The cool, crisp air. The crunch of leaves underfoot, clear blue skies overhead. The mildly intoxicating scent of decay. Landscapes that look like works of the Old Masters. Walking with your chest out and your chin up, taking deep breaths and feeling twice as alive as the moment before. This is fall.
Fall is all about colour. The reds, oranges and yellows of maples, ash, birch, poplar and alder. You can see fall foliage in much of North America, but there are three regions that have become synonymous with leaf peeping: The Maritimes, Central Canada and New England.
The best time for foliage viewing is from mid-September to late October and, generally speaking, the further north you go, the earlier the leaves begin to change.
Exploring the Maritimes during the fall is akin to reaching a state of enlightenment. The colours almost don’t seem real. If you’re a first timer, prepare to be rendered speechless.
Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island draws travellers from around the world. In a relatively compact area, visitors are treated to authentic Acadian and Celtic culture, amazing seafood, striking scenery and geniality that the world needs more of.
The best place to start is in Baddeck, a pretty little town on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. There is much more than the foliage to enjoy. Explore the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic site or play a round of golf in a magnificent setting.
Then hit the Cabot Trail, a ribbon of road that rings much of the island. As you travel north, you’ll soon enter Cape Breton Highlands National Park, one of the most beautiful in the country.
Along the Cabot Trail, you’ll discover galleries, museums, great food and lots of live music. If you love Celtic music, plan to visit Cape Breton during the Celtic Colours music festival October 5-13.
The Nova Scotia mainland is no slouch when it comes to spectacular foliage. Drive the Evangeline Trail through pastoral countryside and colourful woods. Stop in at one of the many vineyards and stay overnight in century-old B&Bs and inns.
It’s hard to go take a wrong turn in New Brunswick. Much like Nova Scotia, the province is vibrant in the fall. New Brunswick is a very popular spot for leaf peeping and there are scenic routes around the periphery of the province.
The River Valley Scenic Drive slices through New Brunswick, from Edmundston, near the Quebec border, to the port city of Saint John on the Bay of Fundy. It is well worth it.
If time is a bit short, take Route 2 between Edmundston and Fredericton – one of the best drives in the province. Make sure you visit the famous covered bridge in Hartland – the longest in the world.
The Miramichi region is another incredibly scenic area. Whether from a boat on the Miramichi River or from your car along various routes to Fredericton, you won’t be disappointed.
In addition to the leaves, fall is a great time of year for whale watching in the Bay of Fundy. The Island of Grand Manan, near the US border, is one of the best places to whale peep.
Experiencing autumn on Prince Edward Island is like going back to a simpler time. There are fewer tourists and you can drive for miles without seeing another car. The sea and the island’s stunning beaches are never far away.
The landscape turns from shades of green to vivid fall colours in September and the warm waters that surround the island give it one of the longest viewing periods. Drive down any road – major or unpaved – and you’ll be treated to endless views of bright colours and bucolic farmland.
If you visit in September, you’ll be just in time for the month-long Fall Flavours Festival – a celebration of PEI food and traditions.
Ontario is enormous and there are viewing opportunities across the length and breadth of the province.
The Muskoka region, about two hours north of Toronto, is included in National Geographic Traveler’s 2012 list of Best of the World. The magazine defines the region as “quintessential cottage country.”
Cruising the waterways of the area gives the visitor a different perspective. A number of companies offer sightseeing tours on vessels ranging from steamships to vintage yachts.
Just east of Muskoka is Algonquin Provincial Park. Another great place to escape the world and take in nature’s tapestry. The park offers photography and painting workshops throughout the season.
In Quebec, the Eastern Townships offer mountain top views of the changing leaves, plus local wines and the apple harvest. There are more than 30 different festivals and fairs to check out.
Cycling and hiking are nice alternatives to sitting in the car. There are plenty of hiking trails in the area that offer up views from vistas that aren’t easily reachable by road. Chairlifts to the top of ski resorts like Bromont are an easy way to get up high. If you’re adventurous you can ride a mountain bike back down.
Quebec’s 140 km long Route de Vins (the Wine Route) winds through the township’s Brome-Missiqoui region, connecting nine municipalities. Small restaurants and bistros offer up a wide range of gastronomic delights.
The northeastern tip of the US is one of the best known leaf-peeping destinations in the world. The New England region is made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Each of these states offer prime viewing opportunities.
The states of New Hampshire and Vermont are particularly beautiful in the fall, with their colonial architecture, rolling hills and small, well-maintained highways.
Of course, leaf peeping isn’t restricted just to the east. No matter where you are in Canada, you can enjoy the fall colours close to home. If you can’t make it to the destinations we’ve mentioned, get out and enjoy the woods near where you live. It’s an easy way to extend your summer and stave off the arrival of… well, you know.