As summer comes to a close, the bright blues and greens that characterize the sunshiny season are replaced by a deeper, more vibrant palette. But there are so many destinations to choose from. Where can you find the most vivid colors of fall? To answer that question we are crisscrossing the country, sharing some of our favorite spots from coast to coast. So, this year, whether you are planning a month-long odyssey or can only squeeze in a three-day weekend, we’ve got a destination for you.
Leaving New England, the tour heads south to where bluegrass, blue ridges and smoky peaks are turned into carpets of flaming reds, oranges and yellows.
Blue Ridge Parkway
This stunning nearly 500-mile scenic drive operated by the National Park Service is celebrated for its mountain vistas and venerated for its fall colors. Looking for variety? This stretch of road offers more native hardwood species than anywhere in North America. Dogwood, sourwood and blackgum turn first, painting the backdrop crimson. Then poplar and hickory add yellow accents before maples, oaks and sassafras add lighter red and orange hues. Contrast this with the evergreen pines, hemlocks and spruces and you have one spectacular Smoky Mountain color palette.
Blue Ridge Parkway
- Best time to see: Early October through first week of November
- Where to stay: Cade’s Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park (www.nps.gov/grsm) 877.444.6777
- Cold showers and flush toilets but no hookups
- Lower elevations, reservations accepted – but it fills up fast
- Can accommodate trailers up to 35 feet and coaches up to 40 feet
- Don’t miss the loop road or trail to the Oliver homesteads
- Fishing, hiking and wildlife-viewing are all terrific
Mammoth Cave National Park (www.nps.gov/maca)
The progressive wave of red, yellow and gold that washes over Kentucky each fall begins in the east in late September and moves west. Peak time for cross-state color is mid-October. While Kentucky’s entire Appalachian region offers incredible color and dynamic scenery, Mammoth, this “grand, gloomy and peculiar place” is home to the world’s longest known cave system and borders the beautiful Green River Valley’s massive hardwood forest. Fall hiking here – above and below ground – is terrific.
©2007 QT Luong
- Great views: Green River Valley and Good Springs Loop
- Scenic drive: Bluegrass Country Driving Tour – this winding path through thoroughbred ranch and hunting country is designed in three segments. Drivers can take a morning trip or make a day of it. Call the Lexington Visitor’s Bureau for a route map and color updates, 859.233.7299.
Kentucky's Green River
- Camping: RV sites available at Mammoth Campground and Maple Springs inside the park. Limited full hookup sites. Maple Springs is designed for campers with horses, but you do not have to have a horse to hook up there, even though the reservations folks may try to insist on it. Reserve through park website.
Oak Mountain State Park
The foothills of northern Alabama get our vote for most underrated views. Beginning in mid- to late October, the weather is gorgeous and the variety of trees and colors are stunning. Yellow poplars, scarlet dogwoods, orange maples and golden hickories are all on display in this beautiful state park.
- Great views: Peavine Overlook and Peavine Falls
- Scenic Drive: AL 119 to Oak Mountain State Park Road
- Getting there: 200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124.
- Where to stay: Oak Mountain Campground (www.alapark.com/OakMountain/Camping).
- Bordered by Beaver Lake and surrounded by rolling hills. Full hookups on 85 sites. Modern bathhouses. Big rigs, pull thrus. Wi-Fi currently being expanded. For information call 205.620.2527.
- Located at 200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124. GPS: 33.324726, -86.752165.
When you’re not out leaf-looking, take advantage of the tremendous Oktoberfest celebrations all across the South. From small-town parties in Mocksville, N.C., and Walhalla, S.C., to the Six-week bash in Helen, Ga., these fall festivals offer live music, dancing, incredible food and endless giant steins of cool, frothy lager. The dates change from year to year, but usually run through prime leaf-viewing season. Learn more about each here:
Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama