Say “leaf peeping” and everyone immediately thinks of New England, Colorado’s golden aspens or the Blue Ridge Parkway of North Carolina!

But did you know places like Wine Country, Oklahoma and even New Mexico have plenty of fall foliage to boast about but with fewer “leaf peeping” crowds?

Here are some of my favorite places to see the autumn leaves away from the masses.

7 Less Crowded Fall Foliage Destinations

California Wine Country 

Did you know that in autumn the grape vines turn marvelous shades of yellow and red? I didn’t! There are also Crepe Myrtle, live Oak and maple trees, plus it’s harvest season, so you may get to watch the grape harvest in action.

Napa Valley Wine Train Fall Foliage

Two great ways to see Sonoma wine country in all its glory this time of year are by bike or by train. Sonoma on a Bike is a new local bike tour company that takes small groups through the fantastic scenery punctuated by gourmet meals at local restaurants and wine tastings at area vineyards. The best part: all fees are included in the price, so all you have to do is show up and pedal.

Another great option is the Napa Valley Wine Train, which is actually a fine dining restaurant on wheels with multi-course meals. The antique train, composed of vintage rail cars, runs on 25 miles of track in the heart of Napa Valley.

Read more of my suggestions for fall activities in Wine Country.


Aufderheide Drive by David Putzier
Aufderheide Drive by David Putzier

Filled with hues of gold and yellow, reminding me of the aspens of Colorado, Oregon offers many options to see fall foliage through the end of October. The Eugene, Cascades & Coast region of Oregon is also home to nationally famous fall foliage drives such as Aufderheide Scenic Byway (above). Another gorgeous drive is Highway 126 to the Oregon Coast. The picturesque Allison Inn & Spa in Williamette Valley makes a perfect homebase for exploration.

New Mexico

Fall Foliage Santa Fe New Mexico
Santa Fe National Forest, Credit

Head to the southern U.S. for more unexpected fall color! The state of New Mexico offers fall foliage through November with the colors lasting longer the further south you go. “During my first autumn in New Mexico last year, I couldn’t believe the stunning fall colors where I live in Albuquerque,” says Heather Briganti, communications director for the New Mexico Tourism Department. “The high-elevation-loving aspen trees are shimmering in the sunlight. I love fall in New Mexico!”

John Feins, public relations manager for Santa Fe, says of the city currently, “Even right in town, the walk along Alameda and the Santa Fe River is as rich a palette as any canvas in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, The Museum Of Indian Arts & Culture, or any of the dozen other museums or 250 galleries in town.”

Another top spot for color is along the 163-mile Jemez Mountain Trail. Travelers can expect to see roads lined with yellow daisies, golden snakeweed, and orange and gold-hued Cottonwood trees trailing the Jemez River with the backdrop of the terra-cotta colored Jemez Mountains.


Talimena Scenic Drive, Eastern Oklahoma, Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation
Talimena Scenic Drive, Eastern Oklahoma

Not only the place where the winds coming sweeping down the plains… but a spot full of fantastic autumnal hues, as well! The Talimena National Scenic Byway in southeastern Oklahoma runs through the Ouachita Mountains and Ouachita National Forest with sweeping vistas and scenic turns. You’ll find plenty of color here through mid-November.

Sriram Srinivasan, travel blogger at, comments, “Essentially, you get the same experience as the Blue Ridge Parkway without the crowds or the high prices.” I’m in!

Georgia Mountains

The Dillard House
The Dillard House

If you’re set on the Blue Ridge Mountains, bypass the crowds in North Carolina and head to the mountains of north Georgia (did you know Georgia has mountains AND ocean?). The leaves in the northern part of the state reach their peak in early to middle November, giving you a later option for a fall getaway.

The Dillard House in the Little Tennessee Valley is a quiet and quaint place to stay in the midst of the autumn show with horseback riding, plentiful fishing in area streams, local vineyards and plenty of options for hiking.

Missouri Ozarks

Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge

In late October and early November, the leaves begin to change in the Ozark mountains of Missouri. Big Cedar Lodge has a front row seat to the action set on 800 acres along the majestic 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake. The massive lodge features a collection of lodges, cottages and cabins rooted in rustic elegance that come with all the modern comforts. This area is not far from Branson should you want to add some entertainment to your autumn getaway.

Pure Michigan

Michigan fall foliage
Credit: Pure Michigan

A neighbor to my north here in Indianapolis always offers fantastic fall views and Michigan tourism reps say the fall foliage is a week late this year and expected to last about a week longer thanks to a mild summer. Head to spots along the coast for the longest lasting Michigan fall color, which they explain starts in the Upper Peninsula, spreads into Northern Lower Peninsula and culminates along the coasts. They claim Michigan’s color even rivals the east coast, which we believe based on the photo above!


  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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