If it's October, it's fall-foliage season. But not all deciduous forests were created equal. In fact, sometimes the most brilliant autumnal hues can be seen not among oaks and maples, but in vineyards and southern valleys.
From the traditional pumpkin patches of the East Coast to wine country out West, peak fall foliage is just about to hit its prime, where it will cap out in vibrant yellows, reds, and fiery oranges by Halloween. Call in sick to work and take a long weekend to witness nature's green turn gold, whether you live near the Wine Country of Napa or the southern comfort of Virginia.
New York State: Catskills
Some of the best leaf-peeping is found within striking distance of New York City. You'll typically need to rent a car, but once you're an hour or so out of town, the colors will truly dazzle you. Our recommendation: Book a house through Red Cottage, one of the few rental agencies to specialize in the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. Choose from about 50 properties in their portfolio that range from a barn with a spiral staircase, fireplace (and a cat!) to a remote cabin with a wraparound porch, a Jacuzzi, and excellent WiFi. The site's owners curate homes from pop artists, architects, financiers, publishers, and other creatives, so you never know what surprises you might find. Outside, you'll certainly discover glorious scenery and local character. Most properties have two-night weekend minimums, and will run you around $600 total.
South Carolina: Chimney Rock in Greenville
Watch the final scenes of Last of the Mohicans, and you'll get a good sense of what Chimney Rock State Park looks like. Set just outside of Greenville, South Carolina, the park was donated by the Morse family in 2007 and is one of the state's most iconic parks. In autumn, its color palette is dramatic—the hills and valleys are quilted in gold and green. Hike the Great Woodland Adventure Trail to the Four Seasons Trail, which climbs more than 400 feet up the Hickory Nut Gorge to Exclamation Point, the highest point in the Park at 2,480 feet. Along with the outcropping from which the park takes its name (a 315-foot-tall rock), don't miss hiking Hickory Nut Falls trail to the 404-foot-tall falls, one of the highest in the East. Plan more than a day to take it all in; stay at Hotel Domestique, a short drive to the trail heads, and with a fantastic breakfast spread and a rustic Italian vibe.
Virginia: York River State Park and Colonial Williamsburg
York River State Park, located on the York River in Williamsburg, Virginia, is known for its rare and delicate estuarine environment, where freshwater and saltwater meet to create a rich habitat for marine and plant life. The pristine environment offers clues to a rich natural and cultural history and hosts fossil beds and Colonial and Native American artifacts. More than 30 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails allow visitors to explore the marsh, river shoreline, and forests. Of course, nearby is the American treasure, Colonial Williamsburg, a perfectly-preserved settlement frozen in time just around the time of American independence. Stay at the affordable Williamsburg Woodlands or at the higher-end Williamsburg Lodge (be sure to indulge in the spa), and talk to costumed characters with the 18th-century buildings and glorious fall foliage as the backdrop.
California: Napa Valley
And on the other side of the country ... don't write off Napa Valley's fall foliage! Soak up the autumn foliage by touring a variety of the vineyards in places like Yountville and St. Helena and Calistoga (hire a car and driver—there is always lots of drinking involved!) then head to the new tasting room K. Laz Wine Collection, wine-industry insider and former Dean & DeLuca wine director Kerrin Laz's latest venture, in Yountville. Laz has made her 500-strong wine-bottle collection available to the public for tastings, and filled her cellar with cult labels like Screaming Eagle, Abreu Vineyards, and Dana Estate. Stumble back to your home for the night at Bardessono Hotel & Spa, Hotel Yountville, or North Block Hotel. Need a great meal? Try Redd by Richard Reddington, Laz's go-to restaurant in the area.