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.
ASSATEAGUE ISLAND, Eastern Shore, Va.
Majestic wild horses hang out in the forested marshes near the ocean.
The 300 or so wild mares and foals who strut through the state and national parks on Assateague and its commercialized sister island Chincoteague were made famous by the children's book Misty of Chincoteague. In late October, color-seekers hike or bike a 1.6-mile woodland trail to a few scattered viewing points, where the horses can be photographed at short distances. The 37-mile-long, completely wild Assateague is decorated with the reds and golds of red-maple, oak, and sweet-gum foliage, not to mention the shiny red of poison ivy that lights up the sand dunes, in sharp contrast to the shoreline's many evergreens. At the end of November, birders take to a 3-mile long wildlife loop to glimpse herons and egrets during their peak migration period.
Timing Tip: Leaves often peak in late October. Check out the forestry department's fall foliage site, or call the state's foliage hotline for an update. 800/424-5683.
Get There: For best wild-horse sightings and foliage colors, pass through Chincoteague, Va., to the south entrance of Assateague Island National Park. nps.gov/asis, $8 per vehicle.
GRAND ISLE, Lake Champlain, Vt.
Stride through the cathedral quiet of a forested trail, with leaves rustling
Expect a Hallelujah chorus of color in this northern corner of Vermont. Grand Isle, also called South Hero Island, is one of just a handful of islands in Lake Champlain. Come late September, the entire 226 acres of the island's state park bursts into a cornucopia of color, with fiery red-sugar maples, sunny yellow alders, and purplish pin cherries as far as the eye can see. Learn about local history at the mini-museum in Hyde Log Cabin on Route 2—it was built in 1783 and is thought to be one of the oldest such structures still standing in the U.S. ($2 for adults, free for kids). Refuel on warm apple cider and donuts at roadside stalls while snapping photos of the island's many clapboard (pronounced "clabberd") houses.
Timing Tip: Color usually peaks late September. Check the state's foliage Internet alert.
Get There: Grand Isle is connected by a land bridge to the mainland by Route 2. vtstateparks.com, $3 for adults, $2 for kids 3–13, open until Columbus Day, October 10, 2011.
MERCER ISLAND, King County, Wash.
Enjoy the perfume of fresh cider and the spice of organic pumpkin pie from restaurants serving locally sourced food.
Color-seekers in Washington State often head to Mercer Island, across from Seattle in Lake Washington, for its rare autumnal palette of changing leaves. This island of 6.2 square miles was once a retreat for the wealthy and has since become an upper-middle-class community of about 22,000 residents. Yellow-and-gold hues set the tone along the bike trails that crisscross the region. Find the best foliage in 113-acre Pioneer Park on the southern side of the island, where you're likely to see tamarack, vine-maple, red-alder, and Pacific-dogwood trees. The island's restaurant community, with its organic country cred, is a huge draw. Case in point is Bennett's Pure Food Bistro, whose meals contain ingredients sourced regionally and prepared without artificial additives. The menu changes seasonally, but at any given time you can expect to find fresh seafood straight from the waters off the coast of Alaska and vegetables foraged from Washington State. 7650 SE 27th St., bennettsbistro.com, entrées from $14.
Timing Tip: Color peaks in late September. Call the state's foliage hotline. 800/354-4595.
Get There: From Seattle, take Highway 90 and follow the signs.
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich.
Take a horse-drawn carriage tour on the only U.S. state highway that doesn't
Mackinac (pronounced "ma-ki-nah") is a blessedly sleepy island known for its astonishing views of Lake Huron. Sights include picturesque Fort Mackinac, erected by the British in 1780 (admission fee for adults $10.50, kids 5–17 $6.50), and Grand Hotel, whose broad front lawn is decorated with lilac trees that have burgundy blooms in the fall. About 80 percent of the rest of the island is state parkland, from which cars have been banned for more than a century. Climb a limestone bluff to see yellows, reds, and oranges in the canopy of maple, birch, oak, and white cedar spreading outward in all angles. From some vantage points, especially on the southern part of the island, you'll see the majestic 7,400-foot-long Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Before you return to the mainland, try some fudge from Murdick's 124-year-old shop
Timing Tip: Typically peaks early October, slightly later than the rest of upper Michigan. Check the state's foliage hotline. 800/644-3255.
Get there: Mackinac State Park has no admission. Three ferry lines connect St. Ignace and Mackinaw City with the island (details at mackinacisland.org). Star Line has seasonal service that runs to the end of October 2011. mackinacferry.com, from $19 for adults, $10 for kids 5–12.