8 Fall-Foliage Cruises
As the masses descend on America's most colorful country roads this season, why not try an alternate route? Autumn's gold-and-yellow leaf show is just as breathtaking from the deck of a boat—and fantastically free of those distracting red taillights.
Illinois River, Ill.
Consider it a vote of confidence that most of the Spirit of Peoria's two- and three-night itineraries from Peoria, Ill. to St. Louis are already sold out. Luckily, latecomers can still book the 487-passenger paddleboat's overnight trip, which combines a 70-mile journey through vibrant sycamores, maples, and oaks with a one-night stay at Starved Rock Lodge, in Utica, Ill. The package provides onboard entertainment like live banjo and ragtime piano music and covers all meals, drinks, lodging, and a guided hike through Starved Rock State Park in the afternoon. Owner and captain Alex Grieves—who goes on nearly every Spirit of Peoria excursion—says his favorite (read: the best) weekend is usually in mid to late October. This year, he's looking forward to the Oct. 18 to 19 cruise for optimal colors. spiritofpeoria.com, select Monday–Tuesday cruises through Oct. 25, from $279 (includes ticket, overnight at Starved Rock Lodge, guided hikes, and all meals and drinks).
Lake Taneycomo, Branson, Mo.
After an unseasonably wet summer, Missouri is primed for a rare explosion of fall colors. And Lake Taneycomo, just northeast of Branson, is a perfect place to revel in it. Branson Landing Cruises' two boats, the elegant Lake Queen paddleboat and the tricked-out, 100-foot,luxury yacht Landing Princess cover five different options, including lunch cruises, dinner cruises, and no-frills sightseeing itineraries that depart each morning and afternoon. Because the Ozarks are home to a wider range of trees than many Northeast forests—and they all turn colors in different time frames—it pays to be aware of when your favorites will be in top form. (Sassafras and sumac trees typically go earlier, while oaks, hickories, and others continue to turn well into October.) Whenever you go, there's another sight worth keeping an eye out for: the memorable morning show of eagles and herons drying the day's dew from their wings. bransonlandingcruises.com, select departures in Sept. and Oct., $16 for sightseeing cruises, $26 for lunch cruises, $40 for dinner cruises.
Timing Tip: Check Missouri's fall color guide for more details on foliage.
Columbia and Snake Rivers, Ore./Wash.
What Oregon lacks in autumnal Technicolor splendor it makes up for in pure ruggedness. On one of 13 cruises sailing this fall from Cruise West, leaf peepers can take in the picturesque Multnomah Falls, the 4,000-foot-deep Columbia gorges, and the snowcapped Cascades while tracing nearly 1,000 miles of Lewis and Clark's famous route. (Also featured on the weeklong round-trip cruises sailing out of Portland: stops at wineries in Walla Walla, Wash.) The trips are made exclusively by the Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of '98, two small-scale coastal steamers that max out at about 100 passengers. If your travel dates are flexible, sign up for Cruise West's Stowaway option—you'll get 25% off to take any slot within a 30-day travel window. cruisewest.com, Sept. and Oct. departures for eight-day cruises, from $3,299 (includes everything except alcohol).
Timing Tip: For more on the area's colors, check up on foliage reports online or call Oregon's Fall Foliage Hotline (800/547-5445).