When you think about places for fall color in the U.S., New England probably comes to mind, and though it deserves the notoriety, it’s just one of many regions to witness the resplendent change of seasons. No matter where you live, there’s likely an excellent destination to photograph the rich, warm colors of autumn within a day’s drive.
We asked 10 photographers to share the details behind some of their top locations for fall color from coast to coast to inspire you to plan your own trip, whether it’s to an iconic place or a favorite spot near home.
Tumwater Canyon, Washington
By Steve West
Traveling U.S. Route 2 across the Cascade Mountains from north of Seattle toward Spokane is always a picturesque joy. Come fall, it’s spectacular. Snow-capped peaks and mountain rivers, hillsides mixed with evergreens and now-turned-red brush accompany the journey as you approach Tumwater Canyon. The canyon is a 14-mile piece of U.S. 2 that bends and sweeps along the Wenatchee River ending at the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth. The highway is loaded with roadside pull-outs along the Wenatchee, making it easy to photograph. In addition to the river and cliffs, you’ll find ponds, a small dam, an old railroad bridge and other features to combine with the color.
I’ve photographed from the canyon for many years and regard it as Washington state’s prime spot for guaranteed fall photos you’ll show others. Each year seems different due to normal climate changes; will the yellows, oranges and reds be ripe together, or is it simply a one-color year? The reds normally come first, and the yellows linger the longest. I pick the middle of October as the best chance for both. As summer winds down, the images of past photos begin to resurface. Fall is in the air, and so is the Tumwater.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
By Menx Cuizon
Yosemite National Park is a popular landmark that’s located in the central Sierra Nevada of California. It’s one of the most beautiful scenic places in the United States, and millions of people visit the park each year for hiking, camping, rock climbing or simply to enjoy the beauty of the place. Yosemite is famous for grand waterfalls, majestic granite rock formations and breathtaking meadows. Among the top photo locations in the park are Tunnel View, where one can see the iconic El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall; Glacier Point; and Cook’s Meadow, to get a closer look of the upper and lower Yosemite Falls. For photographers, this place is an absolute destination.
All year long, Yosemite National Park offers the stunning beauty of nature and amazing landscapes. Each season has a different variety of beautiful displays of nature.
My last fall visit to the park had one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen. My friends and I planned to photograph Half Dome with the Merced River as the foreground. As the morning broke over Yosemite Valley, an errant beam of sunlight illuminated the vibrant colors of the autumn trees, and at that moment, I felt so excited and inspired. With the camera settings already done beforehand, I started clicking on the remote shutter without delay. The radiance of the sun, the reflection on the Merced River and the silhouette of Half Dome were glorious.
See more of Menx Cuizon’s work at menxcuizonphotography.com.
Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, Prescott, Arizona
By Bob Larson
Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, just off Arizona State Route 89A on the way to the main entrance of Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona, is a smorgasbord of color in the fall. Depending on how much rain the monsoons brought over the summer, there are ponds, pools and streams throughout the preserve and plenty of color-changing leaves to keep a photographer happy and very busy. Without the full foliage of summer, the thinning of the leaves on the branches allows the rays of sunset to shoot through while enough foliage remains to provide that autumn glow. Aside from the gorgeous color, the best part of shooting the Riparian Preserve in fall is no snakes—during the summer months, there are times when I’m looking through my viewfinder and I see the forest floor move!
See more of Bob Larson’s work at boblarsonphotography.zenfolio.com.
Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
By Daryl Hunter
I was inspired to shoot this spot after seeing it in the July 1986 feature in Outdoor Photographer about Jackson Hole photographer Fred Joy. I then abruptly moved to Jackson Hole after my first visit.
Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park is one of the most recognizable, iconic landscapes of the American West. To get a new take, I climbed Lozier Hill for a different perspective, forsaking the iconic reflection of Mount Moran of the traditional perspective. This higher perch enabled a more comprehensive landscape of the autumn willow-lined banks of the river and the gold and auburn aspen forest on the east side of the Oxbow. This higher and wider vantage adds the leading line of Snake River as a substitute for the full reflection of the closer view.
See more of Daryl Hunter’s work at theholepicturesafaris.com.
Kebler Pass, Crested Butte, Colorado
By Jon Reynolds
This mountain pass in Gunnison National Forest is home to one of the largest aspen groves in the world and is only accessible to auto traffic from late spring to the end of fall. Peak color season can begin as early as mid-September, but in my most recent journeys, I’ve found the first few days of October to be the best time to capture the leaves both on the trees and also those recently fallen on the ground.
As I wound my way around Coal Creek, approaching the eastern terminus of the pass on this rainy morning, I was particularly struck by the tall, slender trees layering the northwestern slope of Mt. Axtell. Rather than use a wide-angle lens, I felt a telephoto would be more appropriate to help accentuate the vertical nature of the landscape, which reminded me of a box of freshly dipped paint brushes ready to apply their brilliant gold, green, orange and crimson colors to an otherwise gray autumn canvas.
See more of Jon Reynolds’ work at jon-reynolds.pixels.com.
UW Arboretum, Madison, Wisconsin
By Ravi Hirekatur
The trees in this forested area, Wingra Woods, are predominantly maple, and almost all of them turn yellow during the fall, giving a surreal sense of a yellow world. This is one of my favorite places to go for fall photography.
The UW Arboretum consists of 1,200 acres of land that has been restored to natural conditions for purposes of research, education, ecological experiments and a refuge for wildlife. It consists of the oldest restored prairies with an extensive and most varied collection of restored ecosystems, including savannas and wooded areas. It’s managed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The prairie and savanna areas are rich with wildflowers of southern Wisconsin and are great places for macro photography. There’s plenty of wildlife, including birds and mammals.
I was photographing the fall color landscape when this deer showed up. I quickly changed to a telephoto lens, and the deer didn’t move. I had just enough time to make two images before the deer bolted. It was pure luck.
See more of Ravi Hirekatur’s work at ravihirekaturimages.com.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
By Marcella Raust
I found this group of trees while hiking on the Laurel Falls Trail near Fighting Gap Creek Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was there during the second week of October hoping to see the peak of the fall foliage colors. It was cloudy that day, which was an ideal condition for photographing these trees without the contrast of bright sunlight. There was also very little breeze and motion among the leaves, so I was able to take the photograph at a long enough exposure to get good depth of field. I was also able to photograph this scene so that there was no sky visible in the background. The fall colors were beautiful, but I also really liked the way there were still some green leaves mixed in with the red, yellow and orange colors.
See more of Marcella Raust’s work at marcellaraust.squarespace.com.
Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
By Stan Bysshe
Not all photo trips go as planned. A friend and I scheduled a trip to West Virginia to photograph the fall foliage. We consulted the peak foliage maps and drew up our itinerary to include Blackwater Falls State Park and the Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest. We wanted to get in a sunrise shoot at Bear Rocks Preserve, a particularly colorful site at Dolly Sods, but the weather did not cooperate. It poured rain most of the time we were out photographing. Bear Rocks was especially challenging.
As we drove the dirt fire road off the mountain, we were engulfed in a low-lying cloud, and the rain slowed to a drizzle. We came across an area of bare “winterized” trees with patches of trees that still held their yellow leaves, all shrouded in fog, splashes of light in an otherwise gloomy, wet day.
See more of Stan Bysshe’s work at sbysshe.smugmug.com.
The Great Swamp, Basking Ridge, New Jersey
By Joe Gliozzo
The Great Swamp in New Jersey has been a National Wildlife Refuge since 1960. It’s home to nearly 250 different bird species, and it falls directly in the corridor of the migrating birds looking for rest and nutrition. It’s here that I like to occasionally visit in the fall, since it brings ample opportunity to photograph species of birds that I might not normally see, in addition to adding some interesting colors within the frame.
It’s also home to a pair of barred owls that seem to enjoy human presence. On many occasions, I’ve walked the trails and have surprisingly stumbled upon one or both, just relaxing on a perch directly along the path. Normally, I’d expect them to fly off to another spot when approached, but not this pair.
On this particular October day, with the leaves already changing colors, I found this beautiful owl amongst a stunning canopy of red autumn leaves. All I needed to do then was find the right angle to frame the shot and display the beautiful scene as it appeared.
Acadia National Park, Maine
By Michael Swindle
Hoping to see vibrant leaf color changes and avoid the crowds, we chose to plan our visit to Acadia National Park in the very late fall. Due to rains, wind and cooler-than-normal temperatures, we weren’t able to walk as much of the park as we had hoped. On a rainy morning, we drove Duck Brook Road, which is off of Highway 233 leading out of Bar Harbor. We took advantage of a break in the cold rain to check the landscape near a carriage road bridge and surrounding pond and stream.
While walking to the bank of the pond, we caught the breathtaking sight of the bright red bush leaves against the striking greens of the fir trees. Setting up my camera in the hope of catching a shot that included the mountains, fog, storm clouds and colorful foliage, I realized the beavers had even built a lodge that could be included in the composition. A chilly drizzle turned into pouring rain, but, fortunately, I was able to protect my camera with a storm jacket covering the camera body. Even though the annoying downpour required that I wipe off the lens after every shot, the wet landscape added to the crisp brilliance of the colors.
See more of Mike Swindle’s photography at mikeswindlephotography.com.