While summer is the most popular time to visit the States, there are many reasons to wait until autumn to explore the USA. It’s cooler, it’s quieter, it’s cheaper and it’s arguably more beautiful. If you skip the summer rush, you’ll get a far more easy-going American escape. What more could you want?
Between late September and late October, the flaming colours of autumn spread all over the USA. From the forests of Oregon to the sleepy towns of New England, it’s a blaze of glory on a super-sized scale. While New England is the classic spot for some serious ‘leaf-peeking’, there are plenty of alternative destinations to see the season turn.
In addition to the fall foliage, autumn is a wonderful time to experience the epic landscapes and buzzing cities of the USA. Visit the Napa Valley during the annual grape harvest, watch grizzly bears prepare for hibernation in Yellowstone, and take a spellbinding trip to Salem.
Here are twelve of our top experiences in the USA in autumn. Wherever you choose to go and whatever you choose to do, we guarantee you won’t be sorry.
A New England autumn road trip is a classic bucket list experience for a very good reason. It’s everything you dream it will be and more. We’re talking amber foliage against white clapboard chapels, leaf-scattered mountain roads, forests ablaze with fiery shades, and pumpkin patches full of harvest cheer. The entire region feels like a celebration of fall.
This is somewhere to travel slowly and soak up the atmosphere, so try to give New England the time it deserves. Explore Acadia National Park in Maine, disappear into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, feast on fresh lobster in Cape Cod, and see Vermont’s maple trees festooned with ruby-red foliage.
Follow country roads under a canopy of reds, oranges, and yellows as you explore the Great Smokies in autumn. Estimated to be between 200 and 300 years old, it's an ancient leafy wilderness that is home to more native trees than the whole of Europe and the most visited National Park in the USA.
Straddling Tennessee and North Carolina, you can easily combine the Smokies with iconic destinations such as Nashville, Memphis and Dollywood, creating an autumn road trip to really remember.
Huge skies, huge canyons, and huge adventures – Utah doesn’t do things by halves. Home to five extraordinary national parks - Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion - this state is irresistible to outdoor enthusiasts from all walks of life.
In high summer, these rocky canyonlands are practically sizzling, with temperatures regularly reaching over 100 degrees. However, by September, the heat has mellowed, the crowds have thinned, and the hiking trails are deliciously quiet.
If you’re a wildlife lover, autumn is by far the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park. At this time of year, female grizzlies roam through the forests looking for stashes to keep in their dens throughout the winter. At the same time, you can hear the bugling of rutting elks and see bison migrating to winter feeding grounds. As you wander the leafy hiking trails, you can spot pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and eagles.
This wildlife bonanza is all set against a glorious backdrop of amber leaves and yellow grasses, making Yellowstone even more magical in autumn. Visitor numbers are lower, roads are quieter, accommodation is easier to come by, and there’s a slight bite in the air that makes hiking a joy. When the sun goes down, the temperature drops, so pop on a sweater and sip on a spiced latte. Perfect!
In many ways, autumn is the best-kept secret of the Aloha State. You hear very little about visiting Hawaii in September and October, yet they are brilliant times to visit the islands. Summer crowds have dwindled, and hotel prices have dropped, but the sunshine is still going strong, and the ocean is wonderfully warm.
Average daytime temperatures hover in the mid to high 80s and the are evenings still summery, staying well within the comfortable 70s range. There is a slightly increased chance of rain, but the showers mostly happen overnight, keeping the islands lush and green. While autumn sees the onset of hurricane season in the Pacific, tropical storms rarely hit Hawaii, so don’t let that put you off.
Just like New England, Colorado puts on a phenomenal autumn display that will knock your socks off. The whole state seems to glow in the gentle sunshine, with a bronze patchwork of forests set against the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Here, the elevation is higher, and the season is shorter, so you’ll need to get your timing right. The best time to catch the foliage is between mid-September and mid-October, when the temperatures are cool and perfect for afternoon hikes. Head for Maroon Bells to see the golden quaking aspen reflected perfectly in the clear water.
If you’re looking for an atmospheric autumn trip, you can’t do better than Salem, Massachusetts. Home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, this town is steeped in history and shrouded in mystery. Just 40 minutes from Boston, Salem is a fascinating spot to explore at any time of year, but October really sees it come alive.
Salem is a small and very walkable town, with typical New England architecture and classic autumnal colours. Wander through the Salem Witch Village, visit the Salem Witchcraft Museum, join a historical walking tour, and spot filming locations of Hocus Pocus. In October, the Haunted Happenings Festival takes over the town, adding extra spookiness to the experience.
The harvest season – or ‘grape crush’ – in Napa Valley begins in late August and stretches through until the end of October. The season starts with light sparkling wines, crisp whites, and gentle reds, before ending with Napa’s signature gutsy grape – cabernet. Whether you’re a connoisseur or a casual sipper, get yourself to California and join the annual crush.
The grape crush comes hand in hand with all kinds of events, from stomping festivals to harvest parties. Hop on the Napa Wine Train to enjoy a gourmet lunch while you past vineyards draped in autumnal gold, book a series of cellar-door tastings, and crack open a local bottle of cabernet in the sunshine.
Looking for a glamorous autumn getaway? Grab your passport, pack your bikini, and say ‘Bienvenido a Miami’. By October, you’ve skipped the crowds, the summer heat and peak season rates, giving far better value for money. The height of hurricane season has also passed, so you can enjoy the Sunshine State with peace of mind.
Salsa your way through Little Havana, explore the Everglades National Park, see the art deco architecture on Ocean Drive and hit the mall for some serious retail therapy. October is a particularly great month for foodies, as the South Beach Wine and Food Festival takes over Miami Beach, featuring top chefs and kicking off stone crab season.
Yosemite’s scenery really sings in autumn, with huge rocky outcrops rising from blazing forests. Incredibly, the number of visitors to Yosemite National Park drops by almost half between August and October, falling from 600,000 daily visitors to 327,000. This means quieter hiking trails, uncrowded viewpoints, and a sensational front-row seat to the changing of the seasons.
The weather is cool and bright, making it perfect weather for walking, and it’s far easier to park up at the trailheads. Accommodation around the park is easier to come by, and all the roads are still open in early fall. Although a few of the famous waterfalls have dried up by autumn, it’s a small price to pay for enjoying El Capitan in peace.
While autumn may not be ideal for chasing waterfalls in Yosemite, it’s the precise opposite in Oregon. Here, you can hike to dozens of magical falls hidden deep within the fiery-leafed forests of Silver State Park, Coastal Range, West Cascades, and Columbia River Gorge. It’s an enchanting time to go chasing waterfalls.
Oregon’s beaches are still sunny and warm in early fall, the pear and apple harvests are both in full swing, and the vineyards are ankle-deep in the grape-crush. It’s a veritable bounty of autumn experiences, so if fall is your favourite season, book a trip to Oregon.
Right next door to Oregon, Washington State is a stunning destination in September and October. If you combine both States into a full Pacific Northwest adventure, you’re looking at the autumnal trip of a lifetime!
Washington offers an irresistible mix of soaring mountains, wild beaches, atmospheric fall festivals, lip-smacking foodie experiences and sweeping vineyards. Hike through Olympic and Mount National Parks, join Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, slurp chowder at the Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival and taste local wines at Walla Walla. It’s Fall at its finest.