Turning Over a New Leaf

(Photo Of Mount Beckwith By J.c. Leacock / Gunnison-crested Butte Tourism Association)
Sunday, August 28, 2005

Remember fall? The season of cooling and color? Jazz up your annual leaf-peeping trip by eschewing old faves like New England and Skyline Drive in favor of spots a bit farther afield. Here are three other places with their own arboreal fireworks -- minus the crowds. Already have plans? Around Labor Day, the U.S. Forest Service plans to revive its Fall Color Hotline (800-354-4595), promising updates on peak color in every region of the country.

-- Margaret Roth

Denali National Park, Alaska

PERFECT FOR: Leaf-peepers who want to get waaay beyond the Blue Ridge Parkway and who want their wildlife big -- like moose, grizzlies and wolves.

WHAT'S THERE: Besides Mount McKinley, at 20,320 feet the highest peak in North America, Denali's 6 million acres offer a different sort of fall landscape, with color not only in the birch, poplar, aspen and spruce but also on the rolling tundra, whose vegetation turns rich shades of red and purple.

PEAK COLOR: Early to mid-September

GETTING THERE: The cheapest flights in mid-September are to Anchorage, 240 miles south of park headquarters: $505 from Reagan National on America West. Fairbanks is closer -- 125 miles north of the park -- but airfares start at $782.

WHERE TO STAY: Most lodgings close by Sept. 17. Denali Park Resorts has a $139-per-night promotional rate at its lodges, subject to availability, for rooms booked between now and Sept. 17. Try the Grande Denali Lodge , where a double normally runs $229; the company's other park properties include Glacier Bay Lodge, McKinley Chalet Resort and McKinley Village Lodge. Outside the park, try White Moose Lodge in Healy (800-481-1232, ), open till Sept. 21. It's 11 miles from Denali's entrance; a double runs $75.

DON'T MISS: The aurora borealis . The longer nights (10-12 hours) allow you to see the northern lights.

INFO: Denali National Park (907-683-2294, ). Denali Park Resorts (800-276-7234, ).

Salida, Colo.

PERFECT FOR: Those who want to see the golden-yellow aspen of the Rocky Mountains without having to trek hours from a major airport.

WHAT'S THERE: The Arkansas River Valley in south-central Colorado, a gateway to the Rockies, is full of old railroad and ranching towns given over to relaxing, recreation and the arts.

PEAK COLOR: Late September

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