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Fall foliage trips are evergreen

Courtesy Aspen Chamber of Commerce

They are the perennial kings of color, fall destinations that will never go out of style. Capturing our attention with brilliant orange, gold, yellow and red, places that boast iconic fall foliage have become some of America’s favorite seasonal travel destinations.

Autumn is perhaps the busiest season in the group travel business thanks to its comfortable weather and light tourist traffic. In wooded areas that feature especially vibrant colors, fall can bring hundreds of travel groups, who come to enjoy the foliage, produce, festivals and other hallmarks of the season.

The East Coast has earned a reputation as the national forerunner of fall, and numerous cities and towns throughout New England give visitors signature color and regional charm.

But there are plenty of other great places for groups to experience fall color. From Door County, Wis., to southern Missouri; Aspen, Colo.; the Smoky Mountains; and the Columbia River Gorge; here are some of our favorite fall foliage destinations.

Aspen, Colo.

Although you may think of it primarily as a ski resort town, a unique Rocky Mountain twist on foliage makes Aspen, Colo., a popular fall destination.

“We don’t have East Coast colors like red and orange — we’re all golden yellow,” said Sarah Reynolds, national sales manager at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “The aspen groves all turn a brilliant yellow-gold color. It’s really stunning to see the mountaintops covered with it, and the town as well.”

The Aspen area enjoys several key natural areas that come alive with aspen color as seasons change. The Continental Divide runs through Independence Pass, a gap in the mountains filled with trees that change colors in the fall.

The White River National Forest, a natural area cared for by numerous conservation groups, surrounds the town of Aspen.

Groups will find plenty of outdoor activities to keep them busy during a fall visit to Aspen. Options include scenic flight tours, horseback riding, fly-fishing, guided naturalist hikes and photography tours. Many of those activities are offered by conservation groups based in the area.

“In the valley we sit in, there are over 100 nonprofits,” Reynolds said. “There are river conservancies, environmental studies and historical groups that can create a customized and unique program for your groups. We also have amazing outfitters who do these tours as part of their daily lives.”

Door County, Wis.
A Wisconsin peninsula that separates Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Door County enjoys an abundance of natural areas surrounded by water. The thick tree cover throughout the county takes on a blaze of color in autumn.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to explore and take in the scenic fall colors,” said Jon Jarosh, director of communications and public relations for the Door County Visitors Bureau. “There are so many scenic vistas along the bluffs and the water, and a whole bunch of lookout spots throughout the county in our five state parks and 19 county parks.”

Three different observation towers throughout the county give visitors a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding wilderness. Visitors can also immerse themselves in the woods and water at Peninsula State Park, which sits at the tip of the county where the bay and lake come together.

For another great perspective on the fall color, many groups choose to take in the scenery from the water.

“With so much water around us, there are a lot of opportunities for boat tours throughout the county,” Jarosh said. “You can go on a guided kayak tour or on one of our larger cruise boats.

“On the bay side, some of the rocky bluffs are totally covered in trees. The views you can get from the water in the fall are just incredible — they go up 150 or 200 feet high, and they make for a majestic view.”

Fall also brings great produce and farm markets to Door County, along with a series of special festivals and events that celebrate the season.

Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

Lake of the Ozarks has earned its place on many fall favorites lists with its pristine waterfronts and abundance of color. Although the area is a popular southern Missouri destination throughout the year, fall brings out some of its best attributes.

“The fall is a fantastic time to be here,” said Rebecca Green, public relations manager at the Tri-County Lodging Association. “The air is crisp, the colors are gorgeous, and you get to choose from a lot of things to do. It’s the perfect time of year in this area.”

Many of those activity options can be found on the area’s 17,000 acres of state park land, where groups can arrange for horseback-riding expeditions or guided nature hikes. Ha Ha Tonka State Park also has the ruins of Ha Ha Tonka Castle, a stately century-old building surrounded by wooded wilderness.

The lake gives visitors other activity opportunities: Two of the state parks in the area have public beaches, and a boat cruise company does fall sightseeing cruises that highlight the beautiful foliage and the luxury homes that dot the shoreline.

For an uncommon perspective, some of your travelers may elect to see the area from above.
“There are scenic flights available, as well as helicopter rides,” Green said. “You can go up for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re up in the air.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.