Sonoma County, California
With leaves on both tree and vine, fall foliage is doubly intense in Sonoma County. Drive through Sonoma Valley along Arnold Drive, lined with multicolored canopies of oak and maple. Continue through the Russian River Valley, where vineyards paint the ground with sun-fire hues and wines are paired with the October squash harvests.
Northern New Mexico
In a state mischaracterized as a one-season desert, New Mexico’s northern tip—which brushes the foot of the Rocky Mountains—beats to a seasonal rhythm. Drive the 83-mile (134 km) Enchanted Circle stretching from Taos to Red River, a diverse and scenic landscape of verdant valleys, cottonwood forests, and aspen-rimmed mountain lakes that turn to gold in late September and October.
Holmes County, Ohio
In the heart of central Ohio’s Amish Country, maple, oak, and the iconic state tree, the buckeye, hang over narrow roads that meander through wavy fields of corn. Drive under the boughs of bright reds and yellows, sharing the road with horse-drawn carriages of the Old Order Amish and stopping at roadside farm stands along the way.
Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, Canada
Along coastal Quebec, maple leaves turn reds reminiscent of the leaf on Canada’s flag. On the Gaspé Peninsula, the trees have the blue waters of the St. Lawrence Gulf as a backdrop. Hike the mountains of Parc National de la Gaspésie, or leaf-peep while whale-watching in Forillon National Park, where seven types of whales visit through October.
Douro Valley, Portugal
Autumn transforms the Douro River Valley, which slices across northern Portugal, into a sea of red, orange, and yellow as the terraced vineyards that slope along the riverbanks prepare for winter. Take a cruise along the 125-mile (200 km) waterway, fortifying yourself against the autumn chill with a glass of the region’s famed local port.
Southern Germany is saturated with Alpine forests that pop with color against snow-dusted mountains. Meander along the 224-mile (360 km) Romantic Road, beginning in the Franconia wine region—where local wine festivals punctuate the autumn calendar—and heading south through centuries-old towns such as medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl. Crowded with tourists in summer, fall offers more relaxed tempos for leaf-peeping.
Autumn breaks Count Dracula’s spell in Transylvania, a place steeped in legend and imagery of sepia-toned medieval castles and hazy moonlight. Challenge yourself on the Transfăgărășan, a 56-mile (90 km) drive through the Fagaras Mountains full of 90-degree turns, hairpin curves, and spectacular vistas of autumn’s finest foliage.
Moscow is defying its stereotype as a forbidding gray, Soviet-era metropolis and converting the estates of former tsars into public parks that paint the city with autumn hues. Try Kolomenskoye, where whitewashed palaces and blue, onion-shaped church domes punctuate a forest and rows of apple orchards.
Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan Province, China
The Jiuzhaigou Valley hosts some of the most diverse flora and fauna in China. Autumn whips up a colorful competition between the dramatic red-orange leaves, rainbow-hued prayer flags of Tibetan villages, and emerald-tinged lakes that dot the landscape.
In Japan, the leaf-viewing tradition—called koyo—mirrors its spring cherry blossom customs. One of the best spots for koyo is Kyoto on the island of Honshu, where vivid leaves frame sloping temple roofs, remnants of the city’s many centuries of imperial history. Nighttime illuminations pierce the translucent, heavy branches at their colorful height from mid-November through December.