What’s better than seeing a forest in vivid fall colors?
Catching the same gorgeous view from the water.
Or so says Carl Blackwell, president of Discover Boating, which offers links to marinas, rentals and charters. Not only is it more fun to be in a boat than sitting in traffic, but you get a different, possibly even better, view of the scenery.
“You really get a new angle and great reflections from the water,” Blackwell says of the experience.
He shares some favorite places to leaf peep this fall from rivers, lakes and even the ocean, with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Shenandoah River, Virginia and West Virginia
On its 150-mile course, the river runs through spectacular mountain scenery, offering views of Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains in full fall splendor, Blackwell says. “The river is so long that you can take multiple trips on it, and it winds through a beautiful part of the country.” virginia.org and wvtourism.com
Mammoth Lakes, California
Popular Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra region lures visitors year-round. Between the summer vacation season and the first snow in mid-October, it’s a great place to see fall color from the area’s numerous lakes. There are rental boats and launches for those that bring their own. “You’re up in the mountains, up in the high country,” Blackwell says. visitmammoth.com
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
This family vacation spot offers late-season fall color thanks to its mild weather. The area has more than 1,000 miles of shoreline with blackgum, hickory, sweetgum, red maple, dogwood and buckeye trees. “People like to go into the coves and just dock. You don’t have to have a really expensive boat. It’s open to a lot of different types,” Blackwell says. funlake.com
Tellico Lake, Tennessee
With nearly 400 miles of shoreline, this waterway flowing out of the Great Smoky Mountains is largely undeveloped. Fall visitors find a spectrum of color reflecting off the clean waters, says Blackwell, who vacationed in the area with his family as a child. “The dense forest there just allows you to see more foliage and wildlife.” visitloudoncounty.com and monroecountytourism.com
Acadia National Park, Maine
Boaters love the entire Maine coast, but few sites match fall in the 47,000-acre national park, Blackwell says. With rocky beaches and distant mountain peaks, along with abundant wildlife, the vistas are endless and particularly impressive from the water. “It’s a completely different experience. You can see a broader span of foliage,” Blackwell says. nps.gov/acad
Mackinac Island, Michigan
The only way to reach this famed car-free island is by boat and ferry, and once visitors arrive, they’re seduced by the history, scenery — and fall colors. “It’s a throwback to years past, a quaint little town, and there’s a big state park there as well,” Blackwell says. “You’re allowed to have boats all around the island.” mackinacisland.org
St. Michaels, Maryland
With a location on a Chesapeake Bay tributary, this handsome Eastern Shore town sees maritime visitors year-round. But autumn’s particularly special here, with rivers and creeks that welcome kayaks and canoes, an oyster festival and the changing of the leaves. “There’s just something about fall in that part of the world,” Blackwell says. stmichaelsmd.org
Dillon Reservoir, Colorado
Although an hour from Denver, this lake is home to what claims to be the nation’s highest sailing club, at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet. Marinas in the towns of Dillon and Frisco make it easy to get out on the water and to see the bright yellows and golds of fall leaves. “People are surprised that there’s boating in Colorado, and you can see the mountains just before the snowfall,” Blackwell says. colorado.com
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington
The Pacific Northwest lights up with color every fall, and few places are as scenic as the Columbia River Gorge. The 4,000-foot deep canyon offers wonderful boating — and leaf peeping — Blackwell says: “You can look up both sides. It’s so majestic.” visitcolumbiarivergorge.com
Lake Monroe, Indiana
The state’s largest lake is surrounded by more than 13,000 acres of protected forest and three recreation areas, making it an ideal place to see fall color, particularly from oaks and the tulip poplar, the state tree. “It’s a gem in southern Indiana,” says Blackwell, who grew up in the area. “There are lots of different activities: canoeing, kayaking and fishing.” visitindiana.com
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