As the hectic and hot months of summer wind down, fall brings excitement in new forms. Football and fires replace swimming and vacations. Crisp air and vibrant colors make this season a cozy and peaceful time before the holidays. Tourists from summer have left and Christmas crowds have yet to come, which makes fall the perfect time to pack up your car, hit the road and explore some of the best small towns in America.
The Pacific Northwest, New England and Appalachia all provide excellent opportunities for leaf peeping between late September and mid-November. We’ve chosen 21 of the best small towns in these regions to explore during fall and ranked them based on the number of fall festivals, nearby national parks, outdoor activities and local breweries, wineries and restaurants. Colorful foliage creates a seasonal environment within a small town, and outdoor activities, breweries, wineries, festivals and restaurants add to the overall fall experience. Read on to plan your perfect autumn road trip.
Best Small Towns for Fall in the Pacific Northwest
Washington is the Evergreen State, but its name can be misleading at this time of year. You’ll see the leaves change to familiar hues of yellow, brown and auburn during fall months in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho. What makes the Pacific Northwest a special place for fall is the abundance of state parks and outdoor attractions.
Whether you enjoy hiking, camping or leaf peeping (traveling to view and photograph the fall foliage), the small towns we’ve chosen allow you to get outside and experience the beauty of nature while also celebrating the community provided by a small town’s annual events and festivals.
We’ve provided some of the best dates below for viewing fall foliage in the Pacific Northwest, so you can plan your trip accordingly and make your experience one to remember. Keep in mind that the Pacific Northwest is expected to see some warm spells this fall, so if you’re hoping for an Indian summer, you might just be in luck. While no weather predictions are 100 percent accurate, these dates are based on U.S. average temperatures since 1900.
1. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
First on our list and the top-ranked small town in the Pacific Northwest is Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Coeur d’Alene is known year-round for summer and winter sports, but it’s also a prime location for fall festivals and scenic trails that will have you itching to bust out your camera. If an autumn festival gets you in the seasonal spirit, Coeur d’Alene will keep you busy with the Huckleberry Festival Vendor Fair, the Coeur d’Alene Oktoberfest and Scarywood Haunted Nights. For those who prefer to celebrate fall with the peace and quiet of the outdoors, then you can hike the nearby North Idaho Centennial Trail, Tubbs Hill Nature Trails or Mineral Ridge Trail.
2. Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth, two hours east of Seattle, is known as the Bavaria of the Pacific Northwest. What makes Leavenworth one of the best small towns in America are its fall festivals? Leavenworth hosts the Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival in late September, and of course, the iconic Leavenworth Oktoberfest. Attendees of all ages will revel in how much this town feels like the Alps of Germany, making it the second-best small town in the PNW to soak up fall.
3. Hood River, Oregon
Coming in third is a town located just east of Portland, Hood River, Oregon. This small town isn’t just for Oregnonians, rather it provides everything you’d desire in a picturesque fall town. Head over to Mount Hood National Forest to hike, camp and watch the leaves change color. Pick your own apples at one of the many orchards along Hood River’s Fruit Loop, taste fresh wine at a local vineyard. If you visit Hood River in mid-October, the Hood River Valley Harvest Fest will surely get you in the spirit of fall.
4. Poulsbo, Washington
If your favorite part of the season is Halloween, then you’ll love the spooky events that take place in Poulsbo, Washington. Not only does Poulsbo host an annual event called Port Gamble’s Ghost Walks, but they also have the Spirits and Spirits: Boos and Booze event in late October.
Top that off with some Nordic charm. Poulsbo, often referred to as “Little Norway,” is ripe with Norwegian influence that dates back all the way to 1875. In fact, Norwegian was once the only language spoken in Poulsbo. While, much has changed today, you can still take in the distinctive old-world feel where many businesses greet you with a friendly “Velkommen!” and streets have names like Fjord Drive and Iverson Street.
5. McCall, Idaho
As fall brings cooler weather to the Pacific Northwest, McCall, Idaho, is a great town to breathe in the crisp air while staying warm in a unique way. McCall sits in a prime geographical region, surrounded by eight natural hot springs. Bust out your compass and take a hike through one of the many trails in the Payette National Forest to soak up the surrounding magic.
Or experience fall foliage on the edge of Payette Lake, where beautiful scenery is bound to impress. Coming in at 5th on our list, McCall is the epitome of a quaint small town with plenty of outdoor activities to explore. Better yet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a chain restaurant nearby.
6. Cottage Grove, Oregon
If not for the leaf peeping opportunities at nearby rivers and lakes that surround Cottage Grove, this town ranks sixth on our list because it’s home to over 12 award-winning wineries. Nothing is more enjoyable than sipping freshly made wine in the crisp air of fall. With plenty of history intertwined with opportunities for outdoor activities, Cottage Grove will exceed your expectations.
7. Winthrop, Washington
Last but certainly not least on our list is the charming town of Winthrop, Washington. The town has an Old West feel that will make you think you’ve stepped back in time, plus there’s and 22 breweries and restaurants to choose from in the surrounding area, making it a great place weekend getaway for a group of friends.
Close to Winthrop, you’ll find Metho Wildlife Area and Pearrygin Lake State Park, which are great areas for leaf peeping, hiking, camping, and boating.
Best Small Towns for Fall in New England
New England is famous for its explosion of colorful leaves in the fall. Because temperatures drop quickly and early in the Northeast, the colors change in late September and stay vibrant until late October, depending on the year and the state. What makes New England so special during the fall is its rich history that surpasses any other region in the country.
Many small towns in New England have been there for centuries. The festivals in each town celebrate the changing seasons in addition to the stories that make each area unique. Whether you want to pick apples, sip cider, explore nature or cozy up in a bed-and-breakfast, you’ll have no trouble finding fall vibes in New England.
The best time for leaf peeping in New England is early October, but we’ve provided dates to guide you through each state. Fall foliage can change quickly with the Northeast’s cold weather, so always stay aware of the weather in case you need to change your plans.
1. Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is a harbor town with an abundance of history, which also makes it the epicenter for fall festivals and first on our list for New England small towns. As the quintessential New England summer fades into fall, visitors can celebrate the harvest, the food and the culture of the land in Newport that have been a part of this country for over three hundred years. The Annual Harvest Festival at Greenvale Vineyards and the Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival are just a few of Newport’s many autumnal events.
2. Camden, Maine
Next on our list is the coastal town of Camden, Maine. If you’ve spent time around New England, you might enjoy the similar feel to Nantucket. Though many visitors flock here during the summer months, this is also one of the best small towns for fall. The town becomes more enjoyable during fall because the crowds have left, the leaves change color, and the outdoors are yours to explore. You can hike or bike during the day and cozy up to a fire at the Camden Harbour Inn at night.
3. Stowe, Vermont
Stowe, nicknamed “The Ski Capital of the East,” is home to Stowe Mountain Resort, and while beautiful during winter, this small town is extremely underrated during the fall. Flaming red, orange and yellow foliage enliven Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, that towers above this historic and vibrant community. If you’d rather have a birds-eye view of the fall foliage, then jump on the Stowe Gondola SkyRide for a unique perspective.
Stowe is also pack in the fall festivals during the month of October — from the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival to Vermont’s Pumpkin Chuckin Festival and the end of the month, it’s easy to understand why this town comes in near the top of our list.
4. Lenox, Massachusetts
A list of best fall foliage towns isn’t complete without mentioning the Berkshires. Coming in at fourth on our New England list, Lenox is a destination for scenery seekers, outdoorsy types, history buffs, and art lovers — and not to forget the many nearby, fabulous estates.
If you’re a foodie, then you’ll love the many restaurants in Lenox that feature locally grown food. The town also offers an award-winning selection of places to stay that will make your trip feel exceptionally cozy. If getting outdoors in the fall is your goal, you can explore the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and its 1300 acres of wilderness or do some leaf peeping from the Summit of Mount Greylock.
5. Kent, Connecticut
At fifth on our list, Kent comes in at one of the best small towns for fall because of its outdoor attractions and community feel. The nearby Kent Falls State Park, often called “The Jewel of the Inland Parks,” has a wealth of scenic views and 17 waterfalls making leaf peeping, unlike any other New England area.
Don’t forget to view fall colors from the top of Cobble Mountain, in Macedonia Brook State Park. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to view the Harlem Valley into the Taconic and the Catskill Mountains. Or drive iconic scenic drive down Route 7; wander into shops for prime New England antiquing or try your hand at the annual Kent Pumpkin Run.
6. Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Bretton Woods is an area within the town of Carroll, New Hampshire, but it’s best known for being home to the historic Mount Washington Resort, one of the few surviving “grand hotels” along the White Mountains. When it comes to fall foliage, Bretton Woods offers an unforgettable experience. Take in the views from a hike in the nearby White Mountain National Forest, get a birds-eye-view on a canopy tour from the resort or jump on the 150-year-old Mount Washington Cog Railway, the oldest steam-powered cog railway in the world.
7. Albany, New Hampshire
Albany is home to Mount Chocorua, which is one of the most photographed mountains in the Northeast and because 86 percent of Albany is located in the White Mountain National Forest, you won’t find a better place for leaf peeping during fall. The town’s Annual Harvest Festival at Tamworth Village is an autumn festival you won’t forget.
Of course, no trip to Albany is complete without snapping a photo of the 1858 Albany Covered Bridge that spans the Swift River. It’s a quick detour off the scenic Kancamagus Highway — one of New Hampshire’s best fall foliage drives and a perfect place to experience the fall colors.
Best Small Towns for Fall in Appalachia
Southern Appalachia is unique in culture and landscape. People in Appalachia prioritize community and family, and you can see how much they care in their traditions, events and festivals. The Appalachian Mountains provide magnificent scenery and opportunities for activities.
Because temperatures typically stay warmer for longer in the southern United States, you’ll see leaves change more slowly. You can begin leaf peeping in mid- to late-October and continue to do so through mid-November.
1. Blue Ridge, Georgia
Blue Ridge is one of the best small towns to visit in fall because a tight-knit community feel accompanies the epic mountain scenery and nothing says fall in the South like the Georgia Apple Festival. But the festivals don’t just stop there, there are over seven fall festivals to choose from including the Cherry Log Festival, Blue Ridge Marching Band Festival and more.
Fall foliage is also a big deal in this part of Georgia, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the area to experience the vibrant orange and yellow colors of fall. However, the best part about a leaf peeping getaway during October and November is that due to the varied elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains, fall foliage lasts longer than most places in the world. It’s also a prime place to explore the outdoors with nearby waterfalls, lakes and hiking trails galore.
2. Helen, Georgia
Second on our list is Helen Georgia. While only 430 people reside in this small town, it’s Georgia’s third most-visited city, next to Atlanta and Savannah. But don’t let the crowds deter you. The 2.1 square miles of Helen packed full of Bavarian, charm — a sight you won’t want to miss. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen has cobblestone walkways, quaint hotels, wineries and its very own Oktoberfest. Not to mention, it’s a hotbed for outdoor activities with four nearby national and state parks.
3. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is a small town with a big reputation. Known for its beautiful mountain scenery, tourists and locals alike enjoy this town in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You can rent a private cabin here and do some excellent leaf peeping from the privacy of your own balcony or head to the top of the Gatlinburg Sky Lift for views of foliage as far as the eye can see.
The kaleidoscope of fall colors in the Smoky Mountains is magnificent and varied because of some 100 species of native trees. This also means that the timing leaf color change depends upon so more variables than other towns on the list. Autumn color starts to display above 4,000 feet as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, and lower elevations as late as mid-November with trees like trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak and hickories
4. Ellijay, Georgia
Ellijay is known as the “Apple Capital of Georgia,” so this fourth-ranked town is must-visit destination during fall in South Appalachia. Their Apple Pickin’ Jubilee if a renowned Georgia festival celebrates the apple harvest. On weekends, kids can shoot “bad apples” from the apple cannons at B.J. Reece Orchards or cheer on pigs at Hillcrest Orchard’s famous pig races.
When it comes to leaf peeping, you can visit nearby Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest or visit the 62 miles of natural shoreline on Carters Lake. Lined with trees, this 3,200-acre lake is a great place to take in the changing leaves of the mountains. The Appalachian Trail also runs through Ellijay, which makes it a great destination for hiking.
5. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Coming in at fifth, Harpers Ferry is located in the lower Shenandoah Valley where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. This small town is beautiful in the fall when the colors change and the weather cools down. If you want to hike and explore the outdoors, then you have easy access to the Appalachian Trail as it also passes right through the town.
Since it’s a stone’s throw over the Virginia line, Harpers Ferry is as charismatic as it is historic. Stroll along the picturesque cobblestone streets and tour the museums in town or rest your head at one of the many historic inns after you’ve enjoyed a day at the Mac & Brews Festival.
6. Walhalla, South Carolina
Walhalla is a small South Carolina town known as the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which also helps explain it’s named, derived from Norse mythology meaning “The Garden of the Gods.” Because German immigrants founded Walhalla, the town has its own Walhalla Oktoberfest and is a perfect destination for fall if you want a mix of outdoor activities, scenic views and community.
You’ll also want to make a stop at Tunnel Park to visit the state’s only man-made tunnel. Constructed in the mid-1800s, Stumphouse Tunnel once employed an entire village, appropriately named “Tunnel Village.”
7. Davis, West Virginia
Davis is situated along the Blackwater River and is a leaf-peeper’s dream. Within this area are two of the most popular and scenic state parks in West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park and Canaan Valley Resort State Park. Blackwater Falls is one of the most photographed sites in West Virginia. If you want to view the fall foliage from above, you can take the Canaan Resort’s scenic chairlift.
The town also hosts the Leaf Peepers Festival in late September to celebrate fall and the beautiful foliage that comes with it. Davis is everything you want in a small town experience during fall — 3 breweries, 1 stoplight, beautiful views and good fun.
The Pacific Northwest may draw you in with its towering trees and misty mornings, or you may find yourself infatuated with the cold air and deep fall colors of New England. Alternatively, the mountainous terrain and sense of community that accompanies Southern Appalachia may intrigue you above all else.
You can stumble upon some of the best small towns for fall when you least expect it. As you drive down the road amid leaf peeping season, keep a lookout for orchards, wineries, quaint restaurants, historic inns, and anything else that gets you in the seasonal spirit. Wherever your next road trip takes you in the coming months, you can find enchantment in the outdoors, events and traditions that make fall so special.