Top Ten National Parks for Fall Foliage - Page 2

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Zion National Park
Virgin River's Freemont Cottonwoods
Best known for its spectacular geological formations and slot canyons, this southwestern Utah park is also well known regionally for the fall foliage of its hardwoods. In riparian areas along the Virgin River and other streams grow Fremont cottonwoods, which turn a beautiful shade of pale gold in autumn, while bigtooth maple, box elder (another type of maple), birch, oak, and hackberry add their hues, as well. In both streamside locations and higher on slopes, quaking aspens turn a more brilliant gold. Because Zion National Park encompasses a large elevation range, the period of fall color extends from September (in the high mountains) well into November (in the lowlands). When sunrise or sunset light turns Zion's rocks a gold-red color and the leaves add their spectacle, few parks can match it for sheer visual impact.

Buffalo National River
Oak and Hickory of the Ozark Plateau
While less celebrated, fall color in the highlands of the Ozark Plateau in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri can match that of the Appalachian mountain ranges. Beginning in late October and peaking sometime in November, the spectacle here can be breathtaking. Many species of oaks and hickories dominate the forest, with maples, sassafras, sweet gum, blackgum, beech, sumac, and dogwood adding to the fall spectrum. It all starts with the bright crimson of blackgum (also known as black tupelo) in early September, continuing well into November with oak leaves in shades of yellow and rust. The topography is an attraction in itself: Millennia of erosion have cut steep-sided canyons throughout the region, creating some of the most rugged landscape between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Arkansas 21 near Boxley, Ark. 74 between Ponca and Jasper, and U.S. 65 near Marshall are all fi ne driving routes to see Ozarks fall color. The lower stretches of Buffalo National River can be paddled in a canoe or raft in fall as well, and many miles of trails are available to hikers. Try the short, easy Lost Valley Trail for a good introduction to the Buffalo River area, or drive down the switchbacks to the Steel Creek area to see beautiful foliage against a background of the tall riverside bluffs for which the Buffalo is famous.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Delaware River Oak
Set in the Delaware River Valley of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, this park includes historic villages, farmland, and grassland, but it's mostly covered by a maturing hardwood forest, slowly growing back from periods of logging in previous centuries. Extensive tracts of various oaks offer a range of fall colors from dull yellow to red-orange. Other hardwoods showing beautiful fall colors include maple, birch, hickory, dogwood, beech, and sycamore. More than 200 miles of roads wind through Delaware Water Gap; some good ones to explore include Old Mine Road in New Jersey and U.S. 209 and River Road in Pennsylvania. Three scenic overlooks along Pa. 611 provide great views of the Delaware River as it passes through the Water Gap, an eroded low point in Kittatinny Ridge. For a closer view of the park's forest, hike some of the 27 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail running through the area.

Little River Canyon National Preserve
Southern Hardwoods Along Canyon Rim
This little-known park in northeastern Alabama combines tree species of the Appalachians with those of Deep South hardwood forests for a diversity that adds to the color palette in fall. Take the Canyon Rim scenic drive off Ala. 35 along Little River Canyon for a fine overview of the environment. Several overlooks include one at beautiful Little River Falls, where the river cascades over rock ledges beneath tree-covered hillsides. Maples, oaks, hickories, sweet gum, blackgum, and tulip-poplar span the color range from pale yellow to vivid orange. The gorge, one of the deepest in the country east of the Mississippi River, looks especially stunning at the peak of color, usually from mid-October through early November.

Effigy Mounds National Monument
Mississippi Bluff's Aspens and Walnuts
Iowa is not all flat—as evidenced by this park in the extreme northeastern corner of the state, where 400-foot-high bluffs loom over the Mississippi River. Neither is the state all farmland and prairie; for proof, just walk some of the 14 miles of trails in Effigy Mounds National Monument through upland forests of oak, sugar, maple, hickory, aspen, walnut, Kentucky coffee tree, and basswood, all of which show beautiful colors in a brief blaze of glory, late September through early October. The national monument was set aside to protect more than 200 American Indian ceremonial mounds (including 31 in the shape of animals such as birds, bear, and deer), but the park designation had the side effect of preserving woodlands, wetlands, and 81 acres of native tallgrass prairie. In all, the natural features of this historical park make it one of the most diverse sites in the upper Midwest for everyone from bird-watchers to hikers to weekend scenery oglers.

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