December 3, 2023


Booking Travel

10 historic hotels with amazing views of fall foliage

Hotels and inns that have been around for decades or centuries often have the sort of charms—and scenic locations—that newer properties lack. “Historic hotels are often in tree-lined historic districts or close to nature,” says Lawrence Horwitz, a spokesperson of Historic Hotels of America, a consortium of these properties.

That makes storied North American inns and hotels great places to check into to bask in autumn’s changing colors and stellar vistas. Here are 10 historic properties with fall views as rich as their pasts.

The view: Mountain ash and conifer forests in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Llamas haul in mail but guests arrive on foot to the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States, perched at 6,593 feet in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. The shortest trail in—five miles one-way—is also the steepest. (LeConte sells a lot of ”I Hiked It“ T-shirts.)

Circa-1926 wood-shingled cabins and lodges come with terrific views over the Tennessee Valley but no electricity; the light at night comes from kerosene lanterns. Visitors trek here for the nature and the camaraderie over communal meals like beef and gravy with cornbread. “Part of the experience for our guests is getting to meet new people,” says John Northrup, the lodge’s general manager.

(Learn why historic hotels are worth preserving.)

The view: The St. Lawrence River and changing leaves.

Maples and birches turn crimson and amber starting in late September in Quebec City, Canada, spiking demand for rooms amid the turrets and towers of this fortress-like 1893 hotel. 

It’s one of multiple properties built by the Canadian railways in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to appeal to train travelers. Book a room on the hotel’s east side for the best views of sunrise over the St. Lawrence River. The vistas are also magnifique from the hotel’s library-like 1608 Bar, where drinks are poured in a circular room. 

Wander the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Québec (Old City), with its cafés and boutiques, then explore spots like the Plains of Abraham (a 1759 battlefield-turned-park) that’s particularly stunning amid fall colors.

The view: Towering pines and red rock mountains.

Built as a church rectory in 1889, this wood-framed lodge with a wraparound porch has six guest rooms outfitted with mid-century furnishings and abstract artworks by Jason Willaford. On the grounds, a hot tub and a huge stone fire pit take advantage of the property’s tall trees and Colorado’s night skies.

Roughly 15 miles from Colorado Springs, the lodge offers easy access to the Ute Pass and the picturesque mountain town of Green Mountain Falls. It’s also close to Pike National Forest, where hundreds of miles of hiking paths include the moderate Crags Trail with impressive vistas of Pikes Peak.

(Believe in ghosts? These historic hotels do—as a way to scare up business.)

The view: Cacti and desert landscapes.

Natural hot springs—and Sonoran Desert scenery—have been luring travelers (Vanderbilts, Roosevelts) to this resort an hour’s drive from Phoenix, Arizona, since 1896. Yoga and tai chi classes take place under the vaulted ceiling of its original Stone House; guests overnight in contemporary wood and local rock bungalows or an early 20th-century clapboard cottage.

In the fall, the Bradshaw Mountain setting can be surprisingly lush. “If we’ve had good rain in the summer, the desert comes to life with yellow, pink, and greens of prickly pear flowers, palo verde trees, and gold poppies,” says lodge owner Mike Watts. Guests soak it all in with dips in three natural pools carved into a creek or horseback rides amid towering saguaros. A via ferrata with a 200-foot-long aerial walkway over the valley provides different perspectives for the daring.

The view: Waterfalls and dramatic rock faces.

It’s hard to tear your gaze from the painted wooden ceilings and Indigenous-inspired stained-glass windows of Yosemite’s 1927 lodge. But this fine example of U.S. “parkitecture”—constructed of local granite and concrete mimicking wooden planks—has California views as dazzling as its decor: Half Dome’s iconic silhouette, the gushing waters of Yosemite Falls.

Generally open all year round, the Ahwahnee is particularly pretty in fall, when the leaves on the surrounding black oak trees turn yellow and orange. The location, at the east end of the Yosemite Valley, provides easy access for rock climbing at Royal Arches or hiking along the Merced River.

The view: A rock-framed mountain lake and pine forests.

Built in 1937 of native cedar and granite, this lodge sits at 6,145 feet amid the Black Hills of western South Dakota. Guests can bunk in the main building, with its wood-paneled, taxidermy-decorated lobby and stone deck overlooking Sylvan Lake. Eleven cabins include a honeymoon bungalow with views of the Cathedral Spires rock formation from its granite patio.

A mile-long trail around the lake beginning at the lodge has waterfalls, towering boulders, and stepping off points to longer hikes. From the Custer State Park’s east entrance, you can drive the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road to spot bison, pronghorn, and the occasional coyote poking its snout into prairie dog holes.

The view: The rushing rapids of Fishkill Creek.

The 18th- and 19th-century redbrick buildings of this boutique hotel in upstate New York once sheltered textile and lawnmower factories above the rapids of Fishkill Creek. Now, plush guest rooms mix reclaimed wood plank walls, industrial-cool bathrooms, and platform beds made up with cozy alpaca blankets. Some suites overlook the rocky falls; all come with the pleasant white noise of rushing water. The hotel restaurant serves locally sourced produce and game—don’t miss the terrific duck confit salad.

The property—along with nearby contemporary art museum Dia Beacon, also housed in a former factory—has helped transform this Hudson River-side town into a popular weekend getaway from New York City, an hour and half away via train or car.

The view: A lake in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.

Since 1925, anglers have been hooking trout and walleye at this remote fishing lodge on northern Minnesota’s Gunflint Lake. Today, guests who trek to the property at the edge of the legendary Boundary Waters stay in both contemporary and historic cabins (ask for Classic Cabin 3 from 1925) surrounding a 1953 main lodge decorated with old photos and Indigenous artifacts. All cabins have lake views and stone fireplaces; a few have saunas or outdoor hot tubs.

Autumn means golden leaves on the birches and aspens in the surrounding Superior National Forest. Come winter “we have beautiful vistas of the Northern Lights from the cabins that face north,” says Mindy Fredrikson, who owns the lodge with her husband, John. From September through May, full moon hikes with the resort’s naturalist offer chances to spot foxes or hear a gray wolf howl.

The View: Atlantic Ocean waves.

Waldo Sexton, an eccentric Florida citrus farmer and businessman, used salvaged barn timber (wrecked by a hurricane) to construct this rustic 1935 oceanfront property on Florida’s east coast. Its one hundred rooms are all different—some have clawfoot tubs, others have porches decorated with vintage train bells, which Sexton collected.

Fall in Florida means big waves and nesting loggerhead sea turtles (through the end of October). Keep an eye out for hatchlings on your morning walk or head just north to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge—one of the world’s most important habitats for the species.

The view: Autumn colors in the Allegheny Mountains.

Swells—supposedly including President Thomas Jefferson—have been taking the warm springs in western Virginia since the 18th century. From 1902 on, they slept in this grand dame mountain resort a four-hour drive west of Washington, D.C. Newly renovated rooms are located in a redbrick colonial-revival structure with an imposing central tower. For the best views of the fall leaves, ask to stay at the back of the building.

(Feeling frazzled? These U.S. hot springs help you unwind.)

Guests can still soak here, either in the hotel’s mineral water Serenity Garden Pool or a few miles offsite at the historic Warm Spring Pools, a pair of rustic 19th-century wooden bathhouses which recently underwent a $4 million restoration. 

As the weather gets colder, Ladies’ Bath House with its domed roof and central oculus window is particularly atmospheric.  “It’s magical to see snowflakes falling through the oculus while you soak,” says Mark Spadoni, the resort’s managing director. “A guest once described it as like a scene from Harry Potter.”

Terry Ward is a Florida-based travel writer. Follow her on Instagram.