The autumn season is closer than we realize, and you know what that means: leaf peeping. As the leaves change colors each year, travelers flock from near and far to New England, autumn's epicenter. While the foliage is astounding here, the United States and Canada are brimming with fantastic places to see the season's yellow, orange, and red leaves. Best of all, the countries' well-connected rail networks can take you wherever you want to see it unfold.
The problem comes in timing your travels perfectly. Each region has a unique mixture of trees and, therefore, different peak fall foliage times, ranging from early September to the end of November. Don't miss your chance to gaze upon nature's brilliance by choosing the wrong time to embark on an autumn rail vacation. By following this forecast, which predicts the best times for peeping on popular trains throughout North America, you are sure to find a route - and a region - that coincides with your travel window.
Finding Peak Fall Foliage Throughout North America
In places from coast to coast in the continental U.S. and Canada, leaves burst into their autumnal showcase beginning in mid-September and extending through the first week of October and beyond. Of course, the leaves will not be at their finest in every region for this entire time period, making long-distance train routes your best bet for seeing an array of colors and stages of the annual autumn performance.
The Great White North is not so "white" in fall, and trains like VIA Rail's Ocean and Canadian are your chariot to many of the best fall colors on their long-distance overnight routes.
- The Ocean's route is more focused, offering leaf peeping amongst Eastern Canada and the Maritime region. As the train proceeds from Montreal to Halifax, admire how autumn colors the inland forests and charming seaside villages.
- VIA Rail's Canadian covers a longer distance, traveling through five expansive provinces and presenting incredible views in each. Travel from the forested mountains outside Vancouver and the breathtaking Canadian Rockies, where colorful trees frame soaring peaks. The train continues through vast prairies, whose grasses become golden in the autumn, and colorful lakelands before arriving in Toronto - a memorable fall destination in its own right.
Seeing peak foliage around the country in America can be just as exciting, as Amtrak has several long-distance trains that cover significant portions of the country and present fall's finest one state at a time.
- Skirting the serene shores of Lakes Michigan and Erie before traveling through Upstate New York, the Lake Shore Limited is your ticket to exceptional peeping. Travelers can follow this route to New York City, where Central Park's fall displays are sure to impress, or Boston, where multi-hued trees mingle with historic architecture and old-Atlantic ambiance.
- Travel through the Midwest's vast fields and prairies, across the Colorado Rockies, and into the terrain where streaks of yellow foliage paint high desert canyons on the Southwest Chief. This exceptional train travels from Chicago to Los Angeles via stunning desert landscapes, puts the Grand Canyon at your fingertips, and may offer the most unique look at autumn in the United States.
- Wild West scenery and unbelievable autumn ambiance beckon on the Empire Builder's route from Chicago to Portland or Seattle. From the pictorial lakes of Minnesota to North Dakota's expansive plains, Big Sky Country, Glacier National Park, and eventually the lush Pacific Northwest, each stretch of this northern route has unique foliage offerings.
- See peak fall foliage in the rugged Colorado Rockies, across Utah's colorful canyons, in the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas, and in all the serene forests that lie between aboard the California Zephyr. Its route through the heart of the country means you can experience the changes that overtake state and national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and how a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees can lead to the most inspiring palette of greens, yellows, oranges, reds, and purples.
- Quintessential New England is brought to life one vista at a time when you join the Vermonter. This Amtrak train puts you amongst iconic fall scenery, with forested mountains bleeding into rolling foothills and delightful small towns welcoming autumn explorations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
If You Dream of Crisp October Travels…
There are three distinct regions in the U.S. whose fall foliage seasons typically commence in early October and wrap up by month's end: The South, Upstate New York, and the Pacific Northwest. Distinctive vegetation and foliage lead to a vivid array of colors regardless of your choice, setting the perfect autumn backdrop for your October travels.
- Ride aboard Amtrak's City of New Orleans to see how the foliage changes between Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
- Amtrak's Cascades negotiates the short stretch between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Eugene, Oregon. The route showcases the Northwest's immense natural beauty, including the Columbia River Gorge, where fall colors will leave you breathless.
- The picturesque Hudson River Valley, Upstate's wine country, and the dramatic finger lakes highlighted by autumn's glory are just some sights you can look forward to aboard Amtrak's Maple Leaf. Best of all, this train travels directly to Niagara Falls, where fall colors accent the waterfalls.
For Later Leaf Peeping…
Catch the trail end of autumn in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. This region is projected to peak between mid-October and mid-November, making it one of the latest "bloomers" in the United States. Shades of gold, bronze, and crimson paint the peaks and foothills of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, thanks to a fantastic mixture of hardwood trees and lush foliage in the undergrowth. Sit back and watch the spectacular fall foliage unfold from the picturesque routes of the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Railroad.
Rail enthusiasts and dedicated leaf peepers know these routes and regions are only a sampling of what North America offers fall travelers. For a look at regional scenic trains that traverse brilliant autumn expanses, more long-distance rail options, and narrower peak dates to refine your travel search, consult Vacations By Rail's fall foliage map or explore our autumn rail tours. Spaces are limited for 2023 fall departures, so do not delay; contact a Rail Specialist to book today.