Trazzler

Leaf peeping across the country

From the Green Mountains to Crater Lake, the best places to glimpse fall's fleeting beauty

  • Peeping scarlet maples on a gravel road in Virginia

    While Shenandoah National Park bears the brunt of leaf-peeping Washingtonians, George Washington National Forest (just a few miles west) offers comparatively empty trails, campsites and backcountry roads. Instead of joining the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Skyline Drive, drive instead to Edinburgh Gap Road, which will lead you across the north fork of the Shenandoah River, up to Massanutten Mountain, into King’s Crossing, and then down Fort Valley Road, which snakes through folded ridges and alongside creeks. Here in this 350-mile swath of hardwood trees, the beeches are just as yellow-orange, the dogwoods the same vivid purple, and the oaks and maples as brilliantly red.
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  • Celebrating Celtic colors on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

    Immerse yourself in the vibrant music culture of Canada’s remote, bucolic Cape Breton Island with a trip to the Celtic Colours International Festival in October, strategically timed to take advantage of some of North America’s most dramatic fall foliage. Performances take place all along the Cabot Trail — a gorgeous 185-mile driving loop that circles the northern part of the island. Fiddlers, step-dancers, singers and acts like the internationally-known Chieftains are on tap day and night for nine days. The Festival Club is a highlight: After evening shows are done, artists and patrons retire to the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s for informal sessions that go well past the bar’s 3 a.m. last call.
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  • Hiking through Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, Texas

    A drive through hill country (don’t miss the twisty stretch along Ranch Road 337) and a traipse through the trees in the Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool is a Texas tradition for leaf lovers. A rare stand of Uvalde Bigtooth Maples is the main attraction, and they’re on fire with fall color the last two weeks in October and first two weeks of November. Autumn weekends are often super-crowded, so a weekday visit to the 2,200-acre park this time of year might be more serene. Guests also enjoy fishing, swimming and picnicking, as well as bird watching, but leave behind your citified needs for Wi-Fi and Starbucks because this park is on the path less traveled.
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  • Catching a wild ride on the Tail of the Dragon in Deals Gap, N.C.

    Highway 129 in the remote mountains on the North Carolina-Tennessee border has a wild side. This stretch of road is called the Tail of the Dragon and is a destination for blue highway connoisseurs, fall foliage fanatics and many a motorcycle enthusiast. Cool mountain air rushes by as you make so many oddly banked switchback curves that you’ll feel drunk from the sensation. Start just to the north of Robbinsville, N.C., at Tapoco Dam and head northwest to Tennessee passing through primitive forest full of color and wildlife, most of it unspoiled and remote. It’s not for the faint of heart or those prone to motion sickness. There are plenty of accommodations for bikers, hikers and drivers in the Robbinsville area and on the Tennessee side in Maryville.
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  • Finding fall’s final flourish along Minnesota’s Northern Shores

    Nature’s annual painted tree showcase is particularly spectacular along the Lake Superior coastline. Northeastern Minnesota is crisscrossed with many hiking trails and scenic drives that are even more rewarding from mid- to late October. Three stops to plan as you drift through nature’s mosaic of fall colors: a cliff-top photo op at Split Rock Lighthouse, a lakeshore agate gathering expedition on one of the beaches, and a pit stop for a slice of home-cooked pie at the local institution, Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides forecasts for the ideal times to experience the autumn show; don’t wait too long, though. Minnesota’s inevitable frost is anxiously waiting in the wings.
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  • Gorging on the scenic view from Vista House in Corbett, Ore.

    The competition is stiff, but some of Oregon’s best scenery is just an hour’s drive from downtown Portland. From I-84, take the twisty, narrow Historic Columbia River Highway up to Crown Point State Park for a bird’s-eye view of the lay of the land. The recently renovated octagonal stone structure at the top, Vista House, was originally built in 1916 as a memorial to Oregon pioneers and as a comfort station for travelers. Today, it’s the most photographed icon of the Columbia River Gorge. It goes without saying that the sweeping panoramas of the river (the natural border between Oregon and Washington) are impressive from this 733-foot vantage point — especially in the fall when the leaves are turning. Don’t put your camera away yet, though, you’ll want to make a day of it by stopping at several dramatic waterfalls as you wind your way back down from Crown Point.
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  • Taking a Technicolor drive in Stowe, Vt.

    Go south on Stowe’s Main Street, and don’t stop until you’re lost in a land ablaze. Vermont’s Route 100 takes you on a veritable brochure tour of the area’s attractions — the Ben & Jerry’s Factory, Moss Glen Falls, Cold Hollow Cider Mill and more. During autumn — Stowe’s season of splendor — the road explodes with color (daily foliage updates will steer you right): blue skies, silver ponds and the Green Mountains awash in gold and crimson (all punctuated by white church steeples, purple vineyards, dappled cows and red covered bridges). The road forms a sort of backbone of Vermont — stretching 216 miles from Canada to Massachusetts — that’s easily doable in a single Indian summer day or a long, lazy, leafy week if you use it as a point of departure for exploring Vermont’s beguiling backroads.
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  • Driving through an arboreal kaleidescope on Highway 19 in Missouri

    If the area around Eminence, Mo., were located within driving distance of an East Coast metropolis, Highway 19 would be packed each fall with burned-out urban escapees looking for a foliage fix. Zoom out on Google Maps and you’ll notice that this forgotten corner of Missouri is the darkest, densest patch of green between the Appalachians and the Rockies. You’ll have it almost to yourself. Only a smattering of nature-loving kayakers, canoers, trout anglers, hikers, hunters, bikers and ambitious day-trippers drift far enough off the interstate to explore this roller-coaster road through Missouri’s remote deciduous forests of sassafras, sumac, black gum, dogwood, ash, hickory, maple and oak. From Eminence, the road heads south, going even deeper into the Ozarks. Most, however, prefer to stop here to explore the plethora of springs and 19th-century mills — and float through the Ozark National Scenic Riverway on the crystal-clear Jack’s Fork and Current Rivers. Scenic Highway 19 also heads north to the German wine town of Hermann and beyond to Mark Twain’s boyhood town on the Mississippi, Hannibal.
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  • Road tripping from Angels Camp to Sorensen’s Resort in California

    Highway 4 ascends the Sierra from Angels Camp (aka Frogtown), the Gold Country town famous for its Jumping Frog Jubilee. The road twists and turns past tiny Lake Alpine (7,350 feet), location of the winter gate. Near Ebbets Pass (8,732 feet), the road is just over one lane wide — ideal for motorcyclists, hell for RV drivers and vertigo sufferers. At road’s end, turn south on Hwy 89 to reach Monitor Pass and the aspens. Cut your engine by the side of the road to hear the wind shimmering through the leaves. Sorensen’s Resort is the place to stay with its oh-so-cute cabins (most with wood-burning fireplaces), including one from the now-defunct Santa’s Village in Santa Cruz. They’re not fancy (think futon sofas), but they’re long on charm and located in one of the Sierra’s prettiest alpine valleys. And because they’re far from South Lake Tahoe, the night skies blaze with a zillion stars.
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  • Hiking with the family at the Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colo.

    The “most photographed mountains in North America” make not only a great backdrop for that family picture of your Aspen vacation, but the easy nature walk around Crater Lake at the base is a gentle introduction to hiking for the smaller set. Stop along the way to skip rocks in the pretty emerald water, spot fish and minnows, and admire the beaver dams with jagged snow-covered, bell-shaped mountains looming overhead. Crowds flock in the summer months, but perhaps the most glorious time to visit is the fall, when aspen trees tremble and turn golden yellow. Cars are prohibited from driving up to Crater Lake and the base of the Bells, but the Roaring Forks’ narrated bus tours allow you to look all you want and learn about the flora, fauna and landscape along the way.
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  • Fearing nothing but fear itself in Pine Mountain, Ga.

    It isn’t difficult to see why Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the USA, loved to retreat here for picnics far, far away from the burdens of the White House. The panoramic view from the Knob isn’t breathtaking so much as it is sublime, pastoral even, with farms and animals dotting the landscape below. The drive along the FDR Route and the view from up top are particularly lovely in the fall, when the richly hued leaves glow in the sunlight. FDR, well, a statue of him, sits in repose on a stone bench, leg braces and all, approachable, welcoming, friendlier and warmer than he is in his wheelchair and a Navy cape at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. Although FDR, paralyzed from polio at the age of 39, could never hike at Pine Mountain, you can take the Dowdell Knob Loop Trail, which winds its way around the mountain for about six miles. Or perhaps you might try just the eastern half, which takes you, at some point, cliffside and then down into a small wooded valley with a waterfall that trickles down into several small pools, a perfect spot for a picnic. A sense of history and beauty pervades Dowdell Knob and nearby Warm Springs, home of the Little White House, if only you have the patience and perspective to look for it.
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  • Frolicking
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    Frolicking through the fall foliage in Sundance, Utah

    Sundance is famous for much more than film. One look at Stewart Falls and you’ll know why. This cavalcade of waterfalls runs almost year-round as melt-off from the backside of Timpanogas, Utah Valley’s most majestic mountain. The drive to the trailhead alone merits the trip; leave plenty of time for scenic stops. The path of the easy, two-mile hike is choked with aspen, pine and oak of all colors — the flora itself a cascade of paint: burnt reds, yellows and bright greens. A quick dip in the natural pool at the foot of the falls is as refreshing as the mountain air. Be sure to have a camera in tow — you’re going to want to play Ansel Adams.
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  • Roadtripping

    Roadtripping the mission route in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere, Mexico

    From the dry, high desert, the road climbs over a pass near the peach-colored mining town of Pinal de Amoles. Hit the road in the fall after the rainy season and, suddenly, you’ll descend into the misty green embrace of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. Twist and turn your way hugging the mountainsides along Highway 120, taking time to stop for waterfalls, springs, canyon views and wildlife. The town of Jalpan makes a good home base for exploring the wildly ornate baroque Franciscan Missions that dot the area in the small towns of Concá, Tilaco, Tancoyol and Landa. If you have off-road tendencies, there are enticing dirt tracks that go deep into the wilderness. Concá is definitely worth a detour north along easy-to-drive Highway 69. Here, you can let those road miles melt away in the traditional temazcal (thermal steambaths) at the Hotel Misión Concá.
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