Image: Hiking Daniel’s Pond Loop, Vermont
Country Walkers
Go hiking. Tim Smith, a veteran guide with global hiking outfit Country Walkers, suggests that the four-mile (three hours) Daniel’s Pond Loop is northern Vermont’s equivalent of John Denver's Country Roads.
updated 10/9/2007 3:42:24 PM ET 2007-10-09T19:42:24

No two autumn leaves are the same. Similarly, everyone who loves fall (whether they call themselves a leaf-peeper or not) has their own way of appreciating the most colorful of seasons. As days shorten and mornings get brisk, it’s time to say one last hurrah to your favorite outdoorsy pursuit before winter sets in. A Sunday afternoon drive may satisfy some, but for others, fall is the ideal time to paddle a canoe, sail a boat, tear up the highway on a motorbike or hike in the woods just one last time.

Botanically speaking, there are two kinds of fall color. Maple tree specialist Dr. Abby Van Den Berg, a research associate at the University of Vermont, explains: “Anything with a yellow or golden leaf, like aspen, green ash or poplar, is simply losing the green chlorophyll pigment to reveal the accessory pigments that have been present all year round.” An altogether more mysterious process is how the red and deep purple hues are created. “Even though these leaves are dying they still need to stay alive for as long as possible to let the tree reabsorb the nutrients. The theory about the color change is that the red color helps protect the leaves by being less absorbent to light. It’s basically a form of sunscreen that stops the tree from getting overstressed due to too much sun. And it’s a powerful antioxidant,” says Van Den Berg.

Contrary to popular belief, leaves start to turn at a fairly predictable time each year and are completely unaffected by full moons, tides or gypsy curses. “My favorite crackpot theory is the proximity to power lines,” says Van Den Berg. “Trees change as a result of a simple combination of temperature, moisture and weather.”

For roads, trails and rails ablaze with the deep reds that characterize fall foliage it makes sense to head to Vermont’s verdant forests, where, according to University of Vermont maple expert Tim Wilmot, nearly one in three trees are sugar maples. Vermont’s splendor is spectacular, but well traveled territory for leaf-peepers. For a less visited view of the countryside it may be time to head further north. Canada now produces 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup (which naturally translates to abundant maple forests). Evidence also suggests that climate change is pushing the best displays north of the border.

For our guide to fall foliage we consulted experts well versed in getting the most out of the sometimes fickle autumnal season and applying it to their chosen activity. While hiking all 6,288 feet of Mount Washington may bring commanding views over New Hampshire, the maples tend to peter out by 2,500 feet, leaving much of the uphill slog to be completed in a forest of green (best to go by train).

The breezy conditions that make fall the perfect time to charter a windjammer along Maine’s spectacular coast, also make it an unpredictable time for balloon pilots. “A wind speed at ground level of ten miles per hour translates to 20 miles per hour at 3,000 feet. When you land at that speed it’s too dangerous,” says Erik Nickerson, a balloon pilot of 17 years and owner of New Hampshire-based Liberty Flights.

Image: Canoeing in New England and Maine
While it may be tempting to run one of the great rivers listed on the American Canoe Association Web site, Jean-Ellen Trapani, the organization’s chairperson for New England, suggests sticking to lakes. A representative from river outfitter and guiding company Saco Bound recommends Umbagog Lake on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. Apart from the spectacular fall scenery, there is a nesting pair of resident pair of bald eagles.
Even on the roads, drivers and motorcyclists have different agendas. “If the road is crowded with leaf-peepers it can be quite difficult for a motorcycle,” says Harold Nesbeth, who wrote the first definitive guide to motorbike touring in his native Nova Scotia. Before you head to the hills, rivers and coasts this fall, check out what our experts have to say about how to get the most out of the season—no matter how you roll.


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