Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

“Leaf peepers” and “color spotters” will search for peak fall glory with camera in hand

This is starting out as a complicated season for leaf peepers.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the Northeast sweltered through record October heat, parts of the Rockies and northern Plains were buried under wildly early snow—and we drove through it from Great Falls to Billings. Late heat and early cold can stifle some of the most photo-worthy foliage, but large swaths of the country will soon be engulfed in the brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds ahead of the approaching winter.

Stowe Community Church, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forested areas host a variety of tree species. The evergreens shed leaves or needles gradually as their name suggests. The leaves of deciduous varieties change from green to yellow, orange, or red before letting go entirely.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer, trees produce chlorophyll, the pigment that turns leaves green and allows trees to use light to make food sugars. At the same time, trees manufacture carotenoid, a yellow to orange pigment that is hidden by the green chlorophyll during the summer months. When the production of chlorophyll slows with the onset of fall, the carotenoid’s bright color can emerge. This yellow pigment also helps the leaf absorb different wavelengths of light that the green chlorophyll cannot.

Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Certain species begin to produce another pigment, anthocyanin, when the seasons begin to change. This is what turns forests red and orange. Anthocyanin is also responsible for the red, purple, black, and blue colors in certain foods high in antioxidants (think raspberries, purple cauliflower, and black rice). This crimson pigment allows trees to continue storing just a little more sugar and nitrogen to have on hand for the next year.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some areas of the country are more likely to experience those bright red and orange leaves than others. New England is a perennial fall destination because of its abundance of tree species contributing bright colors.

Goshen, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best color displays occur in forests that have a diversity of species and trees that have the tendency to turn red.

The progression of fall creates a wave of color across the country with grassy plains and farmlands in the Midwest drying up, and the trees of the East Coast rolling from green to yellow/orange/red to brown.

Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf peepers prowl different parts of the country to find their own special spots for the best fall colors. An annual photo-foraging is like a Christmas present as leaf peppers run around the country unwrapping all these presents.

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dazzling colors can be seen in numerous regions outside New England. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota are great places to go with forests that blend bright yellow birch, beech, and aspen with red maple. Farther south, a mix of oak and hickory forests in Arkansas provides stunning views, especially at higher elevations in the Ozarks.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even as far south as New Mexico, yellow oaks can be seen on mountainsides, along with sporadic flashes of red maples.

Near Brian Head, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moving west, yellow dominates. Western U.S. forests are predominantly evergreen, where species of juniper, spruce, and fir are better adapted to the more extreme temperature and moisture shifts. The deciduous trees in the West, including aspens, tend to display strong yellows.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are pockets of beautiful color all over the West but there aren’t a lot of people there. So the majesty can go unseen in some places.

When it comes to tracking down those optimal fall colors, some years can be good and some years can be poor.

Jacksonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moderate stress, such as changing seasonal temperatures and the amount of daylight, helps induce the onset of leaf-color change, but more severe stress can mute the vibrancy of autumn’s palette. Drought limits the ability of tree leaves to produce sugars which can also lead to early leaf drop.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But this season is expected to be superb. In New England, low evening temperatures have helped jump-start the fall colors. This will eventually wave down the eastern United States, down through Appalachia and beyond.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wish you luck in your leaf-peeping endeavors. Don’t wait too long because before you know it, the best of fall foliage season will quickly pass only to find solace in pumpkins and corn mazes.

Worth Pondering…

October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!

―Rainbow Rowell, Attachments  

The 7 Most Scenic Drives in the Country to Add to Your Bucket List

Calling all leaf peepers!

Crisp air, apple cider pit stops, and of course, brilliant foliage—there’s truly no better time for a family road trip than the fall. But rather than stress over what to do when you get to your destination, why not make it about how you get there?

Whether you’re looking for a last-minute day trip or weekend adventure, these scenic highways and byways are all about the RV lifestyle and savoring your front-row view of the beautiful landscape. So pack up the RV for one of the below drives (organized from west to east) the family won’t forget.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Length: 124 miles | Region: West

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” this rugged Utah trail winds through rock-formation-rich Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks as well as the awe-inspiring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is made up of plateaus and canyons the size of Delaware. Make sure to stop in Dixie National Forest for supreme views of the area from its 9,000-foot summit.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Length: 7.5 miles | Region: West

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.” Travelers are amazed by the high desert’s power, diversity, and sense of intimacy with nature. Inhabited for thousands of years, the stunning red rocks are alive with a timeless spirit that captivates and inspires.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66

Length: 2,448 miles | Region: West/Midwest

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No list of road trips would be complete without this east-west stretch, which spans from Chicago to Los Angeles. While many parts of this route have been decommissioned, it’s still possible to travel provided you’re willing to ignore your phone’s GPS directions and rely on good ol’ analog maps. Early fall is the best time to attempt this drive, as the weather is calm and the summer crowds have dwindled.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highway 385

Length: 53 miles | Region: Midwest

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While this road nearly bisects the country, the most picturesque section is in the famed Black Hills and Badlands of western South Dakota. Fall is the most temperate time of year to visit, and it also happens to be breeding season for many of the larger wilder animals (so be on the lookout for bison, pronghorn, deer, and elk!).

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway

Length: 43 miles | Region: Southeast

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive

Length: 105 Miles | Region: Southeast

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This lush drive through Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is particularly popular during the last three weeks in October, when the Blue Ridge Mountains erupt in color. Leave room in your schedule for a hike: There are over 500 miles of trails, 100 of which are part of the great Appalachian Trail.

Route 100

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Length: 90 miles | Region: Northeast

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the eastern edge of Vermont’s Green Mountains, this is the easiest drive of the bunch—it’s nearly a straight shot the whole way, running the entire vertical length of the state. Don’t miss your chance to tour the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury or indulge in various maple-flavored goodies in Ludlow!

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Plan Your Autumn Getaway around Fall Foliage

There are so many fall outings we can’t wait to do

Autumn is the perfect time of year to head out on a road trip. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp (so you can break out the coziest sweaters), and you can hit every single pumpkin patch you see along the way.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than a quarter of Americans traveling between Labor Day and Thanksgiving seek out fall foliage, according to an AAA survey.

While driving gives you the freedom to explore, spending the weekend stuck behind a line of vehicles on the best-known routes is a major nuisance. Instead, travel midweek or to an off-the-beaten-path destination. No matter which of these special spots you choose, you’re bound to find gorgeous autumn scenery.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, what are you waiting for? Hop in the RV, grab a camera, and get ready for an epically unforgettable experience. You’ll be so glad you did.

Vogel State Park: Blairsville, Georgia

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re looking for a park with mind blowing fall color, head to Vogel-ville. Vogel State Park is one of Georgia’s top parks to see fall foliage in October. To reach the park, travelers can drive through the Chattahoochee National Forest on Wolf Pen Gap Road. Even the drive into the park is something special.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside, families with young children can walk the easy Trahlyta Lake Trail to the small Trahlyta Falls waterfall. Experienced hikers will enjoy the 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail, which boasts a high vantage point with spectacular views of the vivid Blue Ridge Mountains.

New River Gorge National River: Glen Jean, West Virginia

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National River kicks off fall in late September with its Hidden History Weekend, an annual event that explores Appalachian and Native American traditions. It’s also a prime spot for adventure activities. Visitors ages 15 and older can join Adventures on the Gorge for lodge- or tent-based whitewater rafting trips, while those 12 and up can admire the region’s fall foliage from the resort’s zip lines. Leaf peeping is best enjoyed in late October from the New River Gorge Bridge or the Canyon Rim Visitor Center.

Skyline Drive: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See Shenandoah National Park from your RV or toad as you drive along Skyline Drive, an historic 105-mile National Scenic Byway that traverses the park. The highway meanders along the mountaintops, providing exceptional views of the terrain. During the fall, the mountains are blanketed with fiery hues of yellows, reds, and oranges, coming alive with the bright autumn foliage.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains gives drivers an up-close look at Virginia’s lush fall foliage from late September to early November. Whether looking east to the Virginia Piedmont or west to the Shenandoah Valley, Skyline Drive motorists will find golden hickory trees and red maple, sumac and oak trees with vivid orange leaves. It’s a busy road, but be sure to pull over at designated overlooks like Stony Man to admire the beautiful display of colors.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: Arizona

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Tonto National Forest near the rustic town of Superior, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Boyce Thompson is a surprising spot for fall color, given that the high-desert garden is only about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than nearby metro Phoenix.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the fall season, enjoy live music and cider at the park while admiring the changing colors of its pistachio, hackberry, black walnut, and sycamore trees.

Follow trails through the 100-acre botanical garden to see colorful trees and shrubs such as canyon hackberry, sycamore, willow, ash, cottonwood, pomegranate, and the spectacular red of the Chinese pistachio.

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The crown jewel of spectacular autumn drives is the Blue Ridge Parkway. Established in 1936, the 469-mile parkway in the heart of Appalachia serves as a connection between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because its reach is so extensive and accessible, the parkway is consistently ranked at the top of the National Park System’s most visited list.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.

—Jim Bishop