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The Hunt for Red (and Yellow) October. It's Officially Fall - Let the Quest for Color Begin!

McKittrick Canyon in the fall.

This is West Texas? McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. NPS Photo by Cookie Ballou

Fall is officially here in the northern hemisphere, and for many travelers that means getting outdoors to enjoy the weather—and some fall color. Most of us are familiar with areas that are justifiably famous for their annual display of red and yellow leaves, so here are a few suggestions for some lesser-known options. Links to park websites for each area listed will take you to sources of additional information.

If you've never enjoyed an autumn in southern Indiana, this area might not occur to you as a possibility for a fall excursion. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and the adjacent Lincoln State Park are located in a part of the country with a lovely mixed hardwood forest, and the rolling hills of this part of the state provide a nice backdrop for the foliage.

Fall is an especially nice time of year to enjoy the short walk through the forest from the visitor center to the Living Historical Farm. The farm on the site where Abe Lincoln grew to manhood is staffed and open daily through October 10 this year, and you can still enjoy the site as an "exhibit in place" after that date.

The drives on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (Virginia) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia and North Carolina) always attract a fall crowd, but another parkway offers an alternative for southern leaf lookers.

The Natchez Trace Parkway runs for 444 miles, from Natchez, Mississippi, across northwest Alabama to just south of Nashville, Tennessee. The Parkway is designated as a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road. Best bets for fall color on this drive are on the northern end of the Parkway, which has more mixed hardwood forest than the southern end of the drive.

The Ozarks of northern Arkansas are another fine fall destination, and an article in the Traveler last October highlighted the virtues of a trip to the Buffalo National River. Late October and November aren't usually prime season for canoeing on the Buffalo, but they can be fine months for enjoying the scenery.

The words "fall foliage" and "Arizona desert" may sound like a classic oxymoron, but if you're willing to take your view of autumn leaves on a smaller scale, you can find some dramatic opportunities throughout the Southwestern U.S. Look for sites that include a river, stream or other body of water, and late fall can provide some nice surprises when the leaves of species such as cottonwood change color.

The contrast of the bright foliage with colorful cliffs can provide some fine photo opportunities, even if the leaves are limited to a few trees. I've taken some great shots under those conditions in years past at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, and at Montezuma Castle National Monument and the nearby Montezuma Well. Both sites are located a short distance off I-17, between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

If you don't mind an uphill hike for the chance to enjoy some fall leaves in a truly improbable part of the country, consider a trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas. The park's McKittrick Canyon contains some surprising hardwoods in this "island in the desert." This is a popular destination, especially during the fall color season, so don't expect this remote location to provide an escape from crowds!

The hunt for good fall color is always an adventure, and often a bit of a gamble, since the timing and extent of the color can vary from year to year. If you're driving very far or are determined to see some nice foliage, it's always a good idea to call ahead and check with a reliable source at your destination. A Google search will turn up a variety of "leaf watcher" sites, and a very general overview of how color is progressing for various parts of the country is available on the Weather Channel's website.

What suggestions do you have for other National Park Service fall foliage sites that aren't on all the standard lists?


Don't forget Zion. I think it is beautiful here when the cottonwoods and maples start turning. Not as dramatic as the Appalachians, but still beautiful. A nice contrast against the red cliffs.

Ranger Holly

I would strongly recommend the 35 mile drive from Calumet, MI to Copper Harbor, MI along US 41 through the heart of the Keewenaw Peninsula in the NW portion of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The color peaks the last half of Sept and the first half of October. Along the way are old mining sites affiliated with the Keewenaw National Historical Park, which tells the story of the "Copper Rush" that occurred at the same time as the CA Gold Rush. US 41 is a narrow 2 lane highway with little or no shoulder and the foliage litterally overhangs the highway in many places. If you are a fisherman, bring a boat and fish Gratiot Lake, a small lake a few miles off US 41. That time of the year is prime fishing time for Northern Pike and I once caught a 43 inch 22 lb pike out of that lake the first week of October.

Heh. We've been looking at fall colors here in Denali for almost six weeks now. They were beautiful this year, especially from the air, pic's really don't do it justice. For me it is the tundra colors that set us apart from anywhere in the lower 48. It is mostly over now with some stubborn aspen and birch leaves hanging on underneath the snow that fell Monday night. My wife and I will be in Anchorage this weekend which is in a completely different weather zone and hope to catch them all over again!

This is one area where the midwest really puts the Pacific Northwest to shame. I haven't seen it in fall but Effigy Mounds is supposed to be cool for fall colors.

Devil's Lake (WI State Park and an NPS Affiliated area) is also supposed to be good

If you are in the Oklahoma-Arkansas-North Texas area, check out Beavers Bend State Park and the Ouachita National Forest near Broken Bow, OK. Absolutely gorgeous in the fall!!

I know it is not a NPS site, but the color at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in SW Pennsylvania is absolutely spectacular. We were there a few years ago on the peak day and the explosion in color was something to behold.

[Editor's note: Bogator - thanks for sharing a beautiful photo! Due to the size of the image, it was slowing the loading of this site to speeds that were causing some difficulty for our readers who are limited to a dial-up connection. I've included the following link to the photo for anyone who would like to see it. Jim B]

Note: I just updated the above link. Bogator

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