Fall Travel: Where, When, and How

It’s time to think about fall foliage travel! Here are some recommendations on the best destinations and some unique ways to view the colors.

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: The “best” places to see spectacular fall colors are generally thought to be New England, 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.

Several national parks feature fall foliage. The Park Service is justly proud of its foliage opportunities. Top national-park spots include Shenandoah National Park, Virginia; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio; Acadia National Park, Maine; Denali National Park, Alaska; various locations in Montana; and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 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 Channel‘s comprehensive nationwide coverage, including 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 Farmers’ 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, we highlighted the 10 best fall foliage train rides in North America, including Mt. Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire; Durango & Silverton, Colorado; Essex Steam Train, Connecticut; Napa Valley Wine Train, California; Adirondack Scenic Railroad, New York; Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Georgia; Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Ohio; Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina; and 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 and many include accommodations.

Where to Stay: You know how to locate the sort of accommodations you prefer: hotel, motel, resort, B&B, campground. The prime locations fill up 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.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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