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]

Fall foliage. . .with bourbon in Kentucky

Taking an autumn drive to see the leaves change colors is a time-honored tradition in the north and east of the country. While Kentucky might not be the first place you think of as a leaf-peeping destination, the state is full of scenic byways and rolling countryside to be explored. Plus….there’s bourbon.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is composed of eight distilleries scattered around Lexington, Bardstown and Frankfort, which are all about one hour from Louisville. Autumn is the perfect time to visit. The leaves are changing, the crowds are gone, and the weather is mild. You can fly into either the Louisville or Lexington airport, though flights to Louisville seem to be cheaper.

Four of the distilleries are closer to Bardstown. These are Jim Bean, Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark, and Tom Moore. Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and Woodford Reserve are closer to Frankfort. Most are open Tuesday through Saturday (some are open Sundays in summer as well) and offer tours every hour. Tours are generally free, or cost just a few dollars. Tours will often include a walk through the production area, a lesson in the history and production of bourbon, and of course, a tasting session.

Getting Around
You’ll need a car to get between the distilleries, so travel with a designated driver or visit no more than two distilleries per day. You could also book a tour guide and driver with a company like Mint Julep Tours.

Where to Stay
For a more urban experience, look for a hotel in Louisville or Lexington, where you should be able to find a room at a national chain for around $100 per night. You’ll find more bed and breakfast accommodations in the smaller town of Bardstown.

What to Do
Other than visiting the distilleries in the area, you can go also go wine-tasting, visit a Civil War Museum, Kentucky Train Museum, take a two-hour dinner train ride through the vibrantly-colored foliage of the countryside, or visit the Kentucky Horse Park. The Park features a daily parade, equine education, horseback and pony rides, and horse shows.

Fall Leaf Peeping by Rail

The leaves haven’t started to change in Columbus, Ohio– yet, but they will–soon. This morning the air was crisp and cool. Yep, leaf changing conditions are here, and I expect edges of red will appear in a couple of weeks until eventually there will be bursts of color everywhere. If you are interested in optimum leaf peeping, plan a bit a head. Instead of taking a driving trip for fall splendor viewing, consider taking a train. There are several that pass through gorgeous scenery in various parts of the U.S.

Each of these trains I’ve listed specifically mention fall foliage. I’ve picked these because I’ve been to the areas where they are located– not necessarily in the fall, but they are places I’ve enjoyed and recommend. Here is a link to an article that lists oodles more–some I’ve also been to, and others I have not. Who would have thought there is such a bounty of scenic railroads? (The photo is from the Catskill Railroad Web site.)

The Maine Eastern Railroad goes from Brunswick and Rockland along the coast. This means foliage paired with seaside villages and the trimmings that go with fishing boats, and barnacle covered rocks that edge tide pools.

The Fall Foliage Trains in New Hampshire have five options that range from one hour to several. There are several train routes. One involves dinner.

Essex Steam Train and Riverboat in Connecticut meanders along the Connecticut River and through quaint towns. After the train you can join up with a trip on a riverboat.

The Berkshire Scenic Railroad in Massachusetts has a specific Fall Foliage Tour, and also has a museum.

In New York, the Catskill Mountain Railroad runs a Leaf Peeper Special. This is a simply gorgeous part of the state.

In Maryland, the Walkersville Southern Railroad has fall foliage tours every weekend in October. This train has vintage cars that date to the 1920s. You can also opt to ride on a flatbed car.

Bluegrass Scenic Railroad & Museum in Versailles, Kentucky has fall foliage tours in October. I have quite the fondness for this part of Kentucky.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s foliage tours in North Carolina are in October. This caught my attention. There’s an Oktoberfest Beer train on October 6.

Here’s one I have been on. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone, Iowa is run by the Iowa Railroad Historic Society. The first weekend in October is the Pumpkin Patch Train where going to a pumpkin patch is part of the ride.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad not far from Cleveland, Ohio is one I’ve always wanted to take. I’ve written about it several times, but by the time it’s the fall foliage season, I forget to make reservations and put it on my list of things to do next year.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that runs between Durango and Silverton, Colorado is a gem. I’ve been on it and the scenery during any season is grand.