VACATION IDEAS: FALL FOLIAGE
12 Best Places to See Fall Colors
It's that time of year again. We're deep in the heart of leaf-peeping season and the leaves, they are a-changin'. Whether you're a fall foliage fanatic or just in the mood for a scenic drive—or train ride—through the fabulous fall scenery, you won't want to miss these great seasonal spots.
We've been keeping a close eye on Colorado's usual leaf-peeping hot spots, especially after the damage caused by devastating floods in September and unfortunately, the National Park closures due to the ongoing government shutdown, but there is good news to report: one of the state's best places to view fall foliage, Estes Park, is open for business. While nearby Rocky Mountain National Park is closed as a result of the shutdown, Estes Park is the perfect place to view not only fall foliage, but also elk and other area wildlife this time of year. Nature lovers can go fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in nearby Estes Valley, or even participate in flood recovery efforts. For a spookier fall experience, try one of the Ghost & History Tours at the Historic Stanley Hotel, also known for having paranormal investigators and psychics onsite. Autumn is the best time of year to take a drive on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, currently one of the only ways to enter and exit the Estes Park area—check this website for more updates on flood recovery efforts and route changes. Special lodging packages are also available to keep tourism going strong in Estes Park during one of their busiest times of the year. Other scenic leaf-peaping hot spots in Colorado include Kebler Pass near Gunnison-Crested Butte, the 236-mile loop of San Juan Skyway, The Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway, and in better times, Trail Ridge Road and Rocky Mountain National Park, among 25 scenic and historic byways that typically showcase the state's world-famous golden Aspens. A ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad is also a memorable way to see the fall colors and learn a little about the area's mining history. (Tickets are from $25.95 for adults; from $18.95 for children ages 3-15).
Grant County is home to some of the most beautiful fall foliage in the country, and the best way to see it is by train. For one night only, Oct. 19th, the Autumn Splendor Dinner Train will travel through Petersburg, West Virginia, just in time for the red and gold leaves to make their debut. You'll start by sampling local delicacies during a food and wine tasting at the South Side Depot in Petersburg while you wait for your train, and enjoy a West Virginia-made dinner of beef brisket, shrimp, potatoes, green beans, and your choice of homemade chocolate fudge turtle cake or pumpin cheesecake for dessert, all while admiring the view. (Tickets are $60 per person for adults only; reservations required).
In Tennessee's southeastern corner about two hours from Nashville lies Chattanooga, the state's fourth-largest city nestled alongside the Tennessee River, and a prime spot for viewing fall foliage. The best part: not only is Chattanooga known for having a teriffic network of hiking, biking, and nature trails, but you also have the unique opportunity to view fall foliage by boat. Enter the Southern Belle Riverboat, sailing several times a day from Pier 2, with dinner cruises, lunch cruises, sunset cruises or 90-minute sightseeing cruises up and down the gorgeous Tennessee River. Prices for their three-hour Fall Leaf Cruise—available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays thru Nov. 17th—start at $39.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 3-12.
If you're looking for the ultimate scenic fall drive, Branson and the Ozarks are home to three of the area's best fall foliage driving tours (and one walking/jogging tour) aimed to please any leaf-peeping enthusiast. Stop by the Welcome Center located at Highway 65 and State Highway 248 for free maps and tips about local attractions, then set off on your fall road trip adventure. The first driving tour takes you on a 90-minute loop around Table Rock Lake and Kimberling City, while the second takes you on a 70-minute loop from Downtown Branson around Forsyth and Rockaway Beach. The third, more in-depth fall foliage drive is a four-hour long journey through Bull Shoals, Peel Ferry, and Mark Twain National Forest, while the walking/jogging tour just takes you on a 1.5-mile tour of Branson Landing and Downtown Branson along Lake Taneycomo, home to Main Street Lake Cruises, another fun way to get a unique look at the region's fall colors. (Tickets are from $25 for adults; children ages 17 and under ride free with a paying adult. Check the website for more details on pricing and scheduling. Must reserve at least 72 hours ahead).