“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower,” wrote French philosopher Albert Camus.
In North America, most experts agree that the peak time of those “flowers” occurs around mid-October, depending on the latitude, altitude and proximity to the coast. David Angotti, co-founder of the Smokey Mountains foliage prediction map, said that the peak may be slightly delayed this year because of rising temperatures in general. He also warned that in most years, “fall comes sooner at higher elevations than lower elevations.”
Key regions to gaze at fiery red maple trees, hickory, poplars and oaks include the Blue Ridge Mountains; the Rocky Mountains; many parts of New England, notably Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire; and several provinces in Canada, including Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Many travelers take leisurely drives to spot or post the range of brilliant colors on Instagram. But here are five more unusual ways to enjoy leaf-peeping season this year:
Zip Line Over Treetops
New York Zipline Adventures at Hunter Mountain, in the Catskills region, runs the SkyRider tour, a 4.6-mile-long multiple cable adventure that takes guests 600 feet high at speeds of up to 60 mph. The zip line is considered the longest, fastest and highest of its kind in North America. “People specifically call ahead to book the zip line to see the foliage,” says Alex Cavaliere, office manager for the company. “On these tours, you zip from mountaintop to mountaintop to where the valleys meet so you are hundreds of feet above the forest canopy,” she said. The guided tour lasts up to three hours; guides often point out tree foliage species.
“Catskills forests, with predominantly oak, beech, birch and maple with some cottonwood, aspen, hickory, cherry and sycamore, provide interesting color contrasts,” said Jerry Carlson, chief of forest health and protection at New York state’s department of environmental conservation. “The uniqueness of this region lies in the density: Some parts are heavy maple, and some parts are heavy oak.”
Zip line rates are $119 during the weekdays, $129 per person during the weekends. Tours are limited to 12 people.
Take In the View From the Water
The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, offers a “leaf peeping by land, air and sea” package that starts with a guided Blue Ridge Parkway tour in a Tesla Model X, a hot-air balloon ride over the Pisgah National Forest and a paddle boat ride on the French Broad River. The boat tour takes around two hours and lets guests leisurely take in the colors of red and white oak trees, as well as the Appalachian terrain filled with black gum and sour woods.
The Mayflower Inn & Spa in Connecticut offers a guided two-hour kayaking excursion on the nearby Bantam River. The river tour meanders past a nature conservancy in Litchfield, with a naturalist educating visitors about the surrounding Canadian hemlocks (the tallest trees in the northeast), as well as the American sycamores, sugar maples, oak trees, white pine and birch.
Want to do it yourself? The DiscoverBoating site lets you find boat rentals in your ZIP code and recommends the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest, Lake Tahoe in California and Acadia National Park in Maine as some top areas to take in the fall foliage from the water.
The “Eco-friendly Leaf Peeping by Land, Air and Sea” package is $500 per person; rates at The Foundry start from $400 per night. The guided kayak excursion offered by the Mayflower Inn & Spa is $170 per couple (a picnic is extra); rates at the hotel start from $800 per night.
‘Take a Llama to Lunch’ Hike
Paragon Guides in Vail, Colorado, introduced llama treks in the region in 2013. Since then, the outfitter says they’ve been extremely popular with children in the summer and during peak foliage season.
Visitors get to hike with a llama or two in a small group; a red-checkered picnic lunch is provided. Most of these hikes occur at around 9,000 feet, and the guides select the best foliage trails from more than 300 options, including Big Horn, Gore and Grouse creeks, and Missouri and Nancy passes, where a lot of aspen clusters are found. Nate Goldberg, a lead guide with the outfitter, said visitors see “a lot of underbrush, red and yellow aspen leaves, scrub oak, berries and willows which turn a bright yellow.”
A four-hour, 3-mile long hike starts at $450 for two people, and $95 for each additional guest.
Sleep Hanging From a Giant Sequoia
The bespoke travel operator, Pelorus, organizes climbs up giant sequoia trees and coast redwoods, considered the largest and oldest living trees on Earth. Spots are limited to two people who assist scientists examining the drought’s effect on trees. The expedition occurs at Yosemite National Park, specifically at the Freeman Creek giant sequoia grove in the Sierra Nevada. Scaled trees can attain a height of 278 feet and can be as old as 2,000 years.
“You have a different perspective of fall foliage and one that relates back to many people’s childhood memories of climbing trees,” said Jimmy Carroll, co-founder of Pelorus. “And you can watch the sunset and sunrise while sleeping on a portaledge,” he said, adding that this niche expedition takes care not to harm the trees.
The custom trip is around $45,000 for two people.
Camp in the Thick of it
Peer-to-peer RV rental site RVshare reported a sharp increase in motor home rentals during foliage season in certain cities in the United States over the past two years, with even more bookings anticipated this year. The site has an inventory of more than 100,000 units, including those with full-functioning kitchens and outdoor awnings so guests can “stay right in the middle of the foliage,” said Megan Buemi, senior manager of customer experience. Renters also get recommendations for top foliage drives.
Rental rates start from $200 per night on average. Each motor home comes with various amenities determined by the owner.