The best way to celebrate the autumn season is to wrap up and head outdoors to enjoy the beauty of fiery fall leaves. A trip to any one of these destinations will enhance your fall experience, immersing you in nature during this magical season. Most people think of New England as the only place to enjoy the turning leaves of fall. Although they are popular for good reason, there are other destinations just as spectacular, some that might be a little closer to home than you thought.
This state is fully equipped for leaf peepers. New Hampshire stakes its rightful claim as one of the best places in the world to see the changing leaves its rolling hills are covered in forests of maples, birches, oaks, and ashes. You can take in the view from the tops of the trees in a gondola or chair lift that rides up a mountain. Or you can see the leaves from the comfort of your car, or even from the window of a train as it winds its way through the colored hills. In the car, you can take advantage of the fourteen officially designated scenic drives that cover almost nine hundred miles of beautiful, rolling countryside. The earliest leaves to change color are in the north, usually mid- to late September.
You can drive through the Great North Woods or rent a paddle boat or canoe to travel around the Connecticut lakes. A little further south in the White Mountains, numerous mountain resorts offer foliage views from a gondola. Rides are available on Wildcat Mountain (which also has a half-mile-long zip line if you are feeling adventurous), Loon Mountain, or Cannon Mountain.
Also tucked away in the White Mountains is the Conway Scenic Railroad. You can wind your way through the leafy mountains while enjoying dinner on the train. Trains are also available from Meredith, Lincoln, or Weirs Beach. If you would like to see the leaves on foot, hike Mount Major. It is a moderate hike right up until the end where it becomes quite steep. But it's worth it because the view is spectacular. For lodging, try the Wentworth. It is a historic hotel right on the Kancamagu Highway, New England's most scenic fall foliage drive. If you're with the family be sure to pick out a festival or two to stop and enjoy. Try an adventure at a corn maze or pumpkin patch. At the Keene Pumpkin Fest in Keene, New Hampshire, you'll be able to decorate pumpkins and visit a petting zoo. It is usually held near the end of October.
While you are in New Hampshire, you might as well make plans to see the leaves in the state's main competitor, Vermont. According to the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, "From the last week in September through the Columbus Day weekend, Vermont has the highest rate of occupancy for any time of the year." This is a tip for you to make your plans and reservations early; Vermont is busy in the fall, but for good reason. The Stowe Mountain Resort is a popular destination for leaf viewing. The mountain is accessible by foot, by gondola, and by car. The gravel road that takes you near the summit costs about twenty dollars per car. The Green Mountains have by far the most popular and renowned leaf viewing sites. Bromley Mountain, Stratton Mountain, and Mount Snow are winter ski areas that provide lifts to the summits of each mountain to see the foliage. Be sure to check when each is open because some lifts only run on the weekends. If you?d prefer a more private leaf-viewing experience, Somerset Reservoir is the place to go. It is right in the heart of the Green Mountain National Forest, and you can rent a boat if you'd like to go out on the water. For family-friendly activities, follow the "cheese trail" and see different guided tours of farms. You can visit the animals, and watch cheese or maple syrup being made. You can also jump on a wagon for a hay ride.For somewhere to stay, look at the Green Mountain Inn located in Stowe.
Because it's higher in elevation, prime time for fall foliage in Colorado is from mid-September to early October. The Maroon Bells Mountains in Colorado are quite possibly the most photographed mountain range in the U.S., especially during their fall glory. Known for their quaking aspens, during autumn these mountains are a mixture of flaxen leaves and purple peaks. The route from Gunnison to Crested Butte, then to Keebler Pass and over through the Ruby Range is another with stunning scenery. Weaving through the canyons you'll see brilliant colors as far as the eye can see. Flat Tops Trail is a stretch of 82 scenic miles full of lush valleys and majestic Rocky Mountain peaks. The road skirts through two of Colorado's lesser-known--but just as brilliant--passes, so it's the perfect path if you want to avoid the fall foliage crowds. Cedaredge is a good city for lodging, with lots of fun fall festivities. Their AppleFest each October welcomes the fall harvest with activities like a scarecrow contest and plenty of apple eating.
Red rock and desert isn't the only landscape in this southwestern state. San Francisco Peak in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff is the Navajo's sacred mountain of the west, and it puts on a spectacular show of color in the fall. From mid-September to the end of October, you can enjoy ruby-colored maples mixed with golden aspens, willows, and ponderosa pines for a perfect picture of shimmering hues. For a great scenic drive, try Schultz Pass Road. You'll weave in and out of forests and get great views of the San Francisco Peak. Take US 180 and drive north of Flagstaff until FR 420 where you turn east. Follow this route up Shultz Pass to US 89, where you turn right to head back. The Peaks Loop is another great drive, and it has plenty of beautiful hikes, places to rest for lunch, and great views of millions of yellow leaves. The abundance of aspens makes the peak look as if it has Midas's touch, shimmering gold just about everywhere the eye can see. To get there, take US 89 northeast from Flagstaff until FR 418. Turn west until you get to FR 151, then turn south to US 180. For something a little different, head over to Sycamore Canyon where the ski resort opens their chairlifts for a ride over the fall foliage. You'll experience the leaves from a unique aerial view. Need a place to stay? Try the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff. With floor-to-ceiling windows, it enhances your fall foliage journey. Plus, it has five hundred acres of private forest with two miles of hiking trails.
North Carolina and Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains are nestled on the North Carolina and Tennessee border and are part of the U.S.'s most visited National Park. What makes the Smokies so breathtaking during autumn is the diversity of trees. There are more than one hundred species of trees, each turning a fiery red, goldenrod, or burnt orange during the fall months. The National Park's back roads are quiet and austere, great for missing the throngs of people who flock to the mountains from mid-October through early November. Or you might consider going a little before peak season in mid-September when some of the higher leaves begin turning color. Whether you choose an auto tour, like Clingsmans Dome Road or the Blue Ridge Parkway, a strenuous hike, like Appalachian Trail or Inspiration Point, or a trip to a hidden waterfall, the Great Smoky Mountains are a beautiful fall getaway. LeConte Lodge is the closest accommodation and you'll enjoy being so close to nature you can hear the sounds of nature in the night's stillness.
The Southwest also has a spectacular showcase of leaves, and if you can't get away early in the season then this is your perfect destination. The leaves turn colors starting in late October and lasts until past Thanksgiving, usually reaching its first peak about the second and third week of November. The trees are a different mix than the previous locations because of the difference in climate. The leaf-viewing will be a mix of hickory, native red and sugar maple, sweet and black gums, white and red oaks, dogwood, sassafras, and staghorn sumac leaves. There are also pines that mix in with the leaf-bearing trees, creating a beautiful contrast--a sea of green with bold color spots. The East Texas Tourism Association offers weekly updates on the color and where to see it at its best. The 2,208-acre Lost Maples State Natural Area is a good place to start. If you can spare a few days before your leaf viewing activities, take the family to the State Fair of Texas. This usually runs during the end of September and into the beginning of October. The Fair hosts twenty-four days of amusement rides, concerts, art viewing, food, and livestock. The Lodges at Lost Maples is the perfect getaway for the family. Rooms include beautiful hardwood floors, living rooms, and lofts with bunk beds for the children. Each morning you wake to freshly baked peach muffins, pumpkin bread, and juice served right to your door. If you're looking to get into the city for a day, San Antonio is about an hour and a half drive away. The San Antonio Temple, dedicated in 2005, is on the north side of the city. You'll pass Six Flags Fiesta Texas on your way, which is open weekends through October and the fourth weekend in November.
Although the East Coast is the most popular area to see the leaves change, the West has some gems as well. The best time of the year to see the foliage in Oregon is between mid-September and mid-October. The Columbia River Gorge scenery is breathtaking. The leaves are mixed in with spectacular views, including thirteen different waterfalls sprinkled throughout the Gorge area. The most famous of these waterfalls is the Multnomah Falls, plummeting 620 feet from an underground spring on the side of Larch Mountain. The display is especially dazzling thanks to the mixed variety of leaf-bearing and needle-bearing branches. The Gorge is home to firs, pines, big-leaf maples, cottonwoods, Oregon ashes, and vine maples. Stay right near the Gorge at the Columbia Gorge Hotel. You won't even need to leave the hotel to enjoy beautiful fall views. The hotel is home to Simon's, voted Oregon?s Best Restaurant. Right near the hotel is Wah Gwin Gwin Falls that cascades 208 feet to the river below. For some things to do in the city, Portland is about an hour drive away. Located a little ways west of downtown is the Portland Japanese Garden. The 5.5 acres of calm, beautiful landscaping were designed to be in perfect harmony with nature. The Portland Temple is fifteen more minutes south between the suburbs Lake Oswego and Tigard.
For a more memorable fall getaway, try the Swiss Alps, arguably the world's most beautiful mountain range. As summer leaves, so do the throngs of tourists and high prices, leaving autumn with nothing but the tranquility of crystal clear air, soaring peaks, and brilliant foliage. In most areas the snow hasn't fallen yet during the fall months, the weather is crisp and cool, and the wildlife is abundant. Late September through October offers the best views, as the larches are just turning yellow and the bilberry shrubs--which cover the hillsides--are turning scarlet with the season's first frost. One of the best locations for autumn hiking is the 60-mile stretch of Alps through southeast Switzerland, beginning at the St. Moritz resort. Samedan is a quaint village just down the valley from St. Moritz, and from the village is an eighty-three-mile network of trails in the surrounding mountains. Because of Samedan's high altitude--5,575 feet above sea level--the sun is still shining during the fall months, and the weather is warm enough to enjoy the great outdoors. Two and a half hours southwest of Samedan is Malcantone, a village with a hilly landscape ripe with ancient chestnut trees. The old gnarled trees cover the countryside and there are many paths through the hillside forests, perfect for an afternoon stroll during autumn.
Fall Foliage: Church History's Best Backdrop
While you're taking in the foliage this fall, why not combine the trip with a tour of the Church history sites? Cooler temperatures and less humidity make fall a particularly good time to enjoy the Northeast and the Midwest. Three tours are available this October to provide the perfect fall backdrop for your Church history experience.
Murdock Escorted Tours will host the "Autumn in New England" Church History Tour October 6-12. The tour begins in Boston, travels through sites in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and over to Niagara Falls. Go to murdockescorted tours.com to learn more.
The BYU Alumni Association's fall foliage Church history tour will spend October 7-15 visiting sites in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, including Palmyra, Fayette, Niagara Falls, Kirtland, Independence, Liberty, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Far West, Nauvoo, and other sites. Visit alumni.byu.edu/tours for more information.
Latter-day Tours will take two trips accommodating those who can only go for five days, and for those who want a longer tour, a ten-day trip. The five-day tour starts in Manchester, New Hampshire, on October 20 and will highlight sites important to Joseph and Emma Smith's family such as Sharon, Vermont, the gravesite of their first baby, and Emma's childhood farm, then the Peter Whitmer Farm, the Grandin Building, Hill Cumorah, the Joseph Smith Homestead, the Sacred Grove, the Palmyra and Kirtland Temples, Martin Harris Farm, the Newel K. Whitney Store, and the Isaac Morley Farm, as well as Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal. The ten-day tour starts in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 6 and will visit Independence, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Far West, the Amish town of Jamesport, Nauvoo, and Carthage, as well as the sites the five-day tour covers. Check out latterdaytours.com for details.
*Fall Foliage Information*
Make sure you really see the best leaf-viewing spots by contacting fall foliage hotlines in the following states for a daily color update. New Hampshire:
Vermont o 1-800-837-6668
North Carolina and Tennessee o 1-800-697-4200
Colorado o 1-800-354-4595 * Texas o tpwd.state.tx.us/park/lostmap/foliage.htm o 1-800-791-1112
Oregon o 1-800-547-5445