The Southeast's mountain ridges and river edges color outside the lines to showcase autumn's awesome show.
With more than 400 species of hardwoods, the trees of the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountain areas of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina stage a spectacular coming-out party each year from late September to early November.
Driving can get boring, but not if you take the scenic route.
• The Smokies - A main attraction always is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One nice driving tour is Cade's Cove, an 11-mile loop in the far western Tennessee section of the park. Also nearby are Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
• The Blue Ridge Parkway - Think October. And start in Cherokee, N.C., to wind through the Smokies to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. You'll have no choice but to soak in the colors for a speed limit of 45 mph is strictly enforced on this curvy journey.
• The Natchez Trace Parkway - Can't get away until later in the season? This recently completed 444-mile two-lane road running from Bellevue to Natchez, Miss., follows an ancient trail used by Native Americans and European settlers to move goods and traffic from the Gulf Coast into Middle Tennessee.
• Lookout Mountain Parkway - This may be the region's best-kept secret. Within its 93-miles, this parkway spans three states as it stretches across Lookout Mountain from Gadsden, Ala., to Chattanooga. Along the way are Noccalula and Ruby waterfalls, Little River and Cloudland canyons, Desoto State Park and the charming town of Mentone.
Sources: http://voices.yahoo.com/best-fall-color-driving-tours-9037483.html, http://gosoutheast.about.com/od/tripplanningmaps/tp/fall_trip_ideas.htm
See it over water
Nothing frames autumn leaves better than their mirror images on water.
• Near Chattanooga, the Southern Belle Riverboat, the Blue Moon cruise boat and the Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer offer a number of river gorge and eco tours from Ross's Landing through the Grand Canyon of the South, also known as the Tennessee River Gorge.
• In Alabama, take a ride on the Pickwick Belle, a 90-foot authentic paddlewheel riverboat on the Tennessee River. The Pickwick Belle's home port is Decatur, Ala., just west of Huntsville.
• In Georgia, try family-style whitewater rafting on milder sections of the Chattooga River, regardless of skill level.
• In North Carolina, leaf watchers can paddle, raft or tube a seven-mile stretch of the French Broad River beginning near Asheville and weaving through the Biltmore Estate Property - an 8,000 acre privately protected wilderness. Call 1-828-232-1970.
Sources: www.chattanoogafun.com/visitors%2Dguide/, www.georgiatouristguide.com, www.pickwickbelle.com/ www.romanticasheville.com/rafting.htm
Crafts, fun, food and color make a hard-to-beat combination.
• Rocktoberfest at Rock City - Every Saturday and Sunday in October, Rock City in Lookout Mountain, Ga., celebrates fall color and its German heritage.
• Ketner's Mill Country Arts Fair is on Oct. 20-21 this year in Marion County on the banks of the Big Sequatchie River. The mill is the only remaining water powered grist mill in the area, and it dates back to 1824. Visitors can watch the operation of a sorghum mill and purchase pure molasses. Stone-ground corn meal and flour are also available, as well as artisan crafts, country cooking, music and canoe rides.
Sources: www.seerockcity.com, www.southeasttennessee.com
See leaves along the rails.
• Summerville Steam and autumn leaf specials: Vintage trains follows a historic route from Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga to Summerville, Ga.
• The trains cross the state line in Rossville, traveling past Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park and through Chickamauga, Rock Spring, LaFayette, Trion, and into Summerville.
— Compiled by Pam Sohn