There’s no seasonal change quite as spectacular as autumn in North America. The slight bite to the air in the very early mornings, an almost artistic swirl of mist over the still surfaces of a lake, and of course, the dramatic transformation of the vast swathes of forest that still cover miles and miles of scenery. It’s a sensational sight so popular it’s spawned its own dedicated following of ‘leaf peepers’ – travellers and locals alike who chase the change as its spreads throughout the US. Time it just right, in the perfect spot, and autumn is a phenomenal time of year to visit.
Mother Nature sets the timetable – but even if you miss the peak, you’ll still see a riot of colour if you travel from mid-September and October. So if you’re keen join the ranks, here are our favourite places to spot fall foliage in all its autumnal glory.
Boston is one of the best cities to base yourself in for autumn. The beautiful Public Gardens are a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and golds – plus, the trees come accompanied by brass labels so you don’t need to be a qualified arborist to identify the different species.
Leafy Beacon Hill neighbourhood is a pleasant stroll at any time of year, but in autumn it comes alive with fall colours – a popular detour is Commonwealth Avenue, where the magnolia trees so often known for their pink and white flowers turn golden as autumn sets in. Afterwards, it’s the perfect place to peruse the coffee shops and warm up in a window seat, watching the world go by.
The Appalachian Mountains
With hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of protected forests along its mighty, mountainous backbone, the Appalachian Trail is absolute heaven for leaf peepers. And let’s face it, these colours are best appreciated at walking pace. It’s a much-loved time of year to hit the trails of New England, with almost never-ending avenues of glowing leaves illuminated by slanting, dappled sunlight.
These forests reverberate with the rustle and crunch of tumbling leaves, echo with the laughter and small talk of hikers wandering this hallowed trail amidst ancient trees. This is where the joy of the Appalachians in the autumn comes into its own – it’s the feeling of being immersed in these colours, like wandering into a fairytale world, an almost underwater sensation of being surrounded by the ruby, amber and gold colour.
Vermont’s scenic splendour is terrific leaf peeping territory. It’s known as the Green Mountain State – Vermont is a bastardisation of “Verd Mont”, the French for Green Mountain. But when temperatures cool those green mountains undergo a change, as the deciduous foliage turns into a flush of rich fiery colours.
The joy of visiting Stowe is its mountainous crown. All around the peaks soar upwards, and whilst the town is mostly known for its winter sports scene, it has heaps to offer in autumn too. Take to the cable cars (the skiers have very considerately left a whole network of lifts to cut out an uphill slog) and stroll through the forests, enjoying the reward without the effort.
APPALACHIAN AND NEW ENGLAND WALK
What sets the Sentinel Pass hike apart for autumnal visitors is the Larch Valley, with its eponymous larch forest. The stunning boreal forest is native to these cooler, northern climes where autumn is an earlier visitor, arriving sooner in September than it does further south.
The Sentinel Pass is a great hike at any time of year, but early autumn is when it shines – literally, as the trees begin to turn. Larch trees are a sight worth seeing; these unusual conifers are among a handful which aren’t evergreen, and each autumn turn yellow and shed their delicate needle-like leaves before the winter snow weighs down their spindly boughs. Before that moment, though, comes the fireworks. September sees the forest take on a mantle of glorious yellow, as though each individual needle on each tree has been dipped in molten gold. It’s a sight to behold – even locals return here year after year to see the larch forests in their autumnal hues, and it stands apart from the classic reds and oranges to be found further south.
Canadian Rockies Wilderness Walk
Cape Breton National Park, Nova Scotia
One of Canada’s coastal gems, Cape Breton is a windswept pocket of wilderness that comes alive in autumn with a splurge of colours. The salty sea air adds a freshness to the hikes on beautiful Cape Breton island, and the rhythmic push and pull of the waves on the shore make a musical accompaniment to strolls along the boardwalks that stretch towards the sea. But this coastal gem has another trick up its sleeve. What makes this autumnal extravaganza so special is the opportunity to see it from the water. Hiring sea kayaks is easy and rewarding, and you’ll double your delight with the reflections of the fall foliage in the water. It’s an interesting perspective on Nova Scotia that not everyone gets to see.
WALKING THE CANADIAN MARITIMES