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Popular in Health & Family

Enjoying Fall Color

If you've let the Sunday drive fall by the wayside, there's no time like autumn to resurrect a great family tradition.

Nothing says "family drive" like fall in the air. There's a crisp crackle outside and a coolness that feels like sweater weather. Even the lawn seems to revel in the changing season by kicking back and growing only modestly. Now that mowing's a more intermittent chore, take advantage of the extra time and perfect weather to celebrate the turning of the season.

Welcome another beautiful autumn by piling the kids in the car and taking a drive. It's as American as apple pie and every bit as delicious to hit the byways and back roads. When the scenery cooperates with a showy display of color, so much the better. We're not just talking to the lucky folks who live in the Northeast, where the renowned fall-color show attracts visitors from around the world. No matter where you live, there's something turning -- some species of tree or shrub reacting to the lengthening nights and the cooling temperatures -- and putting out colorful leaf pigments to hail the changing of the seasonal guard.

Finding Out Where To Go

To enjoy fall-color drives, you don't need a particular destination. Think "ramble," a frame of mind that's more about relaxing and idly going nowhere in particular with no goal in mind. More important than a destination is the journey. On a fall family drive, the goal is to seek out color and enjoy the journey of reconnecting with nature and your family.

Locally, ask and look and you shall find. If your journey is a day trip around where you live, any local park where trees are turning will do perfectly. Take out a map of your area and look for city, county, state, and national parks. Forest preserves are tailor-made for fall-color excursions; city gardens are also a possibility. If there's an arboretum in your town or in a nearby city, call to find out about special programs that might highlight the season. A helpful docent at an arboretum might know about other fall-color possibilities in your area. Your state visitors' bureaus and nearby Chambers of Commerce may also steer you toward a great drive. Consider calling a local chapter of the Sierra Club or similar conservation or outdoor group, city recreation departments, forestry or botany departments of local colleges, and your state's department of natural resources for ideas.

Read Up

Parks and state tourism offices often put out flyers or pamphlets that can guide you along your color path. Requesting them ahead of time will give some direction to your rambles or spark ideas for weekend travel in the future. Guidebooks from your favorite bookseller are also indispensable. Check out National Geographic's Driving Guides to America and the Off The Beaten Path (Globe Pequot Press) state-by-state series. If you've always wanted to do autumn in the Northeast and are planning well in advance (as is recommended), Autumn Rambles: New England: An Explorer's Guide to the Best Fall Colors (Hunter Publishing, 1998) makes a great companion. Besides your own photos of your autumn drives, a nice addition to the coffee table is Fall Colors Across North America by Ann Zwinger, Anthony E. Cook, and Art Wolfe (Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, 2001); it takes you on a glorious tour of fall's multicolored magnificence from the Alaska tundra all the way south to the bald cypress swamps of Louisiana.

Searching Online

Try the keywords "fall color" or "fall foliage tour" on a search engine like Google to discover dozens of autumn travel possibilities. Narrow your search by putting the name of your state in front of your keywords -- chances are good you'll come up with specifics in your area. From aspens going golden in Santa Fe's Sangre de Cristo Mountains to maples beginning to blaze in Texas' Lost Maples State Natural Area, there are surprising displays all over the country. Even Florida, which is known for its seemingly changeless weather and not for fall color, offers a Web site that lists trees and shrubs that change color with the season.

Google

Our own searches yielded numerous exciting possibilities for colorful drive time:

The USDA Forest Service site gives you the fall-color lowdown on our country's national parks by region: Northern, Rocky Mountain, Southwestern, Intermountain, Eastern, Pacific Northwest, and Southern. Its fall-color hotline -- 800-354-4515 -- provides detailed regional specifics on fall-color hotspots. From Web cams and foliage links to the whys of changing leaves and fall-leaf projects, this site is a cornucopia.

USDA Forest Service

USA Today's online travel-and-leisure section lists state foliage hotlines, Web sites, and peak leaf times.

USA Today Travel and Leisure

The Urban Programs Resource Network, a project of the University of Illinois Extension, publishes an excellent resource on the Web called The Miracle of Fall. Lists of links by region (Midwest, Eastern, Southern, Western) will turn you on to high autumn color and fall-color driving tours in different states. Links at the bottom direct you to the biology behind it all, foliage cams, information about fall events and festivals, and ideas for fall fun. This site will keep you and the kids busy preserving leaves you collect in your travels and making colorful foliage wreaths, mosaics, bouquets, and jigsaw puzzles to remember your drive by.

The Urban Programs Resource Network

GORP's adventure travel site publishes its Top Ten Mountain Drives and its Top Ten Scenic Drives. From the Wyoming-Montana Beartooth Highway, Arkansas' Scenic 7, and Virginia's Skyline Drive to Minnesota's North Shore, North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway, and Vermont's 100, the listings will have you thinking about planning a family driving vacation in the fall whenever you can swing the time off from work and school.

GORP

In your own area, an observant eye on the deciduous trees is probably the best gauge of color coming on. If you have a specific spot in mind, check the Web or phone a foliage hotline to hone in on peak times. Then, plan accordingly. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the peak season for fall viewing in national forests begins in September and continues through early November, but the timing and length of fall color season are also affected by weather. Forest Service officials say that drought conditions may cause color to peak a little early and that climate stress may intensify colors.

What To Bring

Your best companions on your drive are your kids and the silences and close conversation inspired by driving through Mother Nature's beauty with the people you love. Beyond that, you'll want daylight, a full tank, a good map, and a sense of adventure. Extra sweaters and a quilt in the trunk as well as healthy snacks and drinks keep everyone comfortable. And, of course, you'll want your cameras. The video camera will capture the action of the family and the freedom you feel when you drive (while you're actually driving, give the camera to someone else). The still or digital camera will get those memorable moments and landscapes you won't want to forget. Provide the kids with a few disposable cameras so everyone can put a lens on the art show that is fall. Be in the leaves as much as you're in the moment. Drop the windows and turn up Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Autumn is about feeling alive. Drive through it with your kids for some of life's most colorful memories.

More for You

Click here to see top spots for fall color in the Midwest recommended by our sister magazine, Midwest Living.

To enjoy fall-color drives, you don't need a particular destination. Think "ramble," a frame of mind that's more about relaxing and idly going nowhere in particular with no goal in mind. More important than a destination is the journey. On a fall family drive, the goal is to seek out color and enjoy the journey of reconnecting with nature and your family.

Locally, ask and look and you shall find. If your journey is a day trip around where you live, any local park where trees are turning will do perfectly. Take out a map of your area and look for city, county, state, and national parks. Forest preserves are tailor-made for fall-color excursions; city gardens are also a possibility. If there's an arboretum in your town or in a nearby city, call to find out about special programs that might highlight the season. A helpful docent at an arboretum might know about other fall-color possibilities in your area. Your state visitors' bureaus and nearby Chambers of Commerce may also steer you toward a great drive. Consider calling a local chapter of the Sierra Club or similar conservation or outdoor group, city recreation departments, forestry or botany departments of local colleges, and your state's department of natural resources for ideas.

Read up. Parks and state tourism offices often put out flyers or pamphlets that can guide you along your color path. Requesting them ahead of time will give some direction to your rambles or spark ideas for weekend travel in the future. Guidebooks from your favorite bookseller are also indispensable. Check out National Geographic's Driving Guides to America and the Off The Beaten Path (Globe Pequot Press) state-by-state series. If you've always wanted to do autumn in the Northeast and are planning well in advance (as is recommended), Autumn Rambles: New England: An Explorer's Guide to the Best Fall Colors (Hunter Publishing, 1998) makes a great companion. Besides your own photos of your autumn drives, a nice addition to the coffee table is Fall Colors Across North America by Ann Zwinger, Anthony E. Cook, and Art Wolfe (Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, 2001); it takes you on a glorious tour of fall's multicolored magnificence from the Alaska tundra all the way south to the bald cypress swamps of Louisiana.

Try the keywords "fall color" or "fall foliage tour" on a search engine like Google to discover dozens of autumn travel possibilities. Narrow your search by putting the name of your state in front of your keywords -- chances are good you'll come up with specifics in your area. From aspens going golden in Santa Fe's Sangre de Cristo Mountains to maples beginning to blaze in Texas' Lost Maples State Natural Area, there are surprising displays all over the country. Even Florida, which is known for its seemingly changeless weather and not for fall color, offers a Web site that lists trees and shrubs that change color with the season.

Google

Our own searches yielded numerous exciting possibilities for colorful drive time:

The USDA Forest Service site gives you the fall-color lowdown on our country's national parks by region: Northern, Rocky Mountain, Southwestern, Intermountain, Eastern, Pacific Northwest, and Southern. Its fall-color hotline -- 800-354-4515 -- provides detailed regional specifics on fall-color hotspots. From Web cams and foliage links to the whys of changing leaves and fall-leaf projects, this site is a cornucopia.

USDA Forest Service

USA Today's online travel-and-leisure section lists state foliage hotlines, Web sites, and peak leaf times.

USA Today Travel and Leisure

The Urban Programs Resource Network, a project of the University of Illinois Extension, publishes an excellent resource on the Web called The Miracle of Fall. Lists of links by region (Midwest, Eastern, Southern, Western) will turn you on to high autumn color and fall-color driving tours in different states. Links at the bottom direct you to the biology behind it all, foliage cams, information about fall events and festivals, and ideas for fall fun. This site will keep you and the kids busy preserving leaves you collect in your travels and making colorful foliage wreaths, mosaics, bouquets, and jigsaw puzzles to remember your drive by.

The Urban Programs Resource Network

GORP's adventure travel site publishes its Top Ten Mountain Drives and its Top Ten Scenic Drives. From the Wyoming-Montana Beartooth Highway, Arkansas' Scenic 7, and Virginia's Skyline Drive to Minnesota's North Shore, North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway, and Vermont's 100, the listings will have you thinking about planning a family driving vacation in the fall whenever you can swing the time off from work and school.

GORP

Our own searches yielded numerous exciting possibilities for colorful drive time:

The USDA Forest Service site gives you the fall-color lowdown on our country's national parks by region: Northern, Rocky Mountain, Southwestern, Intermountain, Eastern, Pacific Northwest, and Southern. Its fall-color hotline -- 800-354-4515 -- provides detailed regional specifics on fall-color hotspots. From Web cams and foliage links to the whys of changing leaves and fall-leaf projects, this site is a cornucopia.

USDA Forest Service

USA Today's online travel-and-leisure section lists state foliage hotlines, Web sites, and peak leaf times.

USA Today Travel and Leisure

The Urban Programs Resource Network, a project of the University of Illinois Extension, publishes an excellent resource on the Web called The Miracle of Fall. Lists of links by region (Midwest, Eastern, Southern, Western) will turn you on to high autumn color and fall-color driving tours in different states. Links at the bottom direct you to the biology behind it all, foliage cams, information about fall events and festivals, and ideas for fall fun. This site will keep you and the kids busy preserving leaves you collect in your travels and making colorful foliage wreaths, mosaics, bouquets, and jigsaw puzzles to remember your drive by.

The Urban Programs Resource Network

GORP's adventure travel site publishes its Top Ten Mountain Drives and its Top Ten Scenic Drives. From the Wyoming-Montana Beartooth Highway, Arkansas' Scenic 7, and Virginia's Skyline Drive to Minnesota's North Shore, North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway, and Vermont's 100, the listings will have you thinking about planning a family driving vacation in the fall whenever you can swing the time off from work and school.

GORP

When To Go

In your own area, an observant eye on the deciduous trees is probably the best gauge of color coming on. If you have a specific spot in mind, check the Web or phone a foliage hotline to hone in on peak times. Then, plan accordingly. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the peak season for fall viewing in national forests begins in September and continues through early November, but the timing and length of fall color season are also affected by weather. Forest Service officials say that drought conditions may cause color to peak a little early and that climate stress may intensify colors.

What To Bring

Your best companions on your drive are your kids and the silences and close conversation inspired by driving through Mother Nature's beauty with the people you love. Beyond that, you'll want daylight, a full tank, a good map, and a sense of adventure. Extra sweaters and a quilt in the trunk as well as healthy snacks and drinks keep everyone comfortable. And, of course, you'll want your cameras. The video camera will capture the action of the family and the freedom you feel when you drive (while you're actually driving, give the camera to someone else). The still or digital camera will get those memorable moments and landscapes you won't want to forget. Provide the kids with a few disposable cameras so everyone can put a lens on the art show that is fall. Be in the leaves as much as you're in the moment. Drop the windows and turn up Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Autumn is about feeling alive. Drive through it with your kids for some of life's most colorful memories.

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