If you're coming to China to see the fall foliage, the best thing you can do is head out of the big cities and into nature. While it's understandably hard to imagine natural scenery when you're sitting in a Beijing traffic jam, only an hour outside the city is the Great Wall, a fantastic place to see fall colors. Places in northern China where the climate is more temperate are arguably better, but you can find beautiful autumn colors in many places.
Along the Great Wall - Outside Beijing
Just an hour to an hour and a half outside China's capital are many sections of the Great Wall, all of which are in the mountains surrounded on either side by trees. There are different sections to visit but the Badaling section is also home to the Badaling Forest Park where locals take a "red leaf tour" along the wall. This section of the wall is arguably the most popular so you won't be the only one out there, but the photos you'll get will be amazing. According to park officials, the best time for viewing is mid-October but the season goes from late September through early November.
Red Leaf Valley in Jiaohe
In the mountains of Jilin Province, spectacular red leaves fill the Jiaohe valley in late-September. This is one of the most pristine and least-visited places to see fall foliage in China. Located in the Changbai mountains, the valley is full of red maples so the brilliance of the colors against the mountain backdrop makes it a favorite of photographers. It isn't easy to reach. From Jilin city, driving takes around six hours.
Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve
Located in Sichuan Province about an hour's flight from Chengdu is Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve. High in the mountains, the park is best known for its multiple clear glacial lakes. In Jiuzhaigou, the fall colors are brilliant, making it a magnet for fall-foliage-seekers, especially in October.
Red Grasslands of Sangdui Town
The Red Grasslands get their namesake from the bushes that suddenly turn crimson in the fall. Poplars, also in the area, turn brilliant yellow so the area is prized for its brief period of autumn colors. Sangui is a village located in the Tibetan Autonomous area of Sichuan Province. You won't find many visitors to the area, as the easiest route takes two days from Chengdu by bus, so you have to be a die-hard foliage enthusiast to make a special trip.
Kanas (Hanas) Lake Nature Preserve
Way up north in the Altay region of Xinjiang Province is the Kanas (also known as Hanas) Nature Reserve. The preserve covers an extension of the Siberian taiga forest so is home to a stunning amount of relatively untouched flora and fauna. The forest includes Siberian larch, elm, maple and other deciduous trees whose leaves change color in the fall making it one of the most beautiful - if not hardest to reach - places to see fall foliage in China. The most recommended route is by organizing a tour in Xinjiang's capital, Ulumuqi.
Yellow Mountains (Huangshan)
The Yellow Mountain scenic area is a very popular destination year- round, but the peak time is in the fall when the red maples are brilliant and other deciduous trees turn gold. The mountain backdrop is one of the most famous in China and countless classical paintings have used them for landscapes. Huangshan is located in southern Anhui Province and many people make a three-day tour there from Shanghai.