tampabay.com

See the pretty leaves

By JANET K. KEELER
Published September 3, 2006


The Foliage Network (www.foliagenetwork.com) should be cranking out color reports by the middle of this month, and clicking on "Links" will take you to Web links for reports of state tourism agencies, including New England and the other states of the Northeast.

Vermont draws leaf peepers by the thousands to its tree-lined roads. In just a couple of weeks the state's Northeast Kingdom will show signs of fall, and the warmup for the frenzied tourist season has already begun online (www.foliage-vermont.com).

Look for "Seasons" at Wisconsin's home on the Web (www.travelwisconsin.com) and then click on "Fall" to get to the leaf color report, hiking and biking suggestions and scenic road trips routes.

Michigan's travel Web site (www.travel.michigan.org) has ideas for leaf-peeping road tours under the "Driving Tours" tab. A map on that page shows that parts of the Upper Peninsula should be hitting peak color in late September.

Pennsylvania (www.fallinpa.com) has been luring travelers with its fall Web site for several years. When they start up this year's version, you can take in the view of top spots on live Web cams, along with getting updated color reports. Bird-watching tips, along with hiking, biking and driving suggestions.

Check out the ideas in the Virginia fall foliage report (www.virginia.org/fall) where the famous Blue Ridge Parkway is tailor-made for color-admiring road trips. See the "Fall Foliage Report" for timing of the color changes.

Head a little farther west into the Appalachians in West Virginia (www.wvtourism.com). You might especially like the Mountain Magic and Golden Gateway tours.

For something a little farther south and later in the season, head for the mountains of western North Carolina around Asheville (www.romanticasheville.com/fall.htm) where peak color for various elevations is predicted through October.

Many state parks in Georgia are ablaze with color up until Thanksgiving. Go to www.gastateparks.org for ideas on places to stay and where the color is bursting.

If your budget allows it, sit back and see the display from the deck of a cruise ship. For example, Cruise West (www.cruisewest.com/destinations) is advertising fall foliage cruises along the coast of Maine and up New York's Hudson River. Click on "destinations," then "Northeast."

You also could visit your local travel professional or go to Cruise Lines International Association (www.cruising.org) and use their "cruise finder" to pick out lines sailing to "New England/Canada" or "Northeast Coast." Contact them soon; some cruises already are booked.

For much of the country, Labor Day is a harbinger of the cooler days and brilliant hues of fall. In Florida, the first Monday in September means we're in the thick of hurricane season. To experience the glorious changing of the leaves, we must travel north to New England, North Carolina, even as close as Georgia.

The annual metamorphosis to crimson and umber begins in the northernmost states later this month. The color parade creeps south up until Halloween and even later.

Some leaf peepers, as they are called, enjoy the scenery from car and bus windows. Others get closer to nature by hiking, biking and canoeing underneath the changing canopy.

Planning a leaf viewing trip is a gamble. Peak time is a moving target and depends on summer's heat, spring's rain, and when the frost comes. A number of Web sites, collected here by the Associated Press, offers updated reports on the progress of the leaves.

Use them to decide when you want to trade humidity for nature's more genteel show.

- JANET K. KEELER, Times food and travel editor