Five Unexpected Places for Fall Foliage

Leaf-peepers are an assertive bunch, and during peak season the usual foliage suspects become more of a parking lot than an outdoor getaway. Here are our five secret and unexpected places to get in while the getting is good—sans the crowds.
  |  Gorp.com
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Autumn in a Sonoma vineyard, California
Autumn in a Sonoma vineyard, California  (Hemera/Thinkstock)

We’re all familiar with the classic fall foliage scene: a covered bridge in New England surrounded by yellow, orange, and red leaves falling from a stately group of birches, oaks, and maples. During peak fall foliage and leaf-peeping season, a hotel or bed-and-breakfast room in New England becomes as scarce as a cool day in the Mojave Desert. But not all the action on this big continent is in New England. We’ve got our own secret fall foliage spots across North America—places where you won’t spend the weekend sleeping in your car during peak leaf season. Here are five of our favorites.

Sonoma, California
For those of you who don’t live year-round surrounded by vineyards, here’s a little-known secret: grapevines turn fantastic colors in the fall. Lush Sonoma County, California, is one of the best places to see the vines’ yearly color switch. Besides, where else can you pair that show with a walk through a redwood forest and a wine tasting afternoon? After a dew-covered morning hike through Armstrong Redwoods State Park, it’s time to sample wines at one of Sonoma’s many vineyards. A brisk walk on Sonoma’s near-empty coastline between Bodega Bay and Sea Ranch is a perfect complement to driving from vineyard to vineyard. Increasingly posh Healdsburg town is a great base for exploring Sonoma, as is the rustic town of Guerneville in the heart of one of Sonoma’s most famous wine-producing areas, the Russian River Valley.

Taos, New Mexico
Some folks think New Mexico is all desert. Other folks think it’s not even a state, but just part of Mexico (a long-standing joke in New Mexico, trust us). However, the aspen-and-spruce-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains, run straight through the middle of the state down to its adobe-clad capital, Santa Fe. Wheeler Peak towers 13,000 feet over the laid-back town of Taos, a historic haven for artists and writers like Georgia O’Keefe, D.H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley. The High Road between Santa Fe and Taos strings together a fine collection of New Mexican sights—the Sanctuary of Chimayo, the high peaks of Truchas, and Penasco’s Native American Picuris Pueblo. In the fall, the light dusting of snow covering the yellow aspens and green spruces of Kit Carson National Forest provides a sublime contrast with the cornflower-blue New Mexican sky.

Published: 6 Sep 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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