Writer/philosopher Albert Camus called autumn “a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” Whether or not you’re keen on botany, it sounds scientifically inaccurate, doesn’t it? Admit it: Fall is the prettiest part of the year.
Growing up in Central Florida we had just two seasons: sweltering and almost-sweltering. So when I graduated college and started to travel, discovering autumn was the happiest surprise. Best of all the bounty of fall, of course, is the foliage. Red, ochre, plum and pumpkin … it would take the 120-count box of Crayola crayons to put a name to each smudge of the season’s palette. For those in hot pursuit of the best fall foliage drives in America, here’s the scoop on the showiest canopies and most decadently lovely landscapes.
Southern Vermont: Green Mountains
Nestled in the heart of the Green and Taconic mountain ranges, historic Manchester Village offers a scenic escape ideal for autumn. Catch the fall colors slowly build their way up the mountains from 3,800 feet up, with the highest elevations in Southern Vermont. Whether summiting Mount Equinox, fly fishing along the Battenkill River or wandering around Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, a quintessential New England getaway awaits the adventurous. Indulge in autumn’s favorite fruits with a visit to the local apple orchards and breweries – don’t forget to bring the whole family, Manchester is perfect for multi-generational traveling.
Time it right: Leaf season in Manchester begins late-September, peaking early October through November.
Where to Stay: Manchester, at the Kimpton Taconic Hotel
New York: Hudson Valley
About a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, the Hudson Valley is a glorious option for Mid-Atlantic foliage spotting. Indulge in a picnic lunch beneath resplendent, falling leaves; stop by one of the area’s many u-pick apple farms for a crisp snack fresh off the tree; or hunt down the perfect Halloween pumpkin. Download Leaf Peepr ahead of time —from beech to black cherry, ash to aspen, you will have a blast identifying each unique specimen.
Time it Right: The last two weeks of October are prime time for pretty leaves in this region.
Massachusetts: The Berkshires
Culture and color — the idyllic Berkshires have both in spades. About a two-hour drive from Boston, this quintessential summer retreat spills its signature low-key charm into the fall, when the leaves take center stage. Zip along mountain roads to soak up views of flaming-red maple foliage or browse the famed vintage markets during one last mild weekend. Long on traditional New England-y appeal and ultraromantic, this place will put a spell on you.
Time it Right: Late September through mid-October mark the height of the Berkshires’ foliage season.
Mystic beauty has always been one of Sedona’s biggest draws, and it’s on vivid display in the fall. Trace the path of the creek along Oak Creek Canyon, or hit the road for a fantastic foliage drive toward Flagstaff, about an hour away. Have your camera ready for frame-worthy snaps of golden aspens framed by the canyon walls, along with sumacs and maples reaching their crimson boughs to the heavens like torches.
Time it Right: Leaf peepers will get an eyeful from the end of September until mid-October.
Where to Stay: Sedona, at the Kimpton Amara Resort + Spa
North Carolina: Winston-Salem
Snuggled in a valley in northwest North Carolina, scenic Winston-Salem is protected from winter-y temperatures longer than the surrounding mountains. This climate attracted tobacco farmers to the region, but also catches the eye of leaf peepers who can enjoy the vibrant fall flourishes for an extra two weeks each season. Whether hiking the seven-mile trail at Salem Lake, walking cobblestone streets of Old Salem or roaming the former country estate of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds, there are plenty of places to enjoy a spectacular splash of fall in Winston-Salem. These leaf-peeping locales are Fido-friendly, too, so bring your pup along for some four-legged fall fun.
Time it right: Peak leaf season in the Carolinas can start as early as September, and Winston-Salem keeps the bright leaf colors longer than most areas of the state, even through the second week of November.
Where to Stay: Winston-Salem, at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel
Virginia: Shenandoah Valley
They say Virginia is for lovers, and there’s no doubt that Shenandoah National Park could make even the most jaded heart twitterpated in the fall. Hop on Skyline Drive and you’ll have your fill of lapidary shades: ruby, topaz, carnelian and amethyst. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, the scenery at this time of year is intoxicating. The park is about a 90-minute drive from Alexandria.
Time it Right: Leaf hues hit their autumnal peak around the end of October through mid-November.
Where to Stay: Alexandria, VA, at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa
Photos courtesy Flickr Commons