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Colors Peaking In The National Parks Across The Country


The colors along White Oak Falls in Shenandoah National Park are spectacular. Photo courtesy of ARAMARK Parks and Destinations.

With mid-October practically here, the fall colors are really starting to put on their best in many national parks, places like Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Olympic, and Acadia.

For those lucky enough to have planned far enough ahead to land a room in or near the parks this month, the timing couldn't have been better. For those who were left without a room, well, make a note to plan months ahead for next fall.

For places such as Shenandoah, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains, you really need to plan months in advance to land a room in or near the parks for the fall color season.

As for tracking that color, at Shenandoah you have at least two resources to track the season's progress: ARAMARK Parks and Destinations offers a web page for keeping abreast of the season's colors, and the park offers its own page.

These guides really come in handy, as you never can be quite sure how soon the trees will begin to turn...or how long the colors will last. In some cases, the color might run right into early November. If you're thinking of visiting Shenandoah next fall, tracking this fall's displays via these pages would be a great help in deciding when to plan next year's trip.

While driving through the parks is an easy way to enjoy the colors, it can be hard -- and unsafe -- to look at both the trees and the road in front of you. Pull over and get out for a short hike to put yourself "in" the foliage, as Contributing writer Jim Burnett recommended last week.

And just because you might not live in the East or lack the time and money to travel there for the fall fireworks, that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy the season in the parks. Aspens and maples, scrub oak and dogwoods bring incredible colors to Western parks, while the middle of the country offers more than a few opportunities as well.

At Natchez Trace Parkway, in mid- to late October, the maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees begin to change colors and visitors have the opportunity to view the brilliant fall foliage along the parkway. Park officials specifically recommend the following along Tennessee portions of the parkway:

* The Old Trace Drive (milepost 375.8) provides spectacular overlooks of a hardwood forest.

* Metal Ford (milepost 382.8) and Swan View Overlook (milepost 392.5) provide quick stops to view the fall colors.

* Leisurely walks at Meriwether Lewis (milepost 385.9) or Fall Hollow (milepost 391.9) are great locations to enjoy the colors. 

* Those interested in seeing the colors more closely may find a day hike along the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail from the Garrison Creek Trailhead (milepost 427.6), or the Old Trace Trailhead (milepost 426.3) a rewarding experience.

And if you're in Alabama or Mississippi, they point to these spots:

* The Freedom Hills Overlook (milepost 317.0) provides a spectacular overlook of a hardwood forest.

* A short leisurely walk on the Rock Spring Nature Trail is an easy way to get out and see the colors more closely. 

* The view from Little Mountain Overlook in the Jeff Busby Campground (milepost 193.1), provides a wonderful quick stop to view the fall colors.

* Those interested in seeing the colors more closely may find a day hike along the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail from the Old Town Overlook Trailhead (milepost 263.9), or the Beech Springs Trailhead(milepost 266.0) a rewarding experience.

My days in West Virginia convinced me that the Mountain State's fall display was equal to, if not more impressive, than that New England likes to boast of. To enjoy it, consider hiking the Grandview Rim Trail for stellar views down into the New River Gorge National River, or perhaps the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk, which allows you to enjoy the season's color while taking in the largest (1,500 feet across) waterfall spanning the New River.

A great southern destination is Little River Canyon National Preserve in Alabama, where the preserve's 11-mile scenic drive practically cloaks you in color from late October into December.

Of course, in some of the bigger parks all you need to do is drive. That's the case at Rocky Mountain National Park, where Trail Ridge Road will take you past some glorious cottonwoods and aspens in their yellow and orange coats. Once you get above treeline, though, park the car and get out to take in the beauty of the ground covers that with their leaves taking on hues of reds and purples.

At Acadia National Park in Maine, they say the peak comes in mid-October, but the best time may be anywhere from the first to the third week of the month. To figure out when is best (and that time is drawing near!), check out the state of Maine's fall foliage website.

These, of course, are just a small sample of what's out there to see in the National Park System this fall. Perhaps readers can add to this list.

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Don't forget the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The colors are at their peak.
The sourwood tree, usually ignored most of the year, is now at its reddest and looks like it's about to bleed.
Danny Bernstein

This year, folks can enter their fall foliage pictures of the Natchez Trace Parkway anytime from October 1 through November 23 in a Natchez Trace Fall Foliage Photo Contest. Each contestant may enter up to three pictures.

1st, 2nd and 3rd place prizes will be awarded to the top three pictures. The 1st place winner will receive a $300 B&B gift certificate from the Natchez Trace B&B Reservation Service, 2nd place winner a $200 B&B gift certificate and the 3rd place winner a $100 B&B gift certificate. Each of the winners will also receive one or more $25 dining certificates from restaurants located near the parkway. Winners will be determined by public voting on the website.

Go to for more details.

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