The longest season: New Hampshire's Lakes Region
When to go: Late September through late October
Why go: The secret to finding a lingering foliage season is steering clear of the weather that knocks leaves from their branches. "I would choose those locations away from the wind of the coast and at higher elevations," says Jerry Monkman, co-author of The Colors of Fall Road Trip Guide. This New Hampshire region—which encompasses Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, Lake Ossipee, Mirror Lake, Newfound Lake and Lake Winnisquam—is protected from the harsh winds of the coast and doesn’t rise more than 600 feet above sea level, giving you the best chance for a long leaf season.
Where to get the best view: Obviously, from the middle of a lake (pick one). Bring a kayak and tone your paddling arms. "You can see red maples along the waterways showing their bright colors on the trees, and then reflected down into the water as well," says Tai Freligh, communications manager for New Hampshire's Division of Travel and Tourism Development.
The most variety: New York's Adirondack Mountains
When to go: Late September through mid October
Why go: To get the most variety, you need to go where there is geographic diversity, and contained within the Adirondacks you'll find marshes, river valleys, hardwood forests and high-elevation alpine environments. "These areas have a good population of sugar maple trees which, in my opinion, are the most attractive in the fall," Rzonca says. "Other popular species include birch, aspen, oak and silver maple, all of which turn yellow. These trees are then complimented with the brilliant crimson of the red maple. When you put all these trees together, it provides a fantastic contrast and variety of color."
Where to get the best view: "One of my favorite locations is John Boyd Thacher State Park, located on the Helderberg escarpment in Voorheesville," says Eric Scheffel, Senior Public Information Specialist for Empire State Development. "It not only has great fall foliage, but also offers amazing views of the Hudson-Mohawk lowlands—including the City of Albany—and the southern Adirondacks. While it’s known to many Albany-area residents, I’ve found that most visitors from outside the area have never heard of it."
The least crowded: Southern Wisconsin
When to go: Second week of October
Why go: In general, leaf-peepers in the Midwest don't have to contend with the same kinds of crowds that they do in the Northeast. "I tend to think that the entire region is rather underrated," says Marek D. Rzonca of the Foliage Network. "Historically, when people think of fall foliage, they think of the Northeast and New England. That thinking is not without merit, as the displays in much of the Northeast are spectacular, but the Midwest has its gems as well. Wisconsin has grown in popularity, at least on our site." Danielle Johnson, from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, calls the small resort town of Lake Geneva a "hidden gem for fall color" in Wisconsin. "Crowds die down in the fall," she says, "making it the perfect time to visit."
Where to get the best view: The Lake Geneva Shorepath Walk. The 21-mile trek gives you plenty of opportunities to see the fall colors set against the lake—and, as a bonus, it'll also take you through the backyards of historic mansions. Johnson says the town owes its popularity to the Chicago fire. "Wealthy Chicagoans fled to their second homes in Lake Geneva after the fire and made them their new homes," she says. This includes a number of properties that once belonged to the prominent Wrigley family. (Black Point Estate is the only one currently open to tours.)
The latest season: Southern Ohio
When to go: Late October
Why go: Procrastinating? Better head south. "Typically, the foliage progression moves from north to south," Rzonca says, "so areas in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois tend to change later than the more northern states." In southern Ohio, leaves will still be hitting their peak in late October.
Where to get the best view: According to Ohio's Fall Color Report, you'll need to stretch your legs in order to get the best view. Throughout the state's parks, you can still find seven historic fire watchtowers—most of the others were dismantled from scrap—including one in the Tar Hollow State Forest in the southern part of the state. It's a long climb to get to the top, but you'll be able to get a panoramic view with autumn leaves stretching for miles in every direction.
The most dramatic: Glacier National Park, Montana
When to go: Early October
Why go: Timing is everything at Montana's rugged northern park, where the window between the summer rush and winter snows is razor thin, and it varies every year. The bright yellow larch and aspen and red maples aren't overshadowed by the area's jagged peaks and vertigo-inducing big sky—but it's close.
Where to get the best view: The Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass is not only poetically named, it's the park's most popular driving route.
Insider tip: If Glacier's blockbuster road is closed, nearby Flathead Lake offers scenic vistas and plentiful huckleberry picking.
The least crowded: Western Maine
When to go: Late September through early October
Why go: The season here might be short, the weather chilled and the location remote, but if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. Secondary bonus: Lodging is often not as expensive as it might be in showier areas better known for their leaf season.
Where to get the best view: Most Maine visitors are familiar with Acadia National Park, but Grafton Notch State Park, one of Maine's biggest, is where you should go for day hikes that won't put you in the path of other tourists. See the leaves as you hike your way to Screw Auger Falls, which was impressively carved out by a glacier.
Credit: Conde Nast Traveler