10 Best Fall Trips in the West

Stunning autumn foliage, mild temperatures, and crowd-free attractions reward fall travelers.

Utah's Pando forest may be the most famous bunch of aspens in the world.
Photo: Austen Diamond

Autumn is the perfect time to sneak in a getaway before heavy snow and busy holidays make traveling more difficult. Enjoy the best of the season at these cozy destinations.

1. A forest unlike any other: Pando Forest, UT

This Utah forest is more than just another spectacular aspen grove. In the 1990s, forest scientists made a startling announcement about the Pando: What looked like a woodland made up of individual trees—more than 40,000 of them covering over 100 acres—was in fact one massive organism. More specifically, it’s a clonal colony that started from a single seed and is now linked by an interconnected root system. (Pando means “I spread” in Latin.) The forest’s scientific uniqueness only adds to its visual wow.

2. Stunning color show: Sun Valley, ID

You can’t beat the stunning color show of the aspens changing leaves around the valley. When you’re done taking in the natural display while hiking, watch thousands of woolly animals take over Ketchum's Main Street at the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival. Don’t forget to tuck into a sweet treat and a warm beverage while enjoying your fall escape.

3. Peaceful gold country: Ruby Mountains, NV

Let the golden leaves and open roads welcome you to this quiet cowboy country. Drive the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway to wind along 12 miles of craggy cliffs through the glacier-carved canyon. At the top, throw on your hiking boots and meander down the Island Lake Trail before heading back into Elko, a charming old gold-mining town.

The West’s most beloved lake is at its best in autumn.
Photo: David H. Collier

4. A moment's peace: Lake Tahoe, CA

The summer crowds have gone home and the winter skiers haven’t hit the mountain yet. Lake Tahoe is its most peaceful and relaxed in fall. Now’s the perfect time to hike, paddle, and explore before the first snow hits and while the weather is still pleasant.

5. College town charm: Missoula, MT

Outdoors, academics, and earthly comforts—that’s Missoula at a glance. Head to the Clark Fork, a river popular with trout-fishing enthusiasts and kayakers alike, to see the blazing yellow cottonwoods before indulging in the season’s bounty, including warm scones, bags of huckleberries, and bars of patchouli soap, at the Saturday farmers’ market along the riverbank.

6. Timeless splendor: Canyon de Chelly, AZ

Without the intense heat of summer you can discover the canyon’s treasures. From the south rim, make your way down the prehistoric trail that leads from sandstone cliffs into the valley below. You can see a small portion of the park on your own, but a guided tour will reveal the longstanding Navajo home in a way no museum or trail-side plaque can.

Jackson Hole is worthy in its own right, but its proximity to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks make this one of the best autumn escapes in the West.
Photo: BrockSondrup / Shutterstock

7. Gateway to the outdoors: Jackson Hole, WY

The popular mountain town is a great home base to explore Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and the gorgeous landscapes that surround them. While the area is inundated with visitors in summer and winter, now is the perfect time to stop in and see what all of the well-deserved fuss is about.

8. Coastal gem: Lincoln City, OR

Fall is one of the best times to play along the Pacific Coast. The summer fog has finally let the sun through, and the temperatures are mild. This small, seaside gem is packed with waterfall hikes, a clam chowder and local brews festival, and prehistoric finds.

9. Cascading waters: Silver Falls State Park, OR

Yes, the rain starts early in the Pacific Northwest (or often feels like it never stopped), but the cascading waterfalls and empty trails sure make it worth it. Take a day trip to Oregon's Silver Falls State Park for lush, autumnal splendor.

10. Great outdoors city: Bozeman, MT

No longer just a stop along the way to Yellowstone, this burgeoning city earns its destination status. The fly-fishing haven has everything an outdoor lover could ask for: epic scenery, easy access to trails and water, and creative eats within walking distance.

Get the most from your travels with a AAA Membership. 

This article was originally published in August 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to confirm information.