New England is still a Mecca for fall-foliage pilgrims. But many other places around the nation — and around the globe — burst into a riot of russet colors when autumn rolls around.
Leafy landscapes color just about every corner Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and even the Deep South. All of these areas are ripe for autumn road trips that combine cozy accommodations, tasty regional cuisines and a medley of reds, yellows and oranges along highways and hiking trails.
It may seem counterintuitive that the arid Southwest could flaunt fall colors. But places like Sedona in northern Arizona and Zion Canyon in southern Utah prove that you don’t need a lot of trees to create awesome fall landscapes — especially when set against a backdrop of deep blue skies and red-rock canyons.
Colorado’s autumn art show largely revolves around a single tree known as the quaking aspen or trembling aspen. Spreading along valleys and across mountain slopes, the white-barked giants sprout in colonies that sometimes embrace more than 40,000 trees. One of the largest colonies is found in Kebler Pass near Crested Butte.
Alaska offers more proof that you don’t need trees to produce awesome autumn colors. The state’s rolling tundra terrain morphs into an interwoven red, orange and purple carpet come fall. Denali Highway offers one of the best foliage shows, with the possibility that you might encounter a grizzly, moose or caribou herd wandering among the chromatic hues.
There’s plenty of choice overseas, too. Many places located between 35 and 65 degrees north latitude boast landscapes painted with colors. Japan’s big northern island of Hokkaido offers several large national parks with trails through russet-colored wilderness landscapes. Tokyo’s celebrated neon is complemented by fall foliage of the urban variety — the ginko trees along Icho Namiki Avenue, the chromatic forests found in Showa Kinen Park and the Koishikawa Korakuen and Rikugien gardens.
At the opposite end of the Eurasian landmass, Scandinavia also explodes each fall, a natural palette that ranges from the richly forested lake country of southern Sweden to the Norwegian fjords and the endless tundra of Lapland in northern Finland. Norway’s rustic Oppland region — home to Rondane National Park — is a doppelganger of Alaska in the fall. Autumn is also one of the best times to view the Aurora Borealis above Scandinavia.
France’s storied Loire Valley blends fall colors with historic chateaus, Michelin-star restaurants and locally produced fine wines. Especially scenic are the castles at Chenonceau, Villandry and Chambord, their flamboyant renaissance architecture flanked by red, orange and yellow trees. Fall is also harvest time in the valley, a chance for visitors to join in grape picking and sampling the oak-aged vintages of past harvests.
Timing is obviously a key ingredient in plotting your autumn road trip — the color zenith varies from place to place. Scientists still don’t understand the entire process, which remains one of nature’s most compelling mysteries. The annual color change is triggered by a combination of day length and temperature. When plotting your getaway, research the best time to travel to ensure a stress-free trip.
Joe Yogerst, LA Times Custom Publishing Writer
Where to see fall foliage in California
While many consider New England to be the go-to destination for peeping fall foliage, you don’t have to head east to see aspen, maple and oak trees in blazing glory. California holds its own with a breathtaking display of trees in vibrant fall colors, all within a day’s trek from Los Angeles.
Big Bear Lake
Before winter, Big Bear Lake boasts an impressive autumn show. If you’re up for a hike, the five-mile Cougar Crest Trail offers spectacular views of the changing colors.
Each autumn, the idyllic town of Lake Arrowhead transforms into a cozy alpine retreat with a striking display of trees bursting with yellow, orange and red.
If you’re driving north on Pacific Coast Highway, dramatic cliffs, ocean mist and brilliant fall foliage make the route to Big Sur just as stunning as the final destination.
In Napa Valley, the best views of fall color can be seen at the vineyards. Find an outdoor patio where you can sip your favorite red while gazing at the changing landscape.
Nestled at the foot of the Sierras, a leisurely drive along the June Lake Loop is a feast for the eyes, with aspen trees glowing in radiant shades of marigold.
Kate Kasbee, LA Times Custom Publishing