Fall Leaf-Peeping Trip: A Nature-Lover’s Guide

If you take a turn ’round the right bend deep in the woods, at this time of year you’ll catch a glimpse of the leaves all ablaze in their autumnal glory: burnished burgundy, fiery orange, and sun-kissed yellow. 


I like to think of fall as Mother Nature’s beautiful swan song for the year — until the next season of growth emerges. And growing up in New England, I always got my fill of stunning foliage. A free weekend was always well-spent outside leaf-peeping. Just picture it: the crunch of leaves underfoot, the crisp outdoor air mingling with the smoky scent of a far-off bonfire, and all the warm colors surrounding you.


Ready to hit the road for an autumnal adventure? Here’s everything you need to know and pack for the trip (yes, apple cider doughnuts are a must).


When to Go


Timing is everything. The changing of the leaves typically happens in mid-September, and as time progresses, the colors move southbound until they fade away completely by early November. 


Ever wondered why the leaves change color every year? Martha explains that this glorious fall frondescence is triggered by falling temperatures and the decrease of daylight. For the trees, it’s their cue to put on a show.

The ever-elusive “peak” is prime time to hit the road — the display of foliage during an off-week pales in comparison. One week, the leaves are bursting with color. The next, they’ve faded to a dull brown and mostly shed from their branches. For the most precise, up-to-the-moment leaf-peeping forecast in your area, check your Farmer’s Almanac or another trusted source.


Where to Go

Every year, the leaves begin to change on the highest mountain peaks and gradually descend to the lower elevations. For this reason, you should pick a route that gives you a winding, panoramic view of trees at different elevations. New England boasts some of the country’s most scenic byways and vistas, but if you live far from the northeast, there are still plenty of great options for you. 


For instance, take a scenic drive along Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains. Hike around Cathedral Lake in Aspen, Colorado, or the Ozarks in Missouri. Check out any country roads in the Catskills. Be sure to track the traffic report before you leave — this will help you avoid unexpected detours and rough road conditions.


Photography by: John Kernick

What to Pack

It’s a good idea to keep a map handy to track the gradual change of colors as they migrate from region to region, but don’t be a stickler to itinerary. After all, part of the fun is indulging in the spirit of wanderlust. Divert from the main highway to take the less-traveled-by roads, and be prepared to make impromptu pit stops — that includes covered bridges, local farm stands, harvest festivals, and corn mazes. And besides that, who knows? A breathtaking vista could be hidden just around the bend. Get out of the car and take a walk into the woods.


For off-the-road excursions, bundle up to be comfortable. Be mindful of altitude changes and sudden fluctuations in the weather. Dress in easy-to-peel-off layers, preferably in fibers that breathe well and keep you dry. And wear comfy shoes should you decide to hike out into the woods in pursuit of a vista with a breathtaking bird’s-eye view.


Pack a leaf-peeping picnic: a salty and spicy pumpkin seed trail mix for snacking, and piping-hot pumpkin spice lattes. And of course, you need a bag of old-fashioned apple cider doughnuts.

What to Do with Those Leaves You Collected

In most cases, you should leave the woods as you found them. But those brightly-colored leaves will soon be compost anyway, so Mother Nature won’t mind if you sneak a few away.


Once you’ve got them home, here a few fun ways to put your colorful collection to use: Encircle them into a festive wreath or bunch them together in a fresh autumnal arrangement, let them shine as candleholders, press them into handmade cards, or simply use them as inspiration for your next art project.


Tell us, where do you like to go leaf-peeping?