Peak Season

Nature lovers travel in droves to New England every fall to bask in the Greatest Foliage Show on Earth. Practically everywhere you look, you’ll find vivid colors. Summer heat and rain affect exactly when foliage peaks, so before you visit one of these natural destinations, consult each state’s official visitors bureau—and the Weather Channel (www.weather.com).


Nature lovers travel in droves to New England every fall to bask in the Greatest Foliage Show on Earth. Practically everywhere you look, you’ll find vivid colors. Summer heat and rain affect exactly when foliage peaks, so before you visit one of these natural destinations, consult each state’s official visitors bureau—and the Weather Channel (www.weather.com).

MASSACHUSETTS
Ivy Leaves

Not far from Harvard University in Cambridge, and a short T ride from downtown Boston, is the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Jamaica Plain. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the arboretum has 265 acres of indigenous elms, oaks and maples, whose leaves transform from green to brilliant tones of red and yellow come fall. You’ll also find nonnative species of flora, such as shadblows, cork trees and viburnums—some more than 100 years old. Stop by the visitors center to join an hour-long guided tour, or grab a map and go it alone; all trees are labeled and grouped by family. Then take an easy jaunt up Peters Hill, which overlooks the jewel of Beantown’s “Emerald Necklace,” the Boston park system designed by Olmsted, a one-time Brookline resident. 617-524-1718; www.arboretum.harvard.edu.

CONNECTICUT
Blazing Paddles

Kayaking down the Connecticut River from Haddam to Essex provides a healthy panorama of this historic waterway’s natural wonders. While soaking up beech, birch, oak and chestnut trees’ leaves ablaze in red, purple, orange and yellow on the hilly shore, you can meander past the Goodspeed Opera House, Gillette Castle and other landmarks. You can spot bald eagles, osprey and various winged inhabitants. If you forget to BYOB (bring your own boat), let Stony Creek Kayak outfit your crew in one-person kayaks and other essentials, including paddling instruction for novices. A five-hour tour runs $120 per person. 203-481-6401; www.stonycreekkayak.com.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Peak Experience

From the summit of Mount Washington at 6,288 feet, the highest in the northeastern United States, visitors can take in the autumnal character of four states, as well as glimpses of Quebec and the Atlantic Ocean. Getting to the summit aboard the mountain-climbing Cog Railway makes it a lofty adventure. An engineering marvel since 1869, the coal-fired, steam-engine locomotive features toothed cog gears, rack rails and tilted boilers. Throughout the three-hour round-trip (there’s a 20-minute break spent at the peak’s mile-high state park and observatory), the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, ABOVE, reveals splendid flora and fauna. Expect beech, maple, birch and other leafy trees to be at peak shades of red, orange and yellow in mid-October. Daily trains leave hourly in the fall from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mount Washington has been granted the honor of having the worst weather in the world, so make sure to pack an extra sweater. 800-922-8825; www.thecog.com.

VERMONT
Snow Job

A few weeks before the hills at Killington are alive with skiers and boarders, the Killington Grand, the mountain’s only full-service resort, welcomes hikers and bikers to its slopes to enjoy the foliage before leaves—and snow—fall. Here, maple, beech, birch, oak and other trees turn outrageous variations of red and yellow throughout the second and third weeks of October. Gain a unique perspective by taking the mile-and-a-quarter gondola ride to the top of 4,241-foot Killington Peak. Make it a daytrip or choose from fall lodging packages that start at $28 daily per person. Killington Grand Hotel Resort, 800-734-9435; www.killington.com.

MAINE
Hues Cruise

The best way to take in southern Maine’s craggy, heavily forested coast may be by sea, but why not see it lit up in fall from aboard a windjammer? A fleet of these classic sailing vessels—docked in Rockland, Rockport and Camden—set out on three- to six-day cruises, at prices ranging from $395-$875 per passenger with all meals included. Groups are usually between 22-40 guests, who can opt to hoist sails, take the wheel and perform galley duties. Besides foliage, watch for seals, porpoises, minke whales and migrating seabirds. After a few hours, you’ll anchor in a port or harbor for the night. Maine’s coastal oak, hickory, dogwood and other deciduous species usually display their richest reds and yellows early in October, about a week earlier than in the interior of the state. Maine Windjammer Association, 800-807-WIND (800-807-9463); www.sailmainecoast.com.

RHODE ISLAND
Winging It

Bird watching is even better when glimpsing our fine feathered friends through colorful foliage during the second and third weeks of October. This is usually when the maples, oak, ash and aspen trees’ leaves are at their peak. Although Little Rhody is big on beachy attractions, its inland network of wildlife refuges guarantees an abundance of sightings. Near Exeter, Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge is a low-lying, 937-acre parcel where the trees change color early, and warblers and woodpeckers flit among forests, fields and ponds. A short drive north to Coventry lands you at George B. Parker Woodland with its mature forest, brooks, fields and odd rock cairns. Amid the beautiful colors of changing leaves, try to spot the 175 bird species identified in the statewide Birdathon last May. Audubon Society of Rhode Island, 401-949-5454; www.asri.org.