Travel

Fall Off the Map

Get your leaf peeping and apple picking on at the best small towns to visit this fall
Best Small Towns for Fall Travel
Photo: Courtesy of DiscoverSouthCarolina.com

New England might be the first place you think of when you hear the term leaf peeping, but much of the area can get overcrowded, leaving smaller and lesser-known spots—in New England and beyond—open to those seeking eye-popping fall foliage without hundreds of day-trippers blocking their view. And just because these towns are small doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to offer beyond their multihued leaves.

Here are our favorite small towns for taking in the fall season, whether that means forest bathing (you read that right), apple picking or enjoying the autumn bounty at a farm-to-table restaurant.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

This mountain town is the gateway to the Smoky Mountains, one of the best places to see fall foliage. Beyond the leaves, however, you can celebrate fall with the Surgarlands MountainFest, a four-day festival (September 28 to October 1) featuring live music, competitive races, outdoor competitions, and craft cocktails and brews. Or walk the downtown Parkway, which runs the length of the town and is lined with restos and shops. Turn off at Glades Road to explore the Great Smoky Arts & Craft Community, an eight-mile loop of independent makers and artisans.

Lake Placid, New York

The Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York have long been a secret getaway for New Yorkers, but now the secret is out—somewhat. Look no further than Lake Placid Village, a sleepy lakeside town (it’s actually on Mirror Lake, with Lake Placid itself a few miles away), for beautiful views, quaint shops and great restaurants. Have a drink at Top of the Park overlooking Mirror Lake before heading to Artisans on Lake Placid for a breathtaking view of Whiteface Mountain. On October 7 and 8, watch North America's top ski jumpers compete in the Flaming Leaves Festival at the Olympic Jumping Complex, while enjoying live blues music and scenic chairlift rides to the top of the 120-meter ski jump during peak fall foliage.

Photo: Getty Images

Snowmass Village, Colorado

View the vibrant color of Colorado aspens, scrub oak and cottonwoods in the quaint village of Snowmass. What the town lacks in size, it makes up for in charm: It is home to the artist community of Anderson Ranch, where visitors can explore studios or attend a Lunchtime Auctionette to bid on artwork by staff and students while chowing down on barbecue and ice cream sundaes. Check out one of the fall’s many festivals, like the Snowmass Wine Festival (September 15 and 16).

Munising, Michigan

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is known for the idyllic towns on Lakes Superior and Michigan, and Munising is the portal to the 100 miles of scenic trails that make up Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which has colorful sandstone cliffs that tower above the water and more than a dozen waterfalls. The town and surrounding area are also prime lighthouse-viewing spots, with several stalwarts dotting the shoreline. If that’s not delightful enough for you, visit the weekly farmers' market through October 10 or hole up at the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore with a good read and hot cup of coffee. Don’t forget to sample the local delicacy: a pasty from Muldoons Pasties

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

Nestled in the heart of farms and country roads, this artsy town in Western Massachusetts is quaint and quirky in all the right ways, with eclectic galleries and cozy cafés. Aside from gorgeous fall colors, its claim to fame is the Bridge of Flowers, once a busy trolley bridge and now a beautiful garden. Visit small-town treasures like the Trolley Museum, a candlepin bowling alley that’s been open since 1906 and Baker Pharmacy for an ice cream. Stop by the recently opened Baked for a sweet treat, stock up on local maple syrup (and pickles) from Gould’s Maple Sugarhouse and pick your own apples at Apex Orchards.

Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Located on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town gets its name from the actual Blowing Rock, a cliff that hangs over the Johns River Gorge and typically has a very strong vertical wind that can make light objects float up toward the sky. Views of Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock and Hawksbill are impressive, especially when the Blue Ridge Mountains are aflame with fall colors. Hiking trails abound, and Moses Cone Memorial Park has 25 miles of trails for walking or horseback riding, as well as two lakes for bass and trout fishing. There are also several wineries nearby, including Banner Elk Winery, Grandfather Vineyard & Winery and Linville Falls Winery. When you’re hungry, check out Savannah’s Oyster House, which opened at the end of last year, or head across the street to mainstay Blowing Rock Brewing Company

Leavenworth, Washington

A German-style village in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Leavenworth has Bavarian charm on lockdown. After losing its logging industry, the town’s leaders decided to draw on the surrounding alpine mountains and gave Leavenworth a Bavarian face-lift in the 1960s. Since then, the city has been known for its festivals like the Autumn Leaf Festival (September 23 and 24) and, not surprisingly, Oktoberfest (three weekends in a row, starting September 29). Head to the mountains for hiking, biking, rock climbing and fishing, or stay in town to say prost at breweries and distilleries like Icicle Brewing Company. While you're at it, stock up on homemade alpine-style cheeses at Cascade Cheese and pick up apples and pears at Prey’s Fruit Barn.

Cheraw, South Carolina

This historic Southern town oozes Dixie charm, and its historic district has antebellum structures with details like Greek Revival porticos and Victorian houses from the turn of the 20th century. Famous for being the birthplace of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, Cheraw is also home to the South Carolina Jazz Festival. This year’s festival, which runs October 19 to 21, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the trumpeter’s birth. Maximize your nature intake at Cheraw State Park and its 361-acre Lake Juniper, where you can rent a canoe or kayak, or hike through Sand Hills State Forest and encounter the fragile longleaf pine/wire grass ecosystem.

Photo: Courtesy of DiscoverSouthCarolina.com

Montgomery, Vermont

At the very top of Vermont near the Canadian border, Montgomery is home to the most covered bridges in one town—six—and Big Jay mountain looms in the background, giving it solid claim to being the most picturesque town in the Northeast. Alongside the Jay Mountain Range, Hazen’s Notch maintains 15 miles of hiking trails across 2,500 acres of mixed maple, birch and evergreen forest. There are stunning views of the mountains in addition to the incredible beauty of the fall hues. Soothe hunger pangs at Bernie’s Restaurant (sorry, not that Bernie) or The Belfry, a restaurant in a one-room schoolhouse from the 1900s.

Devorah Lev-Tov is a contributing writer for Tasting Table who travels the globe—and traverses NYC block by block—in search of her next amazing meal. See her latest adventures on her Instagram at @devoltv.

This month, join us as we go all in on Peak Season, taking full advantage of the bumper crop of cozy recipes, market ingredients, wine trends and entertaining gear to help you live your best fall.

  • Gatlinburg, Tennessee

    Celebrate fall at the Surgarlands MountainFest, a four-day festival (September 28 to October 1) featuring live music, competitive races, outdoor competitions, and craft cocktails and brews.

    Photo: Sean Pavone Photo/Getty Images

  • Lake Placid, New York

    On October 8 and 9, watch North America's top ski jumpers compete in the Flaming Leaves Festival at the Olympic Jumping Complex, while enjoying live blues music and scenic chairlift rides to the top of the 120-meter ski jump during peak fall foliage.

    Photo: Getty Images

  • Snowmass Village, Colorado

    Beyond the beautiful scenery, check out one of fall’s many festivals in this ski town, like the Snowmass Wine Festival, which runs September 15 and 16.

    Photo: Ronda Kimbrow/Getty Images

  • Munising, Michigan

    When you're not hitting up the array of lighthouse-viewing spots, visit the weekly farmers' market, which runs through October 10, or hole up at the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore.

    Photo: Tan Yilmaz/Getty Images

  • Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

    After you've checked out the Bridge of Flowers, once a busy trolley bridge and now a beautiful garden that's the town's claim to fame, visit small-town treasures like the Trolley Museum, a candlepin bowling alley that’s been open since 1906 and Baker Pharmacy for an ice cream.

    Photo: Benjamin Dart via Flickr 

  • Blowing Rock, North Carolina

    Hiking trails abound, and Moses Cone Memorial Park has 25 miles of trails for walking or horseback riding, as well as two lakes for bass and trout fishing. There are also several wineries nearby.

    Photo: skiserge1/Getty Images

  • Leavenworth, Washington

    The city, known for being the gateway to the Cascades, has some great fall festivals, including the Autumn Leaf Festival (September 23 and 24) and, not surprisingly, Oktoberfest (three weekends in a row, starting September 29).

    Photo: Roman Khomlyak/Getty Images

  • Cheraw, South Carolina

    Celebrate the 100th birthday of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie at Cheraw's South Carolina Jazz Festival, which runs October 19 to 21.

    Photo: Courtesy of DiscoverSouthCarolina.com

  • Montgomery, Vermont

    Tucked along the Jay Mountain Range, Montgomery is home to 15 miles of hiking trails across 2,500 acres of mixed maple, birch and evergreen forest, so strap on your boots and start exploring.

    Photo: Peter Rintels via Flickr

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