Each fall, blue-haired tourists crowd onto tour buses and B&Bs fill up with road trippers as thousands of tourists flock to New England for the great autumn spectacle. The northeast USA is famous for its fall colors, and rightfully so. I had the great luck to visit Vermont last week during peak foliage and it is nothing short of incredible. However, I think there is a corner of America with fall colors that are just as spectacular, but it doesn’t get its due, in part because it is hidden away in interior Alaska. That place: Denali National Park.
New England’s fall foliage comes primarily from trees, with the crimson and tangerine maples leaves being some of the most colorful and vibrant. Walking in the forest or driving the narrow mountain roads is to be immersed in a tunnel of kaleidoscopic color. On the roads, rolling farmland with impossibly green fields are backed by gold, maroon and crimson trees.
In contrast, Denali’s most vibrant color comes from the blueberry bushes and ground cover on the open tundra that turns a fiery red and orange. At lower elevations, golden aspens grow among deep green spruce trees, creating beautiful contrast in color. There are no quaint farms in Alaska – just raw wilderness. Alaskan foliage is backed by towering peaks; Vermont foliage is interspersed among New England charm.
So which area has the better fall foliage? Let us take a look at some photos.
Vermont Fall Colors
Denali fall colors
The great news: you don’t have to choose just one. Peak color in Denali is the last week of August and the first week of September; peak Vermont colors are usually the last week of September and first two weeks of October. You can do both in the same year, then we can meet up and compare notes. Bring snacks.
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Why stop at 2 places? Colorado typically peaks the 3rd week of September. The southern Utah desert from middle to end of October. And I’m sure there’s more…
After being in Alaska, I hatched a fantasy plan of an epic fall colors road trip. Start in Denali, work my way down through Yukon, then into the intermountain west, ending up in the southern Arizona desert in late November. Someday…
That is a great idea for a fall colors road trip. One year after Denali we drove around Colorado, Utah and Arizona and another time we drove from Denali down through the Canadian Rockies, Glacer, Yellowstone and the Tetons. Fall is my favorite season so it was nice to make it last that long. Let me know when you take your epic autumn road trip.
They are both beautiful but in different ways. I love tundra as much as I love forest, possibly more. I haven’t been to either Vermont or Alaska … yet. We have some spectacular tundra in the MacKenzie Country in New Zealand’s South Island.
New Zealand isn’t a place that comes to mind when thinking of autumn colors, but I guess it should. When do you get fall colors in NZ? March, April?
We have a lot of introduced plants and so in some parts of the country it is very pretty during autumn (yes, March and April for us) but the colours are no where near as spectacular as Vermont.
My favourite place for fall colours is any place I am with fall colours. The wild Alaska photos are amazing. Yes, yes I told you I already want to go there – quit bothering me:)
Okay, Lyle, I won’t bother you about it. But you need to go sometime soon or you may never go.
Jeff these are astounding photos! I’ll have to do both as who could choose. Hope you settling in across the miles.
Do you get very good fall colors in Banff and Calgary area?
We are suffering from some pretty bad jet lag – 12 hour time change – but we are surviving. I think the heat is the biggest killer. How are things in Italy?
We arrived home about 6 hours ago Jeff and I am typing this at 2:30am as my clock is obviously out of whack. Good luck with the heat and the jet lag!
We get lovely yellows here but not the reds unfortunately.
I’m glad you didn’t make us choose between the two, they are both stunning.I love the shot of the canoe/raft at the dock.
That photo is one of my favorite. I took it several years ago and I’ve never seen that setting quite the same since. Has your fall gone past peak in New Hampshire?
No, it is just about peak right now. I just wish I had time to get out and photograph it!
Call in sick! But then you can’t post those on your blog 😦
You came to New England at a good time, I read this morning that weather conditions here have produced the best fall foliage season since 2008!
It looks like I got lucky! We also had very warm weather the week we were there – near 80 one day. Thanks for letting me know.
I’m really enjoying my first fall in the northeast. All of the reds and oranges are stunning. Although, your Alaska photos are breathtaking.
The only problem with fall, though… next comes winter.
True. That is what everyone in Vermont was lamenting. I get to leave the first part of winter of Alaska so I’m okay. I hope you like 6 months of winter.
Stunningly beautiful photos, Jeff. Arkansas has beautiful Fall foliage too.
I visited my inlaws in the Fayetteville/Rogers area one year and the colors were just starting to change. I want to visit eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas some year during the fall to see it.
Love your pictures Jeff. I favor Denali, but wherever it’s fall foliage, it’s beautiful. A true sign that summer is over, and in AZ that’s great.
That has to be a glorious day in AZ, kind of like when the long winters in Alaska give way to spring. I saw some nice colors in north Arizona many years ago. Thanks for commenting!