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5 Unforgettable Fall Foliage Drives (PHOTOS)

Posted: 09/22/2011 5:05 pm

Leaf-peepers might clog highways to spy Vermont's sugar maples and covered bridges each autumn, but New England isn't the only fall destination that enjoys a Technicolor spectacle as Mother Nature preps for winter.

We've rounded up five top drives for taking in fall's fiery red, orange, and yellow palette -- and only one of these excursions is located in the Northeast.

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  • Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

    <strong>When to Go</strong>: Mid-September to mid-October are prime time for <a href=",_oregon/ " target="_hplink">fall foliage drives</a> in this National Scenic Area. <strong>The Drive:</strong> From Troutdale, Oregon, the <a href=" " target="_hplink">Mount Hood Scenic Byway </a>circles the snow-capped mountain and veers onto the Historic Columbia River Highway, which passes a dozen waterfalls in not even as many miles. <strong>Colors on Display: </strong>The <a href=" " target="_hplink">Columbia River Gorge</a> is loaded with lush fir forests and twisted pines, big-leaf maple, cottonwood, Oregon ash, and vine maple trees that paint the riverbanks burnt orange and saffron. <em></em>

  • Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

    <strong>When to Go:</strong> Elevation differences make peak foliage season lengthy but tricky to pinpoint: Trees at the highest elevation turn as early as mid-September, while those rooted in lower grounds stay green until the beginning of November. <strong>The Drive:</strong> In early fall, drive the <a href=" " target="_hplink">Clingmans Dome Road</a> to spot high-elevation trees changing color (and to reach Tennessee’s highest peak, at 6,643 feet). Toward the end of October, follow<a href="" target="_hplink"> Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail</a>, a narrow one-way street that passes waterfalls and hiking trails. <strong>Colors on Display:</strong> Some 100 varieties of deciduous trees – including sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, red maples, and hickories – speckle the <a href=",_north_carolina_and_tennessee/ " target="_hplink">Great Smoky Mountains foliage</a> with burnt orange, scarlet, golden, and butternut hues. <em></em>

  • Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

    <strong>When to Go:</strong> Summertime partying gives way to the beauty of the fall season in mid- to late October, when the weather (and leaves) transition. <strong>The Drive:</strong> <a href=" " target="_hplink">Ha Ha Tonka State Park</a> is one of the area’s most popular fall drives: From Route 54, turn south onto State Highway D and drive the length of the park toward Eldridge, Missouri. Break to hike some of the park’s 15 miles of trails and explore the ruins of a bluff-top, turn-of-the-20th-century stone castle, built by a Kansas City businessman. <strong>Colors on Display:</strong><a href=",_missouri/" target="_hplink"> Lake of the Ozarks’</a> staggering collection of dogwoods, thong trees, and oak-hickory forests blanket the region in orange-red and golden yellow, all set off by the surrounding white limestone cliffs and the lake’s navy blue waters – ideal for fall travel. <em>Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau</em>

  • Litchfield County, Connecticut

    <strong>When to Go:</strong> Most of <a href=" " target="_hplink">Connecticut</a> turns during mid-October, but the dramatic scenery in northwestern Litchfield County peaks seven to 10 days earlier. <strong>The Drive</strong>: Take Route 202 E from New Milford, Connecticut to Route 45 N in New Preston, Connecticut, which hugs the shores of Lake Waramaug. Canoeing along the Housatonic River, biking through forested trails, and hot air balloon rides above the trees are worthy alternatives for viewing <a href=",_connecticut/ " target="_hplink">Litchfield’s fall foliage</a>. <strong>Colors on Display</strong>: Sassafras, maple, oak, aspen, beech, and birch trees flaunt shades of scarlet, golden, and orange-yellow. Litchfield Hills Convention and Visitors Bureau

  • Ohio

    <strong>When to Go:</strong> Ohio’s northern boundaries generally peak in the first half of October, while in the southern part of the state trees turn just in time for Halloween. <strong>The Drive:</strong> Observe sycamore trees along the byways of central Ohio’s Holmes County, home to the country’s largest Amish population. Start on <a href=" " target="_hplink">SR 39 in Loudonville, Ohio</a> and head east toward Sugarcreek, Ohio and I-77. Nearby Mohican State Park and Salt Fork State Park offer destinations for rest and respite. <strong>Colors on Display:</strong> Although the state’s famed Buckeyes lose their leaves closer to summer’s end, some 125 species of hardwood trees – including sassafras, red maple, elm, and dogwood – create a kaleidoscope of color primed for <a href=" " target="_hplink">Ohio fall foliage drives</a>. <em>Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau</em>


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