Every State, Ranked by How Fantastic Its Fall Is
Let's just get this out of the way -- fall is pretty damn good just about everywhere. It possesses neither the soul-sucking, toe-numbing misery of winter, nor the "how is it possible to sweat this much?" discomfort of summer. People, for the most part, like fall. Some people really like fall. And who could blame them? The warmer states get their reprieve from the summer heat, while further north there's the joy that comes with squeezing in all the outdoor fun you can ahead of the looming winter. And everyone gets SO many pumpkin-flavored things! Life is good.
But where is life in fall the BEST? In seeking an answer to this eternal, apple-scented question, we weighed factors like seasonal beauty, weather, quality of stuff to do during said weather, and the likelihood that the area athletic teams will crush your soul to the point that you don't feel like doing any of those things.
And with that, to the rankings!
Yup, it’s still Arizona! But, um, with some orange leaves.
There’s a reason Michael Corleone liked to visit Tahoe in the fall: it’s beautiful, a postcard image of a gorgeous autumn reflected in a serene mountain lake. It’s also a very good place to murder your weak-willed brother. Spoiler alert! Most of the rest of the state? Not so much. Except maybe the fratricide part.
We like to joke about Florida around here, but hurricane season is no joke. However, it's also no good (donate to Irma relief here). It's at least mitigated somewhat by the opportunity to be on a beach the same week you have Thanksgiving dinner, a consistently competitive college football scene, and the hazy memories of that time the Dolphins went undefeated.
Have you ever been on a fall color tour in a swamp? It beats the pants off some boring fall-color trip with your grandma. But there are also alligators, so it’s kind of a bust. Meanwhile, the temps across the state drop from hot and humid to the equivalent of mild summer weather in the Midwest, meaning you can stop sweating from the heat and start sweating from eating and drinking way too much.
The snowy peaks are magnificent and all, but when even the bears are like “fuck this noise, I’m going to sleep for a few months” in October, the charms of an Alaskan fall are the sort of short-lived enchantment that we might call an acquired taste.
45. North Dakota
It's not certain, but we’re pretty sure the majority of Fargo takes place in early September.
Autumn in Iowa has gotten considerably better since it became possible to pair it with some ales from Toppling Goliath. But not THAT much better.
A real conversation overheard in Kansas in October.
Guy 1: Hey.
Guy 2: Hey.
Guy 1: It's neither warm nor cold today. And the leaves on that small cluster of trees next to the flat, flat wheat field appear to be changing.
Guy 2: Yeah.
(15 seconds of strained silence pass)
Guy 1: When do the Jayhawks start playing basketball again?
The good news? It’s turkey hunting season! The bad news? You’re in Mississippi! And fall in Mississippi is like every other season in Mississippi, which means it’s always a little bit worse than just about everywhere else in America at any given time. Basically, if you’re not in Oxford hanging with John T. Edge or John Currence, or in Jackson hanging with Bruno Mars as if that line in "Uptown Funk" was true, you’re tending to the last harvest of okra, tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants; failing your night class at Ole Miss; and shooting turkeys.
When you’re not worshipping or cursing Nick Saban, you’ll be watching someone’s child reenact Friday Night Lights at a high school football game, pretending that we all don’t know everything we now know about CTE and concussions. You’ll also be really itchy because, like the leaves of fall, your skin is rust-colored and flake-dry. Fall is especially lonely in Alabama if you’re not living in Auburn, Tuscaloosa, or some other college town (shout out to Huntsville! For being wack!). You also need to be booed-up or bogged down with work, because if you don’t live in Birmingham you might as well be someone’s grandfather -- there’s N-O-T-H-I-N-G to do. Ever.
On the plus side, Cornhuskers! And also all that corn, which gets husked! On the minus side, most everything involves variations on watching the Cornhuskers or doing things that involve actual corn.
39. West Virginia
John Denver once described West Virginia as "almost heaven." He also could have described it as "almost Virginia," because that's where the more heavenly of the Virginia autumns resides. That said, it's not half bad! It's just still West Virginia.
“We should really go out of our way to visit Ohio for a color tour this fall,” said nobody, ever. And yeah, they’re missing out on the glorious kaleidoscopic canopies and throngs of old people in the Cuyahoga Valley. But most Ohioans’ fall colors are scarlet and gray, and if they’re not watching a game they’re at Walmart checking for Buckeyes jerseys on the sale rack.
It would be a few spots higher on the list if Pawnee and its Harvest Festival were real. Yes, there are corn mazes aplenty but none of them involve Lil' Sebastian or Aziz Ansari. Where were we? Ah yes, Indiana! It's flat, it's pleasant-ish, and its collective opinion of its own football prowess is far too high. Indiana and Purdue combine to have an interesting season about once every presidential administration; Notre Dame remains nationally relevant despite not having done anything to earn it in what feels like decades; and the Colts may have permanently ruined Andrew Luck. Happy corn-mazing!
It’s not like UGA, Georgia Tech, or Georgia State are gonna give you any reason to believe in college football this season, or any season, in any future or alternate dimension. So you’ll do your normal annual autumn thing: eat recklessly at random fall festivals. You’ll get into hard ciders, pumpkin ale, overly sweetened wine from north Georgia, and some random new craft whiskey distillery until you remember that you should eat. Then you’ll eat lots of fried chicken, biscuits, and chili, and with breath that falls somewhere on the spectrum of Vidalia onion and sour SweetWater beer, you'll ask someone who won the Georgia game. This repeats for eternity.
35. South Carolina
If you’re in Charleston, Greenville, or Hilton Head, South Carolina ain’t so bad. But as soon as you’re gone, so is any hope for a good time, unless your idea of such is saying “Ooh, heritage" over and over until someone passes you a stale mint julep. The winds are less brutal than summertime, and there’s a nice, pleasant calm that blankets the coastal state after late-September, but you can only eat so many bowls of shrimp and grits before you realize the only people who are nice to you are also visitors. Any state where people wear golf clothing and seersucker all damn year is hiding something -- probably the fact that, according to U.S. News, South Carolina is ranked 50th among states in America when it comes to education. Maybe that’s why Clemson’s football team is so good.
We had a lot of love and snark to extend to Texas, but let’s just leave it at this: It’s a big state with a lot of very different climate differences, and part of it is reeling from the terrible side of those differences. That makes any gentle ribbing kind of dickish, so please spend the time you would have spent rolling your eyes at our comments about line dancing and electric bull riding and hipsters and Whataburger and donate to Harvey relief.
There’s a reason that Arkansas is nicknamed the Natural State, but for some reason we just assumed it was because people really like Robert Redford baseball dramas. But it turns out the Ozarks offer up some of the most stunningly beautiful fall color spreads, and the mountainous terrain makes it ideal for getting an aerial view without being some weird asshole taking videos with a drone.
It's not that Delaware is without its fall charms -- the Brandywine Valley makes for quite the attractive little drive, even if they have to share it with Pennsylvania -- it's just that those chams can only do so much to make up for that fact that you're in Delaware.
Ninety percent of the state is tailgating. And the gorgeous, sprawling forests on Ouachita and Beavers Bend transform from green leaves to red. So, yeah, even the trees are Sooners fans.
Yes, it's New England, but it's definitely the first elimination in the New England fall beauty contest. It's possible you've been duped into excessively inflating its autumnal status due to watching too many Gilmore Girls reruns. Starts Hollow was just a Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. These are facts. #TeamJess.
Utah’s fall weather is basically the meteorological equivalent of James McAvoy’s character in Split. In case you didn’t see it: Spoiler alert, it’s all over the place. Still, getting a look at Arches during the offseason or taking a ski lift tour of fall colors kind of makes it worth the risk of a rapid change in the weather.
Though you probably imagine yourself sipping Jack Daniel’s on a crisp autumn day in Tennessee, the reality feels much more like George Dickel. There’s definitely some scenic driving to be done, particularly on Interstates 24, 65, and 40, heading into Nashville from Chattanooga, Huntsville, and Knoxville, respectively, but Nashville is getting crowded with shrieking bachelorette parties and bad country music singers, and nothing brings out the bad country music like autumn. And seriously -- how many times do you really want to hear Brad Paisley sing live before you become the accidental racist?
An Illinois fall usually starts out pleasant enough, sufficiently mild to allow for comfortable outdoor drinking and grilling well into October. Then usually right around Halloween the party stops, there's a random snow/sleet storm that, even if it doesn't stick, reminds you of the apocalyptic Game of Thrones situation that's looming. Also, the Bears will typically have proved their futility early enough that Sundays can be used for home improvement projects and other acts of self-betterment, so there's that. Thanks Mike Glennon!
Look, wiseass, that whole thing about Idaho and potatoes is a pretty outdated stereot -- wait, what? There was just a festival celebrating the potato harvest that included a gigantic mashed potato pit? OK, fine, it’s still a real thing. But there’s also also a wealth of pumpkin patches! And an entire state’s covered in vast and gorgeous wilderness areas popping with fall colors, the kind of wide-open spaces the Dixie Chicks would dream of, were it not for the fact that they’re probably not welcome in Idaho. It’s legitimately one of the best places to take a fall road trip, with winding roads revealing panoramic explosions of color around every corner.
25. South Dakota
Perhaps it's the duality of SoDak that makes it one of the less-understood states. On the east side of the state, you have the glories of the Missouri River valley, which begets us beautiful fall colors and the majesty of the Mitchell Corn Palace, which depends on the fall harvest for its structural integrity. In the west, you have the mighty badlands and the Black Hills, where Spearfish Canyon, The Badlands, and Custer State Park lend themselves to some of the most unexpectedly stark views in the west. And all over the place, you have one of the weirdest and most unpredictable weather patterns, which means you might be hiking on an atypically warm fall afternoon, then be greeted by a foot of snow the next morning. Which is to say, for good or ill, you’re going to get something unexpected, whether it’s a vista or frostbite. But the former’s so great that the latter is kinda worth it just to get a view like the one at Sylvan Lake in the fall.
If fall color displays were cocktails, California would be an inverted tequila sunrise: Vibrant up top thanks to the lushness of the desolate NoCal wilderness down to the Bay, then increasingly faded until you get to a yellow, unchanging SoCal... but hey, Halloween Horror Nights is pretty cool! If we were simply talking about the Northern section of the enormous state, California would be at the top of the leaf pile. But we’re not. Way to ruin it for everybody, SoCal. But hey, you have endless summer and fish tacos. So, um, see you in a couple months?
23. North Carolina
All you need to survive the pre-winter season in North Carolina is a beard, a Mason jar full of vinegar, an “Appalachia” leg tattoo, an acoustic guitar from Walmart, a light-blue or white football jersey to spin around your head like a helicopter, a J. Cole CD, and a sixer of slightly above-average craft beer.
22. New Hampshire
There's the rapturous beauty of the White Mountains. There's... not much else. Oh, there's those people in Dixville Notch who get to vote before anybody else, so that's fun? For 12 people. Every four years.
21. New Mexico
It's not quite the vibrant tapestry of some more northern locales, but the bright yellows of New Mexico's aspen trees do offer up a certain flavor of fall beauty that might surprise an outsider. Of course, everyone there is just too damned relieved that it isn't 115 degrees anymore to care too much about your opinion. Throw in a seriously underrated ski scene that gets going in earnest towards the end of the season and you have some surprisingly hot fall action. But not like, HOT hot, because that'd be bad.
Putnam County Fair! Branson’s National Harvest & Cowboy Festival! There’s an awful lot of, um, very Missouri stuff going on in the autumn. But there’s also a whole lot of gorgeousness to behold along the Missouri River and amid the ample valleys it creates. Plus, the Springfield Oktoberfest is crazy great, and the HOP in the City fest is a must visit: it's a time when Schlafly throws down more than 40 of its brews and cements its status as one of the region’s most consistently underrated breweries.
There are few things quite as satisfying as experiencing Montana in the fall, when the tourists have all but departed, the state’s legit incredible breweries start thinking to winter workers, and the kaleidoscopic colors and ample wildlife can be observed from an isolated hilltop or reflected in crystalline glacial lakes. The change in the weather also results in much clearer skies, turning the classic Big Sky into something of a high-def planetarium display. The flip side? Remember that scene in The Day After Tomorrow where Jake Gyllenhaal has to outrun an unexpected blast of cold that can freeze people on contact? Sometimes it feels a lot like that.
The site of racehorses grazing against the backdrop of rolling hills and brilliantly changing fall colors is truly something to behold, but it can only take you so far in a state where the football alternates between mediocre and promising yet frustrating. Luckily, the unfettered access to bourbon makes up for it and then some.
Oh, look, Hawaii’s still beautiful and gorgeous and tropical and inviting and idyllic. Screw you you, Hawaii. Never change!
Once the RVs clear off the roads after Labor Day, traveling through Wyoming can be a relatively solitary affair, which is exactly what makes it one of the most spectacular places to be in the fall. Have you ever been to Yellowstone at a time where people weren’t lined up to take selfies next to the hot springs? Or walked up to Devils Tower without waiting for somebody in a walker to go ambling down the hill? Or stared out at the Tetons without some rich asshole blasting by in a Porsche on his way to Jackson Hole? Because that’s what you get during the fall, a time when the wind-swept forests and valleys practically glow as the leaves change. It’s essentially an Ansel Adams photo come to life.
15. Rhode Island
Rhode Island is small but mighty when it comes to compelling autumn scenery -- what, did you think those rich folks who built the homes along the Newport Cliff Walk were going to forget the foliage factor? And thanks to its compact size you can cover pretty much all of it in like an hour, which leaves more time for enjoying the fact that it's not too cold yet to preclude the enjoyment of a delicious Del's Frozen Lemonade.
14. New Jersey
New Jersey possesses a wealth of legendary panoramas, Rockwellian small towns, and gorgeous coastal oases. And there’s always the bonus of having Bruce come on the radio as you cruise for hours among the expansive, kaleidoscopic tree canopies, and winding back-country roads. But there’s also the inedibility that Bon Jovi will come on, too. And Trenton is still in the state. Those are minor issues, sure, but when the autumnal beauty race is this close, a poorly timed “Livin’ on a Prayer” and an industrial wasteland can make a world of difference.
Maryland isn't typically top of mind when it comes to unparalleled autumnal beauty, but it probably should. Then again, no matter how pretty things look, you still have to wrestle with the looming end of crab season and the fact that elite Joe Flacco is probably never coming back.
A lot like Oregon, but with bigger mountains, a colder coast, and slightly more rain. There’s a staggering amount of to see during Washington’s fall, from the color-flecked cliffs of Leavenworth to the islands of the Puget Sound, the wonders of the Olympic Peninsula, the fresh-hop beers begat by the Yakima hops harvest, and the roars of Seahawks fans. In fact, it’s basically neck and neck between Washington and Oregon, but it really boils down to one thing: The guy who wrote this is from Oregon. And also, Oregon’s just kind of better.
Go Beavs! Go Ducks! Go... inside for several months once the rains starts falling around November, occasionally emerging umbrella-less because that’s how the locals do it. But until the sky opens up, fall in Oregon brings out the best of everything, whether it’s the mountainside vistas outside of Bend and Sisters, the temperate climate shift on the coast, the coastal rain forests’ changing hues, or the bustling orchards that supply a year’s worth of pears and apples outside of Hood River, a city adjacent to the Columbia River Gorge (currently partially ablaze, tragically). The high desert, too, has a temperature that belies its name, cooling off remarkably as events like the Pendleton Roundup give way to a more relaxed way of life all around. It’s the absolute best time to visit the Beaver State to fully experience its natural splendor in all its glories... until it’s not. When it rains it pours, and everyone basically turns into Elliot Smith for a while.
Did you know that apples were first introduced to America in the Jamestown colony in 1607? It's true! So basically you have Virginia to thank for all your adorable apple-related autumn activities. You know, like apple picking. Or drinking all the hard cider you can. Or stress-eating and entire Costco apple pie because you think the world might be ending. But a Virginia autumn isn't solely a time to engage in sacred apple-related traditions. It's also an opportunity to contemplate the timeless, underrated beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, and contemplate what you might have done in a past life to cause Dan Snyder to purchase your football team.
The prevalence of German ancestry means the Oktoberfest game is strong. The presence of iconic, indulgent sandwiches at either end of the state makes fattening up for winter a joy no matter where you live. The Allegheny National Forest is as lovely as a slice of Dutch apple pie. The rest of the state's not so hard on the eyes either -- hell, even the turnpike looks good in autumn. The NFL teams are... usually pretty good? The college football is... good this year, and we'll just leave it at that so as not to enrage any unhinged Happy Valley residents. Man, that's a weird note to end on. Let's all just share some pie?
If you can avert your eyes from whatever manner of beer brat you're consuming at a tailgate for just a few minutes, you'll notice that, hey, Wisconsin looks really damn good come fall. It looks even better if you can manage to slip away from said tailgate and head to Door County or Lake Geneva, as long as you don't mind dealing with the hoards of Chicagoans who drove up to bask in their northern neighbors superior fall beauty. Speaking of fall superiority, the Badgers always manage to keep things interesting, and the Packers are generally kind enough to save their soul crushing finale until the winter. By that time everyone's been hibernating in a tavern for at least a month or two, and it numbs the pain a bit.
7. New York
Do you, like Wayne Newton, recall Central Park in fall? If you've ever visited the mega-park in autumn (also, don't forget about Prospect Park!), or walked the tree-laden streets of the West Village or Upper East Side October-through-December, you likely wouldn't forget the barrage of fall colors juxtaposed against the beauty of Gotham's urban streets. Frankly, it's enough cinematic splendor to make you question why autumn in New York isn't a better movie. But obviously, if you want a full blast of foliage straight to the retinas you need to head upstate to quaint resort towns like Phoenicia or Hunter Mountain, which function equally beautifully as paragons of upstate beauty and great potential locations for slasher movies. There's a sea of color your whole way up to Buffalo. Just stop before you get to the Bills' parking lot -- something tells us they don't take too kindly to leaf-gazers.
Did you know that approximately 77% of the fall landscape of Massachusetts is covered in idyllic autumnal college campuses, replete with lush green yards where students might toss a Frisbee or read some James Joyce under an oak tree or do some other college-y bullshit that looks like it was cut straight from some "back to campus" B-roll? OK that number may be slightly inflated, but there's something about the combination of the influx of students to the state's 17,000 universities and the postcard-worthy scenery at seemingly every turn that makes Massachusetts really feel like its most vibrant in the fall. And sure, a lot of those students end up pissing everyone else off, but "pissed off" is secretly a Masshole's most contented state. They're way happier self-righteously complaining about Roger Goodell than they are winning a Super Bowl. And now they get both! Ugh, they're kind of the worst. And yet, still, Massachusetts falls are kind of the best.
There’s something for everybody when Michigan’s summer ends. Gloriously amber sunrises on Huron and sunsets on Michigan? Check. Some of the best football rivalries kicking into high gear? Absolutely. The constant sight of deer splattered all over a pothole-riddled highway, making scenic drives through hilly fall wonderlands look like Eli Roth started doing Pollack-inspired art? Of course. This is the time when watching cider get pressed is a tradition, where venison simmers in every slow-cooker from Detroit to Copper Harbor, polka-music fills the air at Oktoberfests and Polish celebrations alike, and when the Pictured Rocks along Lake Superior get an extra blast of color as the trees go from green to orange in anticipation of the snow. Even better, you can finally go into the woods without getting swarmed by black flies. Sure, you might accidentally get shot by a hunter, but hey, that’s a Michigan fall tradition, too.
The lobsterman are at their most active. The views in Acadia National Park are stunning. The views around the rest of the state aren't half bad, either. The blueberry jam your mom made from the late summer harvest is plentiful, and you don't mind applying it liberally as you'll be clad in your best paunch-disguising L.L. Bean fleece starting right about... now. Yes, the winter misery is looming, but you've handled it before. You'll be fine. Have some more jam. And some more lobster. But not together. OK, maybe together?
The very presence of the Great American Beer Fest or start of the Broncos season would be enough to start Colorado off in a good place, but you don’t live in one of the most majestically beautiful natural states just for some great beer and football. Take, for example, the fact that the abundance of cloudless days, which basically turns one of the country’s most vibrant and wise-ranging color displays and makes it glow with blinding brilliance as the sun shines down. Then consider how incredibly easy it is to get to a vantage point — whether it’s at the base of a cliff, the top of a hill, or while riding on a ski lift that takes you higher into the Rockies (and usually to a place with a patio bar) — to gaze down on it. Sure, once the snow starts falling it kinda doesn’t stop, but that only means you get the best of both worlds in Colorado during the fall, a simultaneous fall wonderland that you can sometimes gaze upon amid a backdrop of snow, turning the snow-blanketed valleys into a color-flecked palette just perfect for the artist we call Mother Nature to... holy shit. Wow, that was some droning! The weed’s good too, apparently.
Fall in Minnesota reads like a checklist of the fall essentials, with most of your favorite things amped up. Those fall colors? They’ve been exploding since around Labor Day, and are best enjoyed sitting beside one of those 10,000 or so lakes that are suddenly more enjoyable without the staggering humidity or pterodactyl-sized bugs. Pumpkin patches, apple orchards, corn mazes, and Oktoberfests? They’re a way of life. College football? You betcha it’s in full swing! Everything great about Minnesota just kind of clicks together in the fall, creating a Midwestern paradise where the skies are suddenly clear, temperatures are manageable, and the waters of Lake Minnetonka become even more purifying when surrounded by color.
Say the words: "Vermont in fall". Close your eyes. What do you picture? Is it some ludicrously charming small town with a covered bridge and an old church serving as the backdrop to a farmers market where you just tasted the most incredible apple cider donuts you've ever had? Is that followed by a hike through the Green Mountains that makes you realize all other fall scenery you've viewed in your lifetime was merely a prelude to this moment? Is it huddling around a bonfire drinking some beer from Alchemist or Hill Farmstead that people usually sell kidneys to acquire? Is it you being treated at a local hospital for the ramifications of consuming too much maple candy? Is it all of the above? Well, the fact that "all of the above" is even possible (yes, including the maple overdose) should tell you all you need to know about why Vermont does fall better than anyone else.
Andy Kryza grew up telling himself that deer just really liked sleeping on the road during the fall. Follow him to Michigan-bred coping mechanisms @apkryza.
Matt Lynch is at his happiest drinking around a bonfire during the months of September and October. Please invite him to one @MLynchChi.