Fall Colors in 5 Unique Destinations and How to Photograph Them

September 2, 2023   11 Comments »

Fall Colors in 5 Unique Destinations and How to Photograph Them

September 15, 2015 11 Comments »

Fall is probably my favorite time of year. I love the cool, crisp weather, and the thought of bundling up, drinking bourbon, and eating apples and comfort food. I also love the fall because of the colorful fall foliage, smells, and of course photography.

Fall is a great time to travel, and there is a well-worn path heading to America’s Northeast to see the fall colors every year.  You have to try to get your reservations early for fall foliage viewing, and then fight the crowds, which doesn’t sound like much fun to me. 

Why would you want to go to the Northeast when there are SO many other places you can go without crowds?

I try to stay away from crowds whenever I can, so if you don’t want to fight the crowds at the B&Bs or simply are looking for a different way to experience fall colors, here are my best suggestions for atypical Fall Destinations.

In addition, viewing fall foliage doesn’t just have to be in October – fall leaves start to change color as early as August in some parts of America!

How to Make Fall Last

Some people say fall colors happen fast, you typically only get a couple of really great weeks for capturing all of those great fall scenes. However, for the last two years I’ve been squeezing everything I can get out of fall; and making it last 2 months instead of 2 weeks – because I love it that much!

It’s pretty simple, you go north – as far as you can and then start to work your way south slowly. For the last two years, my tactic has been to start in Alaska – where fall is normally in full swing and colors change as early as August up in the Alaska Arctic, and in Anchorage the colors change in September.

Alaska Fall Colors Start in August!

Don’t blink or you may miss it! Fall comes and goes really fast in Alaska so timing is everything. The beautiful backdrop of snowy mountain peaks and glaciers is a great way to experience fall colors. The blooming pinkish fireweed quickly turns to a rustic red color and the birch trees start glowing bright gold. They practically look illuminated next to the green pine trees. You’ll want to plan your Alaska fall color viewing trip for the end of August/beginning of September. Or if you are planning on going further north above the Arctic Circle, then you’ll see the fall colors much earlier in August!

See Fall Colors in BC Canada in early September

I bade Alaska goodbye and went further south to BC Canada to an unlikely place…Likely BC. Yes, there’s a town named Likely (about 6 hours north of Vancouver) along the Quesnel River in the Cariboo region. I was in the the Cariboo Region for bear watching,  and the salmon, but instead was mesmerized by the Cariboo palette of fall colors! The morning fog hanging in the forest made it even more spectacular for fall photography.

Quesnel Lake Cariboo BC

Find Autumn Colors in High Altitudes of Colorado all through September

And one more jaunt south to Colorado in mid/late September to the high-altitude town of Crested Butte where you’ll find incredible groves of golden aspens. Fall starts early and ends quickly in the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains.

And that’s how you make fall last, start in Alaska and just keep moving south! More fall foliage means more great photography, and more warm apple cider to drink!

Unique Places and Ways to View Fall in these 5 Locations

1. Minnesota Fall Colors From a Hot Air Balloon

While everyone heads east, why not just head North to Minnesota?  There’s excitement in Minnesota in the autumn as everyone tries to soak up every last minute of great outdoor time they can before the harsh winter comes. The Land of 10,000 Lakes also has thousands of trees, and viewing them from above in a hot air balloon is a great way to see the fall colors.

2. Take a Long Through Hike Among the Fall Colors in Turkey

For something different than experiencing autumn from the inside of a car or bus – why not get out and walk…for a very long time?  The best time to do long-distance hikes is the Fall months as you’ll get to experience the change of seasons at a much slower pace making you appreciate Mother Nature even more.  I hiked 150 of the 335 miles that make up the Lycian Way in Turkey for 2 weeks in October  – the perfect time for cooler hiking weather, beautiful colors, and plenty of apples to eat along the trail!  I walked the Camino in the spring months, however, the fall is also a great time to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage due to fewer people and cooler temperatures.

Chasing Fall in Alaska: Where to go for Autumn colors from North to South

3. Ireland’s Shoulder Season is Fall Splendor

Most people have left Ireland by October, but I arrived there in October ready for a Fall road trip!  An October driving trip along the Wild Atlantic Way is a super way to experience Ireland in Autumn.  No crowds mean more local experiences too.  Just layer up and be prepared for the changing weather, but I promise you, you’ll have the colorful coast to yourself!

4. NYC Inwood Park for Autumn Leaves in the City

Don’t forget urban leaf viewing; sometimes you can find great autumn serenity in your own backyard – even if it is surrounded by skyscrapers.  A few years ago while in NYC I decided to go to Inwood Park in Northern Manhattan – a place seldom visited by downtown locals or tourists.  The park is surprisingly full of hills and large boulders that you wouldn’t expect to find in NYC. You’ll also find beautiful views of the Hudson River and you may even forget that you are in the city!

Most NYers don’t ever get to Inwood or have even ridden the subway up to 190th before! However, it’s a fascinating area where Spanish seems to be the main language. There are hills and rock formations, the Cloisters, and it has a few lovely parks that most people overlook.

5. Trekking Season in Nepal Brings Colorful Landscapes

Looking to do something more epic this fall?  October means trekking season in Nepal!  My father and I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in October and even though the trail was a bit more crowded, the temps were perfect. There’s a small window of opportunity in the fall in Nepal after the Monsoon Season and before winter in the mountains.  In addition to mountain peaks, you’ll also get to see the harvest season play out before your eyes in the little mountain villages.

Quick and Simple Fall Photography Tips

Now you know where to go to see fall foliage all around the world. If you are anything like me you’ll want to capture these colorful moments! I have put together some of my quick fall photography tips so that you can capture these autumn moments in their best light.

close up of autumn red berries

Wildlife Photography in the Fall

This is a great time of year to see wildlife! The deer and moose are rutting, bears are protein-loading for the winter, and you’ll find lots of beautiful ducks and birds getting ready to head south. Take a long lens with you to be able to capture wildlife from a distance and be patient.

bear watching bella coola
Fall Swans Alaska
fall photography wildlife

Get Low and Look For Details in the Fall Leaves

Remember, photography is about telling a story, and stories need details. The big landscape shots are beautiful, but be sure to focus on the details too. Get down low, put your camera on the ground, pay attention to your focus point and practice depth of field shots to get a new perspective on fall. There are lots of great things to get details of – the leaves, mushrooms, and berries to name a few!

autumn photography tips

Capture the Autumn Golden Hours

Dawn and Dusk are your friends when it comes to autumn photography – or any photography for that matter. The light is more diffused as the sun is lower and it creates soft light and golden colors across the landscape.

Golden hour photography
Anchorage sunset

Don’t Center the Horizon Line in Your Landscape Photo

You’ll likely be taking many landscape shots in the fall. Try to avoid putting your horizon in the middle of the photo, and follow the rule of thirds. The horizon should be in the top or bottom third of the picture to create the best composition.

fall photography tips
Twin Lakes Alaska

Capture the Fall Foliage Reflections

Reflections are even better in the fall with the colors popping in the water too. Once again, the dusk and dawn hours are best to capture reflections as the light is at a lower angle and creates more contrast. You can also consider using a polarizing filter to make the image in the reflection even stronger.

Fall Reflections photography
Lake Clark National Park Alaska. Reflections on Twin Lakes

Go Remote

This is the time to ditch the autumn leaf-peeping crowds and go for that remote hike or camping trip! It allows you to go into places where the brush is thick and the people are few. My camping trip in Lake Clark National Park allowed me to get one-of-a-kind shots because so few people go there.

Wake Up for Fog

Whenever you are near water, make sure you set your alarm early to capture the misty/foggy conditions that often happen in the autumn.

Overcast Days Are Your Friend in Photography

Don’t lament about overcast days! Overcast or gray days make the greens pop – in fact, all colors become more saturated and contrast nicely with a gray day. However, you want to avoid images with too much uninteresting sky if it’s really flat. If the sky is really overcast, compose the picture to have more foreground and less sky.

twin lakes photography
Glacier-fed Twin Lakes glows blue on this overcast day
Cariboo Chicoltin Coast
Overcast skies make the greens and reds pop

Slow Down the Shutter

Autumn is a great time to find waterfalls that are surrounded by fall foliage. The most effective way to capture a waterfall is to slow down your shutter and use a tripod to create the ethereal water effect.

photo tour alaska

Don’t Forget the People in your Autumn Landscape

Yes, autumn is about leaves, but people help you tell a story. Make sure you take a few shots with people in the frame (remember the rule of thirds and try not to place them in the middle) to enhance the shot and bring the landscape some perspective.

Fall photography
Hiking the tundra in Lake Clark National Park

Compose and Crop Unexpectedly

You always see the big landscape shots in the fall which are stunning, but don’t forget to also hone in on different views and compose and crop your images to highlight details of this beautiful season instead of the expected big wide landscape scenes. It’s useful to have a telephoto lens in this situation to zoom in on forests or trees. If you don’t have a telephoto lens then you can also crop into these types of images after the fact.

Hopefully, these unique fall destination ideas will help you enjoy the colors instead of the crowds AND come home with great fall photographs!

autumn birch trees

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