Image: Colorado Rockies
Scott S. Warren  /  Aurora/Getty Images
Aspen trees in the Raggeds Wilderness near Crested Butte, Colo.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/2/2007 9:06:52 AM ET 2007-10-02T13:06:52

Usually, I get in trouble for what I write. Lately, it’s for what I didn’t.

The subject was fall foliage — specifically, scenic drives in five New England states. Not a soul commented on the routes I described, but several readers took me to task about ones I overlooked. As one correspondent put it, “Hey, fall colors don’t just happen in New England!”

He’s right, of course — as were the other people who shared personal insights about their favorite spots for fall foliage. I don’t have room to include them all, but here are five alternative leaf-peeping options from those who know them well.

Maryland
Born and raised in western Maryland, antiques dealer and author Lisa McAllister likes to head west along I-68, which follows the route of the original, 200-year-old National Road through the Allegheny Mountains. “It’s like an undulating ribbon,” she says. “There’s always something to look at.”

For foliage, she recommends stopping at the Town Hill overlook (Exit 68) and Rocky Gap State Park (Exit 50) where the forests of oak and hickory blaze red and gold. You may even see white-tailed deer and the occasional bald eagle.

To complete the drive, turn south on US 219. Rent a canoe and paddle the calm waters of Deep Creek Lake, browse the bookstores and antique shops in Oakland and head back to Baltimore or Washington by way of West Virginia.

West Virginia
Chief Petty Officer Christopher Withrow may be based in Norfolk, Va., but give him half a chance and he’ll make a beeline for the high country of eastern West Virginia. “You could spend a week,” he says, “and not see it all.”

For those with less time, Withrow suggests a two-day itinerary driving the highways between Richwood and Seneca Rocks. On Day 1, explore the Highland Scenic Byway (Routes 55 and 150), where both the maple trees and cranberry bogs blaze bright red. Come evening, bunk down in one of the historic cottages at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.

Day 2 is all about outdoor activities. Continuing north on US 219, you can play a round at the Raven golf course at Snowshoe Mountain, fish for trout on Shaver’s Fork or Otter Creek or test your climbing skills on the quartzite crags at Seneca Rocks.

Michigan
“Fall color? Right here!” says retired teacher Ann Hackett of the Leelanau Peninsula, the crooked pinky on the “hand” of Lower Michigan. The maples and beeches are now starting to peak, she adds, “and the contrast with the pines is just beautiful.”

To experience it, circumnavigate the peninsula on Highway M-22. From Traverse City, the road winds along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, passing historic sites, several wineries and the massive sand dunes of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Rolling hills and glacial moraines provide airy views of forests, beaches and the Manitou Islands.

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When it’s time to refuel, Hackett suggests a stop at Samuel’s in Suttons Bay or The Cove in Leland. The former is known for its eclectic menu; the latter, for its Chubby Marys — a Bloody Mary garnished with a smoked chub.

Wisconsin
During the week, Minnesotan Thom Trampf develops training materials for a healthcare company; on weekends, he hits the road on his 1100cc Honda Shadow. Among his favorite rides: along the east bank of the Mississippi River on Wisconsin 35 from Prescott to La Crosse.

Set at the base of towering bluffs, the road is a scenic tour of 19th-century river towns, rolling farmland and hillsides covered in red maples and yellow poplars. Historical markers trace the river’s history while roadside stands offer fresh cider and just-picked apples.

When it’s time to head back, cross the river and drive north on Highway 61. In Wabasha, stop in at the brand-new National Eagle Center, which features an aviary, exhibits and 25-foot-high riverfront deck for prime eagle viewing.

Colorado
As a producer for an outdoor-oriented video-production company in Missoula, Mont., Bob Ambrose sends camera crews around the world to capture the beauty of nature. This fall, his team will be in the Rio Grande National Forest in south-central Colorado, home to some of the country’s largest stands of aspen.

The town of South Fork, on US 160, makes a good base camp for several foliage tours. Head east to Pinos Creek Road and the ghost town of Summitville, north on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway (Highway 149) to Creede or west on 160 to Wolf Creek Pass. All offer panoramic views of golden aspens beneath the high (12,000-13,000 feet) peaks of the San Juans.

If time allows, continue west on 160, then south on 84 to Chama, N.M., and catch a ride on the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which offers day trips up and over Cumbres Pass. Go soon, though. The train’s last run of the season is October 14, and the leaves won’t stick around much longer.

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