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Fall foliage tours have historically been among the most popular tours offered by tour operators. Even with an increasing number of exotic tours and novel activities and experiences now offered by tour operators, fall foliage remains one of the most enduringly popular kinds of tours offered.
"We get 36 percent of our business in the months of September and October," said John Stachnik, president of Mayflower Tours. "It's a great time of the year to travel. The family traffic is over so you're not competing with the family drive market. It's the most beautiful time of year to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. And it's also the last hurrah of the season before the winter comes on."
The central theme and purpose of a fall foliage tour is to observe the scenery of the autumn with the colorful changing leaves. It's a great spectacle that plays out every autumn in much of North America, anywhere there are deciduous trees with leaves that have a one-year life span and change from green in the spring when they first appear to yellow, orange, red or brown in the fall before they die and drop off.
The display can be magnificent wherever there are forests. Fall foliage tours may be offered anywhere there is fall foliage, but the most popular place for fall foliage tours is New England, where much of the ancestral forests of North America are still intact and the historical cities and towns of colonial America are richly scenic.
Foliage tours are so important for Tauck, the Connecticut-based tour operator, that the company maintained for decades what it called its own "foliologist." Tauck's Scotty Johhston was a sales manager, but also knew more about foliage than most people would imagine there is to know. Johnson described the attractions of fall foliage so eloquently he was invited to talk about it on CNN.
"In the north or east fall colors move in three predictable directions," said Johnston, "down slope, down south and down east to the Atlantic coast. The ocean moderates the temperatures in the lower coastal regions extending the change of colors along the Atlantic."
"Late October finds fall colors enhancing interior mountain tops extending the changes," said Johnston. "Brilliant reds of maple and sumac and early yellows of birch thrust southward into the mountains of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. These wonderful regions in America are beautiful on their own merits, but in the fall you get double bonus miles. It's Mother Nature's the greatest show on earth."
After nearly half a century with Tauck, Johnston has retired, but his descriptions of the dynamics of fall foliage are still among the best.
Mayflower's Stachnik said foliage tours have now spread to an even wider area.
"Autumn Foliage tours are still very popular," said Stachnik. "However, the biggest change since I have seen in the industry is that these programs are no longer exclusively thought of as New England only. In addition to New England, our Autumn Foliage programs go to the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Michigan, Eastern and Western Canada, the Smokies and the Ozarks. In addition during the Autumn months, several of our tours pass through foliage-rich country on the way to their ultimate destination.
"Americans enjoy traveling when the kids are back in school. And Autumn Foliage programs have always been the perfect way to say goodbye to the good weather of summer, and into Autumn, when much of our country turns beautiful colors in celebration of the passing of the seasons."
If you google "fall foliage tours," Google will produce about 10,000 results in less than a second. Unfortunately 10,000 results are not much better than none if you don't know how to differentiate between them.
To save you trudging through 10,000 results, here is a list of six fall foliage programs offered by some of the most reputable, high quality tour operators.
Tauck's Grand New England is a 12-day trip that virtually scours the Northeast U.S. in search of foliage scenes of volcanic beauty. The trip originates in Boston, heads west across Massachusetts, then turns north into Vermont and doubles back east through New Hampshire, then up as far north as Bar Harbor, Me., and Acadia National Park and finally back to its conclusion in Boston. Foliage is the overriding theme, but the tour digs into the historical past and present-day culture of colonial New England.
Globus offers a Classic Fall Foliage program that begins and ends in Boston, sweeping through New England. The nine-day tour heads south to Mystic Seaport, Conn., north through Massachusetts, into Vermont, New Hampshire and up to Acadia National Park in Maine before returning to Boston.
Mayflower Tours offers eight programs in its series of New England fall foliage tours. The tours slice New England in a variety of ways including alternate selections that include Rhode Island, Mackinac Island and Canada's Maritimes. Mayflower also offers foliage tours in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, MIchigan, the Ozarks and Canada.
Collette's Islands of New England starts in Boston and explores Newport, Rhode Island; Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod and the islands off of Massachusetts coastline, including Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Trafalgar's Autumn Colors is an eight-day program that starts in Boston and north to Bar Harbor, Maine, then travels a radius that takes travelers along country roads through New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, passing through North Conway, Ludlow and Woodstock.
Amtrak Vacations offers a six-day New England Fall Foliage tour by rail that starts in New York City, heads north to Rutland, Vermont, back down through Albany, N.Y., and eastward through Massachusetts to Boston.
David Cogswell is executive editor covering tours and packages, Africa and the Middle East.
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