Leaf peeping is a major tourism draw in New England around this time of year … but unless you also want some fresh lobster, there are other options around the country to see breathtakingly beautiful examples of nature’s colorful handiwork. Just hop in the car and head to some of my favorite spots for autumn appreciation.
Drive for Beauty
Looking for spectacular autumn scenery in Oklahoma? The state’s premier foliage route, the Talimena Scenic Drive, glows with color – bronze, gold and russet, punctuated with the rich purple of gum trees, scarlet of sugar maples and sumac and deep green pines.
One of the nation’s first designated Scenic Byways, this 54-mile drive stretches from Talihina in Oklahoma to Mena, Arkansas. Plan a minimum of two hours, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself taking longer. Traffic on the winding two-lane road is heavy during peak leaf-watching season, and with dozens of overlooks, multiple stops are a must. Take a picnic, since there’s only one restaurant on the route, and there are no gas stations and scarce bathrooms – so plan ahead!
Just across the state line in Arkansas, the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge sits in a state park near the end of the route. With a spectacular view, good food and comfortable lodging, it provides a great stopping place. Stop at the Talimena Scenic Drive Visitor Center, 201 First in Talihina, for information before you hit the byway.
With fewer scenic overlooks but considerably less traffic, Highway 259 from Big Cedar to Broken Bow offers just as much color. Beavers Bend State Park is a great destination and its Folk Festival, Nov 9-11, is a major area event.
Peak color is difficult to predict, since it depends on a variety of factors, but late October through mid-November is a good guess. Check online for updates at talimenascenicdrive.com.
Nature’s Drama in Ashland, Oregon
Each autumn, around the same time as Ashland’s famed Shakespeare Festival, the trees of this southern Oregon town perform their multi-chromatic version of high drama. Lithia Park and the surrounding areas open a splendid treasure chest of gold and red leaves, giving travelers another reason to visit the already thriving cultural and culinary hub.
Striking Gold in Colorado
On a scale of one to epic, Aspen’s rugged beauty is off the charts on its least pleasant day. But from mid-September into October, when the aspens’ chalky trunks begin their annual shimmering dance of gold and yellow, one could spend a week among the trees without even visiting the beautiful mountain town of the same name. Nowhere are the visual riches more evident than on a drive up beautiful Castle Creek.
Riding the Rails
For those seeking a thoroughly memorable sensory experience, this fall trip hits all the buttons. See gorgeous mountain scenery, feel the rocking of the train’s cars on the rails, hear the clacking of the wheels and the shrill sound of the whistle, smell fresh-baked rolls and taste a cooked-from-scratch meal, all in one day’s great outing: Take a trip on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.
Co-owned by the states of New Mexico and Colorado, the Cumbres and Toltec is the nation’s highest and longest narrow-gauge railroad. Running from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado, it hops back and forth, crossing the state line a total of 11 times on one trip.
Although peak foliage time is unpredictable, mid-September to mid-October should provide good color. One advantage for viewers is that the rails span several thousand feet in elevation during the journey, so the trees won’t all turn at once. Check online at cumbrestoltec.com for an up-to-date prediction.
You can depart from either end of the line, enjoy a tasty lunch mid-trip in Osier and bus back to where you started. On the trip, sit back, relax and take in spectacular views and mountainsides glowing with brilliant yellow aspens – after all, Mother Nature is an extremely talented artist.