Touring Fall Foliage Without Being Touristy

fall foliage
Ah, autumn, those magical months of cool days, crisp evenings, and bright and brilliant fall foliage gracing the bows of countless New England and Appalachian trees. Every year, droves of visitors flock northward to take in the gorgeous colors of transition from summer’s green toward winter’s gray-brown. The red, orange, and umber of those slowly wilting leaves is not be missed… but for Christ’s sake, remember that some people live year-round in the areas you’ll be visiting, and what you see as beholding nature’s grace, they see as you gawking at their yard.

Douching Through the Forest!

But never fear, with a bit of careful planning and a dash of social grace, you can do your Leaf Peeping (also known as “Leafing” or “Counting Coup,” except that maybe that second one there is totally unrelated, we should fact check that, probably) and also not come across as a boorish city dweller who doesn’t know an elm tree from an acorn. (Hint: one is a tree, the other is an acorn.)

Related: Stowe, VT (It’s lovely, FYI)

Here are a few helpful hints to help you see dazzling fall foliage, minimize your contact with other Leaf Peepers, and not be a goddamn hypocrite who tries to avoid tourists while acting like a total tourist himself:

Take the Roads Way Less Travelled

fall foliage

Did you know there are thousands of miles of unpaved roads in Vermont? Well, most out-of-towners don’t know that, and furthermore, when they see one, they treat it like a dirt path as opposed to a perfectly viable roadway. So head north on I-91, but once in the state, consider seeking out the roads others are avoiding. Just remember that for many locals, these are their main thoroughfares, so pull way over when you stop and always let people pass you by.

Head North of the Border

Canada’s colder climate curtails chlorophyll creation (now THAT, m’friends, is solid alliteration) several weeks before foliage colors begin changing in the states, so consider a drive through the forests of Quebec or Ontario in September for a jump on the season. Added bonus: population density in America is around 90 persons per square mile; in Canada, it’s more like…8.

Hit the Rails

The Historic Maple Leaf Train: Toronto to NYC
The Historic Maple Leaf Train: Toronto to NYC

Booking a train ticket that will take you through swaths of New England is one of the best ways to see the leaves: railroad tracks often cut through totally uninhabited areas, you don’t need to watch the road, and you can drink without the risk of an accident (well, a traffic accident… what you say or to whom you make advances? That’s your problem). Consider the historic Maple Leaf train, by the way.

Enjoy Beer & Leaves

Ah, Oktoberfest. Who Can Resist Its Siren Call?
Ah, Oktoberfest. Who Can Resist Its Siren Call?

If you can’t beat the crowd, join it! The annual Acadia’s Oktoberfest in Southwest Harbor, Maine takes place in early October, a premium time for leaf looking. The festival is largely outdoors, and the grounds are surrounded by stunning fall foliage. You can take in the colorful beauty while also taking in samples of dozens of different brews. And don’t worry, it’s OK to be a tourist when you’re at a beer-themed festival (yes, because everyone will be drunk).

Take to the Sky

After the summer biking and hiking season but before the winter snowfall, you can use the cable cars and chair lifts of New England’s many ski resorts to elevate yourself above the trees (and above the crowds). Hop on a lift for a one-of-a-kind view of dazzling foliage and consider hiking back down (or up, of course) for some added exercise. Or… I mean… go ahead, just ride the lift down again, ya tourist….


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