North America may not have the austere, historical buildings you find crowding the cities of Europe. It may not have Asia’s bustling, buzzing city streets, or Africa’s ancient, deep-rooted cultural traditions. But there’s one thing it has in droves: natural beauty.
And that natural beauty is most apparent in the fall months. Because of the ample forest cover over much of the continent, you never have to go far to see stunning vistas of gold-hued trees. Add to that a few dramatic mountains, lakes, waterfalls and city skylines – you’ve got yourself a certifiable fall wonderland.
This fall, most people aren't travelling out of the country for obvious reasons. That's just fine. We like to think of it as a time for national introspection – a time to explore the riches right under our noses that we too often take for granted.
A couple of months ago, we posted an article with tips to keep in mind for your North American road trip, in which we discussed packing and precautions. Now, we’re back to offer concrete suggestions for your fall road trip itinerary.
Our criteria for choosing locations was simple: we were looking for natural beauty, the potential for exciting activities, and accessibility. We’ve done our best to include a wide spread of regions in both Canada and the US.
There is a lot of ground to cover in the United States. Luckily, wherever you are in the country, you’re assured to be near something spectacular. This fall, plan a road trip to one of the following spots and catch the leaves turning before winter. Below, we’ve included a healthy mix of national parks, small towns, busy cities and non-contiguous states.
It can get pretty chilly during Autumn, especially in the northern states, so make sure to pack a few pairs of warm merino wool socks.
Straddling the northern end of Mount Desert Island in Maine’s Frenchman Bay is the adorable Bar Harbor. This is everything you want a small town in Maine to be: it has stunning views of the Atlantic, dense swaths of birch and pine trees and a charming Main Street with local businesses.
Typically, Bar Harbour (and much of Maine, in fact) is flooded with tourists chasing the changing leaves this time of year, but 2020 is different. If you live nearby, go for the spectacular colours, but stay to support the local economy.
Spanning over six million acres and containing over 100 communities, the Adirondacks is a country unto itself. The Northeastern New York region is chock full of steep mountain cliffs, verdant valleys and pristine lakes, where travellers can hike, swim, picnic and camp. With a long history of accommodating fall travellers, the Adirondacks is an ideal spot if you live in New York or New England.
It isn't just the sweeping mountain ranges and serene national parks that corner all the fall beauty in the US. Don't overlook the cities. While the temptation is to give top New York honours to Central Park (which, to be fair, is beautiful), we're choosing Brooklyn. Prospect Park, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are all stunning spots to escape the city bustle, and a great reminder that, even in the densest parts of the country, nature is still abundant.
Heading southwest a hair, we arrive at the Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans all the way from Afton, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. Along the way, you’ll catch the majestic Smoky Mountains and soak in some Appalachian culture. According to the Blue Ridge Parkway website, “Some leaves in the Asheville area are already beginning to stop producing chlorophyll and change to their wardrobe of fall colors”. If you haven’t yet visited this cornerstone of Eastern American culture, fall is as good a time as any to make it right.
Even further southwest, covering ground in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma (and just a little bit of Kansas), is The Ozarks. A physiographic Highland region famous for its dolomite cliffs, sandstone bluffs and countless lakes and rivers, the Ozarks is a utopia for hikers. Make your home base in the lively, colourful Branson, Missouri, and take day trips and hikes from there.
Next stop is the great state of Utah, where you’ll find the staggering Zion National Park. Home to massive sandstone cliffs speckled with reds, pinks and oranges, Zion doesn’t even look real at first. But once your eyes adjust, you have a wealth of activities awaiting, including climbing, hiking, canyoneering and horseback riding.
Curious how these formations came into existence. The Utah State website puts it in eloquent terms: “A bajillion years ago, ancient iterations of the Virgin River started wreaking havoc on southwestern Utah. Now there’s a faint ‘You’re welcome’ echoing through the canyons of Zion National Park.”
When it's not busy hosting an international film festival (and not busy being a popular Kia SUV model), Telluride is content to be a beautiful ski town in Colorado. Fall here is stunning. Home to aspens, maples and evergreen Douglas-firs, as well as waterfalls like the famous Bridal Veil Falls, there’s a lot to look at in Telluride. The town is charming as well, with a thriving main street.
As you move further southwest and the climate gets warmer, you stop seeing those telltale signs of fall, like the orange foliage and acorn-littered grass. But there are a few outliers: namely, the eastern end of the Sierra Nevada mountains, near the Nevada border. It’s got Mono Lake, Bodie State Historic Park and even parts of Yosemite National Park to explore. It encompasses tall mountains, vibrantly-coloured woodland and a few abandoned mining towns that seem ripped from the reels of an old Spaghetti Western.
Girded by the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico’s High Desert is a small town called Taos. You might not expect it, but it's home to some fantastic fall foliage. Additionally, it’s got some majorly impressive Southwestern flair going for it. The town itself is lined with Pueblo homes made of adobe and straw. For its preservation of traditional Pueblo culture, it was even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in ’92. It might not be your “typical” fall foliage spot, but it’s one of the most compelling.
Speaking of atypical fall spots, let’s move away from the contiguous US and toward the Pacific island of Kuai in Hawaii. Kuai is obviously gorgeous year-round, but you get the advantage of a relatively quiet tourist season in fall. It can be a little rainy between October and December (or a lot rainy, if you're unlucky,) so make sure to pack your quick-drying merino wool travel clothing and bring a rain jacket.
On the Atlantic side of the coin, you’ve got Puerto Rico. Like Hawaii, the weather is warm (if wet) year-round. And also like Hawaii, you’ll find stunning waterfalls, pristine white-sand beaches, dense nature and a bevy of recreational activities in Puerto Rico.
Because of its humidity, you know we’re going to recommend packing sweat-wicking merino clothing, but you should also look at our article on what not to pack – the last thing you want to trek around Puerto Rico is a heavy suitcase.
The True North is an outdoor adventurer’s holy grail. It contains a wild amount of biodiversity and natural features that seemingly compete to out-beautiful each other. Canadians in every corner of the country have something to get excited about this fall – from the crisp sea breezes and evocative shorelines of the Maritimes, to the temperate rainforests and foliage-lined sidewalks of Vancouver Island.
PEI is a red and yellow wonderland in fall. The cherry trees, sumacs and red maples provide the red, while the birch trees and poplars bring the yellow. And nestled in and among those trees are friendly maritime cities and scenic highways. At the time of writing, the Maritime region has a travel restriction (the so-called Maritime Bubble,) but if you belong to that bubble, fall’s the time to visit PEI.
Another must-see fall spot in the Maritime bubble is The Cabot Trail, a long stretch of highway on the Nova Scotia coastline. The drive itself is worth the trip, with valley to one side and the Atlantic to the other. But stay a while for the activities. Hike in the Cape Breton Highlands, go whale watching or kayaking in the ocean and – of course – eat plenty of lobster at the towns dotting the trail. Even if you aren’t a part of the bubble, you can always plan a trip for next year.
Montreal is arguably one of the greatest big cities in North America. Full-on French culture nestled beside the Saint Lawrence River north of Vermont. It’s got delicious food, like the ubiquitous poutine and smoked meat sandwich, great bars, a vibrant art scene, old buildings and an abundance of fall foliage. Yes, later in fall, it gets pretty chilly, but right now, you can get a deal on insulating merino clothing – so you’re all good to go!
Once you’ve touched down in Montreal and seen the city, strike off for the Laurentian Mountains at the northern outlet of the Saint Lawrence. It’s about a four-hour drive from Montreal, but you get to stop at the exquisite Quebec City along the way, one of the oldest European cities in North America. When you eventually get to the Laurentians, you’ll be greeted with vast natural beauty. Sprinkled with over 9,000 lakes and countless towering mountain cliffs, it’s ideal for hikers, kayakers and campers.
Heading west a province to Ontario, you’ll find Algonquin Park. North of the major city of Toronto by about three hours, by the time you hit Algonquin, none of the bustle of the city remains. Just a vast, serene, gorgeous network of forests, lakes, rivers, maple hills and rock ridges. Canoeing is a popular pastime here, as is trout fishing. It’s also one of your best bets for moose viewing – the most cliched of Canadian activities.
In the south end of the province, across from upstate New York on Lake Ontario, you’ll find Prince Edward County. It's actually an island, but for obvious reasons (see above), they couldn't name it Prince Edward Island. It’s a region of neighbourhood communities – hamlets, small towns and rural farmland – surrounded by sandy beaches and bright forests. The County is also known for its quality wineries, so if you like your red foliage paired with a glass of red, this is the right spot.
Moving west a couple of provinces, we arrive at Banff. Traditionally a ski resort town, Alberta’s most popular Rocky Mountain destination is spectacular any time of year. Of course, it has mountains – white-capped Rockies that go on seemingly forever. It also has cave systems, Victorian-era log buildings, hot springs, whitewater rapids and about a hundred other things going for it. Fall is a shoulder season for the tourist industry, so it won’t be as busy as either summer or winter.
On the southern tip of Vancouver Island, at the south-westernmost corner of Canada, is the stunning city of Victoria. With old heritage buildings, a spirited downtown area and a long inner harbour lined with bar patios, seafood restaurants and artisan shops, it’s no wonder Victoria is a popular tourist destination among Canadians. The city is also home to several public and private gardens that look otherworldly in the fall. A short ferry ride from Vancouver, it’s easy to access and totally worth the trip.
You might not be travelling far this fall, but you can still travel well. Explore your own backyard and catch all the natural beauty fall has to offer. As usual, if you have tips on a must-see fall spot near you that we missed, let us know. We’re always looking for new destinations. And to learn more about how merino wool can help keep you cool, warm, dry and fresh on your fall jaunt, check out the merino wool guide on our website!