Go on a foliage tour of the West at our favorite places to soak up the season's golds, crimsons, and more.
Aspens and oaks gild the slopes
San Juan Mountains, CO
In October, the aspens and oaks of Colorado's San Juan Mountains gild the slopes so brilliantly it's like Project Runway for trees. Choose from two great scenic drives to take it all in: the San Juan Skyway or the Silver Thread Scenic & Historic Byway.
Use the town as a base to explore the vivid fall color of the Eastern Sierra and the wealth of hot springs stretching between it and Mammoth Lakes, 60 miles south. Try this therapeutic formula for a long weekend: Drive, hike, see fall color, and do some soaking on the way to Mammoth Lakes. Don't miss the Travertine Hot Springs, where the waters average 105° and views of the Sawtooths are yours to savor, or Conway summit (south of Bridgeport on U.S. 395) for a sweeping, tree-dotted vista of where the Great Basin meets the High Sierra.
More great fall hikes
Sunshine, great dining, and golden leaves: "Flag" is Arizona's capital of autumn. In fall, the air in Flagstaff is crisp as a Winesap, the skies are the dictionary definition of blue, and the return of 18,000 NAU students gives "Flag" a Red Bull-swigging, outdoorsy zing. Explore the historic downtown or head to the hills for some seasonal hiking. Also, don't miss Coconino National Forest, located north of town, for the state's most spectacular aspens set against the backdrop of dormant volcano Humphreys Peak.
Foliage that rivals Vermont's
Autumn in this throwback burg explodes with foliage that rivals Vermont's. The city--population 16,000--may be the largest city in Mendocino County, but the place is as small-town as it gets. It's got 19th-century architecture, charming tree-lined neighborhoods, and a laid-back vibe without the bustling feel of its wine country neighbors. Make sure you save time for the indoor and outdoor mineral baths at Vichy Springs Resort (pictured).
More California fall trips
Fall color is off the charts in this low-key riverside town that's less than an hour from Portland. Biking and yoga are big, as are the views on the 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail, a paved former railroad grade, where you can pedal, walk, or ride horses through forests of yellow ash and red maple, past burbling creeks, across 80-foot-high Buxton Trestle, and right into Vernonia.
More on fall in the Northwest
Maroon Bells, Aspen, CO
Colorado's most photographed landscape is even better in living color, when the distinctive symmetry of snow-dusted Maroon and North Maroon Peaks are framed by a ribbon of aspens, all reflecting on shimmering Maroon Lake.
Fall in the Rockies
Where else but Alaska could you get both a dose of fall color and soak in the cosmic color of the aurora borealis? Choose your adventure: local art and culture in Anchorage, the cream of Alaska's natural world in Kenai Fjords National Park, glacier-gazing in Juneau, or taking in the heart-stopping geography of Haines.
Arroyo Seco, NM
Fall's golds and reds are at their height in this tiny, eclectic village 9 miles north of Taos. Right at the foot of towering Taos Mountain, Arroyo Seco is perfect for an outdoor adventure on horseback through a landscape of streams, rocky cliffs, and changing leaves. In town, country meets bohemian with tons of eco-friendly finds. America's favorite boho sweetheart, Julia Roberts, even lives on a secluded ranch nearby. Take a drive outside town along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway (State 522) to see quartz and feldspar rock formations as well as aspens.
More on fall in the Southwest
Wine Trail, near Monterey, CA
In California's Salinas Valley, near Monterey, fall color can be found in more places than just the leaves. Sample all hues of great, under-the-radar wines along River Road, aka the Wine Trail, at the 20 or so wineries (most of them in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation). In addition, make time to stock up excellent local produce along the way--there's a good reason it's called the "salad bowl of the country" (80 percent of U.S.-grown lettuce comes from here).
Who says you have to leave the city to get your fill of fall? Head to our favorite Denver hilltop, LoHi, aka Lower Highlands, for rooftop bars and alfresco restaurants with views of the downtown skyline and the city's golden elms.
These ideas should get you started. If they just whet your appetite for more fall travel, read up on the West's best fall travel experiences.