8 Best Places to See Fall Foliage by Boat
If fall has you wanting pumpkin spice beverages, cozy sweaters, and soaking in the moderate climate outdoors, you’re not alone! Boaters love fall because it gives us more time on the water.
There’s a great reason to keep cruising, like catching the light show put on by the trees from the Northeast to the Northwest of the United States. With hundreds of places to see fall foliage by boat, the hardest decision is narrowing down your list. Luckily we’ve done the job for you.
Check out these top 8 locations for leaf peeping and exploring fall foliage by boat:
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C.
- Washington (state)
1. New York
Considering tourist boats take foliage cruises up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain every weekend through late October, you can and should cruise, too. It’s a terrific trip from northern New Jersey or New York City (be sure to read our full New York Boating Guide).
Depending on your pace, it takes about an hour and a half to nearly two and a half hours. It’s worth the trip since trees line both banks of the Hudson River. The colors come ablaze as you head north. Other boating destinations within New York that might interest you:
- The World’s Fair Marina in Queens
- Bayside Marina (Little Neck Bay)
- Lemon Creek (Prince’s Bay)
Interestingly, cruise ships head north to follow a leaf-peeping map from Maine into Canada. This comes as no surprise; Maine’s fall foliage is enchanting. You can spot seals, for instance, resting and sunning on rocks. The Midcoast Maine region, which includes towns like Camden and Rockland, is especially popular.
Peak season is typically the third week of October. That late date may surprise you, but the ocean air keeps the coast warmer than inland areas. Other boating destinations within Maine that might interest you:
- Moosehead Lake
- Elizabeth Cape
- Penobscot River
Midwesterners might argue over whose fall foliage is better, just as they do with their football teams. Regardless, Michigan natives are rightfully proud of their Upper Peninsula coastlines. Marquette County is home to the famous Black Rock Cliffs.
Aptly named, they’re ancient rock formations. Therefore, the contrast with the fall colors is a photographer’s dream. They’re also part of the equally naturally stunning Presque Isle Park. Other boating destinations within Michigan that might interest you:
- Saginaw Bay
- Little Traverse Bay
- Torch Lake
The Columbia River Gorge separates Oregon from Washington State. While either side is scenic, Oregon provides boaters with dynamic pictures with Mount Hood as your backdrop. Colorful trees dot the shores of islands and anchorages along the river.
To get in on the city boating scene, cruise down the river to Portland, where cheerful houseboats catch the eye as much as the leaves in the background. Other boating destinations within Oregon that might interest you:
- Willamette River
- Government Island
- Hayden Island
5. Rhode Island
Fun fact: More than half of Rhode Island is covered in forest. This is a fall foliage seeker’s ultimate destination. While tourists jam the streets and marinas of Newport, consider instead the capital city of Providence. Three rivers come together in Providence, making for terrific sights mixing nature and architecture (did you know Rhode Island was also featured as one of our Top Boating Destinations?).
Peak colors should be in mid-October. Depending on your boat, you might be able to continue heading north up to the Blackstone River for even less-populated leaf-peeping. Other boating destinations within Rhode Island that might interest you:
- Sunset Beach
- Narragansett Bay
- Mount Hope Bay
6. Washington, D.C.
Maryland and Virginia boast spectacular fall colors. There’s nothing like seeing the color amid our national monuments, though. Taking in the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Memorial, and the Washington Monument from the water with the autumn array is extra special. The Potomac River takes you past each of them, plus more.
Consider further cruising to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, on the riverbanks in Virginia. Other boating destinations in and around the Washington, D.C. area in Virginia and Maryland that might interest you:
- The Chesapeake Bay
- Deep Creek Lake (MD)
- Lake Anna (VA)
Looking for the right activity to spice things up between you and your partner? Go on a romantic boat ride around Washington, DC for a night you two will never forget.
7. Washington State
Port Angeles, on the northern shore of the Olympic Peninsula, is a fall foliage must. Its home to Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park has the longest undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States, 62 miles.
You’ll have to hop off your boat and head on land to the park’s rainforests to see colors, but it’s worth it. Cruise by Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, too, for amazing Olympic Mountains vistas. Other boating destinations within Washington that might interest you:
- Puget Sound
- Elliot Bay
- Point Robinson Lighthouse
Not left out of the Midwest bragging-rights department, Wisconsin leaf peepers flock to Door County. One terrific spot: Door Bluff Headlands in Liberty Grove. It’s acre after acre of untouched nature, with woods and cliffs right on Green Bay.
Nearby Garrett Bay Park has spectacular colors, too, along with the added benefit of a sunken ship, the Fleetwing, from the 1800s. Other boating destinations within Wisconsin that might interest you:
- Lake Winnebago
- Green Bay area
- Lake Michigan
Discover more boating destinations like New York, Oregon, and others at Boating Guides & Resources!
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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2022 and updated in September 2023.
A journalist with more than 30 years’ experience, Diane M. Byrne is the owner
of MegayachtNews.com, a daily website educating American superyacht owners, buyers, and
their circles of influence about the leading builders, designers, cruising destinations, and more.
She founded the website in 2007 as the first, and still the only, American-focused online media
outlet exclusively covering this market. It features all-original content, for real stories of real
Diane is additionally one of the most-sought-after journalists for expert editorial coverage and
commentary about not only superyachts, but also general boating and yachting. Her byline
appears in Boatsetter.com, DiscoverBoating.com, and the magazines Luxury Guide, Ocean,
Yachting, and Yachts International.
Additionally, Diane is the Chair of the U.S. Superyacht Association, having been on the Board of
Directors since 2015. Outside of yachting, she’s a trustee of Sempre Avanti, a non-profit
resource supporting Italian and Italian-American individuals, businesses, and organizations in the
United States and Italy.