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Seeing fall differently

Courtesy American Cruise Lines

This won’t be your first fall — you’ve likely enjoyed the splendors of autumn dozens of times, both at home and on the road. But have you ever taken the opportunity to experience fall foliage from above?

The beauty of changing leaves makes fall one of our favorite times to travel, and there are hundreds of places across the country to catch great displays of seasonal color. And although a scenic drive or an easy hike in the woods can satisfy a simple appetite for foliage, some groups go for more imaginative ways to get their fall fix.

In some of the country’s most popular autumn destinations, special fall-foliage experiences go beyond simple tours to give travelers unusual perspectives on the beauty of the season. The possibilities include riding a mountain gondola, climbing aboard a historic train, taking a cruise to see the leaves from the water and soaring above it all in a hot-air balloon. The following are some ways to make your next fall foliage trip a memorable one.

New York Water Taxi

New York
You may not think of New York’s concrete jungle as the ideal place to go leaf-peeping. But if you take a fall cruise with New York Water Taxi, you can combine the best of the city’s sightseeing with foliage experiences along the banks of the Hudson River.

“We started doing regular fall-foliage tours two years ago, and it has become one of our most popular tours,” said Jennifer Jacobs, marketing manager for Circle Line Downtown and New York Water Taxi. “It’s a great way to see the leaves and go up the Hudson River to take in the sights. We usually have amazing weather, and it’s one of the most beautiful panoramic views that you can see anywhere in the fall.”

The four-hour tour begins at the Manhattan Seaport and takes passengers north through the waters of the Hudson. Along the way, they see New York sights such as Grant’s Tomb, Sleepy Hollow and the George Washington Bridge, as well as brilliant color in the wooded areas alongside the river. The cruise goes all the way to West Point before reversing course for the return trip to Manhattan.

The company also offers an expanded VIP upgrade: Passengers disembark at West Point for a tour of the military academy and an overnight stay at the historic Thayer Hotel on campus. The next day, they make several shopping stops in the area before returning to the city.

“We wanted to put together a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime package,” Jacobs said. “This is a unique way to experience the waterfront beyond what people can put together on their own. It’s everything you could want to do in New York in the fall, wrapped up in a package.”

Fall Cruise Collection
American Cruise Lines
For a different kind of autumn sailing experience, one that lasts for several days, American Cruise Lines offers a number of excursions as part of its Fall Cruise Collection. They include extended trips on the Hudson River, as well as sailings on the Columbia and Snake rivers, the upper Mississippi River and a new product that visits the Puget Sound and the San Juan islands in Washington.

“Fall foliage is such a different perspective from the water than from the land, and that’s what our clients experience on our cruises,” said director of sales Susan Schultz. “It’s a different way of looking at things. These trips fill out every year.”

In addition to the areas around New York City, American Cruise Lines’ Hudson River itineraries showcase the mountainous beauty of the Catskill Mountains and the Berkshire Hills. In the Midwest, the upper Mississippi River cruise sails all the way from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minnesota, stopping in smaller towns such as Hannibal, Missouri; Burlington, Davenport and Dubuque, Iowa; and Red Wing, Minnesota. On the Columbia and Snake river cruises, passengers see some of the same fall foliage that Lewis and Clark described in their journals in 1805.

The new Puget Sound and San Juan Islands cruise introduces travelers to one of the most beautiful and undiscovered areas of the Pacific Northwest.

“You start in Seattle, and then we go to Friday Harbor and Port Townsend. We go into some unique areas,” Shultz said. “The larger ships can’t go into those areas, but our draft is so small that we can go into those little ports. No one else does this destination from the water.”

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.