11 unexpected destinations with the most beautiful fall colorsAug 25, 2023 11:48AM ● By Victor Block
When people think of taking in Mother Nature’s annual fall technicolor display in the U.S., they usually picture dramatic hues in the northern areas of the country.
But surprise, surprise! Those in the know realize that nature’s paintbrush is also busy in some unexpected places, and there are unusual ways to enjoy its handiwork.
While most folks do their leaf peeping from inside a car, others float down rivers, take to the sky and speed through colorful canopies during amusement park thrill rides.
Louisiana isn’t known for the beautiful fall color displays further north, but it does have its share of bright foliage. Renting a boat or taking a guided tour on the Tchefuncte River, which empties into Lake Pontchartrain, offers scenic views of the surrounding forests.
If you’d prefer to sail through some of the Northeast’s kaleidoscope of hues, consider a Hudson River Fall Foliage trip with American Cruise Lines. Its small ship itinerary includes stunning landscapes with waterfront mansions, Manhattan’s famous skyline and a close-up pass by the Statue of Liberty.
AmericanCruiseLines.com | 800-460-4518
ROMP & ROAM
Some people who prefer dry land would rather stroll across the Kinzua Sky Walk in northwestern Pennsylvania. When it was constructed in 1882 as a train bridge, it was the highest and longest viaduct in the world. The remaining portion extends 225 feet above a deep gorge and ends at a glass-bottom observation deck that offers breathtaking panoramic views. This opportunity to “walk the tracks across the sky” has been recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful skywalks.
VisitANF.com/kinzua-sky-walk | 814-778-5467
Those who prefer a slow ride along a route that Native Americans and early pioneers followed attend the Buena Vista Fall Festival held in Minnesota. This year’s festival takes place September 16 & 17, 2023. Horse-drawn covered wagons roll along a high ridge known as “Top of the World” to view nature reflected in nine lakes. Other activities include music and demonstrations by craftsmen.
BVSkiArea.com | 218-243-2231
If horses are too slow, how about horse power? The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad operates in mountainous landscapes surrounding the tracks that run between Cumberland and Frostburg. Passengers enjoy a surprisingly vibrant color show as they’re pulled by a restored steam engine.
WMSR.com | 301-759-4400
Pedal power also enables those who wish to combine exercise with enjoyment as they roll along railroad tracks in pedal-propelled vehicles dating back to the mid-19th century. Patrons of Tracks and Yaks propel their mini-trains alongside the Great Allegheny Passage corridor, which stretches 150 miles between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. The mountain ridge along the way blossoms into full color each fall. Pedals at each seat move the car along the tracks, sometimes augmented by an auxiliary motor, and passengers have their hands free to take photographs and video of the passing fall foliage.
TracksAndYaks.com | 301-349-3699
An even more spectacular setting greets rail vehicle riders to the foothills of the northern Catskill Mountains of New York. The village of Cooperstown and its surrounding area are known for a stunning display of fall color and those traveling through it with Rail Explorers USA cross historic trestle bridges, pass farmlands and traverse beautiful woodlands.
RailExplorers.net | 877-833-8588
A very different rail ride is provided by the Runaway Mountain Coaster in Branson, Missouri. The track dips, turns and corkscrews as it follows the lay of the land, using elevation changes to deliver an adrenaline-boosting experience. Riders may choose to pass by the fall foliage of the Ozark woods at breakneck speed or use the brake to slow the descent. This is one of a number of rides and experiences at theme parks that make Branson an entertainment town and magnet for vacationers of all ages.
BransonAlpineMountainCoaster.com | 417-334-7337
Vying with that Missouri setting in terms of entertainment is Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Its theme park, water park, dinner shows and other attractions have something-for-everyone appeal. In fall, foliage fans may “ride a bear” along Big Bear Mountain, the park’s longest coaster as it follows nearly 4,000 feet of track and offers sweeping views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Dollywood.com | 800-365-5996
Daredevils willing to venture even higher to get a birds-eye view of fall colors have a number of alternatives. The most gentle of these is a hot air balloon ride above the rolling hills of western Connecticut, with views of colonial homes, traditional New England barns and old stone walls. Flights at sunrise and sunset provide added highlights to the already colorful setting. Several companies offer balloon tours.
Anyone brave enough to follow in the footsteps or, rather, wing beats of Icarus might wish to check out Aspen Paragliding. Its experienced pilots take one passenger at a time aloft, suspended beneath a non-powered inflated wing, over the color-rich Colorado mountains. While in Greek mythology Icarus flew so close to the sun that the beeswax holding his flimsy wings melted, Aspen’s gliders are limited by prevailing air currents to a maximum of 18,000 feet. That’s not too close to the sun but far enough up to provide dramatic views of the landscape below.
AspenParagliding.com | 970-925-6975
This sampling of different ways to enjoy fall foliage may tempt you to try something new. Or you might prefer to climb into the family car and stick with the old.