9 Best Places to see fall foliage in September

Are you looking for leaf-peeping destinations for September? Many places around the country including the Colorado Rockies, upstate New York, Michigan upper peninsula, etc are at their peak in September. Here’s a guide to viewing the best fall foliage in September. 

Fall is almost here – it officially starts on the 22nd of September and most places are still leafy green and hot to boot. Some of the country’s most popular fall destinations still don’t have even a hint of color and will mostly peak in mid-October. Then what do you do if you – like me – are already in the fall mood and need a leaf-peeping fix? Travel to these 9 destinations that peak or are near peak in September! 

Denali National Park, Alaska

While the rest of the country has a fall peak, Alaska has several inches of snow. Stands to reason that fall in Alaska is pretty early on. It starts around mid-August and peaks by early September. That’s why the first week of September, around Labor Day weekend, is a great time to be in Denali. This is also an excellent time to spot grizzly bears as they become active and forage for food in preparation for the winter hibernation. There is also a slight chance of seeing the Aurora on your Alaska road trip in September. However, remember that most businesses in Alaska close by mid-September for the season while planning your trip.

Fall on the tundra in Denali (Photo – Pixabay)

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Columbia River Gorge is one of the best places in the Pacific Northwest to see early fall colors. It peaks in late September and if you head to the area by last weekend, you should see a beautiful display of orange, gold, and red. Drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway to see fall foliage as well as many of the area’s waterfalls. While there are lots of stunning waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the Multnomah Falls are the most photogenic. Other ways to experience the fall colors is by hiking or taking the scenic railroad. 

Multnomah Falls (Photo – Jay Huang/Flickr)

Aspen & Maroon Bells, Colorado

There is no better place for leaf viewing in September than Aspen and the nearby Maroon Bells region in Colorado. The Aspen trees turn golden yellow and the sky is deep blue, making Aspen’s fall foliage panoramas more vivid than the rest of the country. The peak is usually around 3rd week of September. While in Aspen, do not forget to visit Independence Pass and Maroon Bells. Independence Pass passes over the Continental Divide between Aspen and Leadville and has stunning views over the Rockies. Maroon Bells is the most photographed spot in America and looks stunning in fall. Hike along the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail to capture the iconic views. 

Beautiful Maroon Bells (Photo – Pixabay)

Oxbow Bend, Wyoming

Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton, Wyoming is the most Instagrammed spot in the national park. From the overlook, you can see the Snake River with Mount Moran in background. A row of aspens grows along the river bank and when it turns yellow, the view is incredible. Thousands of people folk to Oxbow Bend during the end of September to photograph the iconic picture in fall. However, the parking spots at Oxbow Bend fill up quickly and photographers stake their places even before sunset so going early is your best bet. 

Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton (Photo – Pixabay)

Michigan Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the most underrated fall foliage spots in the country. The area explodes with color the last week of September and continues well into October. While the peak is in mid-October, even a September visit is gorgeous. Some of the best places to see the colors are along the shores of the Great Lakes amidst historic lighthouses. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of our favorite places to spot fall color in the Upper Peninsula. Other great areas include the Western Upper Peninsula, Keweenaw Peninsula, and the Lake Michigan Circle route. 

Glacier Country, Montana

Most people visit Western Montana’s Glacier Country in summer, leaving the fall to a lucky few who like traveling in the shoulder season. September in Montana has everything from snowy peaks, vivid fall colors, lots of wildlife, and pleasant weather. For the best fall foliage, make the trip to Glacier National Park around 2nd to 3rd week of September. Also, the west side usually has a nice profusion of colors early on. Autumn is also perfect to try the local beer at Glacier County’s breweries and attend local harvest festivals. 

Fall in Glacier National Park (Photo – Pixabay)

June Lake, California

June Lake and the Eastern Sierras start turning color mid-September. While the true peak is mid-October, you need not wait till then to visit. If you drive the June Lake Loop around September end, you should see lots of reds and golds. The quaking aspens are the earliest to turn yellow followed by willows, aspens, and cottonwoods. On June Lake Loop or Highway 158, you have spectacular views of all the 4 lakes – Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and June Lake. The June Lake loop road is a photographer’s delight and quite crowded on a fall weekend, so try to make the trip on a weekday. 

The Black Hills, South Dakota

September is easily the best time to see the fall colors in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We visited Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and the Black Hills area on Labor Day weekend in September and were surprised to see the fall colors throughout our trip. For the best fall colors, plan a trip around mid to late September. An important thing to note: not all trees in the Black Hills change color so be prepared for a smattering of color among the greens. One of the best places to spot fall colors is along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Custer State Park has its annual buffalo herd roundup in September – experiencing it first hand is the ultimate Wild West experience. 

Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills in fall

Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Another underrated destination for viewing fall colors! New Mexico has many fall foliage areas. Most of them peak later in the season but Santa Fe National Forest is by far the best to spot early color. You can best explore the area by driving along the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway. The drive is just 16 miles one way but you will need to allocate at least 3 to 4 hours to appreciate the views. This scenic drive has lots of overlooks, trailheads, and picnic areas to go leaf viewing. Aspen Vista Trail is great to photograph panoramic views of the forest. 

We hope you enjoyed our post on the best fall destinations to visit in September. Do you know of any beautiful fall colors in September? Let us know in the comments.