Fall color will soon be sweeping the country (and already is up in Alaska). To make the most of it, you want to be at the right place at the right time. With some help from the internet, I will help you find the best fall color locations at the peak of the season.
Posted August 29, 2019. Updated and re-posted September 16, 2020.
The fall color season progresses from north to south and from higher elevations to lower elevations. Peak fall color in Denali National Park is usually in the last week of August. The aspen at higher elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park turn a week or two ahead of lower elevations (mid to late September). In Colorado’s San Juan mountains, many of the aspen hit their peak in the first week of October. Peak color in Michigan’s U.P. occurs a week or two ahead of locations in Michigan’s lower peninsula (late September to mid October).
With a little planning and some help from the internet, you can find the best locations and avoid the disappointment of arriving too early or too late to get the photos you want. There are a number of Web sites to help you out. Some sites help you plan ahead by telling you the usual time of year that the leaves hit their peak color for a given area. An excellent example is this interactive map for New Hampshire. Just drag the date slider under the map to see where the fall color in New Hampshire will be at its peak.
If your travel plans are flexible, there sites that give you actual reports on a regular basis like this one for Michigan’s Western U.P.. Some sites have forums where people log in to post reports and pictures. Some sites recommend the best fall color drives and locations. I just updated my Colorado Fall Color Photography and Travel Guide with over 100 pages of information (if you print it all out). Darren Kilgore’s guide to fall color in Colorado (at the Internet Archive) has excellent advice with an emphasis on western and southwestern Colorado.
I have collected a wide variety of fall color sites for the U.S. to help you arrive at the locations of your choice when the color looks great. Be sure to check out a variety of sites, including the nationwide sites at the bottom of the page. These fall color pages become active at different times during the fall. Some pages will still have last year’s reports until the fall color arrives, and some pages won’t even be available until the color season starts for that area. Check out these Fall Color Reports and Tours, make plans, grab your camera, and go have fun!
If you go to a site that isn’t active yet, come back and try again later. Some of them will still have last years reports which will give you an advance idea when the color has arrived at that area in the past.
National Parks in the Fall
If you want to know which National Parks are at their best in the fall, read The Best National Parks for Fall Photography and Two Photographers and Eleven Outdoor/Travel Writers Pick the Best National Parks for Fall. Both of these articles are part of my national park series which you can find here: The National Park Series: Where to Go and When.
Creating the Best Fall Color Images
You are at a beautiful location at the right time of year. Now what?
Capturing beautiful fall color images means working with the light and knowing what kind of images to capture for the existing lighting conditions. Strong, warm, directional sidelight means capturing a different kind of subject than in soft, diffused, neutral light. Capturing beautiful images always means understanding the nuances of exposure for the best color tonalities, choosing between grand and intimate landscapes, working with high and low contrast situations, picking the best filter, increasing or decreasing depth of field, and a whole lot more. You can find all of this in my book, Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies in the chapters on exposure, working with the light, controlling depth of field, and landscape photography. It is one of the highest rated photography books at Amazon.com. An order link is below.
My guide to Fall Color Reports and Tours.
You can order a photographic print of most of the above photos at JimDoty.Zenfolio.com in the Michigan, Colorado, and Banff galleries.