1. MEEMAN-SHELBY FOREST STATE PARK, near Memphis, Tennessee
This 13,467-acre park on the Mississippi River is a rainbow of flaming foliage, with leaves of golden yellow, burnished orange and deep red. And the views are literally top-notch, thanks to the park's diverse collection of uncommonly tall trees, like a 154-foot American beech, a 152-foot nuttall oak and a 127-foot cedar elm. Maples and bitternut hickories abound, too.
Take a hike!
The Woodland Trail is a hilly 3-mile loop that leads you into a forest full of trees with strange growths (called burls) that look like faces. You'll also see wildlife: The area is home to more than 200 species of birds, as well as deer, turkeys, beavers, foxes, otters and bobcats.
The Great River Road, which extends over 10 states, covers 127 miles of West Tennessee. You'll drive past 64 natural and cultural points of interest, from parks on the banks of the Mississippi to the Veterans Museum in the town of Halls.
A 30-minute drive from the park, Memphis has some out-of-this-world BBQ. Line up for the famous pulled-pork sandwich at Payne's Bar-B-Q (1762 Lamar Ave., 901-272-1523).
Sleep close to nature without sacrificing comfort in one of six lakeside cabins available for rent in the park (from $80 a night, 800-471-5293). Each two-bedroom cottage has a fully equipped kitchen and wood-burning fireplace.
2. SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, Northwestern Virginia
For the first hints of foliage, look up -- way up! The leaves near the top of the 4,051-foot Blue Ridge Mountains change first, then the color moves down as the season progresses.
Take a hike!
When you walk the Rose River Loop -- a 4-mile trail deep in the woods -- you'll come across waterfall after waterfall, and a million moments that will tempt you to wade into the water to get a good shot.
Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that begins in the city of Front Royal, offers sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley -- plus black bear spottings.
Within the park, the Pollock Dining Room at Skyland Resort (41.7 Skyline Drive) serves up seasonal local fare (Virginia rainbow trout with country spoon bread, for example), but the real draw is the view from the dining room, where you sit 3,680 feet above the foliage of the Shenandoah Valley.
Don't expect frills at the Skyland Resort (rooms from $111) there are no phones or Wi-Fi in the rooms. But the views from its location at the highest point of Skyline Drive can't be beat.
3. ZION NATIONAL PARK, Southwestern Utah
Two hours from the Grand Canyon, the golden yellow of the aspens, cottonwoods, maples, box elders and birch trees here is positively hallucinatory against Utah's red rock cliffs.
Take a hike!
The 2-mile Riverside Walk starts at the Temple of Sinawava, a natural amphitheater formed by 3,000-foot vertical sandstone walls. From there, you'll hike along the Virgin River until you reach the canyon-surrounded waters of the famed Zion Narrows at the park's northernmost entrance.
Kolob Canyon's 5-mile byway is beautiful anytime, but perhaps best driven at dusk. Take exit 40 off Interstate 15, turn the corner and, suddenly, the sandstone cliffs and finger canyons that surround you will glow red with the setting sun.
Once a gas station, the Whiptail Grill (445 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale) may not look like a gourmet restaurant, but the pineapple-chipotle ribs and chiles rellenos with goat cheese -- among other southwestern specialties -- prove otherwise.
The Desert Pearl Inn (rooms from $98), decorated with reclaimed wood flooring and native sandstone and stucco, is framed by towering sandstone cliffs.
4. MONO COUNTY, Eastern California
The aspens and poplars lining the creeks and lakes just east of Yosemite National Park create a Crayola-like swatch of some of the best gold-, orange- and rust-colored leaves on the West Coast.
Take a hike!
Steep and challenging, the Lundy Canyon Trail packs as much scenery as possible into 3 miles (6 miles round-trip), with beaver ponds, waterfalls and old mining cabins. Sightings may include deer, marmots and, if the force is with you, a bighorn sheep on a craggy outcropping.
Fall foliage looks even more intense reflected on the surface of a mountain-framed lake -- or four, if you take the June Lake Loop (also known as Highway 158), a horseshoe-shaped, scenic 14-mile road.
At the Historic Mono Inn (55620 Highway 395, Lee Vining), which overlooks Mono Lake, the menu offers everything from elk burgers to medallions of antelope -- and California wines to go with whatever you pick.
The Double Eagle Resort and Spa (rooms from $169) sits at the base of the imposing 10,909-foot Carson Peak. The cabins are cute, but the newer luxury rooms come with private whirlpool tubs.
5. LANCASTER COUNTY, Southeastern Pennsylvania
The pastoral farmland that usually draws visitors to Amish country -- and takes them back a couple hundred years -- is temporarily upstaged by awesomely autumnal maple, oak and black gum leaves.
Take a hike!
At the 198-acre Trout Run Nature Preserve, you can hike several miles of heavily wooded trails. A local favorite is the trail marked by blue blazes (patches of color hand-painted on trees and rocks) that meander through a bird-filled bog to an old railroad tunnel.
The Southern Amish Countryside Covered Bridge Tour winds down foliage-flanked country roads, where you'll see farms, one-room schoolhouses and the tour's namesake: a series of old covered bridges.
A stop at Immergut Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels (3537 Old Philadelphia Pike, 717-768-0657) is a must. Buttery and perfectly chewy, the pretzels are all made to order.
Kids will be psyched to stay at the Fulton Steamboat Inn (rooms from $80), a hotel designed to look like an old ship. After dinner, gather around the fire pit overlooking the duck- and koi-feeding pond.
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