If it's Labor Day, it's time to think about fall foliage travel. Although New England grabs a lot of the publicity, you actually find good fall foliage throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Peak times for viewing depend on where you go; they move from North to South over a period between mid-September and mid-November. And you can view them on your own, on bus tours, or on trains.
Where to Go. Several sources nominate the "best" places to see spectacular fall colors. About Travel recommends New England (surprise), Alaska, the Great Smoky Mountains area, the mid-Atlantic from central Virginia to Pennsylvania, much of the Midwest from Michigan to Missouri, and northerly western Rocky Mountain, Sierra Nevada and Cascades mountain areas. Their website has links to more detailed reports on individual areas, including best times to visit.
Several National Parks feature fall foliage. The Park Service is justly proud of its foliage opportunities. Its posting on About Travel zeroes in on Shenandoah, Virginia; Grand Teton, Wyoming; Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio; Acadia, Maine; Denali, Alaska; Montana; and Great Smoky Mountain, Tennessee and North Carolina.
When to Go. Several sources post fall foliage calendars or maps to help you decide when to hit each area. Specifics for 2014 aren't live yet, but they're scheduled to start shortly after Labor Day. Start with the Weather Channelâs comprehensive nationwide coverage with a national map and links to dozens of individual state and regional maps. Also good: Storm Fax, with both a national map and links to state and regional fall foliage hotlines. The Foliage Network is also a great starting point, with separate regional reports for the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast. Jaunted.com regularly posts foliage reports, and even the redoubtable Farmersâ Almanac posts specific peak dates for each of the contiguous 48 states. Yankee Foliage and Discover New England are great for New England.
How to See It. Driving, of course, is the classic way to see the best of fall foliage. Most of the websites listed above include driving route suggestions and many post links to accommodations in the top viewing regions.
You can take a train. In previous years, Amtrak has added a dome car to the daily New York-Montreal Adirondack day train, which passes through good leaf scenery, but Amtrak hasn't yet responded to my inquiry about 2014. Other Amtrak options passing through good foliage areas include the daily Vermonter between St Alban's Vermont and New York and the daily California Zephyr daytime segment through the Rocky Mountains.
Last year, SmarterTravel.com listed nine tourist railroad day trips in "Best Fall Foliage Train Rides in North America:" The Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire; the Durango & Silverton, Colorado; the Essex Steam Train, Connecticut; the Napa Valley Wine Train, California; Adirondack Scenic Railroad, New York; Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Georgia; Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Ohio; the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina and the Grand Canyon Railway, Arizona.
Take a Tour. Lots of tour companies arrange inclusive fall foliage tours. Vacations by Rail runs 10 foliage excursions with at least some travel by rail, and Rail Travel Tours runs several tours with rail travel on VIA Rail Canada. Dozens of local and national operators run bus tours, many including accommodations. Just Google "fall foliage tours" or see a travel agent.
Where to Stay. You know how to locate the sort of accommodation you prefer: hotel, motel, resort, B&B, campground. The prime locations fill quickly, so make your booking sooner rather than later. Often, an inclusive tour package is the best way to make sure you'll get accommodations where you want them. And make sure to check on other activities in the stopping points you target: You really do not want to hit some city or town on a big football weekend.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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