The shortening days and lengthening nights of autumn set off a series of events that result in the beautiful fall foliage many of us enjoy each year. A moist growing season followed by a dry fall, warm days ending with cool nights, and plenty of sunshine also play a role in the amount of striking colors we see.
Our country has some exceptional spots for fall color: Vermont, New Hampshire, Virginia's Skyline Drive, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for example, all offer magnificent displays. However, there are many other options for viewing fall colors in America. Here are five places in five different parts of the country you may not have considered.
1. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
"The passage of the Patowmac (sic) through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.... This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Thomas Jefferson wrote these words in a 1783 letter about Harper's Ferry, and he knew what he was talking about. Nestled at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers where the states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet, Harpers Ferry is the easternmost town in West Virginia.
Best known for the abolitionist John Brown's infamous raid on its Armory in 1859, Harpers Ferry offers sweeping vistas of the rivers, and this time of year, those views are spectacular. One of only a handful of towns through which the Appalachian Trail directly passes, Harpers Ferry offers plenty of river oriented activities including: white water rafting, fishing, tubing and canoeing. Its rocky banks also give opportunities for hiking, zip lining, and rock climbing.
A quaint and pretty town about an hour northwest of Washington D.C., Harpers Ferry's streets are lined with shops, restaurants, inns, and historical sites. Nearby is the nearly 2,500-acre wide Harpers Ferry National Park.
Best show of fall colors in Harpers Ferry is in mid- to late October.
2. Durango and Silverton, Colorado
Located in the San Juan National Forest, these two Colorado towns are linked by an historic railroad. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers one of most fun ways to see fall foliage as well as beautiful views of the mountains and the Animas River. You can choose from open-air gondolas, covered cabins, or parlor cars for your rail journey.
The San Juan National Forest contains 1.8 million acres with hiking trails that offer up-close views of with brilliant shades of gold and yellow. The dramatic landscape of Southwest Colorado is vivid in the fall with groves of aspens lining the canyons and nearby rivers and waterfalls.
Best show of fall colors in Durango and Silverton is early-to mid- October.
3. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Our nation's Ozarks region, which stretches from eastern Oklahoma and Kansas through Arkansas and Missouri, is a great area for viewing fall foliage. Check out the lovely town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas as a base point.
The drive on Arkansas Highway 21 to Eureka Springs passes through hills of maple, oak and ash trees that are ablaze with hues of gold, green, yellow, orange and red. The pretty little town of Eureka Springs features steep streets lined with quaint Victorian-era homes, inns, shops and restaurants. Tiny parks protect natural springs that brought the town to life as a healing center in the 1800s.
Best show of fall colors in Eureka Springs is late October.
4. Lake George, New York
Located in the gorgeous Adirondack Mountain region of New York, Lake George comes alive with color in the fall. The Adirondack Park is a six million-acre state park boasting 3,000 lakes and ponds, and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, mountains and hills and more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails through the vast forest. The Adirondacks are crisscrossed by 12 New York State Scenic Byways, providing easy access to glorious views by car or by foot. Or go for a scenic ride by water aboard one of Lake George's steamboats or other guided boat tours. How about viewing the fall splendor from above it all on a hot air balloon ride?
Best show of fall colors in the Lake George area is throughout October, depending on elevation.
5. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington
The drive along the Columbia River Highway between Oregon and Washington is spectacular any time of year, but even more so in the fall. On the drive to the Gorge from Portland, travelers can head east along the southern bank of the Columbia River, where there are numerous scenic overlooks well worth a stop for a photo or a hike to destinations such as Latourel Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, or Wahkeena Falls. Have your camera ready for Multnomah Falls, a jaw-dropping waterfall just east of Portland.
Although the Pacific Northwest is best known for its coniferous forests, the Columbia River Gorge provides a colorful exception with hardwood trees contrasting with ancient Douglas firs. Both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia provide views of the gorge and the vibrant foliage including: cottonwoods, maples, and red alders, as well as some ash, wild cherry and white oak trees.
Best show of fall colors in the Columbia River Gorge is late October.
These are just a few of my family's favorites. We'd love to hear about the spots you enjoy for fall beauty. Let us know! And you can track the nation's best fall colors with theU.S.