The States of Many Colors
The South’s Best Locations to Experience Fall’s Many Colors
There’s a lot that goes into being the perfect fall destination. Not only does a location need fantastic displays of leaves (in all colors: red, orange and yellow), there needs to be a thriving après-leaf scene. A glass of local wine, apple cider, a roaring fireplace, live music, or a good meal could all round out the perfect fall day. So pack your bags and don’t even think about forgetting a camera because the views of colorful fall foliage in these southern locations are too breathtaking to be just a memory.
Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's Eastern Shore
Locals and visitors alike love the beauty of the season--autumn glowing on the wooded fringes of the Bay around the old Maryland towns of Annapolis and St. Michaels--but they're not the only ones around. In fields of tawny grasses at Assateague Island National Seashore on Virginia's Eastern Shore, breathe the salt air and watch wild horses toss their heads and race the wind.
New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville, West Virginia
If you’re good at timing, try to plan this fall getaway for Bridge Day (October 19 this year). The day includes the chance to walk the bridge by foot (this one day of the year only), the daring to peek over the edge to glimpse river rafters far below (876 feet, to be exact), and a paint-box panorama of hues on mountains that hug you on all sides like a mama. The view from the top is just that — tops.
When the fires of autumn blaze across the mountains, it’s time to return to Staunton. Known as the "Queen City of the Shenandoah," this small town provides the perfect place to base any exploration of the valley. It sits at the crossroads of I-81 and I-64, halfway between Winchester and Roanoke and less than an hour from Skyline Drive. Relax at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center and dine at delightful hometown restaurants. When it's too dark to admire nature's art, head to the American Shakespeare Center for performances that would make the bard himself burn with pride.
Flat Rock, North Carolina
Fiery hardwoods line the mountain roads winding through this tiny village. Experience the giddy thrill the moment the Flat Rock Playhouse lights begin to burn, and hike up a hill to Connemara, the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site spreading over 264 acres. Get blissfully lost in the titles of this famous poet's 10,000-book collection. Nature lovers will find peacefulness in this pastoral setting, accompanied by the primal bleating by the descendants of his wife's prize-winning Chikaming dairy goats.
Dawson County, Georgia
The thousands of plump pumpkins look like bright orange litters of VW Beetle babies resting in a field. The place is Burt's Farm in Dawsonville--and it speaks of fall. You’ll actually begin to wonder how many pumpkins you can squeeze into the backseat of your car. Cross the highway to nearby Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge for a short stroll under the towering golden tulip poplars and to feel the cold mist spray from the 729-foot waterfall.
Leipers Fork, Tennessee
Fall color creeping into Leipers Fork, spreading across the town much like a country song making its way to the Grand Ole Opry: with God's grace and guided steps. In this haven 20 minutes from Nashville, the wind belts out a breezy chorus and ruffles clusters of copper leaves (some people call them autumn's wind chimes). If you’re lucky you can catch some live music at Puckett’s Grocery, a stop where country tunes resonate from an intimate stage.
There's no particular fall color, but my personal chase for the season's splendor always peaks here. Fall especially shines in town at a gallery that features Andy Warhol's work. With its own palette of hues, it highlights endless roads that wander into picture-perfect sunsets. I followed one of those rambling roads on a cloudy afternoon to find a rainbow. A sweet surprise on an autumn day.
Asheville, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most iconic forest spots in the entire country, and for good reason. After filling up on nature, head to the (equally iconic) Biltmore Estate and experience the mountains like a Vanderbilt. Bull and Beggar is a local favorite for cocktails, seafood and charcuterie.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Running through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway connects the cities of Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi. The Tennessee section of the Parkway, which stretches for about 100 miles in the state, passes small towns such as Leipers Fork, and historic spots such as the Meriwether Lewis Site (where Lewis of the “Lewis and Clark Expedition” is buried).
Hop on the Blue Ridge Railway
Hop aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway and ride through the Chattahoochee National Forest just in time to see the leaves change. The train brings families on a 26-mile loop, which takes about four hours and stops in McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee, before heading back to Blue Ridge, Georgia.
Camp in the Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains turn vibrant colors as autumn falls across them, and there’s no better place to enjoy them than Bryson City, North Carolina. From there, you can hop on the Appalachian Trail, one of the country’s longest hiking trails, to take in the dusky mountains. Bring a tent, and enjoy the cool weather.