Foliage is currently at less than a 10 percent color change in Southeast Tennessee, according to the fall color forecast found online at fall.tnvacation.com/foliage.
Lookout, Elder, Raccoon and Signal mountains are still verdant green, thanks to Indian summer temperatures we’ve experienced. But with more than 400 species of deciduous trees in the state, it’s only a matter of weeks until the mountains will be splashed with firey hues.
Leaf-watchers who want to enjoy fall’s beauty but are conserving gas have several options to the traditional “Sunday drive.” Each outing does involve a short drive to the destination/point of departure, but after arriving you’re free to enjoy the scenery.
“Visiting traffic on weekends is up 50 percent,” said Dan Zink, Lookout Mountain Flight Park instructor. “The most increase is visitors coming to see fall colors or locals who know this is the best time to come fly. This is a good time of year for hang gliders, not only for the color but it’s great, clear air to fly in.”
Location: Lookout Mountain Flight Park, 7201 Scenic Highway, Rising Fawn, Ga.
Price: Fly tandem with an instructor for standard rate of $149; special offer: full day of training, fly solo off the “bunny hill” and fly tandem with an instructor for $199.
For reservations: (800) 688-5637 or (706) 398-3541
Combine fall’s beauty with the nostalgia of riding the rails for a full day’s excursion.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is offering Autumn Leaf Specials Oct. 18 and 25 (already sold out) and Nov. 1, 2 and 8. The locomotive will travel a 100-mile round-trip route to Summerville, Ga.
Hours: Depart at 9 a.m. from Grand Junction Station, 4119 Cromwell Road; return about 7 p.m. to the Grand Junction.
Tickets: $80, $95 and $100, which includes lunch,
To order: www.tvrail.com or 894-8028.
The Lula Lake Land Trust will open its natural area on Lookout Mountain for free hiking and mountain biking on Saturday, Oct. 25, during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Among other natural wildlife areas welcoming visitors are Audubon Acres in East Brainerd; Chattanooga Nature Center and Reflection Riding, both at the foot of Lookout Mountain on Garden Road; Tennessee Riverpark or North Chickamauga Creek at Greenway Farms in Hixson.
River Canyon Adventures offers eco-camping and kayaking adventures through the Tennessee River Gorge.
“October is an explosion in business because of fall color,” said Denise Godfrey, co-owner of River Canyon with Tina Suggs. “It’s the last chance to get down in the gorge and enjoy the fall color while we still have warm weather.”
Ms. Godfrey said they’ve led all ages — from 7 to 81 — on their eco trips. Ms. Suggs said no experience is necessary with the company’s new fleet of sit-on-top self-baling kayaks. Should there be a medical problem, a certified First Responder is on staff.
“You’d think in this economy we’d see a decrease in business, but we haven’t because it’s (camping/kayaking) a more affordable family vacation.”
Prices: Half-day guided “Indian Summer” eco-tour $65 per person or two-hour sunset canyon eco-tour, $45 per person, both include campfire and marshmallows post-trip, all gear and ski-boat return shuttle. Overnight “Into the Wild” camping and two-day kayak excursions start at $125 per person; unguided kayak rentals start at $35 per person.
Reservations: All tours and rentals are by advance reservation only. Call 290-8628 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The Southern Belle’s annual Fall Leaf Cruises begin Oct. 20 continuing through Nov. 7. The riverboat departs on a three-hour cruise from Ross’s Landing on Riverfront Parkway.
Tickets: $30 per person, includes lunch, live entertainment, informative commentary and free bingo with prizes.
Reservations or schedules: Log onto www.chattanoogariverboat.com and click the schedules link for a daily calendar of cruise times.
* The Southern Belle will participate in the annual Fall Color Cruise on Saturday Oct. 25, only. Travelers may choose whether they want to ride the riverboat to or from Hale’s Bar Marina, the Color Cruise site.
Morning travelers will depart Ross’s Landing at 8 a.m. for the cruise to Hale’s Bar Marina, arriving about 12:30 p.m., then will ride a bus back to Ross’s Landing.
Visitors who decide upon the “up-river,” or afternoon riverboat cruise, will depart Ross’s Landing by bus at 11:30 a.m. They will catch the riverboat at Hale’s Bar for the return trip to downtown Chattanooga, which departs at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35 per person, which includes cruise, bus fare and lunch.
Reservations: 266-4488 or www.chattanoogariverboat.com
* Fall leaf cruises complement the 3.5-hour eco-tours already run by Blue Moon charter boat. Blue Moon passengers cruise aboard a 70-foot luxury Skipperliner, departing from Chattanooga Pier at Ross’s Landing.
Tickets: $39 plus tax, which includes naturalist guide on board
Reservations: (888) 993-BLUE.
* “Our visitors said they wanted a longer experience, so we have increased the length of each trip to two hours,” says Thom Benson, spokesman for the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer.
The Explorer is a 70-passenger, high-speed Catamaran that glides through the river gorge for daily trips with a naturalist on board providing insightful historic and wildlife information.
Mr. Benson said that although reservations are not required, they are highly recommended during the fall color weeks, which sell out quickly.
Tickets: $29 adults, $21.50 ages 3-12, $18 under age 3.
Schedule: Fall schedule varies from day to day; check the Web site for details: www.tnaqua.org/VisitorInfo.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...