Laura Begley, style director of Travel + Leisure magazine, stopped by The Saturday Early Show to give us a few suggestions for fall travel.
The color of fall hits its peak from late September to early November. Leaves in cooler parts of the country (such as Colorado, Maine and Minnesota) change first. Leaves in warmer parts of the country (such as the South) change later in the season. Peak season happens at slightly different times each year based on temperature, light and moisture.
Before you plan a fall foliage vacation, do some research and find out when the leaves are expected to be at their most colorful. Begley suggests checking the The Weather Channel's website at Weather.com for some great fall foliage maps and related information. She also suggests checking the websites of the departments of tourism for the states you're thinking of visiting.
Because the colorful leaf season is relatively short, this can be an expensive time to travel and popular spots book up fast. The earlier you can make reservations, the better, says Begley. If you travel mid-week, you'll have an easier time finding availability at the last minute, and rates are typically lower.
Many inns and hotels offer fall foliage packages. While the rooms aren't necessarily cheaper, there are often additional services included, such as foliage tours and seasonal meals, which can make the packages a good value.
Begley highlighted the following five destinations as places to see the changing leaves:
This small mountain community is nestled in pine and oak forests about 50 miles northeast of San Diego The first hint of cold weather sparks the changing of the colors. Julian has stores from centuries ago, Begley says. The big event in Julian, in addition to leaf-peeping of course, is the annual Fall Apple Harvest, which lasts from mid-September to mid-November. Cider, bulk apples and pears are available at the many orchards and fruit stands in the area.
Orchard Hill Country Inn (Lodge room prices start at $164 a night)
Julian Gold Rush Hotel
The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif. overlooks the ocean. (Room prices start from $325 a night)
Orient Express Pacific Coast Explorer
If you want someone else to take charge of your fall trip, sign up for an excursion by train on the American Orient Express. This luxurious train will take you along the Pacific Coast through San Francisco, the Napa Valley and the Columbia River Gorge where you'll see fall foliage and breathtaking views of the coastline. Side trips include a stop in Napa for wine tasting, a tour of Hearst Castle, a walk through Muir Woods, a day in San Francisco, and a tour of Portland, Oregon. The train travels from Los Angeles to Seattle, or vice versa, and lasts eight days and seven nights. The cost of $2,890 to $4,990 includes most meals. The Orient Express also offers an "Autumn in New England and Quebec" trip.
Sixty miles of State Highway 7 has been designated as part of the National System of National Forest Scenic Byways. Begley says this is one of the more reasonably priced fall foliage locations. This highway in northern Arkansas passes through the Ozark and Quachita national forests where white and red oaks turn a riot of colors.
Begley suggests beginning your drive in Russellville. From there, it's an hour-and-20-minute drive to Little Rock. Along the way, Begley suggests stopping for a break at the scenic Falling Water Falls in Bass. Stay in Little Rock at the Empress of Little Rock. (Rates begin at $125 a night; fall special: book four nights and get the last night free)
Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge mountains are about a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C. Beautiful hikes lead you through the foliage in this part of the country. But, if walking is not your style, you can also check out the leaves from the basket of a hot air balloon or even from your car.
Keswick Hall is a full-service resort in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. The resort offers a special leaf-peeking package that includes a balloon ride over the changing trees and regional vineyards. (The package begins at $830; regular "leaf-peeping" rates begin at $295)
The resort will also help you find guided hikes and even pack a lunch for you. Another good lodging option Begley recommends is the Inn at Little Washington (Tel: 540-675-3800) where you can enjoy top-tier seasonal dishes.
Begley says this state makes a fabulous fall getaway because of its many quaint towns and villages with local fall festivals, covered bridges and scenic landscapes.
The 14-mile "Waitsfield-Warren Loop" is a great biking route that takes you through the amazing fall scenery of Vermont. In addition to traditional biking, look for a new electric two-wheeler that's being used for leaf-peeping this season. It's called the eGO and, as a cross between a Vespa scooter and a banana-seat bicycle, it's quiet, exhaust-free and goes up to 25 mph.
Or, for a full-service getaway, check out the Equinox Resort in Manchester, which also offers an off-road driving school that's yet another way to experience the fall season. (Rooms are priced from $249)
Begley also suggest visiting Vermontvacation.com for events in the state.