The cool, crisp nights of fall tell us that the beginning of leaf-watching season has arrived, when many parts of the United States come ablaze, assuming the conditions cooperate. The trees and their magnificent colors draw day-trippers seeking a little adventure for a tank or two of gas.
With 16 million acres of forest, Wisconsin delights leaf lovers with an explosion of color that typically begins in late September and lasts through the end of October. Because 40 percent of the state is covered by trees, leaf peepers are never far from a fantastic fall view.
Quickly growing in popularity are zip line tours that offer views of the Wisconsin countryside that you never will see through the windows of a car. It's somewhat like a roller-coaster ride through the forest. Riders are secured in a harness that is connected to a steel cable that winds its way among the trees. Gravity Trails in Ellison Bay has a tour that doesn't go higher than 15 feet. Lake Geneva Canopy Tours reach a height of 70 feet. These tours range from one to three hours long.
For those who like to get out of the car but stay closer to the ground, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, in northeastern Ohio, travels 51 miles, between Akron and Cleveland. The three-hour trip travels along the Erie Canal and provides an up-close view of the changing leaves. Bicyclists can ride the canal's towpath trail in one direction and take the train back.
For up-to-date leaf conditions in Wisconsin, visit http://www.travelwisconsin.com/fallcolor_report.aspx.
Leaf watchers flock to the New England states in the fall -- and for good reason. Perfect conditions create some of the best fall foliage in the United States. Because the leaves generally start to change color in the north, a trip to Maine's Baxter State Park is ideal for leaf watchers who like to get an early start to the season while avoiding the crowds that gather farther south.
Located about 70 miles north of Bangor, Baxter's trees begin to change in late August, signaling the start of leaf season in the United States. The 200,000-acre preserve, with its mild mountainous terrain, is a hiker's paradise. The hourlong trip up Trout Brook Mountain rewards trekkers with breathtaking views of Grand Lake Matagamon and the northern area of the park. With daytime temperatures ranging from 60-70 degrees and crystal-clear air providing perfect visibility, Baxter is an ideal location for those who can't wait for the leaf-peeping season to begin.
For up-to-date leaf conditions in Maine, visit http://www.maine.gov/doc/foliage.
Leaf watching isn't just for Northerners. Georgia enjoys blankets of fall colors that reach their peak at the end of October or early November. The Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway is a popular driving route that winds through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Unicoi and Amicalola Falls state parks in northern Georgia draw the biggest crowds during the fall season -- and for good reason. Lesser-known is Smithgall Woods, located near Helen, a Bavarian-style town where Oktoberfest is a monthlong celebration. Smithgall is located just south of Unicoi, with creek-side trails that can be used for fishing and leaf watching alike. It boasts the same foliage as Unicoi, but its lower profile means smaller crowds.
For up-to-date leaf conditions in Georgia, visit http://gastateparks.org/core/item/page.aspx?s=149618.104.22.168&mode=e.
When the aspen trees in New Mexico turn golden in September, the state's extensive system of scenic byways draws leaf watchers from throughout the region. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway offers some of the best fall foliage as it loops around Wheeler Peak, the tallest in New Mexico, passing Eagle Nest Lake State Park, the Rio Grande Gorge and the tiny mountain town of La Cuesta. The 84-mile drive takes about three hours and connects state highways 38 and 522 and U.S. Route 64.
For a view of the southwestern section of the state, the Billy the Kid Trail is also an 84-mile drive. It loops around the Lincoln National Forest. Named after the notorious outlaw, the tour combines stellar mountain pine scenery and Old West culture. Stops along the way include the Hubbard Museum of the American West and the Lincoln State Monument. The loop connects state Route 48 and U.S. Route 380.
For more information, visit http://www.enchantedcircle.org and http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2062/index.html.