For some, it’s a beloved fall ritual: a drive through the countryside to ooh and aah over the changing foliage. For others, staring at leaves is about as exciting as watching dew dry. Wherever you are on the spectrum, these four weekend destinations offer enough local color to keep everyone stimulated.
Where To Go
Mackinac Island, Michigan: When you arrive at this serene isle in the Straits of Mackinac (where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan converge), you step into a bygone era: no fast food chains, no traffic signals, and no cars—horse and buggy is the preferred mode of transport.
Fantastic flora: Mackinac Island State Park covers more than 80 percent of the island and contains forests of birch, elm, and maple, plus swaths of wildflowers and wild raspberries. You can hit the trails on foot, bicycle, or horseback (horses actually outnumber the year-round residents). Make sure to find the 150-foot limestone Arch Rock, a remarkable piece of natural architecture.
Beyond the leaves: At Fort Mackinac and the Stuart House Museum, explore the area’s rich history as a colonial fur-trading post (it’s where John Jacob Astor cemented his fortune). The island also houses a pair of wonderful butterfly conservatories. When you’re peckish, order the local specialty: whitefish baked on a maple plank. For dessert, stop by one of Mackinac’s many fudge shops.
Charlottesville, Virginia: A boutique wine industry, idyllic location in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, are the big draws of Charlottesville, located two hours south of D.C.
Fantastic flora: On Shenandoah National Park’s 105-mile Skyline Drive, pull over at Big Run, where the Blue Ridge slopes are a riot of color in autumn. Keep your eye out for white-tailed deer and maybe even a black bear and her cubs. On foot, hike the easygoing trail to Blackrock Summit for 360-degree mountain views.
Beyond the leaves: A tour of Monticello is a must, and wine lovers should head to 830-acre Barboursville Vineyards (try the signature red, called Octagon) and to Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard, where you can sample some reds at their Farm Shop, then stock up on artisanal cheeses, pâtés, and fresh bread for a picnic on the grounds.
Taos, New Mexico: Luminaries from Georgia O’Keeffe to D.H. Lawrence have been attracted to Taos, which sits in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and is home to striking adobe architecture and an abundance of galleries.
Fantastic flora: The high-altitude hillsides of the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway are ablaze with gold and red aspens in autumn. Make a pit stop to see the 650-foot-high Taos Gorge Bridge.
Beyond the leaves: Taos is perfect in fall for hiking, biking, and white-water rafting on the rapids of the Rio Grande Gorge—try the popular 17-mile “Taos Box” trip, which takes you through towering canyon walls. Tour Taos Pueblo, a millennium-old adobe complex and residence of 150 Pueblo Indians, then browse the Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry, tinwork, and colcha (Spanish colonial embroidery) at the Millicent Rogers Museum.
Brandywine Valley: Stretching from Pennsylvania’s southeastern corner into northern Delaware, the valley’s fertile landscapes are famously captured in paintings by Andrew Wyeth.
Fantastic flora: Walk the trails in Peirce’s Woods—part of 1,000-acre Longwood Gardens, created by Pierre du Pont in 1907—for sugar maples, Canada hemlocks, and ginkgoes in full fall splendor; you can also explore Longwood’s beautiful topiaries, flower beds, and fountains. At nearby Winterthur, the du Ponts’ legendary country estate, do some leaf-peeping from peaceful Sycamore Hill.
Beyond the leaves: Winterthur’s vast galleries are filled with priceless antique furniture and ceramics (George Washington ate off some of those plates). In nearby Chadds Ford, travel back in time to the American Revolution at Brandywine Battlefield Park, and see artwork by three generations of Wyeths at the Brandywine River Museum, a converted 19th-century grist mill.