Labor Day is over and autumn is on the horizon. So once there’s a chill in the air — and rather than drinking rum punch under a palm tree, you’re in the mood to sip warm cider beneath a majestic golden maple — where should you go to enjoy autumn in all its glory? Here are eight islands known for their fall colors.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Home to Acadia National Park, Maine’s Mount Desert Island becomes a spectacular patchwork of autumn colors in early- to mid-October. Temperatures might be a bit brisk (in the 40s and 50s), but the fresh air is perfect for a hike to the summit of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain. Prefer to sightsee by car? Drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road to check out the beauty of Sand Beach, the views from Otter Cliff and the crystalline waters of Jordan Pond, where your can enjoy lobster rolls and chowder in the Jordan Pond House restaurant.
Honshu Island, Japan
Japanese red maples — need we say more? The temples of the ancient city of Kyoto on Japan’s main island of Honshu are even more stunning when surrounded by the intense crimson hues of its native fall foliage. Colors tend to peak in early to mid-November and there’s an array of top leaf-viewing spots from which to choose: Honen-in Temple, Ginkaku-ji Temple and Nanzen-ji Temple as well as Sento-Gosho Garden and the mountain village of Takao. Crowds swell on weekends (the Japanese love leaf-peeping, too), so plan to visit midweek.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Travel back more than a century in time as you celebrate fall on this car-free Michigan island that’s located where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron and is home to the legendary Grand Hotel, built in 1887, and hundreds of horse-drawn carriages. Peak foliage occurs from late September to late October (ferries run until Oct. 31) and it’s the perfect time to rent a bike and ride the 8-mile trail that circles the island to experience its many charms: Victorian mansions along East Bluff; late-blooming dahlias in the Grand Hotel’s flower beds; the rocky, postcard-perfect shorelines; and the golden maples and red oaks around Fort Mackinac.
The British Isles
Take your pick of England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales — but we especially love the fall colors in England’s Lake District. Rolling hills, tidy villages and meandering back roads set the scene as native trees and plants that include oak, beech, birch and heather color the landscape with painterly shades of red, yellow, orange and purple. From Derwent Water to Windermere, there are fireplaces galore to get cozy in front of and ample pints of local craft beer to down. Foliage tends to peak in early October, but if you can’t make it then, November 5 is Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Night — a four-century-old tradition), when fireworks and bonfires provide a color show of another sort.
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Anne of Green Gables may be the fictional redheaded heroine of this island in Canada’s Eastern provinces, but from mid-September to late October, fiery red maples and brilliant yellow birches are the stars. In autumn, Prince Edward Island is a haven of relaxation, offering walking, hiking and biking trails as well as a rich harvest of local fruits, vegetables and seafood. If oysters, mussels, lobster and other tasty ocean treats are your favorites, time your visit to coincide with the annual PEI International Shellfish Festival in mid-September as the leaves are just beginning to change.
San Juan Islands, Washington
Catch a ferry from Anacortes across Puget Sound to one of these rugged Washington State islands — San Juan, Orcas and Lopez being the main three — and you’ll feel instantly relaxed. And with summer crowds a distant memory, the pace is laid-back and temperatures range from the mid-60s in September to around 50 in November. Discover the region’s flavors during farm tours, beer tastings and harvest dinners with special “Savor the San Juans” events throughout fall. As for the foliage, Garry oaks and big leaf maples add splashes of color to the velvety forests of firs, hemlocks and cedars.
New York, New York
Yes, the island of Manhattan is mostly asphalt and concrete, and yet the nature-blessed oases it does have — Central Park, Riverside Park, the Cloisters — put on a pretty amazing autumnal show from mid-October to mid-November. You can jog through a “shower” of gently falling leaves on the Mall in Central Park or pose for a selfie by the Bow Bridge with its backdrop of golden branches. Riverside Park’s walking trails are enveloped in a canopy of color and the medieval sculptures and gardens of Upper Manhattan’s Cloisters become even more inviting. Frank Sinatra chose to record Autumn in New York for a reason.
Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia
Why settle for fall colors when you can see magnificent wild horses, too? Assateague Island, located on the Eastern Shore and divided equally between Maryland and Virginia, is home to both. Its coastal groundcover turns vivid yellow and deep red by late October and early November (but be careful to avoid the poison ivy!) and the 300 horses, also referred to as ponies, freely roam the island’s state and national parks in small groups. You can get within a safe viewing distance (40 feet or more) several ways: wildlife cruises, kayak tours, bike rides or leisurely drives around the island. Just remember, these horses are feral and should not be approached or petted.