FOLIAGE SMACKDOWN: EASTERN REDS VS. WESTERN GOLDS / My leaves are better than your leaves

Sep 8 2009 - 11:04pm

Images

(The Associated Press) This photo provided by Utah Office of Tourism shows Mount Timpanogos in the fall.
(The Associated Press) This photo provided by Utah Office of Tourism shows Mount Timpanogos in the fall.

When it comes to autumn color, New England's reputation is five-star. So are Westerners blowing it out their cowboy hats when they claim their golden aspens and cottonwoods can go head to head with Northeastern maples and oaks in October?

"I have never heard any New Englander say, ever, 'I must go to the Rockies to see fall color.' No. We wait until winter to see the powder snow for that trip," said Yankee magazine editor Mel Allen.

Allen added that he loves the West's "mountains, the deserts, the incredible wind-carved rock formations. But no matter how much it wants to sell aspen as the defining color of fall, it just doesn't fly."

Lisa Taggart, contributor to Sunset magazine, which covers the Western states, grudgingly acknowledged that "yeah, the East has pretty trees. But going to see fall foliage out West is like finally putting it together: the forest and the trees, with mountains and wildlife and the long light. The whole shebang adds up to WOW."

Here's a fall foliage smackdown, with recommendations for places to go leaf-peeping in both regions, from the Northeast's king crimsons, to the West's golden underdogs.

Fall foliage picks for New England

CONNECTICUT: Route 169 is described by Yankee senior editor Polly Bannister as "one of New England's prettiest country roads" as it runs through 32 miles of Connecticut farms and fields.

"In autumn, this National Scenic Byway is at its best: a gentle landscape of trees and stone walls glides its way through historic towns from Woodstock to Lisbon, all with a backdrop of brilliant foliage in a palette of red, orange, gold, yellow and russet," Bannister said.

MAINE: "Begin in Rangeley, Maine, forcing yourself to leave the lake-studded town, and head north on Route 16, then follow Route 27 through Kingfield, then along the Carrabassett River to Sugarloaf Mountain," suggested Allen, the Yankee editor. "In this 45-mile or so drive, your mouth will drop at least a dozen times, and no more so as you wind around what locals call 'Oh My Gosh Corner' and the mountain appears as if dropped from the sky."

MASSACHUSETTS: Yankee assistant editor Justin Shatwell said Massachusetts' northwest region sometimes gets overlooked, "but in fall it's the place to visit. The Mohawk Trail passes by a lot of state forests, but you don't even have to get off the road to see some striking foliage. The view coming down from West Summit into North Adams is about as good as it gets." The trail is part of Route 2 and runs through the Berkshire Mountains.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Kancamagus Highway, which runs between Lincoln and Conway, N.H., on State Route 112, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

"With no houses, no restaurants, not even gas stations, the Kancamagus Highway is all about breathtaking panoramic views of the White Mountain National Forest, particularly from the height of land at Kancamagus Pass," said YankeeMagazine.com editor Barbara Hall. "Named the first National Scenic Byway in the entire Northeast, what the 34-mile stretch of road does have is waterfalls, hiking trails, numerous scenic overlooks, and hundreds of thousands of visitors every autumn."

VERMONT: Route 100 "has been called the most scenic in New England," according to Yankee magazine writer Michael Blanding. "In some circles, it's known as the 'Skier's Highway,' since it connects Vermont's giants -- Mount Snow, Killington, Sugarbush, and Stowe -- like knots on a whip. But the road really comes into its own in autumn, hitting the peak of fall foliage not once but many times as it traces an up-and-down course along the unspoiled edge of Green Mountain State Forest."

Fall foliage picks for the West

CALIFORNIA: "Driving inland from the North Coast in California, Eureka to Redding, is gorgeous," Taggart said. "The pines pop with the deep red leaves of poison oak vines."

Other Sunset magazine recommendations for seeing fall color in California: June Lake Loop in the Eastern Sierra; aspen trees in Carson Pass and Hope Valley along state 88 south of Tahoe; Highway 395 from Lee Vining south to Tom's Place; big leaf and vine maple trees along the Avenue of the Giants and Redwood National Park; sycamores in the Southern California coastal canyons; and black oaks in Yosemite Valley.

COLORADO: This state is known for bluebird skies and white-capped mountains. But in autumn, the landscape gets another color: gold. Aspen and Vail "simply glow gold in the fall; the state is luminous with aspens," said Taggart.

You can hike, bike and take plenty of scenic drives, and lodging prices, even in upscale ski areas, are low compared to winter and even summer. Near Aspen, the Maroon Bells wilderness area is especially pretty.

IDAHO: Old Mission State Park in Cataldo in northern Idaho is a lovely place to view fall colors. It's also home to Idaho's oldest building, the Mission of the Sacred Heart, which was built in the 1850s by Catholic missionaries and members of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

The mission is framed by trees that turn orange, gold and red in the fall, creating a pretty picture to rival the classic New England village scene with a church nestled amid colorful maples.

MONTANA: Cottonwoods, aspens and tamaracks provide the golds and yellows here. One way to experience the scenery is to travel east along Highway 200 from Missoula, along the Blackfoot River.

You might see a moose wading in the water or elk moving toward their winter home, the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. Turn left at Clearwater Junction and head north on Highway 83 to the Seeley-Swan Valley, where you'll find the Seeley Lake Giant, the largest known tamarack tree in the country. The tamarack's needles change from green to gold, and the Seeley Lake Tamarack Festival is held to celebrate the transition, Oct. 3-4.

UTAH: The Alpine Loop is a 20-mile road through American Fork Canyon in Utah's Wasatch Mountain range, 15 miles from Provo. In fall, the maples turn red, the aspens turn yellow, and wildlife is plentiful, including turkeys, elk and bighorn sheep.

Visitors will also find plenty to do along the way, from Timpanogos Cave National Monument, a series of caves with unique formations and underground pools, to Robert Redford's nearby Sundance Resort, where you can take a chairlift ride to the top of Ray's Summit.

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