FALL VACATION IDEAS
North America's Most Charming Fall Islands
Nothing amplifies autumn's fiery Technicolor blaze like an island, with its 360-degree waterfront. For your leaf-peeping pleasure, we present the 12 dreamiest places in North America.
Come autumn, Mother Nature's dazzling palette is the No. 1 roadside attraction. While it's great fun to drive through a forest of gold-and-crimson trees, sometimes you need a rest from the hair-trigger braking that's required on packed country roads. In an effort to minimize stress, we sought out places where you can see fabulous fall foliage without the crowds. These 12 dreamy islands have forest vistas interrupted only by sailboats, farm stands, and lighthouses. Plus, each of these destinations has something special to offer, from wine tasting to seal spotting to a gourmet culinary tradition. Consider this your guide to the mellowest leaf-peeping getaways imaginable.
VANCOUVER ISLAND, British Columbia, Canada
A wine trail adds a little buzz to the leaf-peeping in this valley.
The Pacific Northwest does not leap to mind as a hotbed of dazzling deciduous trees, but this Canadian island is flush with larch and maple groves, which, come fall, provide a red-and-gold glow against a backdrop of oceans and mountains. Amid this kaleidoscopic patchwork of color, you'll find the vine-ruffled hills of sunny Cowichan Valley, the most popular of the island's three wine regions. The 17 wineries here specialize in white and burgundy varietals, but the Pinot Gris at Rocky Creek is a standout—it was the silver-medal winner in the 2011 NorthWest Wine Summit. After your tastings (you can print out a map of all of the wineries from the Wine Islands Vintners Association), drop by the town of Duncan to walk among the 80 totem poles crafted by artisans of First Nation (the tribe that has called this island home since 2,500 B.C.). Then head southwest about 15 miles to the San Juan River, where bull Roosevelt elk make their spooky breeding calls near leaf-covered hiking trails.
Timing Tip: Foliage typically peaks in late September.
Get There: Accessible from the mainland by ferry lines, such as BC Ferries. bcferries.com, Vancouver/Victoria round trip from $29 for adults, $14.75 for kids 5–11.
HEART ISLAND, Alexandria Bay, N.Y.
Fall colors are especially charming on this valentine-shaped island, with its Gatsby-esque castle.
In the late 1800s, millionaires flocked to second homes in the Thousand Islands, an archipelago hopscotching the St. Lawrence River beside the Canadian border and dappled with colorful trees. Exhibit A: George Boldt, founding proprietor of New York City's Waldorf-Astoria. He bought Heart Island to construct a replica of a medieval fortress, complete with turrets and drawbridges. Sadly, Boldt's wife died before she could move in. The millionaire bolted back to Manhattan, taking with him the salad-dressing recipe the locals had shared with him while he was yachting through the Thousand Islands. Until its seasonal close on October 16, you can tour 120 rooms in the castle. The crimson sumacs, amber oaks, and yellow poplars that surround this monument to love are especially beautiful at their peak in mid-September.
Timing Tip: Foliage peaks around mid-September. The state's fall foliage report makes it easy to keep abreast of changing colors.
Get There: Shuttle boats from Alexandria Bay take you the quarter-mile distance to Heart Island. One operator is Uncle Sam Boat Tours. usboattours.com, $18.50 for adults, $9.25 for kids 4–12. Boldt Castle, boldtcastle.com, $7 for adults, $4.50 for kids 6–12.
CAPE BRETON ISLAND, Nova Scotia, Canada
Drive on the winding Cabot Trail, with crashing ocean waves on one side and fall-foliage grandeur on the other.
Arguably North America's most astonishing fall-foliage display happens each year when birches and maples burst into red-and-yellow glory along the edge of Nova Scotia's northeastern island—the part of the island protected as Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Leaf-seeking travelers come to hike along Lone Shieling Trail—a footpath that winds through the park's Acadian forest. It's along this trail that you'll encounter one of the oldest sugar-maple groves on the continent. Scottish pride is also strong here: Many locals speak a Gaelic dialect, and the vibrant Celtic Colours festival spotlights folk music every fall. celtic-colours.com, October 7–15, 2011.
Timing Tip: Peaks early October. See updates at novascotia.com.
Get There: Connected to the mainland by a 4,500-foot causeway (no toll).