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Fall Travel

10 Best Fall Leaf Peeping Trips

Fall is here, people, and that means cozy sweaters, steaming cups of cocoa, and show-stopping leaf colors. Here, we share 10 trips for taking in the best foliage of the season.

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For the Reluctant Outdoorsman: Lake Placid, New York

If you’re the sort that prefers to take in nature from a wraparound porch, glass of wine in hand, head to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. At Lake Placid Lodge, you can take a private tour of the lake—and the vibrant maples, oaks, and birches along its shores—in the hotel’s mahogany Hacker-Craft (accompanied by a flute of champagne, of course). Play a round of golf at the historic, tree-lined Lake Placid Club, then head to dinner at the Mirror Lake Inn’s The View restaurant for dishes like house-smoked trout and prime beef filet. For a jaw-dropping view of the foliage without the hike, hop aboard the Cloudsplitter Gondola, which leads up to Little Whiteface Mountain. The observation deck looks out onto Lake Champlain and Lake Placid village.

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For Hopeless Nostalgics: Rhinebeck and Arkville, New York

Take in fall’s colors like it’s 1929 with a ride in a restored New Standard D-25 biplane at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Up to four passengers sport goggles and helmets for the 15-minute flight over the Hudson Valley’s spectacular foliage, which is easy to view thanks to the open cockpit. History buffs can also board the Art Deco rail cars of the Rip Van Winkle Flyer, operated by the Delaware & Ulster Railroad. “Leaf Peeper” trains run twice daily on weekends, taking passengers on a two-hour round-trip from Arkville to Roxbury, through the Catskill Mountains and along the east branch of the Delaware River.

RELATED: Your Perfect Catskills Vacation: Where to Stay and What to See

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For Art Enthusiasts: New Windsor, Ghent, and Beacon, New York

Start at the Omi International Arts Center, in the northern Hudson Valley, which includes the Fields Sculpture Park, set on 60 acres of rolling farmland and woods that blaze into color in the autumn. Ninety minutes to the south, Storm King Art Center is a 500-acre sculpture park with works by artists like Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, and Roy Lichtenstein and vibrant foliage throughout the month of October. A free tram takes visitors on an overview of the park, but we recommend exploring off-the-beaten-path areas at your own pace with an on-site bike rental. Across the Hudson River, Dia:Beacon houses a collection of modern art in a stunning contemporary space created from a former Nabisco box printing factory. After a tour, head to lunch at the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, where the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the river.

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For Suckers for Small-Town Charm: Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket may be best known as a summer getaway, but fall has some of the island's best events. This year, its fall edition of Restaurant Week takes place from September 24–30, with three-course, prix fixe menus available at top restaurants across the island. Foodies won't want to miss Barlett Farm's Farm-to-Table Dinners, where farm-fresh dishes are served family style in the garden greenhouse. The Nantucket Arts Festival from September 29 to October 7 includes theatrical, musical, and fine arts events throughout the week, while the 15th Annual Cranberry Festival offers visitors the chance to explore the island's cranberry bogs. Save time for a bike ride past the changing trees to Cisco Brewers to sample the seasonal "Pumple Drumpkin" brew accompanied by New England food truck fare like lobster rolls from Lobster Trap Truck. At night, take in the dark autumn sky at the Loines Observatory, which hosts stargazing evenings with professional astronomers.

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For Romantics: Banff National Park, Canada

Alberta’s Banff National Park provides one of the season’s most gorgeous displays, with vivid tones of yellow from its golden larch trees juxtaposed against the glistening blue of the park’s lakes. Begin a trip here with a canoe ride across Lake Louise toward the towering Victoria Glacier (for an extra-photo-worthy trip, rise before dawn and experience sunrise on the water). Join Brewster Adventures for a half-day horseback ride through the Canadian Rockies for views across Mirror Lake, followed by lunch and a hot cup of tea from a menu of more than 100 varieties at Lake Agnes Tea House, on the shores of Lake Agnes. A treatment at Fairmont Banff Springs' Willow Stream Spa is the perfect way to end the day. Book the “Rockies Healing Retreat for Two,” which includes a side-by-side full body massage and a bath in a deep soaker tub.

RELATED: 9 Best National Parks in Canada

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For Ocean Lovers: Big Sur, California

Big Sur should be on every traveler’s bucket list, especially during fall when the trees burst with color and the water is a vibrant blue. Start with one of the area’s most iconic hikes, the McWay Falls Trail at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which takes visitors along the coast and to McWay Beach, where a waterfall drops to the sand. Refuel with an Ambrosiaburger (a ground steak sandwich served on a French roll) at Nepenthe. Spend the afternoon exploring the redwood groves of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or take a kayaking tour of the Central Coast, where you'll spot marine life like whales, dolphins, sea lions and otters. End the day with a spa treatment at the luxe, adults-only Ventana Big Sur. We recommend the "El Sur Grande" massage, which uses warmed jade stones collected from nearby beaches and basalt river rocks to loosen muscles.

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For Families: Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

The sun has barely risen, but the brood is up and ready. Luckily, Vermont’s Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch have a long list of activities to keep everyone entertained. In Smuggler’s Notch, families can get a bird’s-eye view of the trees via Arbortrek Zip Line Canopy Tour, which takes riders along 4,500 feet of zip lines and sky bridges built across the Green Mountains. Groups can also navigate through the leaves at Stowe Mountain Resort’s Treetop Adventure, which features six courses of suspension bridges, rope ladders and nets winding their way across the forest. Younger leaf-peepers can take in the scenery in a private horse-drawn wagon ride with Gentle Giants. Stowe’s 5.3-mile recreation path takes bikers along the West Branch River, past farms, meadows, covered bridges and wooded areas of stunning foliage. Bike rentals for adults and kids are available at Mountain Ops.

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For Food and Wine Lovers: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Foodies on the hunt for foliage will find their bliss in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, home to some of the country’s best wineries and restaurants, but much less crowded than California’s Napa or Sonoma valleys. Taste your way through the towns in the Yamhill Valley region; in McMinnville, Thistle is a favorite for farm-to-fork fare, while Nick’s Italian Café won a James Beard America’s Classics award for its Northern Italian dishes and on-point wine list. In Dundee, Tina’s is a longtime go-to for seasonal plates paired with local vintages. Up the street, Red Hills Market sells gourmet salads and sandwiches, perfect for taking on a picnic and a day of wine tasting in the Dundee Hills region. For some of the most spectacular views of the golden vines, stop at Bella Vida Vineyard, where the tasting deck looks out onto the rolling hillsides.

RELATED: How to Plan the Perfect Weekend Road Trip Through Oregon

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For Photography Fans: Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Channel your inner Ansel Adams with a visit to this iconic Wyoming mountain range, where the cottonwoods turn the landscape into bright yellow during the fall. At Jenny Lake Lodge, located within Grand Teton National Park, guests can join acclaimed photographer Cody Downard for a fall foliage photo workshop. Alpenglow Tours also runs photography tours throughout Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks—we'd opt for the Sunset Tour, which starts with snapping wildlife around the National Elk refuge, and ends with learning how to capture the spectacular colors splashed across the sky at sunset.

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For Adrenaline Junkies: Park City, Utah

Experience the rush of G-forces and speeds of over 60 miles per hour at the Utah Olympic Park, where visitors can take a ride on the Comet Bobsled, which travels along the official 2002 Olympic sliding track. Next, hit the 400-plus miles of public hiking and mountain-biking trails; the best views are from the Lost Prospector trail and the Mid Mountain Trail, which takes hikers through forests of vibrant Aspen trees. You can also head into the hills on horseback via a 90-minute excursion with Red Pine Tours. Or get an eagle’s-eye view of the foliage during a tandem ride with Paraglide Utah. Come evening, toast your return with a flight of house-made whiskeys at the High West Distillery & Saloon, served alongside hearty dishes like three-bean and poblano chili or chicken pot pie with wild mushrooms.

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