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America's Best Towns for Fall Colors

By Deb Hopewell
9/29/2014 9:40:25 AM

"Since I was a child my family has made an almost weekly trip to have lunch in Skaneateles," says Rachel Dickinson, based in the nearby New York State town of Ithaca and author of Falconer on the Edge. "If you're lucky, you can get a table at the Sherwood Inn, where you look out on the small park with the white gazebo that fronts the lake."

As the weather turns crisp and the days gradually shorten, nature takes its cue to bring on the color-and the leaf-peepers come out in force. Like Dickinson, many head to Skaneateles, one of the best towns for experiencing fall colors, according to Travel + Leisure readers who voted in the America's Favorite Towns survey.

The top-scoring towns represent the full color spectrum, from the blazing scarlet, orange, and deep purples of New England's hardwoods to the golden carpet of aspens covering the Rocky Mountains.

"Autumn leaves are nature's stained glass," says professional photographer Michael Clemmer, whose images have appeared in National Geographic Society publications, and calendars around the world. "They can be beautiful in moody muted light or when brightly lighted from behind."

If you want to photograph autumn in all of its deciduous glory, he cautions: "Don't shoot in the middle of the day unless it's cloudy because the bright sun washes out color. Morning and evening light are best."

Clemmer's No. 1 rule? "Don't let taking photos keep you from enjoying the scenery." Check out these favorite fall-foliage towns, from Colorado to Vermont, and then get out there to see the colors for yourself.

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Pat & Chuck Blackley / Alamy

No. 1 Oakland, MD

Oakland took top honors as the best town in America for leaf-peeping, thanks primarily to the blazing colors found just nine miles north of town at Swallow Falls State Park. As the Youghiogheny River flows through rock gorges, the oldest stands of eastern hemlock and white pine-more than 360 years old-blanket the area in gold, orange, and red. For five days in early October, residents turn out for the annual Autumn Glory Festival, including two parades, concerts, and band competitions. Oakland also embraces the Halloween spirit, hosting a hayride along the lakefront that passes scenes of zombies and ghosts.

Lake Placid CVB/lakeplacid.com

No. 2 Lake Placid, NY

The Adirondack Mountains are famed for their fall colors, and T+L readers gave Lake Placid the silver medal for autumn foliage. Red and silver maples, birch, aspen, oaks, and beech trees stretch out along the Olympic Trail scenic byway (which runs through Lake Placid), providing a striking show of color for its 170 miles. Or take the Fall Foliage Train tour on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Prime viewing time tends to be in early to mid-October, which conveniently coincides with the Lake Placid Brewfest.

Courtesy of DiscoverStillwater.com

No. 3 Stillwater, MN

When the leaves start showing their colors in Stillwater-on the western banks of the St. Croix River dividing Minnesota and Wisconsin-visitors converge on the town's many Victorian bed-and-breakfast inns. One of the best ways to take in nature's show is by river cruise on a replica of an 1890s paddleboat. Autumn here kicks off with the annual grape stomp competition, with prizes given for best style, and culminates in the long-running fine-art and music festival.

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