Most students will experience the first thrills of college life in fall, when the air is crisp and red and gold leaves coat the ground. It’s a time of year when many of the nation’s college campuses are arguably at their most picturesque, with bursts of brilliantly vibrant foliage bringing out their grounds’ full character and charm.
This list, then, showcases the 30 schools across the U.S. whose campuses possess the most striking autumnal beauty – a beauty, moreover, that may very well inspire learners in their studies.
To develop this list, we first studied other lists that have identified the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S., both in fall and year-round. These included the following:
• Best College Reviews, “The 100 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America”
• Forbes, “The World’s Most Beautiful College Campuses”
• Best College Values, “50 Most Beautiful Colleges in the Fall”
• Her Campus, “The 17 College Campuses with the Best Fall Foliage”
Beyond this, we also looked at cities across the U.S. that notably look suitably picturesque during fall, as a way of leading us to schools in those areas that may also boast the same seasonal beauty throughout their grounds.
Furthermore, in order to decide which campuses to include, we took into consideration the attractiveness of each specific school’s grounds, particularly during the fall months. Some of the key criteria used to judge this were the design of an institution’s architecture; the acreage of natural space on each campus; the scale and type of surrounding trees, water features, mountains and wildlife; and any other notable features of landscaping that helped to highlight the beauty of a campus in fall colors. Key campus features, such as buildings, botanical gardens, arboretums and notable woodland trails, were additionally considered to find particularly picturesque points of interest that celebrated fall colors.
30. Sewanee: The University of the South – Sewanee, Tennessee
The campus of Sewanee: The University of the South sits within an incredible 13,000-acre plot of land to be found high on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. This unique expanse is called The Domain, and it is here that the school’s more than 1,600 undergraduates get to enjoy both their education and the surrounding fall foliage. Indeed, when the leaves change Sewanee’s grounds are a riot of color. What’s more, The Domain’s plethora of caves, waterfalls, forests and meadows all add considerable natural splendor whatever the season. Stunning architecture, meanwhile, also prevails across campus – one of the most spectacular examples of which is All Saints’ Chapel, originally designed by prestigious American architect Ralph Adams Cram.
29. Indiana University Bloomington – Bloomington, Indiana
In 2014 Indiana University Bloomington faculty member Sarah Mincey told Inside IU, “The Bloomington campus is always an amazing place to observe fall colors.” She could have been referencing the sweetgum trees on campus, which appear various shades of yellow or red in fall, or the black walnuts, which turn an autumnal brown. In fact, the school’s commitment to planting and maintaining the tree life around its 1,937-acre grounds means that its more than 36,000 undergraduates are treated each fall to a vibrant color palette; one, moreover, that bursts against the campus’ wealth of 19th century limestone buildings.
28. Cornell University – Ithaca, New York
There is no shortage of beauty spots from which to take in the joys of fall on Cornell University’s Ithaca, New York campus. There’s the simple pleasure of seeing the Deans Garden’s colorful Japanese maple or the Baker Lab’s European purple beech displaying their fall foliage, for example. The over 2,000-acre grounds also host many hiking trails that enable students, faculty and visitors alike to experience, among other vibrant sights, the plethora of colors surrounding the Eddy Dam Foot Bridge in this season. If fall wildlife is more appealing, however, then it’s worth noting that the Sapsucker Woods, adjoining the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, play host to fauna such as the yellow-legged meadowhawk, downy woodpeckers and Canada geese throughout the autumn months.
27. Kenyon College – Gambier, Ohio
Kenyon College’s famous Middle Path may be in the process of restoration, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of autumnal color to enjoy at the Gambier, Ohio campus. Indeed, nearly half of the 1,000-acre site is given over to the Brown Family Environmental Center nature preserve. Some of the oldest trees on campus reside here – including fabulous fall foliage bearers like the sycamore, white oak, beech and maple trees – all of which are accessible along a network of walking trails. At the preserve’s butterfly garden, meanwhile, it’s possible to glimpse caterpillars and orange-and-black milkweed bugs. There are also woodland and wetland environments to explore.
26. University of Notre Dame – Notre Dame, Indiana
The golden dome of the 19th century Main Building and the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart may initially draw the eye of visitors to the University of Notre Dame’s 1,250-acre campus in Indiana, but fans of the fall may be more excited by its various leaf-coated pathways. Indeed, one campus trail leads walkers through the falling autumnal leaves of the main quad – or “God Quad” – while both of the on-campus bodies of water, St. Mary’s Lake and St. Joseph’s Lake, boast their own tracks through a nature reserve. Some particularly pleasant seasonal trees that may be encountered along the way include the fall-blooming maple-leaf panax, the multicolored sweetgum and the yellowing cucumber tree.
25. Furman University – Greenville, South Carolina
Located not far from the Appalachian Mountains, Furman University has some
2,000 trees from 30 species spread through its 750-acre campus in Greenville, South Carolina – a site that is pristinely maintained owing to its Tree Campus USA status. The fall-foliage highlight within the grounds has to be Furman Mall, which functions as the main quad. The expanse is lined on both sides with great oak trees that turn suitably autumnal in color come the fall semester. The rest of the campus offers several miles of woodland trails, easy access to the glorious Swan Lake and its Florentine bell tower, and the perfect place to relax in the form of the serene Asia Garden.
24. Wake Forest University – Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Wake Forest University’s 340-acre main Reynolda campus is home to two impressive quads, Hearn Plaza and Manchester Plaza. The former is lined with three types of red maple trees – one of which is informally called “October Glory” – while the latter famously features southern magnolias, whose red seeds put on quite the autumn display. Perhaps the fall highlight, however, is the Winston-Salem, North Carolina school’s
Reynolda Gardens, which are just next door to the main grounds. The formal garden, which used to be part of a private early-20th-century estate, features a nature trail, a meadow and wildlife-friendly wetlands. Pre-winter visitors may also catch sight of birds like eastern phoebes and mourning doves.
23. Middlebury College – Middlebury, Vermont
Middlebury College is tucked away in the Champlain Valley of Vermont and is located less than a two-hour drive from the Green Mountains, which in fall belie their name to create some of the state’s most picturesque foliage of varying hues. The 350-acre main Middlebury campus itself, though, looks just as impressive when the seasons change. Indeed, the immaculate college grounds are home to in excess of 2,200 named trees, including an approximately 250-year-old bur oak: undoubtedly why Middlebury College has been a designated Tree Campus USA since 2010. This all means that in fall the school’s 2,526 undergraduate students can absorb the vibrant reds, golds and browns of the eclectic surrounding flora – as well as being able to take advantage of the peaceful open spaces in front of historic 19th century structures, such as those on Old Stone Row.
22. University of Colorado Boulder – Boulder, Colorado
Although there is only a matter of weeks to enjoy the most vibrant fall colors of Colorado, the University of Colorado Boulder is an ideal place in which to witness them. In fact, the school’s 600-acre campus benefits from more than 5,000 trees of 61 different varieties. Of these, the pin oak, the sugar maple and the red maple are particularly breathtaking to see in their fall shades of scarlet, orange or red. And if that wasn’t enough, the dramatic Rocky Mountains tower over the pretty campus, while the red, Tuscan Vernacular Revival-style roofs of many of the institution’s buildings add even more beauty to the fall landscape.
21. Duke University – Durham, North Carolina
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina isn’t called a “university in the forest” for nothing – 7,044 of its 8,547 acres are in Duke Forest, after all. There are a dozen state natural heritage areas found here, all of which can be explored on foot regardless of the season. It appears the woodland has expanded into the main campus, too, for Duke’s grounds feature a whopping 15,000 trees. Among them are such ancient and autumnal sights as the century-old pastel-colored willow oak on East Campus and the three-centuries-old red-brown “grandfather” white oak on West Campus. Another highlight in the fall is the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which showcase everything from local plant species to maple trees.
20. University of Washington – Seattle, Washington
The University of Washington’s cherry blossoms on the Quad may get all the attention for their picturesque pinks in spring, but the famous trees also offer a punchy orange-red color in the fall that is just as eye-catching. However, they’re by far from the only autumnal offering that the Seattle-based institution has to offer. Indeed, there are around 480 varieties of tree on the 703-acre main campus, including sugar maples, sweetgums and Japanese maples, which all offer fantastic fall foliage. The season further brings with it a slew of college football fans who routinely decorate Lake Washington with their tailgating boats: another fall sight definitely worth the look.
19. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
In 1999 the American Society of Landscape Architects designated The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus a national landmark in recognition of its superb scenery, and it’s easy to see why. The central quads – Polk Place and McCorkle Place – are extensive green spaces located not far from the most prominent and autumnal tree on campus – the “Davie Poplar.” This famous 300-year-old tulip poplar is named after a Revolutionary War general and its leaves turn a suitably seasonal shade in fall. The school further benefits from the open-air Forest Theater, which is concealed among the foliage of Battle Park, and the huge 700-acre North Carolina Botanical Garden, with its seemingly endless array of plant life.
18. Yale University – New Haven, Connecticut
Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut is a campus that showcases three centuries of architectural influences across a 1,153-acre site that arguably looks more beautiful in the fall. Perhaps the best way to take in the school’s seasonal foliage is on the Yale Nature Walk, where prospective students can witness the pin oak, the red and orange Japanese Stewartia and the autumnal hues of the sugar maple, as well as fruit-bearing fall flora like the American mountain ash and the “dead man’s fingers” plant. The campus also holds a sizable 18-hole golf course and an attractive botanical garden; perfect places to take in the fresh autumn air.
17. Emory University – Atlanta, Georgia
Inclusive of Gothic buildings and dramatic Druid Hills woodland, Emory University’s 600-acre campus in Atlanta, Georgia is home to a gorgeous campus that is well worth visiting in the fall. Among the highlights is Peavine Creek, which flows off Peachtree Creek and passes by the fall-colored leaves of maple, pine and oak trees, and the nearby Lullwater Preserve. The university takes its commitment to forestry seriously, as evidenced by a sustainability plan that ensures that enough trees are planted should any be removed. Naturally, Emory University is a designated Tree Campus USA.
16. University of Virginia – Charlottesville, Virginia
When Thomas Jefferson conceived the “Academical Village” of the University of Virginia back in the 19th century, the Founding Father pictured it as including a stretch of “lawn and trees” – and, indeed, both can be found to this day on the institution’s Charlottesville campus. One of the key features of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example, is The Lawn, which is lined on both sides with ash and maple trees. The rest of the 1,682-acre campus, meanwhile, is equally green, including 12 designated gardens. In fall, then, the transformed foliage is something to behold, as the then-magnificently colorful Lawn leads the school’s more than 16,000 undergrads away from the famous Rotunda to the widely celebrated grounds beyond.
15. Mount Holyoke College – South Hadley, Massachusetts
Mount Holyoke College’s 800-acre campus in South Hadley, Massachusetts is a feast for the senses each fall, thanks largely to it being a designated botanic garden – one that’s made up of eight smaller gardens and an arboretum with, naturally, countless trees. For instance, there’s the century-old copper beech tree toward the northern end of campus, which turns a lovely bronze color in fall, and the centrally positioned sugar maple grove. The campus also features a number of excellent hiking trails, some of which meander through woodland while another comes out at a waterfall located on Upper Lake. There’s also Lower Lake to enjoy in addition to a 300-acre nature preserve.
14. Colorado State University – Fort Collins, Colorado
In total Colorado State University owns 5,000 acres of land that takes in all four of its campuses. However, the 583-acre main campus at Fort Collins, situated beneath the magnificent Rocky Mountains, is arguably the most stunning when fall comes around. The highlight here is undoubtedly The Oval, a half-mile-long space that functions as the school’s central courtyard. The green lawn is dotted with almost 100 trees – including a significant number of American elms as well as ash and black walnut trees – that, in the weeks following summer, leave a gold-paved walkway to the school’s administration building. Beyond the campus, of course, there are endless opportunities to explore the great outdoors.
13. Earlham College – Richmond, Indiana
Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana holds a barely hidden gem within its 800-acre campus. It’s known as the “back campus” and is home to a colorful array of woodland, bodies of water and open spaces that students and faculty can use for investigative or frivolous activities. Its extensive trails network is accessed from the main campus, which itself is by no means short of beauty. Indeed, its center is known as “The Heart” – a tree-filled quad suited to both relaxation and study. There’s also the college’s 13-acre Sedgwick’s Rock Preserve, which in fall features yellow and orange beech and maple trees and patches of oak-hickory.
12. Wellesley College – Wellesley, Massachusetts
In 1902 celebrated Boston landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. said that his Wellesley College campus plan had “a peculiar kind of intricate beauty” that promised to be unlike the grounds of any other American college. The 500-acre site retains the original idea of integrating the surrounding Massachusetts landscape by including a well-cultivated botanical garden, a dozen walking trails and an arboretum. The campus features around 8,000 trees, with beautiful deep-red fall foliage provided by the ubiquitous red oak and the centuries-old white oak, while the tulip and golden larch trees supply golden autumn leaves. The school’s website boasts that the incredible scenery can be glimpsed from almost anywhere on campus.
11. Western New England University – Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield, Massachusetts’ Western New England University sits within the fertile Pioneer Valley, with the campus – itself something of a woodland paradise – located four miles out of town. Indeed, with only 21 significant buildings across its 215-acre campus, it seems that Western New England University is more nature’s backyard than brick and mortar, especially when its tree-filled expanses seemingly turn every shade of red and yellow when summer fades to fall. These autumnal colors blend nicely with the school’s red-brown architectural stylings, but if the beauty on campus is not enough there’s always the possibility of heading into Springfield to enjoy its 785-acre Forest Park.
10. Georgetown University – Washington, D.C.
Georgetown University manages to maintain its flora-filled feel despite its urban Washington, D.C. surroundings, especially during the fall. This can be largely attributed to the 104-acre campus’ idyllic hilltop setting above the glorious Potomac River and its magnificent tree-lined banks. The campus itself, though, is not to be dismissed in the natural and architectural beauty stakes. Take Healy Hall, for example, a Neo-Medieval masterpiece designed by celebrated architect Paul J. Pelz that makes for a particularly striking sight. The marvelous structure sits amid Healy Lawn and Copley Lawn, the two biggest expanses of greenery on campus that jointly feature exceptionally pretty foliage in fall.
9. St. Olaf College – Northfield, Minnesota
Affectionately known as “The Hill,” St. Olaf College in pastoral Northfield, Minnesota is incredible during the fall. The wonderful Gothic 1877-built Old Main – designed by Charles F. Haglin and F.B. Long – provides a striking architectural focal point, but at the 300-acre campus’ center is a series of quads and plazas dominated by huge trees, including maples. The grounds also feature the 15-acre Norway Valley, which is certainly a campus highlight no matter the time of year. Next to the central campus is an astounding 700 acres of college-owned land – including tall-grass prairies and wetlands replete with grasses and wildflowers – which local farmers are able to lease.
8. Lewis & Clark College – Portland, Oregon
Lewis & Clark College has a modest 137-acre campus situated near the Willamette River, just seven miles from Portland, Oregon. Its organizational center is the Tudor-style Frank Manor House, which was designed by Oregon architect Herman Brookman – a good spot from which to enjoy the colors of fall. In fact a tree walk that starts from here takes in 20 tree varieties, among them species that Lewis and Clark themselves met on their legendary expedition across the western half of the U.S. in the early 19th century. In fall the yellow-brown hues of the loebner magnolia feature strongly as well as the reds of the paperbark maple and the copper colors of the Japanese flowering cherry tree.
7. Swarthmore College – Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
The fall beauty of Swarthmore College’s campus can be almost entirely attributed to its stunning Scott Arboretum, which takes up nearly three quarters of the Pennsylvania school’s 425 acres. The expanse takes in some 4,000 flora types like crabapple trees, witch hazel shrubs and tree peonies, all of which explode with color at summer’s end. The jewel of the arboretum, though, is the Outdoor Amphitheater – a stepped seating area where Swarthmore’s traditional First Collection takes place each fall. The “roof” of the amphitheater is provided by white oak and tulip trees, which turn rusty red and gold, respectively, before winter, with the space surrounded by evergreen flora. The candlelight of the ceremony only compliments the shades of the turning trees.
6. Harvard University – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Harvard University is almost unrivaled among schools across the U.S. when it comes to history and academic success. It’s fair to say that the Ivy League institution’s 5,083-acre grounds are not bad to look at, either – especially in the fall. Indeed, in 2014 Harvard student Lena Felton even listed snapping a picture of Harvard Yard as one of her “top five fall activities” in the Cambridge area. The undergraduate described it as a “magical” time when the yard’s dozens of species of trees – including pines, sweetgums and walnuts – come out in glorious shades of “red, orange and yellow.” It’s also in this season that the school’s historic Memorial Hall, designed by William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, arguably appears at its best.
5. University of Wisconsin-Madison – Madison, Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Bascom Hill is a particular joy in the fall. Its stretches of century-old elms, for example, can always be relied upon for a suitably autumnal display, while a carpet of multicolored fall leaves here only adds to the campus’ visual splendor. Elsewhere on the school’s 936-acre grounds is the 300-acre Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which borders Lake Mendota and offers the charming sight of a flock or two of migrating waterfowl come fall. A short distance south of school grounds, meanwhile, is the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, boasting another vibrant highlight when fall comes around with over 100 varieties of indigenous woody plants at the arboretum’s Longenecker Horticultural Gardens.
4. Northwestern University – Evanston, Illinois
Northwestern University’s Evanston, Illinois main campus captures the magic of fall despite its suburban location. That’s mostly down to the hundreds of varieties of flora around its Tree Campus USA-designated grounds – among them splendid, sometimes centuries-old white and bur oaks, as well as American elms and Eastern redbuds. When fall arrives, then, the trees’ foliage decorates the 231-acre campus with varying and magnificent hues. The school’s position toward the southwestern end of Lake Michigan, meanwhile, means that its 8,400-strong undergraduate student body may experience crisp autumnal winds blowing off the body of water. What’s more, fine architectural features, such as the Gurdon P. Randall-designed University Hall, also add to the splendor of the institution’s grounds whatever the season.
3. Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey
The gray stone Collegiate Gothic architecture of Princeton University, creeping with evergreen ivy, is beautiful all year round. In the fall, however, the 500-acre New Jersey campus becomes a carnival of color. For instance, the lower end of Elm Drive, which runs through campus, is lined with Japanese zelkova and red oak trees that transform into the quintessential colors of fall. Elsewhere, the katsura trees in front of the University Chapel bloom yellow between summer and winter, while the maple trees adjacent to Holder Hall blush a deep shade of orange. Boston architect Mark DeShong said it best when he told Travel + Leisure that, “Princeton has beautiful buildings, but the exquisite landscaping amplifies them even more.”
2. Scripps College – Claremont, California
The collaborative team of landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout and architect Gordon Kaufmann designed Scripps College’s Claremont, California campus back in the early 20th century, their Mediterranean Revival style having been largely preserved at the 32-acre site. Where Huntsman-Trout really excelled, though, was including plenty of deciduous trees that blush when summer turns to fall. Indeed, among the magnificent flora he included were sycamore, tulip and American elm trees, all of which foster an awareness of the changing seasons. There are a further 73 tree varieties throughout the college’s grounds, including Scripps’ famous olive and orange trees.
1. Dartmouth College – Hanover, New Hampshire
Dartmouth College’s central Green is a five-acre expanse that, come fall, turns into a suitably colorful display of golden browns. It is lined with a variety of trees that make the best of the season, from the gold hues of the gingko tree to the rich yellow of the Kentucky coffeetree and, indeed, the darker shades of the American elm – which, owing to there being 200 planted across the 269-acre Hanover, New Hampshire campus, are an unmissable sight. Elsewhere the Japanese zelkova brightens up Wentworth Hall and the katsura tree blooms beside Fairchild Hall, inclusions that presumably prompted former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, speaking in 1953, to remark, “This is what a college should look like.”