It’s the season for mother nature to dazzle us with golds, reds, yellows and oranges … Our readers recommend the most vibrant autumnal displays in Europe, North America and Japan.
Winning tip: Ojców national park, Poland
They call it the Złota Polska Jesień – the Polish Golden Autumn. It’s when the oaks and sycamores around Krakow do their best New England impression. Just 20 minutes’ drive north of the city is the smallest national park in the country: Ojców. A series of small, sylvan valleys turns into a beautiful patchwork of ochre and rust-red starting in September. There are forest trails running past streams, caves and crooked cottages. You can climb up to lookout points for views over the tops of the woods, and see Ojców Castle studding the hillside like something out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
UK / Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire
A walk through Strid Wood with its sessile oaks and Wharfe river views takes in various types of autumnal wonder. The abbey is wonderful abbey, there’s a river feature called the Strid, where the Wharfe suddenly narrows, or a longer stroll to the top of Simon’s Seat in the moors to view the season’s multicoloured glories from above.
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As you stroll along Windermere to the centre of Ambleside, autumn colours are abundant. Looking across the water, it seems that the treeline is alight with red and orange leaves. As you round the bend on to the road into town, you are faced with a hillside that celebrates autumn at its best, highlighting different colours throughout the day. Catch it at just the right time in the morning and you’ll see the mist creeping down and giving the trees an eerie presence. Catch it as the sun is descending in the late afternoon and you’ll be amazed at the vibrancy of the colours as the leaves are framed by the light from the setting sun.
Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
The entire arboretum is fascinating at any time of year, but in late October the acer (Japanese maple) glade is absolutely magical. It’s a good idea to stay at the Hare and Hounds hotel (doubles from £125 B&B), which almost adjoins the arboretum and go to Westonbirt early in the morning to beat all the daytrippers and photographers because it does get very busy in the autumn. Another attraction is a new 300-metre aerial walkway that takes you 13 metres up into the canopy.
Herne Hill, London
After picking up a coffee in Herne Hill or breakfast at the wonderful Lido Cafe, take a stroll around Brockwell Park for wonderful views of the London skyline and beautiful autumnal colours. One place to stay or go for a drink is the Half Moon, right on the doorstep.
Dolgoch ‘rainforest’, north Wales
Snowdonia national park provides some of the richest, and most unspoilt autumnal views in the world. The Talyllyn Railway spoils visitors not just with a seven-mile journey from the Tywyn seafront up the beautiful Fathew valley towards the peak of Cader Idris on steam trains, but also gives direct access to the autumnal majesty of the Dolgoch Falls and Nant Gwernol woodland. Alighting at Dolgoch station and following the waymarked trails, visitors are soon amid the valley’s temperate rainforest habitat, sometimes referred to as the Celtic Rainforest, surrounded by ancient trees and carpets of moss and ferns. This habitat is full of life and, in autumn, the landscape glows in lush greens and golden browns.
The glorious town of Peebles, an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh, is scenic at all times of year but, come early October, the trees that surround the town explode into a riot of colour. For close-ups of huge specimens (including the caramel-smelling Japanese katsura tree) visit the nearby superb Dawyck botanic gardens(adult £6.50, child free), which has an excellent cafe. Peebles itself has a top-notch coffee shop/chocolate boutique, Cocoa Black.
ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE / Cinque Terre, Italy
Autumn is the best season to see and sense the explosion of colours in the woods and paths high above the Mediterranean as you walk from one town in Italy’s Cinque Terre to another. The Sentiero Azzurro connects the villages between Monterosso al Mare and Riomaggiore over 12km and will take you from shady copses sheltered by red- and gold-leafed trees to deep green olive groves before you emerge into sunlit walkways with views of the shimmering sea. However, some of the route is closed at present (most famously the Via del’Amore at Riomaggiore, reopening in 2019) due to landslides, and in autumn there are often closures as wet weather damages paths. On some sections there’s a charge if €5-€7 to use the path – the money helps with repair bills.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Autumn is a truly special time to visit Lake Bled. The intense fall colours of the surrounding hills are mirrored in the lake with its fairytale church island. The walk around the lake is wonderful but the views are even more stunning from Bled Castle, which sits on a high crag overlooking the whole glorious scene. Out of season, Bled remains a hidden gem. We visited in October and had this incredible landscape almost completely to ourselves.
Transylvania’s Piatra Craiului mountains
One October, I travelled in the spectacular Transylvanian countryside of Brasov and the Carpathian mountains. At this time, when the leaves are turning and the crowds thinning, the Piatra Craiului mountain range is great to explore. The trails are marked clearly and up high are views that you would expect to lure hordes of visitors. Not in this place.
A cycling trip in Finland, north of the Arctic Circle, in September is incredibly colourful. Autumn is one of the eight seasons for the indigenous Sami people: time to round up their free-roaming reindeer. The Finnish word for autumn colour is ruska: it’s the time when silver birches turn gold, the forest floor becomes thick with jewel-coloured blueberries and lingonberries, and mountain ash is heavy with scarlet berries. All this is set against a backdrop of evergreen firs, the taiga stretching from Norway to Siberia, and the silver of Finland’s 180,000 lakes, soon to turn white with ice and snow. The midnight sky joins in too, illuminated with the greens and reds of the northern lights.
CANADA and USA
Dorset Lookout Tower, near Toronto
Ontario’s Muskoka region is Toronto’s great outdoors, boasting red granite outcrops, tumbling rivers and waterfalls, and some of the most dramatic autumn colours on the planet. East of Bracebridge, highway 117 passes through bewitching dapples of red and golden light under beech, birch, maple and poplar. Before you reach Dwight, climb the Dorset Lookout Tower, 142 metres above the Lake of Bays. From up here, the canopy is an autumnal quilt reaching to the horizon, refreshing the eyes and invigorating the spirit.
Adirondack mountains, New York State
From an easy, well-marked pull-off on Route 73 in the Keene Valley (three miles south of Saint Huberts and not far from Lake Placid), a half-mile trail leads through deciduous woodland to the shores of the stunning, if plainly named Round Pond. The area, in northern New York State near the Vermont state line, is about five hours’ drive from New York City, and there are plenty of fine places to stay and lots of hiking trails.
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
The entire island becomes rolling mountains of shimmering reds, golds, and ochres in autumn. Whether you are on the scenic Cabot Trail, or driving along the Bra d’Or Lakes Unesco Biosphere Reserve, the raw rugged beauty is stunning. To top it off you can attend Celtic Colours International Festival (6-14 October), which celebrates the region’s heritage and is held at the height of the island’s spectacular fall colours.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
Fall in this national park is spectacular. There’s an array of colours and astounding views as you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Foothills Parkway, or Highway 441. Stop at Newfound Gap off 441 to get a spectacular view, learn some history of the park, and cross the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. A great view is the Oconaluftee Overlook, just east of Newfound Gap on Highway 441, on the right going further into North Carolina. However, the best place to see fall foliage and experience the majesty of America’s most-visited national park is Cade’s Cove. Just outside quaint Townsend, Tennessee, it is a bikeable and driveable 11-mile loop, but be sure to explore the cabins and fields on foot. Late October and early November is my favourite time to visit; the colours are great and the weather is cool enough to allow nice walks and hikes.
Gunma Prefecture, Honshu
Avoid popular Kyoto and head to Gunma Prefecture for spectacular autumn vistas. Hire a car in Tokyo and drive 150km north west to Minakam, stopping off at beautiful Suwakyo Gorge on the way, where thrillseekers bungee from the 42-metre-high bridge. Surround yourself in stunning autumn colours with a hike to Ichinokurasawa valley, where you will be rewarded with the imposing sight of one of Japan’s three largest rock faces. Round off your escape from the capital with a leisurely drive along winding mountain roads to hidden waterfalls, where you might just spot a troop of wild monkeys.
Kamikochi national park, Honshu
In central Honshu, three hours’ drive north-east of Nagoya, is one of the most beguiling places in the Japanese Alps (also called the Hida mountains). The mountain slopes are covered with forests of larch and beech that blaze scarlet and orange in the autumn. Wisps of smoke hang in the still air above Yakedake volcano, and the glass surface of Taisho Pond perfectly reflects the trees and snow-dusted mountains. There are well-signposted walking trails, and the climb offers spectacular views across the valleys. We stayed in the Konashidaira log cabins (cabin for four people from £60 a night, on Facebook) in woods close to the river Azusa, and which we shared with families of macaques that swung from tree to tree above us. You can bathe at the public hot spring baths in the nearby hotels.
This feature first appeared in The Guardian.