Crisp, cool nights and warm, sunny days under skies that are crystal blue can mean only one thing — it’s almost crunch time. Fallen leaves crinkle underfoot and those that remain overhead dazzle in fiery hues of yellow, orange and red.
“I really enjoy seeing all the different colors and watching the season develop,” says Casey Burdick, a service forester for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “It’s also the best time to get out and enjoy the woods. It’s not so hot and there’s not as many bugs.”
Around Lake Erie, autumn adventurists are planning their weekend getaways and gearing up for outdoor festivals, hikes in the woods, and drives through the countryside or along the lakeshore.
“You get a bang for your buck with the leaves reflecting off the lake,” Burdick adds. “There’s twice as much fall color.”
To aid leaf-peeping, Burdick posts weekly foliage forecasts on the ODNR’s website as soon as the leaves begin to change in late September. Each report includes tips on where to find the best color based on status updates from more than 30 Ohio state parks. The exact timing of peak color will depend on Mother Nature. Rainfall, temperature, wind, location and tree genetics all play a role when it comes to putting on the big show.
At press time, it was too early to determine what this season holds, but Burdick says it’ll hopefully be better than last year, when high temperatures and low rainfall caused leaves to change color and drop earlier than usual.
Generally, Burdick says peak season occurs the second week of October around the lake. “Just based on my own observations,” he adds, “if we have a wet spring and summer, peak fall color can linger into the third week of October.”
Read on for ways to get your fall fix around the lake.
Miles of bike trails offer a fabulous way to take in the view. Come for the Peek’n Peak Fall Festival then hit Westfield for a slice of Concord grape pie. Check the foliage forecast first at fallgetaways.iloveny.com.
Stay Here > It may be a ski resort, but Peek’n Peak Resort & Spa — set amid picture-perfect, tree-covered rolling hills — makes a great base for an autumn getaway, especially for golfers, who have two courses from which to choose. The off-peak rates certainly don’t hurt, either. Rates for a standard double room start at $89 plus tax.
Time your visit during the Peek’n Peak Fall Festival to enjoy rides up the ski lift, live entertainment, crafts and the infamous pumpkin cannon that launches gourds as far as 3,300 feet. The festival, in its 24th year, takes place Oct. 8-9 and 15-16. 1405 Olde Road, Findley Lake; 716-355-4141, pknpk.com
Eat This > Western New York has the oldest and largest Concord grape-growing region in the world. More than 30,000 acres of vineyards stretch from Silver Creek westward across the Pennsylvania border. From mid-September to mid-October, truckloads of Concord grapes are processed into juices, jellies and jams to be sold by Welch’s. But for fresh, homegrown flavor, head to Jack’s Barcelona Drive-In, where owner Juliann Travis serves up her Concord grape pie for dessert. 8249 First St., Westfield; 716-326-2277
Drive > Hit the road on the portion of the 518-mile Seaway Trail that hugs the shoreline of Lake Erie in New York between Ripley and Niagara Falls. Along the way, you’ll pass vineyards, lakeside villages and three lighthouses.
The Dunkirk Lighthouse lets you climb the spiral staircase to the upper observation level for a bird’s-eye view of Lake Erie, Dunkirk Harbor and, of course, spectacular fall color. seawaytrail.com
Bike > Chautauqua Rails to Trails maintains 20 miles of abandoned rail corridors that wind through picturesque countryside and quaint villages. The multi-use trails are suitable for biking, walking, running, hiking, horseback riding and bird watching.
“The five-mile stretch of the Alison Wells Ney Trail is especially good for viewing fall foliage,” says Stephanie Burdo of the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau. “It gently climbs the Lake Erie escarpment between Brocton and Mayville and offers vistas of Lake Erie.” chaurtt.org
Explore > The 76-acre Tom Erlandson Overview Park towers 2,080 feet over the Allegheny Plateau, offering a panoramic look at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.
“You have just an incredible view of the valley,” says Jennifer Schlick, a program director for the Jamestown Audubon Society. “On a clear day, you can see all the way to Chautauqua Lake.” From the lookout area, take the 1.2-mile trail that winds through the woods and crosses wooden footbridges. There are several resting spots along the way, great for soaking up the atmosphere. 465 Oak Hill Road, Frewsburg, 716-763-8928
Visit to see the splendor of Presque Isle or to sample the bounty of the harvest at one of the many fruit farms and wineries. The foliage forecast can be found at visitpa.com/fall-pa.
Explore > The second week of October is usually when the show starts at Presque Isle State Park, which offers amazing fall color, as well as more endangered and rare plant and animal species than any other place in Pennsylvania.
Get an overview of the park from the 75-foot enclosed glass tower at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, located just before the park entrance. Then, head into the park to explore by car, bike or on foot.
Take Gull Point Trail, starting at the east end of Budny Beach (No. 10), to spot an abundance of migratory birds. 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie; 814-833-7424, trecpi.org
Eat This > The 250-acre Mobilia Fruit Farm in North East has been producing cherries, raspberries, grapes and apples for more than 85 years. Wander through the orchard to pick your own apples or buy produce at the farm’s market.
Stay Here > You’ll never want to leave the grounds of the TimberMist Bed and Breakfast, which is a nature lover’s paradise. The gated country estate of Karen and Steve Rzepecki has two ponds stocked with bass, perch, and catfish and 75 acres of wooded trails to explore.
Other amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub and fire pit, plus horseshoe, volleyball and basketball courts. Guests are treated to a panoramic view overlooking the valley while enjoying a country-style breakfast made with fresh, in-season ingredients found within 100 miles of the B&B. 11050 Backus Road, Wattsburg; 814-739-9004, timbermist.com
Drive > National Geographic has called the historic Pennsylvania Route 6 one of America’s most scenic drives. With sprawling hills and leisurely straightaways, Route 6 encompasses 11 counties and stretches more than 400 miles across the northern tier of Pennsylvania. In Edinboro, make a stop at the Wooden Nickel Buffalo Farm (5970 Koman Road), a working bison farm with a restaurant serving bison burgers and homemade pies. Afterward, get lost in the corn maze on the property. paroute6.com
Fish > Don your waders, grab a fishing pole and try your luck at the mouth of Trout Run, located west of Erie on Lake Erie. The creek itself is off limits because the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission maintains a fish hatchery upstream. However, angling for steelhead trout and walleye at the mouth of the creek is permitted and extremely popular in the fall.
“The steelhead start to show up in early September,” says Matt Hrycyk, an employee at Poor Richard’s Bait & Tackle in Fairview. “The majority are stocked in the tributaries in the central basin, so they come back to spawn in the winter and spring.”
According to the Fish and Boat Commission website, “the creek can be stacked with large steelhead, many with their tails sticking out of the water.” Even if you don’t plan on fishing, it’s still a sight to behold.
The Fairview State Fish Hatchery is open to the public during regular business hours Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Small tours are welcome and can be arranged by calling the hatchery. Fairview State Fish Hatchery, 2000 Lohrer Road, Fairview; 814-474-1514, fish.state.pa.us
Is anything more autumn than covered bridges and apple butter? Extend your trip with a stay at a Frank Lloyd Wright house, where you’ll have 30 wooded acres to yourself. Check the color forecast by visiting ohiodnr.com and clicking on the fall foliage link.
Eat This > It takes a village to produce the 2,800 pints of apple butter for the annual Applebutter Fest in Grand Rapids, which is held Oct. 9 this year. Volunteers peel 125 bushels of apples and stir seven 50-gallon copper kettles over an open flame. Festival co-chair Steve Kryder says the recipe, which uses only apples, cider and sugar, was passed down from his grandparents and perfected by his mother. applebutterfest.org
Bike > Breathe in the cool, crisp air while taking a two-wheeled tour of Lorain County. The Back Roads and Beaches bike tour route guides you through miles and miles of rural roads with scenery ranging from pastoral farmland to the Lake Erie coast. Bikers can also park their wheels and jump in a kayak to paddle the Vermilion-Lorain Water Trail. Or stay on the bike and stop by any of the five wineries along the tour or at Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum. If pavement cramps your style, head to the off-road trails at Findley State Park in Wellington. The trailhead is located at the northeast corner of the dam parking lot. backroadsandbeachesohio.com
Drive > To see all 18 covered bridges in Ashtabula County, request a self-guided tour from the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival office. Better yet, attend the annual festival (Oct. 8-9). Held at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds, it offers trolley tours of the bridges. 440-576-3769, coveredbridgefestival.org
Stay Here > The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it.” The Wright-designed Louis Penfield House belongs to the 30 wooded acres it occupies in Willoughby Hills.
Explore > Pay a visit to Marblehead Lighthouse State Park at the tip of the peninsula to get sweeping views across Sandusky Bay.
The lighthouse — the oldest in continuous operation on the Great Lakes — is closed for the season, but will be open for tours on Oct. 8 during the Lakeside-Marblehead Lighthouse Festival. 110 Lighthouse Drive, Marblehead; 419-734-4424, dnr.state.oh.us
What better way to take fall in than by meandering down the River Raisin? A visit to a cider mill and some birding round out the trip. Visit michigan.org to check the foliage forecast.
Drive > Soak up War of 1812 history with a scenic drive along the River Raisin starting in Monroe. Pick up a map at the Monroe County Historical Museum (126 S. Monroe St., Monroe; 734-240-7780). Highlights include the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, one of the country’s newest national parks, at the location of one of the bloodiest battles in the War of 1812. The visitor’s center contains artifacts and replicas of canons and uniforms. 1403 E. Elm Ave., Monroe; 734-243-7136, riverraisinbattlefield.org
Stay Here > Soaring 72 floors above the Detroit River, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center offers a miles-wide view of fall color on both sides of the border from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the guest rooms.
Canoe > The River Raisin, a meandering waterway lined with bright red maples, is vibrant during the second week of October. Ply the waters in a canoe, kayak, paddleboat or pontoon boat and keep your eye out for majestic blue herons.
Go it alone or take a tour with the River Raisin Canoe Livery in Dundee, which offers half- and full-day float trips, as well as rentals. 734-529-9029, riverraisincanoelivery.com
Explore > Sterling State Park sits just north of where the River Raisin empties into Lake Erie. The 1,300-acre park boasts lagoons and marshes and is popular with birders, especially during the fall migration when migrating birds fly over on their journey south.
For a closer look, take the three-mile Sterling Marsh Trail from the trailhead parking area. 2800 State Park Road, Monroe; 734-289-2715, michigan.gov/sterling
Drink This > Fall is not complete without warm apple cider. The Titus family creates a tangy and sweet blend of golden delicious, gala and Macintosh varieties at Yates Cider Mill. Families from all over the country have made it a yearly tradition to visit for another taste of the fresh cider that even the Food Network could not put down in a 2010 episode of Unwrapped.
A visit to the mill makes for a great fall outing with the kids. Stroll on the half-mile riverside trail through the trees, take a pony ride or just enjoy a doughnut with your fresh cider. 1990 E. Avon Road, Rochester Hills; 248-651-8300, yatescidermill.com
Take it easy on one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Or fly through the forest on a zip line. Either way, you’ll be surrounded by autumn’s glory. The fall foliage report is available at parkreports.com/fall.
Explore > For a spectacular showing of feathers and fall foliage, pass an hour or a day in Rondeau Provincial Park. An important stopover site for waterfowl during spring and fall migration, the park encompasses one of the largest coastal wetlands remaining on the northern shore of Lake Erie and is home to more than 130 rare and at-risk wildlife species.
The park, which is southeast of Chatham, has six hiking trails that head into one of the largest remaining tracts of eastern deciduous forest in Canada, full of pumpkin ash, red mulberry, shagbark hickory, sassafras, sycamore, tulip trees, maple and oak. Spot numerous species of ducks and thousands of tundra swans while hiking, camping or swimming at the sandy beaches. R.R. No. 1, Morpeth; 519-674-1768, ontarioparks.com
Eat This > When it comes to peanut cultivation, America’s Deep South comes to mind. However, southern Ontario is also well suited for the crop thanks to its well-drained, sandy soil and temperate climate. Peanuts, which are harvested here in late October, were introduced in Ontario in 1982 as an alternative to growing tobacco. Kernal Peanuts is the largest peanut grower in Canada. Visit its retail store in Vittoria to buy all kinds of peanut products, including brittle, clusters and — not to be missed — a slice of peanut butter pie. 393 Fisher’s Glen Road, Vittoria; 519-426-9222, kernalpeanuts.com
Drive > The Niagara Parkway winds alongside the Niagara River from Niagara-on-the-Lake at the northern terminus to Fort Erie in the south. Sir Winston Churchill declared it “the prettiest Sunday drive in the world.”
On any day of the week, stop at one of the area’s vineyards for a wine tasting or sample abundant farm-fresh produce from roadside stands along the 35-mile route. Oh, and about midway through the drive, you’ll come across some pretty waterfalls you may have heard of. niagaraparks.com
Stay Here > Set high on a hill above the Grand River, the Gingerbread House is surrounded by tall pines and miles of trails. Spend the night in one of the four guest rooms (we suggest asking for the one with a fireplace) before setting out to enjoy the area.
Zip > Get an up-close view of the Carolinian forest with a zip-line tour at Long Point Eco-Adventures near Port Rowan, which includes eight different zip lines from 30 to 800 feet long, two suspension sky bridges and an ecological explanation of the surrounding Long Point Bay World Biosphere.
Begin by disappearing into the woods. From the first stop at a large maple, you zip 120 feet over two suspension sky bridges, then continue past the fern-filled ravine, catching views that manager Steve Martin says “look almost prehistoric” before heading back into the woods. You cross two suspension bridges to arrive at the last platform before taking off on a 700-foot line so long that the other side is not visible. Trained guides help each step of the way and share information on the Carolinian and Boreal forests. 730 Front Road, St. Williams; 877-743-8687, lpfun.ca