8 great places for fall colors across the US
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
As the calendar turns to September today, it's time to start planning fall foliage trips as the leaf-peeping season unfolds across the country. Whether you're a dedicated fall foliage fanatic or just in the mood for a scenic road trip, you'll find the following eight locations awash with color. Peak seasons vary, so when planning your trip, check with state or local tourism bureaus for the best time to go.
1. Southern New Hampshire
Vermont may get top billing for fall colors in the Northeast, but neighboring New Hampshire is a close rival. The Granite State is home to more forest than any state but Maine, and by Columbus Day the leaves of its maple, oak, elm, birch and ash trees become a sea of brilliant red, orange and gold.
For a classic color route, start in Keene and follow Routes 101, 202 and 12 in a loop around rocky Mt. Monadnock.
2. North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota
Highway 61 from Duluth to Grand Portage has been designated an All-American Road (one of only 15 in the nation) for its outstanding scenery. Locals say the route along Lake Superior is at its beautiful best during fall foliage season (mid-September to early October) when the yellow birch and aspen mingle with scarlet maples. Several state parks with waterfalls, rushing rivers and scenic overlooks line the route.
3. Kewaunee and Door Counties, Wisconsin
Shielded by the warming waters of Lake Michigan, the hardwoods of Kewaunee and Door Counties burst forth in color each autumn — from late September to mid-October — making for spectacular scenic drives.
Trace Highway 42 about 75 miles north from Kewaunee to Gills Rock at the tip of the Door County peninsula, then follow Highway 57 down the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula to round out your Door County fall foliage road trip. You'll encounter four popular state parks with terrific bluff-top views of the lakes, seven picturesque lighthouses and apple orchards where you can pick-a-peck or enjoy a hot cider.
4. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's most-visited national park during the fall foliage season — for good reason. More than 100 species of trees, including scarlet oaks, maples, sweet gums and hickories put on an eye-popping autumn display of color.
You could spend days exploring these stunning forests, but the scenic 35-mile drive along Hwy 441 from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee — anytime from early October through early November — will provide plenty of great leaf-peeping.
5. Lost Maples State Natural Area, Texas
Located about 85 miles northwest of San Antonio near the town of Vanderpool, Lost Maples Natural Area is named for its large, isolated stands of rare Uvalde big tooth maples — and whose fall foliage can be spectacular. Leaves tend to change colors from late October to mid-November. The best color is often seen on the drive into the park.
6. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
This dazzling 83-mile loop drive, starting and ending in Taos, has become famous among aspen aficionados. The route encircles 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the state's highest point, and the elevation invites the aspen to turn not only bright yellow, but also a rich orange.
Aspens steal the show, but there are also purple cinquefoil and cottonwoods in fiery shades of red and yellow. The most vibrant colors are usually seen from mid-September to early October.
7. Glacier National Park, Montana
This rugged park on the Canadian border is a sleeper among western fall foliage destinations. By the end of September, the park's concessions have closed and most visitors have gone home, so you'll have the color pretty much to yourself.
Aspen, maple, birch and cottonwood typically begin turning in mid-September followed by larch — a deciduous conifer — that turns bright gold before losing its needles.
8. Aufderheide Scenic Byway, Oregon
This scenic byway — part of the West Cascades Scenic Byway in west-central Oregon — winds through the lush growth of Willamette National Forest and along the cold, clear waters of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers. The route connects the towns of Oakridge and Westfir with McKenzie River communities to the northwest.
Big leaf maples stand out here, turning yellow, orange and gold, and usually peaking in mid-October. Viewing tends to be the best around Westfir.
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