This time of year, is there anything better than a slow country drive to take in the fall colors? Well, yes — if you’re a kid. Those fiery reds and burnished yellows that delight parents are lost on little ones, who will kick up cries of “I’m booored” just as you hit the leaf-peeping sweet spot. The trick: Meet them halfway with an excursion that combines scenery for grownups with hands-on activities for the younger set.
I’ve included everything from apps to adrenaline adventures to help get kids excited about celebrating autumn this season:
1. Mobile phones make convenient cameras for snap-happy kids. Let them use a phone to take photos of trees and wildlife they see along the way. After you get home, help them put together a collage of their favorites for a visual reminder of your time together.
2. Head to a resort with plenty of activities to occupy kids while you savor the surroundings. The venerable Omni Mount Washington, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, has a network of ziplines and platforms laced through the tree canopy (fun for parents too!). Farther south, retreat to Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm, which combines cozy elegance and outdoor adventures with knockout Smoky Mountain forest views.
Or follow the foliage through Vermont, the quintessential leaf-peeping state. To catch leaves at their peak, try this itinerary from Jen Butson of Vermont Tourism: Start at the family favorite Smugglers’ Notch, then wind your way to Tyler Place on Lake Champlain before finishing up at Basin Harbor Club, also on the lake.
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3. If a rural or mountain getaway isn’t in the cards, don’t fret — you can find plenty of fall color in urban areas. Hotel Beacon and Le Parker Meridien both sit near New York’s Central Park; book a room on a high floor for the best views.
Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system offers prime color as the weather cools. Stay at Omni Parker House, which has a terrific location overlooking Boston Common. Although Chicago and Washington, D.C., might not spring to mind right away when you think of autumn leaves, they each have pockets of lovely foliage as well as first-rate arboretums. We like The Langham, Chicago or the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill (D.C.) for premium location and luxurious trappings.
4. Well-fed kids are contented kids. Pack a picnic and plan a stop at a park, walking trail or clearing in the woods. Delish.com and MyRecipes.com have well-curated collections of picnic recipes, menus and tips. Or browse fall food ideas at SmittenKitchen.com, a delightful blog by mom and home cook Deb Perelman, with tons of recipes that satisfy all ages.
5. Download a few child-friendly leaf apps to engage young ones. Foliage Leaf Peepr tracks peak leaf periods and lets you rate the fall color in different areas. Mini-botanists might like TreeID, which shares the scoop on the species your family spots. For iPad users, Fall Changes is a sweet, simple e-story that gets smaller kids excited about autumn.
6. Kids have more tolerance for leaf-looking if they know there’s a pick-your-own payoff at the end. There’s tons of apple picking to be found near Boston — check out the Ciao Bambino! family travel blog for our best suggestions. Travel & Leisure also has a fantastic roundup of apple orchards, pumpkin farms and more from New England to the Pacific Northwest. For ways to enjoy your harvest at home, peruse Epicurious.com’s excellent compilation of apple recipes.
7. Older children may prefer leaf-peeping by bike instead of car. Make plans to catch the leaves around Aspen, Colorado, which peaks at the end of September/first of October. Travel writer Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals recommends riding the Rio Grande Trail to Woody Creek, with a break for lunch at the Woody Creek Tavern.
In nearby Glenwood Springs, she suggests the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path, which skirts the Colorado River and winds through eye-popping natural rock formations. Both trails are flat and paved, with views of Colorado’s hallmark golden aspens and red-orange scrub oak. Upstate New York’s Adirondack Park is another good bet for easy trails; for a weekend escape, base at Mirror Lake Inn, where you can admire leaves from the water via canoe, kayak or sunset cruise.
8. Let’s face it: Kids like to win. Foster a little friendly competition and break up the drive with a scavenger hunt. Challenge them to find the most leaves of a certain type, or provide a list of natural features along the route to see who spies them first. Reward the winner by letting him or her choose another fun outing for the whole family.
9. You’ve probably heard of “glamping” — camping with a dash of luxury thrown in. This twist on roughing it puts you right in the middle of seasonal splendor without sacrificing comfort. We love The Resort at Paws Up in Montana, which recently extended its season through October. Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado also gets the nod from glampers-in-the-know.
10. So you’ve arrived home with a basketful of leaves. Now what? Get creative and turn them into mementos of your getaway. Blogger Stephanie Morgan of Momtastic.com has a great roundup of fall leaf crafts, and the foliage art ideas at French-language blog Atelier Pour Enfants are impossibly cute and clever. And don’t forget Pinterest, which offers more ideas for leaf projects than you could accomplish in several seasons’ worth of autumn color.