The Hunt for Red (and Yellow) October. It's Officially Fall - Let the Quest for Color Begin!
Fall is officially here in the northern hemisphere, and for many travelers that means getting outdoors to enjoy the weather—and some fall color. Most of us are familiar with areas that are justifiably famous for their annual display of red and yellow leaves, so here are a few suggestions for some lesser-known options. Links to park websites for each area listed will take you to sources of additional information.
If you've never enjoyed an autumn in southern Indiana, this area might not occur to you as a possibility for a fall excursion. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and the adjacent Lincoln State Park are located in a part of the country with a lovely mixed hardwood forest, and the rolling hills of this part of the state provide a nice backdrop for the foliage.
Fall is an especially nice time of year to enjoy the short walk through the forest from the visitor center to the Living Historical Farm. The farm on the site where Abe Lincoln grew to manhood is staffed and open daily through October 10 this year, and you can still enjoy the site as an "exhibit in place" after that date.
The drives on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (Virginia) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia and North Carolina) always attract a fall crowd, but another parkway offers an alternative for southern leaf lookers.
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs for 444 miles, from Natchez, Mississippi, across northwest Alabama to just south of Nashville, Tennessee. The Parkway is designated as a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road. Best bets for fall color on this drive are on the northern end of the Parkway, which has more mixed hardwood forest than the southern end of the drive.
The Ozarks of northern Arkansas are another fine fall destination, and an article in the Traveler last October highlighted the virtues of a trip to the Buffalo National River. Late October and November aren't usually prime season for canoeing on the Buffalo, but they can be fine months for enjoying the scenery.
The words "fall foliage" and "Arizona desert" may sound like a classic oxymoron, but if you're willing to take your view of autumn leaves on a smaller scale, you can find some dramatic opportunities throughout the Southwestern U.S. Look for sites that include a river, stream or other body of water, and late fall can provide some nice surprises when the leaves of species such as cottonwood change color.
The contrast of the bright foliage with colorful cliffs can provide some fine photo opportunities, even if the leaves are limited to a few trees. I've taken some great shots under those conditions in years past at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, and at Montezuma Castle National Monument and the nearby Montezuma Well. Both sites are located a short distance off I-17, between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
If you don't mind an uphill hike for the chance to enjoy some fall leaves in a truly improbable part of the country, consider a trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas. The park's McKittrick Canyon contains some surprising hardwoods in this "island in the desert." This is a popular destination, especially during the fall color season, so don't expect this remote location to provide an escape from crowds!
The hunt for good fall color is always an adventure, and often a bit of a gamble, since the timing and extent of the color can vary from year to year. If you're driving very far or are determined to see some nice foliage, it's always a good idea to call ahead and check with a reliable source at your destination. A Google search will turn up a variety of "leaf watcher" sites, and a very general overview of how color is progressing for various parts of the country is available on the Weather Channel's website.
What suggestions do you have for other National Park Service fall foliage sites that aren't on all the standard lists?