Just as kids are heading back to school and the weather cools down in the fall, leaf peepers get ready to hit the road to witness nature's display of dazzling colors. Here are some tips to make the most of your leaf-peeping road trip.
Where to Go
Along the Northeast corridor, New England reigns supreme for great fall-foliage viewing in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. But that doesn't mean New England is the only spot in the country where leaf peepers can enjoy autumn's vibrant colors. In the Mid-Atlantic, road trippers drive around New York's Adirondack and Catskill Mountains and explore the Finger Lakes region on the search for leaves. In Pennsylvania, the view from the car promises blazing hues from orange to red from Bucks County and Amish Country in the southern part of the state to the Great Alleghany Passage and the Laurel Highlands outside of Pittsburgh. Southeast states with impressive foliage include Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Finally, in the Midwest, leaf peepers follow the trail around the Great Lakes from Ohio to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Some of the area's best leaves can only be seen when you get off the major highways and head to the winding country roads, many of which feature romantic covered bridges, local farm stands, pumpkin patches and small-town fall festivals that celebrate the change of season. The best way to navigate these small roads is with a GPS system, but low-tech travelers should stock up on local maps to help them navigate the back roads.
When to Go
While the specific dates may vary slightly each year, Mother Nature's autumn show kicks off at the Canadian border and makes its first appearance in the northern states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in early September. As the month progresses, the colors move southbound and wind their way down south where the final colors fade away in early November.
Leaf-peeping is serious business in many states, which means you won't be the only people taking to the roads to gawk at the lovely trees. Crowds surge on the weekends, making highways and byways more crowded and rooms hard to come by. Make any lodging reservations well in advance, or even better, plan for a mid-week excursion to avoid the crowds.
There are a variety of websites that provide leaf-tracking information collected from weather professionals and amateur leaf peepers who compile this information to assist travelers. In addition, the US Forest Service updates its website and hotline with information for leaves in national forests and state parks throughout the country. In places where foliage drives the seasonal tourism industry, the local or state government maintains the official website, which provides regularly updated information on the state of the leaves around the region, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio and North Carolina.
Travel Channel's Insider Tip
On any good road trip, you'll want to bring along plenty of snacks but plan for some pit stops along the way to sample the apple cider, homemade doughnuts and a hearty slice of apple pie or cobbler that dominate many of the local produce stands and pick-your-own farms found along many of the scenic byways.