How to See Fall Colors by Bike and Train


The long, hot summer is finally shifting into fall gear. In New England, the maple trees are turning red. It’s one of the most beautiful times of year.

So why enjoy nature in a way that damages it with your vehicle’s greenhouse gases? You can make your autumn tradition more eco by leaf-peeping from your bicycle seat or from a train window.

For instance, October brings the Fall Foliage Classic, a weeklong, 314-mile (505-kilometer) bike tour through Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. You’ll start off pedaling a manageable 32 miles (51 kilometers) through coastal fishing villages the first day, and by the end you’ll be logging 68-mile (109-kilometer) days through communities that look like they’re out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

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For those who can’t take a whole week–or don’t live in New England–there are other options. After all, why burn fossil fuels on a long road trip when there are beautiful colors closer to home? A little farther south, for instance, you’ll find the Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival. Pick a route–from ten miles to a hundred miles (16 to 160 kilometers)–that winds through the Virginia hills.

In the Midwest, the Missouri Bicycle Federation has its own Fall Foliage Extravaganza with routes of 17 to 62 miles (27 to 100 kilometers) on low-traffic, two-lane country roads within several national forests and conservation areas.

Leaf-peeping season has already started in Wisconsin, and along with it, multiday bike tours to take in the fall colors. Ride your way through Cheese Days in Monroe, the Thirsty Troll Brewfest in Mount Horeb, or the Wine & Harvest Festival in Cedarburg. Midwesterners sure know how to spice up a bike ride!

(See pictures of fall colors.)

Of course, cycling isn’t for everyone–so for those of you who haven’t ridden a two-wheeler for more decades than you choose to remember, hop on a train for some leaf-peeping. New England, as always, leads the pack with endless destinations (and some beautiful old-time rail lines). Try the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire or a short afternoon trip on 1920s-era trains on the Naugatuck Railroad in Connecticut.

But New England hasn’t cornered the market on autumn train vacations. Westerners can enjoy Colorado’s “Gold Rush” on the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway. The route climbs nearly 8,000 feet (about 2,400 meters) from a historic depot at Pike Peak’s base to the summit. The Pacific Northwest gets in on the action, too, with Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad‘s weekend steam trains. On October 2, they’ll have their “Rails to Ales” trip, featuring beer, brats, and live music.

So turn over a new leaf this fall and hop on a bike or train!

–Tanya Snyder


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Photograph courtesy Bret Edge, My Shot

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Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.