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Autumn Leaves Tour: The Best Fall Foliage Tours in America

Patty has enjoyed traveling between Canada and the USA for over 20 years and always finds something fascinating to report.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

Temperature Drops Change Leaf Color

Autumn foliage tours begin in America in September and last as late as November. New England and Colorado become cooler before the remainder of the country that offers special Autumn Leaves Tours, so they are first to enjoy the increased tourist trade.

As summer temperatures begin to drop, chlorophyll production that keeps leaves green also drops. Other chemicals are present in the deciduous trees' leaf systems and without the masking chlorophyll, these chemicals reveal other colors in the leaves - a continuum of yellows to deep reds. If evergreens and firs begin to change colors, it is a signal of some sort of problem. One notable exception is the most famous Golden Spruce of the Pacific Northwest.

Other weather conditions can result in early leaf color changes among deciduous trees. One particular summer in Ohio in the late 1980s was cooler than average over the entire course of the season and our leaves in Central Ohio were in full fall colors during the third week of August! People stood around, looking at them.

Drivers pulled off the roads to see them. The change in timing of the colors brought out crowds of appreciative onlookers. In October, some kids dressed as trees with autumn leaves for their Halloween and Harvest parties.


United States National Forests

America maintains many more National Forests than is commonly known by our citizenry and guests. These large forest are some of the best places to begin a tour of fall foliage. Some of these national forests are within national parks, scenic highways, and adjacent destinations, with few suggestions for enjoying these places in the autumn listed below.

New England Foliage Tours

Train Trips Through the Leaves of Autumn Country

Twenty or forty years ago, travelers could book an overnight train through the Northeast United States and enjoy a day or two of autumn colors. Today, with higher speeds and fewer trains running, we no longer have those "overnighters."

The Mount Washington train listed above is your best choice for a train trip through trees whose leaves are changing. One Southern Ohio train runs a very short line through autumn colors and doubles as a Christmas Express (rides last about 30 minutes on either).

Thunderhead Mountain at Cades Cove.

Thunderhead Mountain at Cades Cove.

Southern Fall Leaf Watching

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Cades Cove Loop Road. This scenic drive is on the Tennessee side of the National Park. Be prepared for an 11-mile, one-way, one-lane paved road that includes several historic sites where you may stop and visit. The loop begins 7.3 mi from the Townsend entrance to the park and there is an orientation kiosk at the beginning. Wednesdays and Saturdays are reserved from sunrise to 10:00 a.m. for walkers and cyclists only. Otherwise, vehicles my enjoy the route from sunrise to sunset all year. Fall colors and a variety of wildlife are to be seen each autumn.

Great Smoky Mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

William B. Bankhead National Forest

William B. Bankhead National Forest

  • Blue Ridge Parkway - This scenic highway is also a park that travels across 469 miles in North Carolina and Virginia. The speed limit is 45 mph and access is free to the public, but a nominal charge is made for camping.
  • Bankhead National Forest, first Wilderness Area declared in Alabama (1975). This forest contains old-growth hardwoods that include oaks, maples, beeches, and black gum trees in and around long-leafed pines. The region is beautiful, populated with streams, bluffs, and gorges. A 500-year-old tulip tree is a big tourist attraction, along with many forms of wildlife. Walking and riding trails are numerous and archeological areas are interesting.

Sipsey Wilderness Trailheads Map

Bankhead National Forest

Bankhead National Forest

Autumn Leaves in California

California residents feared the closing of many of their state parks, because of fiscal problems experienced by the state government. However, many of these places have remained opened, with a few changes. Some staff have been laid off and in some of the more remote parks, visitors must take in their own trash bags and toilet paper, making sure to remove their own trash as they leave.

Many of these parks contain deciduous trees and are still good for Autumn Leaf Watching. A few suggestions are listed below.

Palomar Mountain Attractions

Visit Palomar During Autumn Leaves Celebrations

  • Palomar Observatory - Caltech Astronomy
    Open year-round, daily except December 24 and 25. Visiting hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. while we are on Standard Time and 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. while we are on Daylight Savings Time.

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS