Guided fall foliage tours
It's not as if foliage season in the Northeast is a secret. Each fall, tens of thousands of leaf-peepers pour into New England from all over the country -- and even overseas -- to delight in Mother Nature's extravaganza for the eyes.
But if the idea of dealing with the crowds leaves you a bit, well, unenthused, consider an escorted tour. Let someone with years of experience do all the planning, organizing and driving. All you have to do is what you want to do anyway: Take in the spectacular scenery.
True, you'll probably pay a bit more and reduce your ability to do your own thing on the trip. But you'll meet new people, get to everywhere you plan on going and not have to interrupt your enjoyment of the colors. And that might just make the autumn road more traveled your shortcut to a more enjoyable experience.
Although parts of Vermont (a favorite destination for leaf-peepers) experienced heavy flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, tour operators say the show is going on, with minor alterations to their itineraries -- if needed -- when the colors start changing later this month.
Appealing primarily to retirees, traditional bus tours meander through New England on trips that last a week or more. Nights are spent at chain hotels and there is free time for shopping and small add-on excursions such as gondola rides up a mountain or clambakes.
Cosmos' 10-day "New England Traditions" ($1,519 a person) runs out of Manhattan, visiting historic sites in Newport, Plymouth, Cape Cod and Boston before heading up into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks. There are 30 departures through Oct. 10 (800-276-1241, cosmos.com).
If you just have one day to sightsee, Hines Tours offers a full-day tour of the Catskills out of Manhattan on Oct. 9 that includes a 90-minute scenic train ride, chair lift ride to the top of Hunter Mountain for a bird's-eye view of the colors and admission to the resort's annual Octoberfest, where there's music and crafts. A box lunch is provided. ($119 adults, $109 ages 5-15; 646-403-5653, hinestours.com).
More off the beaten trail is Backroad Discovery's three-hour in-depth tour of southwestern Vermont. Tours, which are either pure foliage or foliage mixed with Revolutionary War history, are conducted daily late from September through early November by owner-operator Sharon O'Connor in her eight-person van out of Manchester ($30, 802-362-4997, backroaddiscovery.com).
Riding the rails is a retro way to take in the colors. Much like most bus tours, guided trips last several days and cover many marquee Northeast foliage destinations on a string of train rides, with overnights spent in cities such as Boston, Portsmouth, N.H., and Maine's Rockland and Boothbay Harbor.
Given the novelty, train excursions are often booked months in advance. Seats are still available on Trains and Travel International's 10-day New England Fall Colors Rail Spectacular, which departs from Boston Oct. 1 and includes 12 scenic and historic rail rides such as the Maine-Eastern's "Mid-Coast Excursion," the Conway Scenic Railroad's Crawford Notch Train and the Hobo Railroad's vintage dinner train along New Hampshire's Pemigewasset River ($2,998, 800-359-4870, traintrips.biz).
Looking ahead to next year, Vacations by Rail has three popular foliage tours spanning eight to 11 days that will depart from Boston and include a ride to the top of Mount Washington on the 150-year-old cog railway. Connecting travel is on Amtrak or by motor coach, with nights spent at motels (from $1,999, 877-929-7245, vacationsbyrail.com).
Several large cruise lines offer fall New England coast sailings from New York City, often with ports of call in Boston, Maine and Nova Scotia. Although you'll surely see some colorful landscapes, know that foliage isn't the exclusive focus of the itinerary.
A smaller operation, American Cruise Lines, makes six- or seven-night runs up the Hudson River to Albany and back. Shore excursions such as narrated bus tours and historic site visits are offered in West Point, Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Sleepy Hollow. The small ships depart Saturdays Oct. 8-29 ($3,110 and up, 800-460-4518, americancruiselines.com).
For those who prefer enjoying the scenery literally at their own pace, Vermont Bicycle Tours out of Bristol, Vt., offers two six-day tours. Participants must be experienced cyclists, but both trips are rated easy/moderate, with 13 to 35 miles (2 to 4 hours) of cycling per day over mostly level terrain. Meals are provided and nights are spent in historic country inns or resorts ($1,595 includes bicycle rental, 800-245-3868, vbt.com).
If protracted face time with the true stars of the annual fall foliage show is your thing, New England Hiking Holidays out of North Conway, N.H., offers three- to five-day hiking tours of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine (Mount Desert Island) or Massachusetts. Daily walks range from three to 10 miles over easy to moderate terrain, with nights spent in classic country inns ($1,295-$1,925, 800-869-0949).
For those willing to put themselves to the test, The World Outdoors offers six-day tours out of Burlington, Vt., that take you up some pretty tough slogs like Mount Washington, Mount Mansfield and Mount Lafayette in the Franconias. Also included is a half-day canoe trip on Vermont's Lemoille River ($2,698, 800-488-8483, theworldoutdoors.com).