Fall Colors Make For A Great Road Trip

Autumn, when people travel to the Northeast and Northwest to view colorful fall foliage areas of the United States, peaks around Columbus Day weekend (October 5-8). In many areas, this year’s foliage is in looks to be better and more vibrant than last year. After a dry, hot summer trees will begin to turn color in the next few weeks.

“Hardwood foliage appears to be in better-than-average condition, overall,” says Bill Ostrofsky, a forest pathologist at the Maine Forest Service on Maine Foliage, the state of Maine’s official fall foliage website. “There have been no occurrences of serious or widespread insect defoliation, so to date the Maine forest has the potential to have a great season this year.”

If a road trip, tour or cruise for fall foliage season or just a nice hike in the woods is in your plans, here are some places not to miss.

Hiking trails at Maine’s Aroostook State Park in Presque Isle provides popular foliage viewing from Quaggy Joe Mountain, a moderate climb perfect for a beginner or family hike.

Camden Hills State Park provides spectacular views of fall foliage available from a road that goes to the top of Mt. Battie, as well as from hiking trails on Mt. Megunticook and Bald Rock Mountain.

Grafton Notch State Park, in Maine’s western viewing area, has roadside turnouts, picnic areas and trails that offer excellent views of the Mahoosuc Mountains and the Presidential Range. Trails lead to popular lookouts, such as the Eyebrow and Table Rock, and trails and lookouts on the Bureau of Parks and Lands’ Mahoosuc Management Unit.The city of Kent, Connecticut was voted “Favorite Foliage Town” in a poll conducted by YankeeFoliage.com, Yankee Magazine’s fall foliage website. A drive to Lake Waramaug is one of several suggested fall foliage-driving tours.

Chatfield Hollow State Park (Killingworth), also in Connecticut, offers Indian caves, wooded trails and jagged rocky ledges fill the park. Oak, beech and hickory trees bring out the best colors of fall and are the perfect setting for a peaceful picnic.

Dinosaur State Park (Rocky Hill) is a good choice for some family action. Kids will love hiking along the wooded trails of the park and seeing Jurassic-period dinosaur tracks that date back 200 years.

Wadsworth Falls State Park (Middletown) offers reddish-brown rocks tinged with green that amplify the fall colors in this hideaway tucked between Middletown and Middlefield. Travelers can enjoy a hike through wooded trails with meandering streams, a covered bridge and waterfalls.

In the Northwest U.S., the state of Washington suggests the Washington Park Arboretum, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier as good choices for fall color. They have a toll-free hotline for more information (1-800-354-4595).




Flickr photo by ra_hurd

Aspen’s Little Nell Hotel Offers Free Fly-Fishing And Biking Now Through October 15

fly fishingColorado is a big state, and most of it remained unscathed during June’s wildfires. The Aspen region in particular is known for its knockout scenery, which includes the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells, wildflower-festooned meadows, shimmering aspen groves and crystalline rivers.

With fall foliage (if you’ve never witnessed the turning of aspens, it’s worth seeing) just around the corner, The Little Nell is offering complimentary fly-fishing or road/mountain biking, available exclusively for those who stay three nights or longer through October 15, 2012. Both activities are valued at $400.

Aspen’s beloved “Nell” is justifiably famous for its luxe standards and excellent food and wine, as well as its thoroughly unpretentious staff and atmosphere. You can even bring your furry friend on vacation with you (that means your dog, not your hirsute significant other)

The Fly-Fishing Package includes a three-hour guided trip, drinks and snacks from the Nell’s pastry chef, transportation to and from a custom-selected fishing destination, gear and gratuity. Custom add-ons include a streamside picnic lunch with wine, or (ahem) helicopter excursions to secluded fishing grounds. Guests are permitted to keep their catch, and have it prepared by the Nell’s chef.

The “Bike to Nirvana Package” includes two Orbea bike rentals (with Garmin GPS) for one day. Add-ons include guided tours, custom fitting, training and instruction from Aspen’s top athletes – featuring championship cyclist Scott Kasin – and custom lunches served off-road or trail.

Aspen doesn’t shut down in “shoulder season” like many Rocky Mountain resort towns, either. There’s AspenFILM and the farmers market, which runs through mid-October, and excellent dining (and imbibing) options abound. Bonus: Fall guests who stay at the Nell for two nights receive a third night free, based upon availability.

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago.

Great destinations for fall foliage viewing outside of New England

fall foliageOne of our favorite fall trips is a long drive into the country to view the changing leaves. Last year was considered one of the best on record, and we’re hoping this year will be no exception. Break from the expected and enjoy these five off-the-beaten-path destinations for fall foliage viewing:

Moonlight Basin, Montana
Montana seems to constantly get overlooked by more publicized destinations like Colorado and Wyoming, but come autumn, take advantage of this fact and skip the crowds. Rent a rustic, but very luxurious Cowboy Cabin at Moonlight Basin, complete with front porch hot tub and views as far as the eye can see.

Asheville, North Carolina
Take a scenic drive through the North Carolina mountains before stopping to enjoy some of the East Coast’s best breweries and chic indie art galleries. We’d bunk at the luxe Grove Park Inn, where the President stayed on his last visit, or perhaps continue the drive into the mountains and rent a cabin at Fontana Dam.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Leaf peeping in the rugged Teton National Park is tough to beat, and the prime spot to stay during the autumn season is at the luxe Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, where you can enjoy amenities including nightly s’mores. As an added bonus, the hotel also offers Wildlife Safari Tours, hosted by its own in-house Wildlife Biologist, Tenley Thompson.

Whistler, British Columbia
Enjoy some of Canada’s most scenic glaciated peaks and roaring rivers. Arrive early enough and you’ll also catch quite the leaf show. We’d opt to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler or the Four Seasons Resort Whistler.

Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is dwarfed by the surrounding Pikes Peak National Forest, and the towering 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. The number of easily accessed areas for leaf peeping the city is astounding. Cheyenne Mountain Resort is the perfect base camp for a trip to Colorado Springs. The resort boasts its own golf resort, on-site herb garden and ease of access to Garden of the Gods and the Pikes Peak National Forest – including the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

[Flickr via ForestGladesIWander]

Seeing Fall Foliage in the State of California

Holiday trip? Consider rail travel

rail travelUnlike Europe and Japan, the United States isn’t known for its high-tech, efficient rail travel. Which is a shame because, as I recently discovered, taking Amtrak is sometimes a better way to travel this big country of ours, and generally speaking, it has a lower carbon footprint per passenger than driving or flying.

You definitely need to have time to spare for long distance trips, although with the epic waits at some airport security checks, you may well come out ahead on shorter routes. Amtrak offers a lot of promotions and deals on its website, and children two to 15 ride half-price. The train can also be more fun for kids, and help save the sanity of parents who dread the airport schlep and subsequent whine-fest.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I’d sometimes take the train from Berkeley to my brother’s place in Truckee, in North Lake Tahoe. Given that it’s a three-and-a-half hour drive in perfect weather, assuming you leave at the crack of dawn to avoid traffic, the five-hour rail journey isn’t a bad idea for a winter trip. Note: Depending upon route, make sure your trip doesn’t have a connection by bus, which can considerably lengthen your trip and detract from your comfort. That said, I’ve ridden Amtrak’s motorcoaches in the past and found them pretty nice. They’re a far cry from the filthy, stinking, hell-on-wheels that is Greyhound, and at least there are increasingly excellent options on the East Coast for short-distance bus travel.

rail travelStill, I’d never done an overnight on Amtrak, mainly because I hate to take 17 hours to travel somewhere that’s a two-hour flight away. But on a recent trip from Chicago to Washington DC, the train was running $85/o/w for a coach seat. At the time, even with the additional cost of a sleeper, it was cheaper than airfare, so I went for it.

The only part of the Midwest I’d visited prior to Chicago was Wisconsin, so the train also provided a great way for me to see a new part of the country. And it would be relaxing…a mini-vacation, if you will, where I could escape traffic and the electronic leashes of Blackberry and computer (Amtrak’s AcelaExpress commuter trains are currently the only ones equipped with Wifi).

The Capitol Limited route took me from Chicago’s bustling downtown Union Station, through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Getting a ticket is as simple as booking online, which I recommend doing in advance if possible, although you can also purchase them at the station from an agent or kiosk, and over the phone or your mobile device. Long distance routes have various sleeping options, ranging from one-to-two person roomettes to bedroom suites that accomodate four adults. For future reference, I suggest you book at least a month ahead on the more popular routes, to ensure you get a sleeper. I selected a 3’x6″ x 6’x6″ “Superliner Roomette ($128 additional fee, including meals).” The Superliner is a double-decker; the roomette a private cabin with sliding doors and curtains, windows spanning the length of the compartment, climate control, a garment rack, fold-down table, and two very comfortable reclining seats that fold into upper and lower berths. Unlike the single-level Viewliner car roomettes, there is no sink or toilet.

Compared to the airport, the train is a stress-free snap. Arrive at station, print out ticket, go to private waiting room, check bag, read, eat free snacks. When it’s time to board, you’re led to the correct platform, and you climb aboard. Tip: If you’ve gotrail travel a lot of luggage or a really heavy bag, get some assistance. Trains are a lot longer than you’d think, and my back was giving me the metaphorical finger by the time I staggered to my car, lugging my corpse-size duffel.

The friendly conductor showed me to my cozy roomette on the second floor. There was a clean bathroom just steps away, as well as a coffee/water/juice station (included with fare). The shower was downstairs; I was expecting the worst, but it was clean, the water hot and plentiful.

The sightseer lounge cars have huge windows and tables, so I spent the first couple of hours watching the sun set over Indiana. FYI, some routes, like the West’s Coast’s Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, and Amtrak Cascades, and the California Zephyr in the Rockies, are justly famous for their scenery. Amtrak also provides a stop-by-stop guide for its routes, so you can learn the historical and cultural significance of each.

As for dinner, I’m pretty sure I harbor a repressed childhood trauma from an airline chicken breast, because while I think nothing of eating dog, goat testicles, or witchetty grubs (or, probably, human flesh), I can’t deal with meals produced for mass transit. So I bypassed the dining car, because it just smelled unappetizing, and the plates of food didn’t look much better. Instead, I brought my own travel picnic with me. To do otherwise in a city with dining and grocery options as fantastic as Chicago’s would be a shame..

What I really love about Amtrak is the fact that it lets me enjoy transit for transit’s sake, which is something I don’t often experience domestically (probably because I’m always flying or driving). Like riding the bus in foreign countries (my favorite wayrail travel to travel, and inevitably a fascinating cultural immersion), the train allowed me to just zone out. I had the time and privacy to read, doze, think, daydream, and watch the world go by. At 9pm, the conductor came to turn down my bed. I slid between the sheets, and watched the starry Midwestern night slip by. The rhythm of the rails lulled me to sleep.

In the morning, I sipped my coffee and marveled at the brilliant fall foliage in Maryland and West Virginia. I arrived at DC’s centrally-located Union Station feeling far more relaxed (and free of neck-kinks) than any flight has ever left me. Thanks, Amtrak. rriving

Fall foliage experts predict best color show in years

Jonesing for an excuse to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway or visit Western North Carolina? If a long weekend in the mountains is in your future, you may want to plan your visit around foliage expert’s color predictions. This year, biologists and naturalists in Western North Carolina and the Asheville area are singing the same tune: Seasonal weather patterns and early climate indicators may trigger the most colorful leaf season in years.

“A long spell of dry weather during the spring and summer could provide some of the most brilliant colors seen in several years for leaf-lookers headed to the mountains of Western North Carolina this autumn,” reported Katherine Mathews, Western Carolina University’s assistant professor of biology specializing in plant systematics.

Extreme elevation variations and biologically diverse microclimates combine to give the Southern Appalachian Mountains one of the longest and most colorful leaf seasons in the country.

Jesse Pope, chief naturalist at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina predicts that color at the highest elevations will begin at the end of September.

“I’m very optimistic about the intensity of color we could see this year. However, the duration and timing of fall greatly depends on these last couple of weeks in September. Rapid changes in temperature could start the color action early,” said pop Pope.

“While there were periods of low rainfall with some higher than normal temperatures, the mountains around Asheville have had plenty of rain toward the end of the summer. With cooler, clear weather moving in this September, fall seems to be setting up nicely,” seconded Parker Andes, director of horticulture at Biltmore in Asheville.

To plan your vacation, consider visiting a site like FallintheMountains.com or a Twitter account like @FallColorHunter, both sponsored by the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Both will track up-to-the-minute color updates.

[Image courtesy of by Hugh Morton]