Fall Foliage: The Roads Less Traveled

It's almost autumn, and leaf-peepers are poised to pursue some local color. But you needn't confine yourself to New England. Autumn leaves give a fiery display as far west as the Mississippi and as far south as Tennessee. Even some parts of the Rockies become a gorgeous gold when the aspens turn. And while car, foot, bike, and canoe are great ways to soak up the scenery, you may want to do it differently.

How about leaf-peeping with llamas? Bob and Carolyn Bane will take you hiking up a mountain on their 900-acre farm in southwest Virginia (703 688-4464). Llamas carry the fixings for a gourmet meal at the top. The daylong, six-mile trek costs $60.

Or you might try a view from on high. Historic Air Tours offers flights on six-seater Cessnas out of Williamsburg, Charlottesville, and Richmond, Va. Passengers wearing headsets soak up historic information about plantations and Civil War sites, along with an aerial view of the leaves. Tours cost $30 to $45 (800 822-9247). In Bristol, Conn., Berkshire Balloons pilot Robert Zirpolo takes foliage followers to the treetops and beyond in hot-air balloons for $200 an hour (203 621-6061).

PADDLE WHEELERS. Another way to view fall is from the water. On the St. Lawrence River in Kingston, Ont., you can board the Island Queen, a Mississippi paddle wheeler, for a $14.95 three-hour cruise around the Thousand Islands (613 549-5544).

Then there are "America's last overnight paddle wheel steamships," the Mississippi and the Delta Queen, out of New Orleans (800 543-7637). They travel the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers offering cruises at about $160 a night.

For landlubbers, a vintage train ride might be the ticket. At Strasburg Rail Road (717 687-6194) in Pennsylvania, you can chug through Amish country behind a turn-of-the-century steam engine. Halfway through the 45-minute round- trip, you can get off and picnic in a grove. Adults pay $6, kids 3 to 11, $3.

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (800 TRAIN-50) offers a similar deal. Adults pay $14.75, kids 2 to 12, $8.50. Both railroads offer dinner excursions, too. Modern trains can bring equal delights: Amtrak's Hudson River run, from New York to Albany, displays some of the best color there is.

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