It may be too cool to hang out at the beach, but off-peak season is one of the best times to experience this coastal New England town. Take a stroll down Dock Square or ride a rental bike along the colorful tree-lined roads surrounding town.

What Else To Do: Hop aboard an antique street car at the Seashore Trolley Museum, open through the end of October. Go during Halloween weekend for a costumed ride and lollipop ghost hunt.

Later, warm up at Alisson's on Dock Square with a bowl of New England clam chowder or get a lobster bisque lobster roll (it's lobster on top of lobster!). For a sweet treat, order up a cup of hot cocoa at the Dock Square Coffee House or drop by The Candy Man for fudge, salt water taffy, pumpkin candies, and more.

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

Peak Foliage: Mid-October to Late October

Why You Should Go: The Ozark National Forest boasts more than 1 million acres of breathtaking mountains and plateaus. In the fall, it turns into a spectacular sight of oranges, reds, and yellows interspersed with green as far as the eye can see. Go for a camping trip or bring a picnic into the forest for a day spent with good food and better views.

What Else To Do: Stop by Fayetteville and let the kids go wild with a blast from the past at Arkadia Retrocade; it boasts classic arcade games for the retro price of only $5. Or head to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, where kids can play in the Children's Garden and peek inside the trunk of a tree.

Up the road at Farmland Adventures, kiddos can pick pumpkins, go for a wagon ride, visit the petting farm, play in the Corn Box—the farm's version of a sandbox—and spend the day in a corn maze (there's a giant 9 acre one and a mini one for kids of all ages).

Louisville, Kentucky

Peak Foliage: Late October

Why You Should Go: There are plenty of amazing parks within a few hours of Louisville (the Red River Gorge and the Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park to name a few), but it's possible to experience the brilliant fall colors without even leaving the city. Head to Cherokee Park, Iroquois Park, or Shawnee Park—all designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who worked on New York City's Central Park.

What Else To Do: Bring the family on an evening walk surrounded by more than 5,000 illuminated pumpkins at the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular (open from dusk each night). Even though the path is dark, it's not designed to be scary.

During the day, kids can keep the Halloween theme going with Boo at the Zoo at the Louisville Zoo, open from Thursdays to Sundays through the end of October. Fill up on sweets at one of the treat booths, ride the "Spooktacular" carousel, walk through the "not-so-itsy-bitsy" Spider House, and look out for the Headless Horseman. Later, treat the kids to a scoop of ice cream at the Comfy Cow, where they can sample classic flavors while parents try the Bourbon Ball (Old Forester bourbon ice cream, house-made bourbon ball candy pieces, and chocolate chips).

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Peak Foliage: Late October to Early November

Why You Should Go: This national park features colorful hikes and mild temperatures with more than 25 miles of trails, over 2 miles of boardwalk accessible for strollers and wheelchairs, and the largest intact old growth bottomland hardwood forest. Go canoeing or kayaking on the marked canoe trail, or make it a camping weekend.

What Else To Do: After getting your fill of the changing leaves, take a trip to Charleston. Kids can learn about the city's history at The Charleston Museum or by riding through the streets on a horse-drawn carriage. Head to the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry (online reservations required) to let them get the wiggles out with an interactive play space complete with a pirate ship, theater, "grocery store" aimed at helping kids make healthy eating choices, and an infant and toddler room designed to hone gross motor skill development.

For some fall fun, drive to the Boone Hall Plantation pumpkin patch for a family-friendly monster hayride, petting zoo, corn maze, and more.

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