The mountains are calling, and you must go.
Trust us, we get it — especially during this vivid time of year, when the changing autumn colors have your favorite ranges dressed in fall finery. Fall is one of the very best times of year to take a mountain trip, especially if you’re into hiking: the weather is cool, but not frigid, and perfect for hiking; there’s not yet snow and ice on the ground, which can make winter RV driving truly hazardous.
And, of course, the Technicolor fall scenery simply can’t be beat. So if you’ve been hearing the siren song of the nation’s peaks and valleys, read on. In this post, we’re going to lay out some of the most impressive mountain ranges in the U.S. for fall travel, as well as several other destinations to explore and enjoy during your fall holidays.
Fall Travel: The Best Places to Go in the Fall
Before we dive into — er, begin our ascent of — the best mountain ranges in the country for those epic fall foliage views, let’s talk about why fall is such an awesome time to take a trip in the first place. After all, most of us might first consider long, luxurious summer road trips or festive winter weekend getaways when we think about the ideal times for RV travel.
But even though it’s not quite as popular as its more extreme seasonal counterparts, fall offers some amazing travel benefits that just can’t be beat by any other time of year. For one thing, you can actually go outside and do things without worry about sweating through your outfit — even if you’re planning on a pretty epic hiking venture.
Along with temperate climes and ample outdoor recreational opportunities, fall is also chock-full of fun fall festivals, events, and harvest celebrations, from orchards offering apple picking to downright rowdy fun at one of the country’s many Oktoberfests. No matter what part of the country you call home, you can easily find something going on in your area — or at your favorite destination. Events can be a wonderful way to plan an RV trip without doing too much itinerary brainstorming!
Finally, fall brings some of the most beloved family holidays of the entire calendar year, including the epic feast of Thanksgiving as well as Halloween and Veterans Day. Since many people travel for the holidays already, taking an RV is an amazing way to hack your Thanksgiving travel plans — you’ll combine all the flexibility and freedom of a road trip with the comfort and privacy of your own home. You can even stay at grandma’s house without having to worry about sharing the bathroom!
Beautiful Fall Scenery
Of course, there’s another important reason people take fall trips: to see the changing of the leaves that give the season its name in the first place!
Journeying to get a better view of the country’s fall colors is a longstanding tradition, and a great way to both explore new destinations and revisit favorites under a different light. For example, even if you’ve been to the west’s vast national parks multiple times for summer visits, there’s something about seeing them decked out in fall colors that simply can’t be replicated.
And one of the very best ways to take in the splendor of the fall leaves… is to get as high as possible. (Not like that! Jeez.)
Rather, we’re talking about the one-of-a-kind experience of seeing the autumn colors from panoramic mountain viewpoints.
The Best Fall Mountains to Visit
If you’re looking for beautiful fall mountain scenery, look no further than these gorgeous American mountain ranges, scattered across this big, beautiful country of ours.
1. The Adirondacks, New York
It may be home to the most bustling American city, but New York State is also a treasure trove of scenic, outdoorsy goodness for those who venture just a little bit further north. Upstate’s famous Adirondack range boasts some of the most brilliant fall colors in the country, including the full spectrum of reds, oranges, and yellows that slowly extend themselves across the region over the month of October.
One of the best places to experience the height of the Adirondacks’ fall splendor — literally — is Cascade Mountain, a 4,098-foot peak near the town of Lake Placid. It’s only about a 5 mile hike round trip, and it sees a little over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, making it a moderately challenging, but totally doable, day trip.
You can learn more about when and where the fall colors are peaking — no pun intended — in the Adirondack range, as well as discovering all sorts of fall themed activities like harvest festivals and corn mazes, by visiting the region’s travel information website. It’s chock full of helpful information to help you plan and make the most of your trip.
2. The Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina and Virginia
What the Appalachian range lacks in height, it more than makes up for in splendor — especially during this special time of year. Virginia’s subsection of America’s most ancient mountain range is particularly pretty, and the Blue Ridge Parkway makes it one of the most accessible scenic drives for laid-back leaf peeping.
Better yet, much of the range has remained green well into October this year, which makes destination this an excellent candidate for those looking for some late fall color changes. Depending on where exactly within the range you travel, you might experience peak colors as late as the third week of November. (Sounds like a great excuse for a Thanksgiving getaway to us!)
And if you’re planning on making the trip, don’t forget that there are tons of adorable destination towns to stop and explore along the way, from quirky Roanoke, Virginia to uber-hip Asheville, North Carolina.
3. The Cascades, Oregon
Portland is a hip destination in its own right, and even more so for summit seekers. The hip Oregon town is positively surrounded by mountain ranges, all of which bloom into spectacular reds and oranges during the fall season.
There’s plenty of hiking to do in the area, including the state’s highest peak, Mount Hood, which stands at an impressive 11,240 feet. Of course, given that elevation, much of the mountain is covered in snow by the time the colors are making their appearance below, so a full-on climb might not be possible — but it’s certainly beautiful to view from a distance!
For a more relaxed fall adventure, you can get a great taste of what Oregon has to offer simply by driving along the Columbia River Gorge. There are also a wide variety of beautiful and idyllic natural hot springs in the area, which offer the perfect place to relax after a long hike — especially when juxtaposed with the cool weather!
4. Ogden Valley, Utah
With its famous sandstone arches and long, rippling red canyons, Utah might not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking of golden-crimson fall forestry. But the state actually has a whole lot to offer eager leaf-peepers as well as canyoneers, as proven by this stunning drone footage taken around Ogden Valley’s Snowbasin Resort by videographer Justin McFarland.
Considering Snowbasin’s less than an hour from downtown Salt Lake City, we rank Utah as one of the most accessible places to visit for fall foliage viewing — you could easily fly in and rent an RV once you get there. If you’re driving, however, there are plenty of other spots to add to your itinerary while you’re in the state — you’ll see everything from aspen to evergreen to canyon maple.
Mountain RV Destinations You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are even more American mountain ranges that are absolutely begging to be discovered by RV travelers this autumn.
5. The Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
There’s a reason that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited one in the country — and no, it’s not (just) because there’s no entrance fee. This massive mountain wonderland is well worth a visit any time of year, but Appalachia pulls out all the stops when it comes to autumn splendor.
According to the National Park Service, the park’s fall colors peak between mid-October and early November, when sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, red maples, and hickories creating an unforgettable tapestry. One of the best ways to experience a sweeping panorama of the park (without taking on a serious mountain trek) is to visit Clingmans Dome, a 6,643-foot peak which features the added bonus of a spiraling observation tower.
6. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
Lake Tahoe is a well-known destination for summer lounging and winter skiing — but it also makes an excellent autumn excursion. With its shimmering shore lined in quaking aspen and cottonwood trees, Tahoe is especially lovely come mid-to-late October… and you might even score cheaper prices and smaller crowds, since fall is the region’s shoulder season.
There are plenty of trails surrounding the lake, allowing you to hike down leaf-strewn paths to your heart’s content. Temperatures will be hovering between 30 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on your elevation, so as long as you bring ample layers, you’ll have some crisp and comfortable adventures. And if you’re looking for an excuse to get a little indulgent during your fall getaway, you can take advantage of one of the region’s many swanky day spas.
7. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
There’s never a bad time to visit this Washington state national park, nor the lovely, looming 14,410-foot peak that is its namesake. But as much as it’s always a treat to trek to Mount Rainier National Park, it’s especially epic come autumn.
The park is home to a wide variety of trees and shrubs, like vine maple, tamarack and huckleberry bushes. Starting in late September, these plants start turning all sorts of red-orange-golden hues, gradually flooding the hills and valleys with a rainbow of fall colors.
Some of the best spots to see the display in its full splendor include the area between Sunrise and Chinook Pass, the Paradise Area, Reflection Lakes, Bench and Snow Lakes, and Grove of the Patriarchs. At over 360 square miles, there’s enough hiking in the park to do to keep you busy for the entire season… but you can just as easily get an eyeful simply by driving.
Finally, don’t forget that this sacred wilderness is only a short drive from Seattle and Tacoma, renowned Pacific Northwest destination cities offering an array of cuisine and culture that almost — almost — rivals its great outdoors adventures.
8. The San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park may get most of the glory — and we’re certainly not knocking it. But this southern Colorado mountain range is hard to beat in terms of beautiful autumn colors… although with a late-September-to-mid-October peak, it’s decidedly a destination for early fall adventures.
If you’re in time, there’s plenty of hiking to be done to get up close and personal with those quaking aspens. But you can also admire the view from the comfort of your RV cabin by cruising the 236-mile San Juan Skyway, a breathtaking scenic drive at any time of the year (and especially when the leaves are changing). And if you want to sit back, relax, and take it all in without even worrying about that whole “driving” thing, you might consider a ride on the Official Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which will give you an authentic steam engine experience as well as some of the most unforgettable views you’ll ever see. (Don’t forget to give the museum a visit once your journey’s over!)
9. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico
Taos, New Mexico is well-known as a winter destination, offering some of the steepest and powderiest ski slopes in the country. But it’s just as stunning before the first snowfall, when its ever-present aspen trees have transformed the hillsides into golden-green fairylands.
Kick back and enjoy the landscape on the 83-mile scenic byway known as the Enchanted Circle, or give your legs a serious stretch by summiting Wheeler Peak, which, at just over 13,000 feet in elevation, is the state’s highest. Then, stop by one of the many knock-your-socks-off New Mexican eateries in the quaint downtown area — and don’t forget to save enough time to visit an art gallery or six, too.
10. The White Mountains, New Hampshire
The White Mountains are hailed as one of the premier autumn foliage destinations in the country, its signature bright red sugar maples knocking elbows with beeches, conifers, and more. Generally peaking at about the end of September through the second week of October, the famous New Hampshire display of fall finery can last for up to two weeks before the trees begin to look bare and winter-bound.
One of the best sub-ranges to experience the glory of a New England fall: the Presidential Mountain Range, and in particular, Mount Washington Valley. The namesake is the highest peak in the northeastern United States at 6,288 feet, known for its record-breaking summit wind speeds and unparalleled leaf peeping opportunities. And everything about the valley is gorgeous, including one of the state’s most celebrated scenic drives, the Kancamagus Highway.
Camping in the Mountains: What You Need to Know
Mountain views may be epic, especially during the fall. But there are a few special considerations to keep in mind when it comes to mountain camping — and that goes double for areas where dipping temperatures and high elevations mean the roadways could become icy overnight. Unlike summertime travels, wherein you really don’t have to worry about much more than turning the ignition key and knowing how to get where you’re going, cool-weather camping takes some preparation if you want to keep yourself safe, happy, and comfortable.
From packing for fall weather to preparing your RV for sub-freezing temperatures, we’ve written all sorts of tips and tricks to keep you toasty even in the most frigid environments — which your fall mountain camping adventure is unlikely to be! However, here are a few brief reminders to help ensure your trip is as successful and simple as possible.
Bring (and wear) lots of layers.
The leaves aren’t the only thing that fall during fall — the temperatures can also take a dip, especially when you’re traveling in high-elevation areas. But the mountains are whacky, weather-wise; it might be below freezing at dawn but climb as high as the 60s or 70s by noontime.
The best way to prepare for this bipolar forecast? You’ve heard it before, and you’re about to hear it again: layers, layers, layers! By wearing layers, you’ll trap micropockets of air that help insulate you and keep you warmer… and (just as importantly) you’ll also be able to gradually shed them once things start heating up. For best results, choose moisture-wicking fabrics and avoid cotton, especially if you’re planning on doing any outdoor adventuring. Even in the chilly air, you’ll still sweat with exertion… and you don’t want to have that clammy fabric stuck to you on the wind-blown top of a mountain.
Be sure to check the weather, and often.
The only thing fall is better known for than its gorgeous leaves is its totally unpredictable weather. That’s part of why it’s a shoulder season at so many American destinations — the day’s adventures can easily be rained out at the last minute!
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should cancel your upcoming trip. But it does mean that you’ll want to stay apprised of the latest weather forecast, especially if you’re headed to the Pacific Northwest or another area known for its rainfall. The good news is, modern technology makes it super-simple to have up-to-the-minute forecasts delivered right into the palm of your hand — literally, with the use of apps like Dark Sky to get weather-related smartphone push notifications.
Keeping an eye on the weather can help you in your broader trip-planning by helping you steer clear of destinations where getting rained out is highly likely, but it can also help you tweak your day’s plans once you arrive. Even if gray clouds keep you from your original outdoorsy intention, chances are you can still find some fun indoor stuff to do in town, from hitting a museum to catching a movie. (And if not, there are always good ol’ arts and crafts to fall back on!)
Make sure you prepare your rig as well as your wardrobe!
Given the weather-related shenanigans we’ve already covered, chances are you’re going to want to bring your rain boots and overcoat as well as your hiking shoes and cute fall scarves and hats. And having an umbrella handy certainly never hurt anyone, either.
But when it comes to wind, rain, and even potential snowfall, preparing your RV for the great outdoors is just as important as preparing your personal closet.
Start by stocking your rig with the amenities that help make fall’s chill feel cozy rather than crazy — a soft, indulgent blanket or favorite mug can make all the difference when an autumn storm’s a-brewing. If you’re headed somewhere where the temperatures could feasibly fall below freezing, you’ll want to make sure your RV is winterized so those cold nights don’t mean frozen pipes or damaged systems. (If you’re taking an RV rental, be sure to ask which steps have already been completed and which you’re responsible for.)
Winterizing an RV takes a little bit of practice to get used to, but once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s a walk in the park. From adding RV antifreeze to your plumbing system to finding inventive ways to stay insulated and warm, here are some insider secrets for comfortable winter (and late fall) camping.
Take a Fall Drive to Remember
Although these amazing mountain ranges make incredible fall destinations, there are plenty of other places to go and leaves to peep, no matter when in the season you’re traveling or where you’re starting from.
For example, we’ve written before about some of the best fall destinations to take on, no matter what your travel goals are. Maybe you’re looking to thaw out from the dropping temperatures by a southern beachside, or maybe you’re looking to find some even chillier days in the mountains. It’s all up to you — which is one of the best parts of RVing! Here’s how to choose your next destination mindfully.
As we mentioned above, fall is also one of the most active seasons as far as festivals and events are concerned, whether you’re looking for a family-friendly pumpkin patch or a beer-fueled Oktoberfest romp. Here are a few fall festivals to check out in your RV this year, as well as our long list of exciting Oktoberfest celebrations to put on your travel bucket list.
Another impetus for fall travel: the holidays! Whether you’re visiting far-away family or just looking to get away from it all, celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas in your RV isn’t just doable — it’s one heck of a good time. From entertaining a big party in a small space to figuring out how to cook up that worthy feast in the first place, we’ve written a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know for successful holiday RV adventures. Who knows? You may just find yourself creating a brand-new holiday tradition, all about getting on the road while still enjoying the comforts of home.
Finally, we’ve got plenty of other suggestions if a long and winding fall road trip just isn’t in the cards for you this year. For example, you could grab the kids and a few last-minute necessities and pack into the travel trailer for a quick weekend getaway — it can be just as satisfying as a longer trip, we promise. Or, you could even just get in the car and go out for a beautiful, scenic drive; a single afternoon of adventuring is way better than no adventuring whatsoever, after all! Here are the most un-missable scenic routes in every single one of our 50 states, as well as an all-star list of the most gorgeous drives in the country.
Happy fall, campers — get out there and see it while you can. Because as beautiful as those changing leaves may be, they never seem to last long enough!
Written by Jamie Cattanach, for RVShare.